Herbert London

Herbert London

Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.

Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:34

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), and most recently, America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

Egypt and the Obama Administration

A million people are standing in Tahrir Square in Cairo protesting against the government and arguing Hosni Mubarak must go. The military representing the most stabilizing influence in Egypt, has immersed itself into the protest, at least to some indeterminate degree. The nation's most notorious prisons have been emptied of criminals and Islamic extremists and roving bands have destroyed art treasures and looted private property.

While words of freedom and liberty are in the air, there is the distinct danger these protests could result in less freedom for Egyptians than what they have known, especially if those who harbor Islamist goals (read: the Muslim Brotherhood) gain a foothold in government.

Despite the confusion surrounding these protests, Foggy Bottom was completely blindsided. On one occasion Secretary Clinton said "Mubarak is a friend"; on another occasion Vice President Biden denied Mubarak is a dictator. But as the protests persisted, Washington's tone changed. Now the State Department refers to an "orderly transition" as "a democratic, participatory government."

But there is still not an unequivocal call for liberty consistent with the president's Cairo speech. In fact, President Obama has put a greater emphasis on engagement than freedom as his tactics with the Iranian government suggest. Admittedly a democratic election in Egypt could result in one vote, one time with the Muslim Brotherhood gaining control and, like their Hamas cousins, instituting religious dominance of the nation.

Of course, not everyone views the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat. Bruce Riedel, at the Brookings Institution, argues the Brotherhood might be troublesome, but not a cause for anxiety. This position overlooks the Brotherhood's basic attitude to subjugate women and the threat to the 30-year peace with Israel.

As I see it, Brotherhood power in Egypt, even if exercised behind the political curtain, would be calamitous for U.S. interests in the region. For the Brotherhood, violence is justified when it is consistent with the cause and that cause is jihad. History is written in blood, not Western law. In 2007, so-called reform-minded leaders argued that all government decisions must be vetted to ensure they are consistent with Islamic law.

However, it is not clear how much influence the Muslim Brotherhood has among the protestors or the military forces or even among the peasantry. Therefore, keeping your powder dry seems a reasonable position, until the movement of historical forces carries events away on the tide of change. The problem, at the moment, is it is not clear what the Obama administration has in mind. On the one hand, it is calling for stability that could be interpreted as endorsing Mubarak; on the other hand, it is continually making reference to "transition," which suggests Mubarak must be ousted.

Clearly the U.S. wants, or should want, a stable, civil society in Egypt that is aligned with U.S. regional interests. If that is not possible, the U.S. should curtail its economic and military assistance in excess of $1 billion and bolster the only enduring democracy in the Middle East neighborhood, Israel.

Should Egypt become dominated by extremist forces, the likelihood of war increases, and the resultant chaos will work to the advantage of Iran. Even though it is a Persian nation distrusted by Arabs, and a Shia state distrusted by Sunnis, Iran is the strong horse in the region that garners support through its messianic belief in violence.

If the evolving Egyptian story reveals anything, it is how destabilizing a weak and ineffectual U.S. can be. At another time in the distant past, the U.S. would have recognized its interests and have known exactly what it must do to secure stability. This, however, is not that time and the U.S. no longer recognizes its strategic interests or how to protect them.

Coptics Under Siege

The remorseless and sanguinic Joseph Stalin once noted, "the murder of one is a tragedy; the murder of millions, a statistic." Alas if recent events are any indication, there is truth in this perverse claim. Recently there have been random attacks on Christians in Egypt and the Middle East.

On New Year's Day a bombing took place in Alexandria at a Coptic church that left 23 dead. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after threats from an al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq and a deadly attack on a Baghdad cathedral on October 31.

At the same time as Pope Benedict has called on Egypt and other Muslim nations to protect their Christian minorities, a new round of violence has emerged. An off-duty police officer in upper Egypt checked train passengers for the green cross tattooed on the wrist of Coptic Christians in Egypt. After identifying those who were Copts, he killed one and injured five others, firing his handgun at innocent civilians simply because they are Christians. According to eyewitnesses, the gunman sought out Christians on board the commuter line and shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God Is Great) as he opened fire.

What are we to make of this break with the code of civility? A police officer discharged with the responsibility of protecting all citizens of the state including the Christian minority, takes it upon himself to kill Christians wantonly, seemingly because they are Christian. Moreover, it would be one thing if this were the random act of a crazed, lunatic. However, the assailant is an officer of the law, there to provide stability.

Of course this was an aberrational act, noted Egyptian authorities, but how random was it? It didn't trigger a response from the Cairo paper and it did not generate a stir in the media. In fact, the only noticeable response came from the Coptic population in which 200 went to the hospital where the wounded were taken and were later dispersed by the local police.

When the Pope's emissary raised an issue about the safety of Egyptian Christians (numbering about ten percent of the population), the Mubarak government reacted by recalling the ambassador to the Vatican and noted "We will not allow any non-Egyptian party to intervene in our internal affairs under any pretext." Presumably that includes the targeting of Christians for slaughter.

The brazen manner in which Christians are targeted throughout the Muslim world from Sudan to Iran and Egypt to Afghanistan should be a source of concern for the United Nations. However, the rights of minorities are only honored in the breach among Muslim states. When the reverse occurs, when a Muslim minority in a non-Muslim state is mistreated, it becomes an issue for the Muslim bloc nations and is immediately inserted into the Security Council agenda. However, I am sure the recent murder of Christians and the Pope's appeal will fall on deaf ears.

Clearly, it is time for Christians to assert themselves, by speaking out against the continued abuse in Muslim nations. Mubarak may have lost control in Egypt, but it is not too late to restore order in other Muslim nations. In some cases, the Copts are pawns to promote civil unrest with political realignment the ultimate goal. But whatever the motives, these murderous conditions should not be permitted to prevail.

Abbas Reveals His True Agenda

In a recent discussion of the anticipated Palestinian state, Mahmoud Abbas, leader in the territory, said he "would not tolerate one single Jew in his new country, Palestine." Speaking before journalists in Ramallah, he clearly and unequivocally noted:

We have already said completely openly, and it will stay that way: If there is a Palestinian country with Jerusalem as its capital, we will not accept that even one single Jew will live there.

Abbas rejected any suggestion that Jews in Judea and Samaria, who have lived in their homes for decades, could remain under Palestinian rule. Meanwhile in all negotiations, the Palestinian position is that "Palestinian refugees" have the right of return to Israel. Therefore, according to the Abbas proposition, Israel should open its borders for Arabs while Palestine closes its borders for Jews.

Here is the unvarnished truth. Arabs can live in Israel as full fledged citizens with all the rights that status confers. They can have their own political parties, settle in their own communities and represent about twenty percent of the total Israeli population. But on the other side of the political ledger not one Jew, including those who reside on the West Bank, can remain once Palestine becomes an independent nation.

What more does one have to know about the Arab mentality? Sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. There is and will remain different standards for Arabs and Jews. Hence, what precisely is a two state solution? An Arab state immediately becomes a threat to the very existence of Israel since Jews are recognized as the enemy and, by virtue of law, must be ostracized.

To make matters even more absurd, Abbas is considered an ideological moderate. After all, he doesn't call for killing Jews, only for a form of apartheid, of absolute separation. Should such a Palestinian nation be created, how long would it take for open hostilities between the two states to break out? Can an Israeli government that encouraged its citizens to move into the West Bank after the culmination of the 1967 war, now tell these residents that they must depart? Is the government prepared to extricate 250,000 people from this region?

These questions, and a host of others, will have to be addressed to meet the demands of a two state solution. But even more fundamental is the attitude of the Palestinians themselves. If Jews aren't permitted there, then presumably Jewish tourist dollars and investment capital are not welcome either. Where does one draw the line?

Clearly modesty is in order. If Abbas didn't have to mollify radical sentiment in the West Bank, these unmistakably racist comments would be an embarrassment and uttered only in private, if then. But his are the views of a radical sensing that the tide of world opinion is with him. Alas, he may be right since condemnation from the media elite over his forthright apartheid stance has not been forthcoming.

If this Palestinian state is created, Israelis should not have any illusions about what it will mean. Further isolation, increased hostility, border tension and suicide bombers are all in the cards. In fact, the deck is stacked against Israel and Abbas has made that fact patently clear.

Multiculturalism in Retreat

At long last an European politician, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, lifted the curtain on the pernicious dimensions of multiculturalism. After several decades of homegrown terrorism and an acceptance of separation by Muslim groups in the United Kingdom, the prime minister said, "enough."

A new course will be charted that moves from accommodation to integration. There may be a risk of xenophobia with the Cameron approach, but it is a worthwhile trade-off if terrorist impulses are thwarted.

Mr. Cameron called his strategy "muscular liberalism," to wit: confronting extremist Islamic thought and challenging those efforts that attempt to undermine Western values. For example, the prime minister made special mention of zero tolerance for the subjugation of women, a practice permitted because of Islamic separation and application of Sharia.

The notion that different groups within a society should be encouraged to pursue their own cultural paths is a formulation based on religious tolerance. But as George Santayana, among others, noted, the first duty of the tolerant man is to exercise intolerance for intolerance. In other words, a proverbial line in the sand must be drawn when religious groups use societal tolerance to promote intolerance.

For at least two generations Europeans have failed to integrate immigrants into their societies. These are recent immigrants who don't speak the language of the host country and have not accepted the basic historic and cultural background of the nation in which they now reside.

After observing the corrosive influence of multiculturalism a consensus is beginning to emerge. In addition to Cameron's comments, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared multiculturalism a "total failure." Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets on mosques. French authorities have issued a prohibition on burqas and other full body robes worn by some Muslim women. And the Swedish Democratic Party, which had almost no influence in the politics of the country, gained 5.7 percent of the vote in national elections after campaigning on a platform of anti-multiculturalism.

France, which has about 10 million Muslims, has introduced mandatory courses for all immigrants on "French values," women's rights, and an overview of the national history. Whether national identity can be imbibed or transcend religious imperatives remains to be seen.

From a sociological perspective integration represents a compromise between the traditions of the mother country and the host nation. Presumably one can be French, share the tradition of liberalism and at the same time be a Muslim. But is this compromise realistic? Will Islam allow for Sharia to coexist with liberal traditions?

On the other hand, assimilation demands the acceptance of the host nation's values and the shedding of the past. This is an all or nothing position that forces a stark and unalterable choice. Put bluntly, "if you want to join us, you will do so on our terms. After all, no one has forced you to enter our shores."

Clearly Europeans have a right, some would argue an obligation, to defend their Christian heritage against an onslaught from radical Muslim intrusion. The question is how best to defend those traditions. Cameron's well-stated diatribe against multiculturalism is the sound of national tocsin, a battle cry to preserve British culture. On this side of the Atlantic it is a welcome statement that sets the tone for the challenges the West now face and will be facing in the decades ahead.

What Are Undergraduates Learning?

By now almost every American has heard the lamentation about American primary and secondary education: our children are failing to meet even minimal standards of performance. However, it was widely believed that higher education is different. If one relies on the claims made by almost all colleges, students are expected to synthesize knowledge, interpret data and make arguments coherently. But in a newly published book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, the authors contend that student performance on basic skills generally does not improve during their college years.

The authors, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that more than a third of the college seniors in their study (more than 2000 were in the study population) were no better at reasoning and writing than they had been in their first semester.

If one were to consider the findings in this study, the conclusions are hardly surprising. On average, students do not invest much time in studying. Many students avoided demanding courses. Students in science and math, social science and humanities tended to make stronger gains in their writing and reasoning skills than those majoring in education, business, communication, and social work.

Despite claims of methodological bias, the professors engaged in this study without a preconceived idea of student attainment. But the evidence drove them to incontrovertible conclusions, conclusions I might add, that were borne out by my 38 years in the Academy.

At least 45 percent of students in the sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in College Learning Assessment performance during the first two years of their four year program. In addition, 36 percent of students did not show any significant improvement over four years. Hence the title of the book, Academically Adrift.

Clearly many, if not most of those in the study will graduate, but having a degree does not mean these students have developed higher-order cognitive skills, presumably the goal of a college education.

For many, the college experience is a rite of passage having more to do with social development than learning. Very few institutions place more than modest academic demands on their students. The so-called core curriculum has increased exponentially, including popular culture courses, to accommodate the lack of student seriousness.

While we should not ignore the fact that limited learning in colleges has a long and venerable history, students today are competing with others across the globe. As President Obama noted in his State of the Union address our competitive edge is dependent on innovation and technical acumen that emerge from institutions of higher learning.

In fact, the changing global context facing contemporary college graduates suggests that "limited learning" qualifies as a major problem and impediment to future economic success. Yet curiously, none of the actors in this higher education system are interested primarily in undergraduates' academic growth. Administrators are concerned with retention, admissions, and, of course, the bottom line. Professors are eager to pursue their own scholarship and professional interests.

Decades ago Thorstein Veblen argued that most college students are "trained in incapacity." If one were to rely on the Arum, Roksa study, it doesn't appear as if students today are trained in any way, shape, or form. The university experience has become a trivialized way to enter adulthood or perhaps attenuate adolescence. But on one point there isn't doubt: undergraduates are actually learning very little and if one were to consider this learning a precondition for competitiveness, the United States is falling behind other nations, even as the number of graduates increases. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:30

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), and most recently, America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and, publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

Everyone Knows . . .

There is a decidedly arrogant claim engendered by the horde of progressives which starts with the words "everyone knows." For example, everyone knows the Tea Partiers have a racist agenda. And everyone knows patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Presumably if everyone knows, evidence to buttress one's argument is unnecessary. Dissent is a function of those conservative know nothings, the grass roots mob wallowing in ignorance. If the Tea Partiers display none of the characteristics attributed to them, the labels still persist. After all, "everyone knows." If demonstrators avow their loyalty to the nation, but disavow President Obama, they are ipso facto scoundrels. Who doesn't know that?

That there is a natural order to opinions is manifest in what elitist ideas embrace. Free speech is desirable until you say something elite opinion-makers disapprove. Suppose you say homosexuality is related to nurture, not nature; observe how the panjandrums of free speech use their free speech placards to beat you into submission. When "everyone knows. . . ." dissent is beside the point.

It takes courage to stand up to the bromides masquerading as current truth. Until the environmental movement was unmasked over global warming, those who challenged the prevailing sentiment were perceived as cranks. That tag hasn't evanesced despite evidence of wrong-doing by the so-called environmental scientists.

Similarly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg invokes libertarian principles when he wants to burnish his liberal credentials, then considers it appropriate through ukase to impose his views on what New Yorkers should eat and drink. While he doesn't quite say "everyone knows," it is implied in his public commentary. "Everyone knows transfats are bad for you."

President Obama is not inoculated against this condition. In fact, his economic policies are usually defended as "everyone knows." Everyone knows something had to be done to save the nation from financial ruination after "the destructive policies of the Bush administration." It is too bad I hadn't received this doctrinal statement in my morning reading fare.

It is also axiomatic that everyone knows steps had to be taken to control the increase in healthcare expenditures and to provide insurance coverage for the uninsured. The fact that Obamacare increases healthcare expenses and imposes insurance on those who may not want it, is merely a pettifogging critique. After all, everyone knows it had to be done.

The experts in foreign affairs know that everyone knows the U.S. cannot afford to play its traditional role of stabilizing global influence. Of course defense spending is 4.5 percent of GDP and pales in significance to entitlement expenses, but not everyone knows that.

There is little doubt that "everyone knows" is a conversation stopper. It puts the naysayers in the penalty box. It says you cannot possibly have an informed opinion. It is comparable to reading a Frank Rich column or a New Yorker article in which the cognoscenti contends "everyone knows" the truth.

That there may be other points of view, that no one has a monopoly on the truth, are conditions rarely considered by those who reflexively invoke "everyone knows" in argumentation. Needless to say, the reliance on this phrase isn't an argument, but for those who assume their positions are in the orbit of natural order, it seems likely that this phrase will continue to be relied on.

The Mullen War Strategy

Recently the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said there are "new ways of deterrence that address those factors that make individuals vulnerable to coercion. . . ." In a speech delivered at the Hoover Institution, Admiral Mullen noted that the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaida can be deterred by a traditional method of military retaliation and by nontraditional means of attacking extremism at its core. "Attacking the humiliation, the hopelessness, the illiteracy, and abject poverty which lie at the core of the attraction to extremist thought will do more to turn the tide against terrorism than anything else," he announced.

Presumably an understanding of the Koran, rather than an interpreter's view, a higher standard of living, and understanding wives and friends will convert swords into plowshares.

Surely Admiral Mullen must be aware of several incontrovertible conditions: Muslim leaders who espouse violence are often from wealthy families, vide: Osama bin Laden; being able to read doesn't translate into understanding; sitting on a couch with a psychologist who identifies with your angst may be comforting, but as a strategy for peace it lacks staying power.

The admiral's psychobabble has as much validity as alchemy. In fact, one wonders what happened to a military culture predicated on "kill or be killed"? No sensible person wants the bloodshed of war, but there have been times in history when the choice is slavery or battle. Some, perhaps many, prefer battle.

As it turns out Admiral's Mullen's words were turned on their head in any case. In Iran, one headline noted that Admiral Mullen wants the "U.S. to deter Qur'an followers." Hezbollah T.V. in Lebanon reported, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mile Mullen says "people learning the way of the Qur'an are the subject of new American deterrence." And the Iran Broadcasting Station accused Mullen of using "insulting words against Islamic scholars."

Apparently Admiral Mullen has forgotten the incident at Fort Hood in which a Muslim physician wantonly killed fellow soldiers at the base. Was he suffering from deprivation, a lack of understanding, a low standard of living? The part of this equation Admiral Mullen doesn't address, the part he intentionally ignores, is that violence is inherent in Islamic thought as Verses of The Sword suggests.

How can one deter an enemy when there is a refusal to understand him? Even those in the Arab world are perplexed. Middle East tradition indicates you side with the "strong horse." But if you do not know how to apply your strength, you become the "weak horse." At the moment, U.S. psychologizing is having a paralyzing influence in fighting a war against radical Islam.

Can you imagine a strategy in World War II in which we argued the most effective way to deter the Nazis would be classes on Mein Kampf? Or perhaps we should have sent psychologists to Berlin instead of Patten's army.

It boggles the imagination to consider how misguided military strategists have become. From battlefield action based on lethality we have seemingly moved to Dr. Phil on the military couch. The question that remains is whether the U.S. can subdue an enemy committed to our destruction with psychological, economic, and social tactics. Obviously Admiral Mullen thinks we can; I have considerable doubt.

Why Do Modern Women Convert to Islam

Very recently Tony Blair's sister-in-law converted to Islam; the journalist Lauren Booth embraced the faith after what she described as a "holy experience" in Iran. Based on what Ayaan Hirsi Ali has described as the brutal, totalistic character of Islam, one is obliged to ask why any modern career woman would opt for conversion to the Muslim religion.

After all, as so many autobiographies of Muslim women note, the religion bans anything that is fun (haran or the forbidden). No chewing of gum; no bicycle riding, no make-up, no eating in public, no painting of nails, no pets, no questions and, of course, no answering back. For many Muslim women, there is an eagerness to assert independence as soon as adulthood is reached.

How then does one explain Lauren Booth? She notes that in the city of Qom "I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy." What precisely was Ms. Booth seeking and why did she find it in Islam? Although it is difficult to generalize, I suspect that the convert is in a search for meaning in societies where the "anything goes" permissive of the moment proves to be a superficial void. Islam is totalistic; modernity, with all its freedom, is often vacuous.

One convert said Islam allows you to reject fads and fashion and "seek a higher goal." Alas, one, of course, is free to reject fads without embracing Islam. But it is comforting -- I guess -- to have one's life ordered by the ritual impulse of a totalistic religion. As another convert pointed out, "it makes life purer." But does it?

By and large, Islam devolves into extremism, the repression of women, inequality and brutality such as the stoning of adulterers. Converts, however, refer to the celebration of old fashioned family values and hospitality, values which have been eroded in the West. For many, Islam is an escape route from the cultural degradation of Western society. In fact, what converts often confuse is culture and religion. The warmth a family confers is not the same as the demands of religious obedience.

Women in the West may deplore the pressure to act like men by drinking to excess and engaging in casual sex. But, despite the pressure, one is free to make choices, a condition Islam rejects. However it is precisely being the prisoner of action that appeals to many women. They don't have to choose; the religion does it for them. It is the escape route from their vision of a broken society.

While it is easy to appreciate the search for meaning in societies that are culturally barren, the conversion to Islam is comparable to the move from anarchy to totalitarianism. In the '20s and '30s Germany adopted the free and easy moral stance of the Weimar Republic. Life was "a bowl of cherries, don't take it seriously, it's too mysterious." The breakdown of moral order led to a period in which people sought stability, in the form of Nazi dictatorship.

In a similar way, the moral dissolution of the West has many seeking an axis on which to rely, moral compass points. It may well be that the poles in this compass are static and harsh, but at least the limits of behavior are defined. Some poor souls unable "to find themselves" seek refuge in self-selected slavery. They are prisoners of their own vision. The West they see is morally bankrupt; Islam may be violent and harsh, but it does prescribe moral parameters.

Of course, the question that remains is why Christianity doesn't provide moral guidelines so many women are seeking. As I see it, Christianity's unwillingness to assert the limits of behavior -- a loss of confidence if you will -- has given Islam the upper hand with women who are suggestible and vulnerable to propaganda. Some might contend these converts have gone from the frying pan into the fire, but as they see it, Islam has offered meaning in lives without it and has provided strictures for lives that have only known license.

German Schools Embrace Islam

There is little doubt west European governments are engaged in a form of social suicide. Rather than increased efforts to integrate Muslims into German society, to cite one example, German students will be taught about Islam. In a sense German educators will be engaged in proselytizing for Islam.

The German state of Lower Saxony will start including Islam in its schools' core curriculum as part of an initiative to counter growing anti-Islam sentiment in Europe. Dr. Bernad Althusmann, Minister of Education in Lower Saxony, announced that schools in the state will start including Islamic education in their main curriculum. "I think we will be able to start implementation by the academic year after the next," Althusmann said during a visit to an elementary school in the city of Hanover that offers an Islamic education class.

Justifying this approach, Juergen Zoeliner, Berlin Minister for Education, Science, and Research, notes, "For years, society and schools have been faced with a variety of new duties and challenges. One of these big challenges is to have people from different traditions, cultural, and religion affiliations living together peacefully and respectfully."

Of course, whether the program in question leads ultimately to a peaceful result is questionable. One might well ask why did the armies of Europe turn back the Turks at the gates of Vienna 500 years ago when programs, like those instituted in Germany, are handing Islam the keys to the future.

German shame over Nazi atrocities has made Hitler's heritage the end of German history and identity. But should this shame be replaced by preemptive capitulation to a religion with a relentless imperial impulse?

To be sure the Salafists, with Saudi funding, will follow up on their efforts in the schools. But will the full story of Islam be told including the stoning of adulterers, the execution of homosexuals, polygamy, apostasy as a capital offense, and the belief that Jews are the offspring of apes and pigs?

It is instructive that "diversity education" is predicated on the belief that we in the West have on obligation to understand Islam. However, the reverse doesn't follow. One might presume that Muslims in the West should come to know and appreciate Western Civilization. Moreover, students who are not versed in the history and customs of the polity they find themselves in will be handicapped. Yet curiously integration, that was once the overarching strategy for dealing with immigrants, has been replaced by cultural pluralism, "from the one, many" instead of "from the many, one."

In Germany and throughout western Europe there is an effort to bend over backwards to accommodate the Islamic population. In the process, this effort produces results that counter good intentions. First, the Islamic population believes, with considerable confirmation, that Europeans do not possess the will to assert the importance of their own culture and traditions. Second, the insertion of Islam into German schools suggests tacitly that Islam is on the rise and cannot be denied even in non-Islamic nations.

Preemptive capitulation is nothing more than an attenuated form of defeat. It is noteworthy that Islamic leaders recognize it in this way. The aggressive stance taken by Islamic leaders in Europe is based to an extraordinary degree on the flexibility and weakness of those who might defend the West.

G. K. Chesterton once noted that "an open mind, like an open mouth, should close on something." As I see it, that something should be the traditions of the West, the Judeo-Christian principles that gave birth to our civilization. If people want to live in this civilization, that is what they should be obliged to learn. Anything else, weakens the West and will usher in continual discord.

New York's Traffic Gridlock

A former Commissioner of Traffic several decades ago was asked, "what is the best way to get cross town in Manhattan?" He thought for a moment and said, "Be born there." That statement was made before bus lanes, bicycle lanes, outdoor seating in the middle of Times Square, trains bursting with passengers at all hours of the day, and an MTA that puts most of its money into employee salaries rather than infrastructure maintenance.

New York is now at virtual transportation gridlock. There simply isn't a way to get from point A to point B in the center of this city. As I see it, the best way to get cross town today is to dream about it.

For physicians, the expression "primum non nocere" [first no harm] is axiomatic. But this expression should apply to government officials as much as doctors. In the last three years New York City officials have built 200 miles of bike lanes making First and Second Avenues impassable during rush hour. The attempt to convert New York into a bikers' paradise is bizarre. Only an elitist who doesn't ride a bus or walk the streets thinks that this metropolitan city can resemble Amsterdam.

Some New York residents actually believe bike lanes are pedestrian walkways making them extremely hazardous to your health. Moreover, since there aren't regulations for bikers there is the belief that riding against traffic is permitted. DOT Commissioner Janette Sadikkhan contends, "There's a new street code out there and we need everyone to look out for one another and be safe." Is she kidding? In New York, the code is move if you can and let the pedestrian be damned.

Of course, this is only half the problem. Mayor Bloomberg got the inspired idea that tourists need an outdoor seating area in the middle of Times Square and Herald Square making two of New York's busiest areas into a nightmarish congestion. If God forbid, you need an ambulance or fire truck in these locales to save a life, you can count on dying. There is simply no way to pass.

In addition, our government leaders contend the best way to get around this city is by subway trains, that is if you can get on them. The Numbers 4 and 5 on the east side are always jammed; in fact, I usually consider myself lucky if I can get on the train at all. At the 42nd Street station there isn't enough room to stand with would-be passengers sitting on the steps in the hope they can get on the next train.

Because the east side trains are so crowded I have opted for the R, running along Broadway. However this train is the slowest in the Western world. A trip from the Staten Island Ferry to Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, a trip of roughly six miles took me on hour and twenty minutes last week. I am persuaded I can walk more briskly than that pace.

What this adds up to is a city in transportation gridlock. Roads designed for bikers; avenues designed for tourists and trains designed for sloths. I love New York, but I would like to be able to move in this city before I move out of it. I would like to believe that New York was more than a place for those living in zip code 10021.

You would have to be myopic to design a transportation system as chaotic as ours. The cost of getting around has to be factored into the business equation. The frustration of sitting in traffic has to take a toll on drivers. The congestion of trains must be having an effect on passengers.

But New York goes on blithely as if these conditions are "normal." Let me assure my fellow New Yorkers that the city is coming to a standstill. You will not be able to move crosstown or uptown, traffic will be frozen. At that point, the mayor is likely to say use a helicopter to get from one place to the next. Now there's a practical answer for the city's transportation woes. *

"No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America." --George Washington

Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:51

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), and most recently, America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and, publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

The Rise and Fall of a President

However one chooses to evaluate the mid-cycle 2010 election, there is only one logical conclusion: the repudiation of President Obama and his policies. It was not only what happened at the polls and the transfer of power in the House of Representatives, but investors led a rally with the Dow industrials rising 64.10 points the day after the election results were announced.

President Obama's ascent from obscurity to prominence was predicated on a calculated expression of bipartisanship, of bringing Americans together. His descent from prominence to political ignominy is based on narrowly focused partisanship, willful debasement of "enemies" and a display of arrogant leadership.

The wholesale Republican victory in the House represents a shift as significant as any in the last 60 years. Moreover, Republicans gained gubernatorial seats and Senate seats as well, albeit Senate control was beyond their reach. Most significantly, those Democrats who ran in relatively safe seats but were ardent supporters of President Obama were, defeated. For example, Virginia Representative Rick Boucher, a rock-solid supporter of the president, went down to a surprising defeat. Representative Alan Grayson, a hard-charging liberal and ardent Obama acolyte, also lost, despite national support from liberal organizations.

What this portends for the future of this republic is unclear. Will President Obama triangulate, as Bill Clinton did after his electoral loss in 1994, or is he so driven by ideological passion, he cannot do so? Will a divided government set the stage for stasis with little legislative activity or will this lead to a bipartisan alliance of the moderates in both parties leading to surprising activism?

The one overarching issue that seemingly united Republicans with many Independents and Tea Partiers is opposition to Obama's healthcare legislation. Whether accurate or not, there is the widely held perception that a bureaucrat in Washington will be determining the nature and duration of your treatment should it be necessary. As a consequence, many believe freedom is imperiled and the expansion of government into a command economy is the direction of the future. Will the House leadership take advantage of this sentiment by refusing to appropriate funds for Obamacare?

What this election indicates is that the public does not accept the "change" Obama promised and has acted on it. America is a place different from the president's understanding. Most people are patient and reticent to turn on a president they once supported, but Mr. Obama has introduced reforms so extreme and a financial commitment so dire that John and Mary Q. Public are in open rebellion.

It is instructive that the president has consistently made claims he has been unable to justify. For example, the stimulus package was brokered as a way to create jobs, but the unemployment rate has actually increased despite the federal expenditure. The president has consistently ignored or repudiated America's allies and has embraced the nation's enemies, but there isn't any evidence this has reduced global tensions.

At the moment, President Obama has opened a credibility gap as wide as the Grand Canyon. The Independents who initially supported the president and accounted, in no small part, for his electoral success, have turned against him. They do not accept his rhetoric and question his decision-making capacity.

The question that remains is whether the Republican Party is prepared to take advantage of this electoral shift. Can the party design an agenda consistent with "the tail wind" this election has provided? Can the Republicans be more than the Party of No? Can they avoid being the villains in a scenario the president constructs that sets the stage for his reelection in 2012?

It is hard to answer these questions at the moment, but the election opens the door to electoral opportunity. It is now incumbent for Republican leaders to walk through it.

A Tea Party Beyond Boston

"They are extremists"; "they are pawns of the Republican party"; "they are revolutionaries"; so it goes with strident leftist attacks on Tea Party adherents. Alarmed at the expansion of the federal government since 2009 and frustrated by the Obama administration's redistribution schemes, many Americans have taken to the streets.

Most of these people were apolitical before the intrusiveness of Obama political tactics. And, despite what many in the media assume, the majority of these Tea Partiers are Independents and Democrats (Republicans constitute 48 percent of the total).

Since the protests began, liberal groups have tried to deny that this is a genuine grassroots movement. They contend that it is a creation of corporate interests and is motivated by racial hatred. But up till now, this effort to discredit the Tea Party has not worked.

The Tea Party is by no means a carefully organized association; it is held together by a devotion to fiscal responsibility, limited government and personal liberty. If there is one issue that unites Tea Partiers it is opposition to Obamacare, the administration's healthcare bill which relies on enormous expenditures, expansive government, and a bureaucratic approach that limits personal liberty.

Despite the more general critique of present political conditions, the Tea Partiers also agree on several specific matters: enactment of a flat tax; sunset provisions on laws passed by the Congress; constitutionality tests for all proposed bills; statutory caps on federal spending; imposition of a moratorium on earmarks; and repeal of the proposed 2011 tax increases. Yet these positions do not constitute a separate party platform; they are merely the issues Tea Partiers employ for solidarity and as instruments for influencing the major parties. As one Tea Party acolyte noted, "The Tea Party movement is not about a party. . . it's about finding candidates who are constitutionally minded and fiscally responsible . . . and helping them win."

Whatever the actual intention, people like former President Bill Clinton seemed to equate the Tea Party rhetoric with the hatred that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing when he warned against "crossing the line" that separates anti-government protest from advocacy of violence. However, as someone who has attended Tea Party events across the country, I have found most adherents to be modest in their advocacy and responsible in their behavior, notwithstanding the occasional inflammatory statement. At no point have I ever heard racist commentary of a general nature or a specific racist allegation directed at President Obama. Even Vice President Biden cautioned against resorting to racist claims about the Tea Party.

By reflexively rejecting the Tea Party movement, Democratic Party candidates and office holders are alienating independents whose votes they often need to get elected. An ABC News/Washington Post voter opinion poll found that six in ten registered voters do not have faith in the president's handling of the economy, and many in this category are sympathetic to the Tea Party movement.

A Rasmussen poll found that 41 percent had a favorable impression of the movement and 46 percent believed it was beneficial for the nation (only 31 percent described it as "harmful"). It would seem that insulting the Tea Party hasn't discredited it in the public imagination. On the contrary, the Tea Party has become the inspiration for grassroots political action across the country.

When Satirists Dominate the Culture

In what can only be described as the corruption of politics, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had a "Sanity Rally" recently to energize Democrats and counter the Glen Beck "Restoring Honor" rally conducted in August. With an unofficial crowd estimated at 200,000, Colbert launched the event by arriving on stage in a capsule like a rescued Chilean miner from an underground bunker. He pretended to distrust all Muslims until basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who is Muslim, came on stage. "Maybe I need to be more discerning," Colbert mused, then turning to Stewart to scold: "Your reasonableness is poisoning my fear."

For many at this rally, it was an opportunity to take control of the political narrative, if only for one afternoon. The liberals had their moment in the sun. Absurdist views along with protest placards seemed to suggest frustration with the leadership in the Democratic party that many described as timid, fearful, and unwilling to stand behind President Obama.

Alex Foxworth, a 26-year-old doctoral student from Richmond, Virginia, summed it up by noting: "The battle for the American mind right now is between talk show hosts and comedians. I choose the comedians."

Alas, that is precisely how many in the nation view politics of the moment. All aspects of life from campaigns to social exchange have become a form of amusement. Serious discussion is immediately thought of as ideology and hence rejected as bias and propaganda. In the final volume of Winston Churchill's The Second World War there is a subtitle "How the Great Democracies Triumphed and So Were Able to Resume the Follies Which Had so Nearly Cost Them Their Life." The rally in Washington was merely one manifestation of the follies. It was not an isolated event, but rather part and parcel of a pattern found in all of the mass media: continuous amusement.

Hilaire Belloc, observing this contemporary condition, said:

We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh, we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.

Yes, we laugh at the comic inversions and excoriating certitudes; we admire the comedians. But there is a backdrop for this rally of satirists; it is comprised of historical forces that often do not take kindly to the destruction of normative judgment. It is especially harsh with the display of hubris that the gods never forgive.

In writing about The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism Max Weber noted that in the final stage of this evolution, it might truly be said:

Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.

Is this where we are at the moment -- laughing at the nullity and assuming we have reached a higher level of civilization?

Oscar Wilde once argued that "When bad ideas have nowhere to go they gravitate to American universities and become courses." Surely there is truth in this claim, but only a partial truth. Bad ideas emerge as satire when the nation engages in nervous laughter about what to believe, and comedians provide the course for the future.

When every condition is a joke, the nation is in trouble. Americans need relief from quotidian tension; they also need serious reflection on the present state of affairs.


You have undoubtedly heard of existentialism, a philosophical position based on personal choice without the benefit of normative judgment. I reject it since driving through a red light is hazardous to your health.

However, I am a resistentialist, an eponymous condition in which adherents categorically reject the fatuities of modern life. Let me cite several examples.

Automobile manufacturers produce a car with 300 horsepower that can easily achieve speeds of 120 miles per hour so that the car can remain stalled on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour.

Art is often described as post-modern, a school that has flash but no pan. However, if modern is new, how can you be post new? In fact, at what point does new go post?

Texting is the communications channel of the young. But from what I can discern it is an addiction to banality since the text hasn't any substance and the language is puerile shorthand, e.g., RUOK?

The iPod is one of those devices that permits cultural toxins such as rap music to enter the brain without filter. It inflicts a form of Parkinson's disease on its adherents who find it very difficult to stand still.

These examples are the symptoms of modernity that resistentialists oppose. Fortunately personal liberty suggests you don't have to drive a car with a turbo engine or admire Michael Graves' architecture or use a handheld device to communicate or put any electronic wiring in your ears. But it is hard to avoid the conditions of modernity since they are osmotic, in the cultural air surrounding us.

Hence resistentialists must be tough-minded cultural snobs who reject the lure of advertisers and marketing mavens. They are obliged to write their own social scripts. "I won't go there; I won't touch that item" is the lamentation of resistance.

When the pressures are great and they will be, especially as the teenage daughter demands her own iPad, the emotional test begins. If the resistentialist concedes he will become a "resentialist," browbeating himself for the concession. If he doesn't concede, the children will harangue and display the unadorned bad behavior their uncivilized friends will encourage.

There aren't many triumphal moments for the resistentialist, but the few he does experience are memorable. I recall with satisfaction my resistance to the plasma screen TV. After all, I noted, is it really so different from the conventional color TV? "Well," said the salesman "Yes, it is different and it will change the nature of viewing." I wasn't about to change my viewing patterns and would certainly not do so for $2500. So I resisted. A year later this same television set sold for $2000 and despite entreaties from my family, I remained firmly opposed. By the third year the price was $1200 and I conceded, but at least I had the satisfaction of knowing my resistance saved $1300. Needless to say, others didn't see it that way. "Dad, you denied us three years of viewing pleasure." That was the price they had to pay for my resistentialist dedication.

I doubt my obdurate stance will catch on as a public philosophy. Camus and Sartre need not worry about the rise of resistentialism as an antidote to their existential views, but one never knows. I am confident there are others who see the silliness in so much of modern life. But I should note, before you get the wrong idea, that there is much about modernity I embrace including freedom and even many aspects of technology. I am not a Luddite; modern toilets suit me very well.

But absurdities abound. I would like to know what "free range" chickens do that chickens in a coop do not. I would like to know why a player has to dance in the end zone if he scores a touchdown? And I would love to know why the brim of a baseball cap is now worn on the side of one's head.

I resist all of this, all of the absurdity that accompanies contemporary life. And I have incorporated my beliefs into this philosophical stance. I don't know if I can stick to my guns, but you can be sure I intend to try. Viva resistentialism! *

"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave." --Patrick Henry

We would like to thank the following people for their generous support of this journal (from 9/13/2010 -- 11/15/2010): John D. Alt, George E. Andrews, William D. Andrews, Ariel, Gordon S. Auchincloss, A. D. Baggerley, Douglas W. Barr, George L. Batten, Charles Bescheidt, Georges A. Bonnet, Peter Boosalis, Wesley Borntrager, Patrick J. Buchanan, Price B. Burgess, William C. Campion, Dino Casali, Garry W. Croudis, Betty G. Davis, Dianne C. DeBoest, Peter R. DeMarco, Francis P. Destafano, Alice DiVittorio, Don Dyslin, Nicholas Falco, Joe Fetzer, Joseph C. Firey, Nansie Lou Follen, Donald G. Galow, John B. Gardner, Robert C. Gerken, Gary D. Gillespie, William B. Glew, Mart A. Grams, Hollis J. Griffin, Joyce H. Griffin, Richard P. Grossman, Violet H. Hall, Weston N. Hammel, Bernhard Heersink, Jaren E. Hiller, John A. Howard, Thomas E. Humphreys, David Ihle, Burleigh Jacobs, Edgar Jordan, Margaret Kearney, Robert E. Kelly, Frank G. Kenski, Joseph D. Kluchinsky, Gloria Knoblauch, Charlesd B. Koehler, Robert M. Kubow, Mark S. Laboe, Alan Lee, Mildred S. Linhof, Gregor MacDonald, Cary M Maguire, Roberta R. McQuade, Eugene F. Meenagh, Woodbridge C. Metalf, Albert D. Miller, David P. & Barbara R. Mitchel, Jerry W. Moore, Robert A. Moss, John M. Nickolaus, David Norris, King Odell, Michas M. Ohnstad, Harold K. Olson, Clark Palmer, Gregory J. Pulles, Jack Rice, Paul T. Riel, Patrick L. Risch, Irene L. Schultz, Harry Richard Schumache, William A. Shipley, Elsbeth G. Smith, Lee Stoerzinger, Michael S. Swisher, Taki Theodoracopulos, Paul B. Thompson, Pat Tinucci, Elizabeth E. Torrance, Thomas Warth, Thomas H. Webster, John V. Westberg, T. James Willett, Gaylord P. Zabulba.

Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:47

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), and most recently, America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

The Mosque on Sacred Ground

At a White House dinner on August 13 President Obama in unequivocal terms defended the building of a mosque in lower Manhattan on religious freedom grounds. As I see it, the president was correct about the Constitutional protections afforded religious freedom on private property. But he was myopic about the context, i.e., the effrontery to build a symbol of Islamic faith at the doorstep of the Ground Zero site where terrorists killed in the name of Islam.

September 11 lives for downtown residents of New York. The World Trade Center site is a constant reminder of human malevolence. It also speaks to political incompetence, of politicians compromised by double-dealing and arrogance.

While the site shows signs of rebirth and a tribute will be built to remind Americans of the 2,800 innocent people who lost their lives one crystal-clear morning in September, an insult deep and penetrating is being launched two blocks away on Park Place with the building of a mosque that will overlook the World Trade Center site.

Mayor Bloomberg and the Downtown Community Board (by a vote of 29 to 1) approved of this religious center, citing freedom of religion arguments. What they overlook, however, is far more persuasive than First Amendment defenses.

Freedom of religion, like any freedom, is not absolute; freedom is defined by limitations. Indians are not free to use peyote indiscriminately in religious services since drug use violates the law of the land. And religion that promotes hate or is an incitement to violence should be and can be curbed.

In the case of the downtown mosque several questions remain unanswered. If a mosque can be built anywhere, why is it being constructed adjacent to the former World Trade Center? Although denials abound, the title of the mosque, Cordoba House, reveals a great deal. In Cordoba, Muslims built a mosque on a Catholic church as a symbol of their triumph in Spain. That symbolism may be evident at the New York site as well.

It is also instructive that the provenance of the $100 million for the project remains unknown. My guess -- based on many global examples -- is that Saudi petro dollars are behind the underwriting. If true, this mosque is likely to promote Wahabbist beliefs -- the most radical brand of Islam.

The promoters of the mosque contend they are Americans who love their country and eschew violence of any kind. Yet they refuse to condemn Hamas and refuse to recognize it as a terrorist organization.

What this episode demonstrates is a form of liberal myopia, an unwillingness to recognize the optics in this situation. For Muslims around the world who deplore the West, specifically the "Great U.S. Demon," this mosque is the symbol of victory. It shows that America doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to resist its enemies. There are lines to be drawn on the matter of taste, patriotism, and appropriateness that transcend reflexive adherence to the First Amendment.

As far as I know, no one is arguing against the construction of mosques, albeit when a religion promotes hate against other faiths, believes apostates and other believers are less than human, argues against the separation of church and state, and is eager to undermine the Constitution, an argument can be made that this religion engages in sedition and should be banned or, at least, censured.

At this point, the pols have spoken. The mosque most likely will be built. But for those of us who reside downtown that building will not be an expression of tolerance, but rather a wound on the city and the nation. It will represent despair; it will serve as a permanent insult to those New Yorkers who lost their lives a decade ago.

In the midst of sacred territory there will be a constant reminder that those who despise our way of life and everything this republic stands for can use our hard-fought liberties to desecrate this land. No matter what Bloomberg says, this is what New Yorkers will be reminded of whenever they pass the mosque on Park Place. As significantly, this is also what radical Muslims will see whenever television cameras pan to this religious edifice. What a shame; alas, what a disgrace.

The Wild Turkish Card

The arrival of the U.S.S. Harry Truman Strike Group in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea and its war games with France and Israel, as well as reinforcements for American forces in Azerbaijan (on the Iran border) could be mere saber rattling or a prelude to an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Whatever the motive, it is also clear that Turkey, as a NATO member, has access to a wide array of American military technology that could reveal our aims to adversaries in the Middle East. With a dramatic shift in its political orientation and increasingly close ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, Turkey has the potential to cause great damage to American regional interests and even forestall possible military action.

Yet the Obama administration has shown little interest in the radical reorientation with Turkey and its relationship to NATO according to a JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) report. The recent arrest of past and present military figures who are defenders of secularism should have promoted comment from the White House. Instead, there has been conspicuous silence. Similarly, the Turkish role with the Gaza flotilla and the inflammatory rhetoric that emanated from the Turkish corridors of power received very little attention from the State Department.

Clearly the Obama team does not want to jeopardize its alliance with Turkey, but it is also clear that Turkish intelligence services are working overtime to separate the military from Israel and former Western allies. From the U.S. perspective, a key concern is whether these moves lead to the sharing of information with our enemies, information that could undermine any action against Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

It should be noted that Turkey has the third largest air force in NATO with 230 F-16s. It has several refueling tankers, four AWACs to direct air battles and a navy with diesel submarines, and amphibious capability. Moreover, the United States has not taken any steps to reduce or eliminate the flow of military technology or systems to Turkey. On the contrary, because Turkey has a small contingent in Afghanistan, the U.S. regards this commitment as critical to its counterinsurgency program. But this commitment comes with serious risks. Turkey's growing closeness to Iran could complicate Afghanistan's future, particularly if ideological collaboration trumps all other strategic concerns.

That the U.S. appears to be dithering as Turkey moves away from its former friends is alarming to other nations in the region. It also foreshadows a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East. General McChrystal argued that in his meetings with President Obama, the president seemed disengaged and uninterested. It may be that this too was a sign of America's emotional, as well as physical, disengagement from the region.

If that is true -- and there is little reason to doubt it -- it augurs for a dangerous period. A political vacuum is always filled. Iran is the emerging "strong horse" in this neighborhood and everyone from Maliki to Erdogan realize as much.

Can the U.S. recapture its influence after displaying a lack of interest? Will it allow Turkey to use its strategic association with NATO in order to advantage Iran? Will Turkey interfere directly or indirectly to thwart any military operation against Iran's nuclear facilities? These questions are not answerable at this time, but in the answers rest the fate of the Middle East and perhaps the world. As the French poet Charles Pegury noted: "Everything starts in mystery and ends in politics."

Oliver Stone and Hugo Chavez

In what can only be considered the view of a misguided dupe, Oliver Stone has released his pro-Hugo Chavez film, "South of the Border." The Socialist International (SI), not exactly the precinct of Milton Friedman, reports that the oil-rich Chavez is suppressing dissent, interfering with press freedom, mismanaging the economy, and destabilizing the region.

One might assume that SI would defend the Venezuelan ruler, but instead this organization argues Chavez is hurting the very poor people he has vowed to represent. Chavez does have his American supporters, e.g., Mark Floyd at the F.C.C. and Mark Weisbrot of the Soros-supported Center for Economic and Policy Studies. None, however, are as devoted to Chavez as Stone.

Stone has directed a festschrift that has only a passing relationship to the truth. He relies on the husband of a Chavez government employee who misrepresents many of the facts surrounding the Chavez government. Stone neglects to point out the 30 percent inflation rate, the highest on the continent, or the deepening recession brought about by Chavez's incompetent management. Chavez has even abandoned thousands of tons of food in shipping containers despite widespread food scarcity. Most noteworthy is the suppression of dissent and the intimidation of minorities such as the centuries-old Jewish community.

Caracas is characterized by a climate of insecurity and fear, conditions that Stone has chosen to ignore. Chavez has subverted democratic procedures while seizing control of the oil industry, electrical production, steel and construction industries, agriculture, telecommunications, and banking. He exercises his power through the take-over of private businesses and manipulation of the election laws, unaffected by modulated criticism.

On the foreign policy front Chavez is just as confrontational. He has been a leading supporter of FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and has signed several pacts for the exchange of military material with Iran. At an event for Syrian president Bashar al Assad, Chavez denounced Israel as a genocidal government that is "a common enemy," a murderous arm of the Yankee empire. Statements of this kind and continual harassment forced the head of the Jewish community, Rabbi Brenner, to leave Venezuela.

Yet despite the evidence and the arguments of eyewitnesses, Stone and his collaborator Mark Weisbrot, who co-wrote the screenplay, insist the charges against Chavez are "nonsense." They contend that U.S. media have unfairly depicted Chavez as a dictator, oligarch, and friend of terrorists, even through Chavez himself defended ties to FARC and military agreements with Iran.

Asked by the New York Times to explain factual inconsistencies in the film and the failure to acknowledge fair criticism of Chavez's human rights record, Tariq Ali, another script writer, said, "It's hardly a secret that we support the other side. It's an opinionated documentary." Of course, he could have said it's a propaganda vehicle designed to sanitize the actions of the dictatorial Chavez regime.

This new Stone feature comes on the heels of Stone's usual anti-American refrain in film after film. According to Stone, Wall Street is filled with amoral, greedy entrepreneurs, the CIA plotted to kill JFK and, the U.S. deserves to be defeated in war. Never mind that Stone has enjoyed wealth beyond the imagination of Croesus, undeserved fame and status for his obsessive conspiracy theories. He is an exemplar of a new breed: the critic who achieves fame and fortune for attacking the government that affords him freedom to attack.

If Stone were ever successful in achieving his goals, he would put himself in the position of irrelevance. It is a good thing for him that America remains resilient. If that weren't the case, Stone would soon be out of work.

Thought Control at Augusta State University

It often seems as if political correctness hasn't any boundaries. Recently an Augusta State University counseling student filed a lawsuit against her university claiming it violated her First Amendment rights when she was allegedly told to change her traditional Christian views on homosexuality or leave.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed suit on behalf of Jennifer Keaton seeking to prevent the expulsion from her master's degree program.

According to David French, the ADF attorney representing Keaton:

They (college officials) made a cascading series of presumptions about the kind of a counselor she would be and have consequently . . . tried to force her to change her beliefs. It's symbolic of an educational system that has lost its way.

The suit claims that program officials were upset that Ms. Keaton stated her belief that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and not a "state of living." According to the suit, the university wants her to undergo "thought reform" intended to alter her perception. Most significantly, she faces expulsion unless she complies.

To exacerbate matters within the department, Ms. Keaton argued the "conversion therapy" for homosexuals should be entertained, a point of view that departed significantly from accepted norms within the program and according to program officials, from "psychological research." It is noteworthy that the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) defends the practice Keaton advocates and notes opponents of conversion therapy are often criticized by politically motivated biases, albeit, in fairness, the reverse accusation might also be made.

The Augusta State University counseling program required Ms. Keaton to attend at least three pro-gay sensitivity training courses, read pro-gay peer reviewed journals, and participate in Augusta's gay pride parade. She was also asked to familiarize herself with the Association of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Issues in "Counseling" webpage, which defines homosexual behavior as healthy and an appropriate way of life. In addition, her professors required "a two page reflection" each month on how her participation in pro-gay activities "has influenced her beliefs" and how future clients might benefit from her experience.

Without getting into the merits of the case and the claims in the lawsuit, it seems to me that if even a portion of the allegation is accurate the Augusta counseling program is engaged in a form of thought control that hasn't any place in the Academy. As I see it, if there are diametrically different positions on the nature -- nurture argument regarding homosexuality both points of view -- with empirical evidence marshaled for each side -- should be entertained and given a fair hearing. It is not as if one position is dispositive, notwithstanding the position taken by the counseling program.

In far too many instances a university orthodoxy is confused with the rational exegesis of an idea. Proponents of the orthodoxy act as if they are the American version of the Red Guard, incapable of even giving a fair hearing to an alternative point of view; in fact, often going to the extreme of requiring a reeducation program.

Here is the rub: university life predicated on the free and open exchange of opinion has often become a filtering mechanism for politically correct ideas. Those who do not share this view are chastised or, in Ms. Keaton's case, put through a thought control exercise.

It is interesting that Ms. Keaton's religiously based view of homosexuality is disregarded, even though one could argue her First Amendment rights are being violated. In the way the university is constituted today, some designated groups have more rights than others. You don't need a program to know which groups fall into that category; the university catalogue is likely to offer that information.

The Arts in the Obama Age

From the origin of the National Endowment for the Arts during the Johnson administration to the election of President Obama, the arts community was united in its opposition to censorship. The argument that prevailed is that the NEA should not use funding to restrict artistic expression or deny support for art that might offend bourgeois sensibility.

When a significant segment of the public was outraged to learn that the NEA provided funding for Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ," the arts community rose as one decrying censorship over efforts to cut funding for his "art." The arts community was equally upset at the suggestion that government policymakers might influence the content of its art work. As the arts world sees it, the government should pay, but should remain silent about artistic content.

During the George H. W. Bush administration the NEA required grant recipients to sign an anti-obscenity pledge, which sparked a spate of angry comments from the arts community and a generally hostile stance to President Bush.

Now, however, the worm has turned. The NEA under President Obama has expressed a desire to use the agency as a propaganda instrument to promote the administration positions. And astonishingly, the arts world seems all too amendable to political advocacy as part and parcel of its work.

Patrick Courrielche, a film-maker, exposed an Obama administration attempt to use the NEA to build support for the president's agenda. At a White House meeting artists were encouraged to promote arts activities that "can be used for a positive change." That, of course, translates into advocacy for presidential policies in healthcare, environment and energy, education, and community service. As Buffy Wicks, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, noted, "We're going to come at you with some specific 'asks' here."

One might have assumed that the "asks" to the artistic community would lead to public outrage. After all, the fiercely independent artists are being told that promoting the president's agenda might result in NEA grants. In fact, it appears that taxpayer money is being employed to enlist artists in a promotional campaign for the president. It is hard to imagine what kind of journalistic explosion would have occurred if the erstwhile Bush administration tried anything like this.

NEA funding has always been controversial because there are critics -- I count myself among them -- who believe the government should not be funding the arts at all. To avoid controversy that emerged from Serrano's work and Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photography, the NEA allocated funds to state and local arts agencies where there was somewhat less chance controversial decisions world emerge.

But that is changing with the Obama team. The Stimulus Package, for example, includes an additional $50 million for the arts, presumably to maintain employment in this field. The DC Examiner, however, points out that seven of the groups receiving this NEA funding had representatives on the Obama campaign's Arts Policy Committee.

In what seems like the very distant past, the NEA explained that it could not interfere with the artworks of those who received grants from the agency. Dana Gioia, former NEA chairman, wrote "the NEA does not dictate arts policy to the United States."

Of course, under President Obama that is precisely what it does. Is a culture czar far fetched, one who assures us that the arts are needed to enhance presidential actions? Where are the artists who celebrate their adversarial role?

Oprah Winfrey recently produced a video urging Americans to take a "presidential pledge" by volunteering "to make a difference." The lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers says, "I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama."

Where is artistic defiance when you need it? The comments by the arts community are dripping with hypocrisy. Artistic expression in the Obama era appears to be little more than a compliant political instrument. 1984 may be a quarter of a century in the past, but the sentiments in this book indicate it is back to the future as Obama pays artists to propagandize on his behalf. It is hard to believe this is happening in the United States with the willing acceptance of the artistic community, but there you have it. *

"The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them." --Patrick Henry

Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:45

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), and most recently, America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

The Coming Crisis In the Middle East

The gathering storm in the Middle East is gaining momentum. War clouds are on the horizon and like conditions prior to World War I all it takes for explosive action to commence is a trigger.

Turkey's provocative flotilla often described in Orwellian terms as a "humanitarian mission," has set in motion a flurry of diplomatic activity, but if the Iranians send escort vessels for the next round of Turkish ships, it could present a casus belli.

It is also instructive that Syria is playing a dangerous game with both missile deployment and rearming Hezbollah. According to most public accounts, Hezbollah is sitting on 40,000 long-, medium-, and short-range missiles and Syrian territory has served as a conduit for military material from Iran since the end of the 2006 Lebanon War.

Should Syria move its own scuds to Lebanon or deploy its troops as reinforcement for Hezbollah, a wider regional war with Israel could not be contained.

In the backdrop is an Iran with sufficient fissionable material to produce a couple of nuclear weapons. It will take some time to weaponize missiles, but the road to that goal is synchronized in green lights since neither diplomacy nor diluted sanctions can convince Iran to change course.

Iran is poised to be the hegemon in the Middle East. It is increasingly considered the "strong horse" as American forces incrementally retreat from the region. Even Iraq, ironically, may depend on Iranian ties in order to maintain internal stability. From Qatar to Afghanistan all political eyes are on Iran.

For Sunni nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, regional strategic vision is a combination of deal making to offset the Iranian Shia advantage and attempting to buy or develop nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Iranian ambition. However, both of these governments are in a precarious state. Should either fall, all bets are off in the Middle East neighborhood. It has long been said that the Sunni "tent" must stand on two legs: if one falls, the tent collapses.

Should that tent collapse and should Iran take advantage of that calamity, it could incite a Sunni-Shia war. With Iran feeling its oats and no longer dissuaded by an escalation scenario with nuclear weapons, war against Israel is a distinct possibility. However, implausible it may seem at the moment, the possible annihilation of Israel and the prospect of a second holocaust could lead to a nuclear exchange.

The only wild card that can change this slide into warfare is an active United States policy. Yet, curiously, the U.S. is engaged in both an emotional and physical retreat from the region. Despite rhetoric which suggests an Iran with nuclear weapons is intolerable, it has done nothing to forestall that eventual outcome. Despite the investment in blood and treasure to allow a stable government to emerge in Iraq, the anticipated withdrawal of U.S. forces has prompted President Maliki to travel to Tehran on a regular basis. And despite historic links to Israel that gave the U.S. leverage in the region and a democratic ally, the Obama administration treats Israel as a national security albatross that must be disposed of as soon as possible.

As a consequence, the U.S. is perceived in the region as the "weak horse," the one that is dangerous to ride. In every Middle East capital the words "unreliable and United States" are linked. Those seeking a moderate course of action are now in a distinct minority. A political vacuum is emerging, one that is not sustainable and one the Iranian leadership looks to with imperial exhilaration.

It is no longer a question of whether war will occur, but rather when it will occur and where it will break out. There are many triggers to ignite the explosion, but not many scenarios for containment. Could it be a regional war in which Egypt and Saudi Arabia watch from the sidelines, but secretly wish for Israeli victory? Or is this a war in which there aren't victors, only devastation? Moreover, should war break out, what does the U.S. do?

This is a description far more dire than any in the last century and, even if some believe my view is overly pessimistic, Arab and Jew, Persian and Egyptian, Muslim and Maronite tend to believe in its veracity. That is a truly bad sign.

Austrian Complacency and the Movement for Sharia

Vienna is a city bursting with history. The sounds of Mozart pulsate in the streets. Tourists abound. Apple strudel and local sausage are unparalled. The Vienna of jack boots and swastikas is a distant memory. Even the Vienna as a sanctuary for escapees from Communism is long forgotten. On the surface, the contemporary Vienna is prosperous, peaceful, and civilized.

But there is another Vienna percolating beneath the surface, a dark threatening presence that has the potential to undo the tranquility Austrians have come to accept as the norm. This is the Austrian version of banlieus, the areas populated by Muslims, mostly Turkish Muslims. In these areas, crime is on the rise, resentment is palpable and building facades are marred with graffiti.

Most significantly, the average person refuses to recognize the potential problem these communities represent. If one is audacious enough to point out the dangers, the specter of Islamophobia or racism is raised as a chilling censor. It is instructive that defenders of Enlightenment ideas such as individual rights, property rights, and the rule of law are castigated as right-wing fanatics when they insist on applying these principles to Muslim minorities.

So preoccupied are establishment figures with maintaining the peace or, at least, the Austrian form of tranquility, that they prefer to avert their gaze and criticize the democratic debunkers. It is obvious, or should be obvious, that sharia is inconsistent with Enlightenment ideas. But when it comes to peace versus principle, authorities opt for the former, fearful that any other stance will exacerbate public attitudes.

As a consequence, official state numbers suggest the Islamic population in Austria has remained stable at 500,000 over the last decade, even through the birth rate among Muslims is more than twice the replacement level of 2:1. Far better to deceive than alarm the public at large.

The same condition prevails on the crime rate. Since crime statistics aren't broken down by race or ethnicity, the average person may intuit a disproportiate crime rate among Muslims, but it isn't part of the public record.

When Elisabeth Sabaditch-Wolf, a Vienna, resident spoke out against Muslim practices that threaten democracy, she was labeled a right-wing fanatic and is facing prosecution for public incitement. Rather than honor her for defending civilizational principles, she has been marginalized as an extremist by Austrian authorities. These prosecutions -- even if unsuccessful -- have a chilling influence on free speech and open debate.

It is remarkable that sharia has won a psychological victory since it cannot be challenged without judicial investigation. Yet sharia, in essence, cannot tolerate apostasy. Apostates, according to Koranic principles, must either convert, submit, or die. This is a direct contradiction of democratic ideals and a violation of liberal religious practice established over centuries of bloodletting. Now, without a shot being fired, the Austrians have seemingly conceded. All it took was the possibility of violence and the osmotic ambience of intimidation.

One gets the impression a nation that has grown to love freedom and prosperity has grown complacent. And with that complacency, Austrians will engage in almost any rationalized arabesque in order to maintain tranquility. Without fully realizing it, this strategy is leading inexorably to the totalitarianism it fought so hard to avoid during the Cold War. Sharia disavows secular prescriptions, but in its political agenda it is intent on transforming Western institutions. Signs of that goal are already evident in Austria today.

Doctors Who Compromise With Islam

In a policy shift that smacks of appeasement, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested American doctors should be given permission to perform a ceremonial pinprick on girls from Muslim culture in order to keep their families from imposing full circumcision, cliterdectomies.

The academy's committee on bioethics justified this stance by noting federal law "makes criminal any nonmedical procedure performed on the genitals" of a girl in the United States, thereby driving some families to take their daughters overseas to undergo mutilation. Presumably the ritual "nick" is a compromise to avoid greater harm.

But whatever the intention, this policy shift vouchsafes legitimacy to a practice that should not be permitted. How much bloodletting will satisfy parents? And at what point do compromises end?

If Muslim countries allow wife beating and slavery, do we allow a little of these practices in the United States in order to avoid more extreme examples? Perhaps a punch or two would be acceptable.

The argument that saying the practice is wrong, unacceptable, and barbaric indicates "insensitivity" to another culture. But as I see it there are humane considerations which transcend cultural practice and that should be honored everywhere.

Currently 130 million females worldwide have undergone genital mutilation according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It is mostly performed on girls under the age of 15. Very often this procedure results in severe complications with pregnancy and sexual dysfunction.

Where are the feminists? It seems to me if there were ever an issue that brings them to the barricades, this is it. Moreover, a compromise that legitimates even the recognition of this monstrous practice should be seen for what it is, the thin edge of the wedge that will allow for other barbaric acts.

On a larger front this decision by pediatricians reveals a sentiment widespread in Europe and now gaining traction in the United States: a desire to avoid conflict through preemptive compromises. Since intimidation is a backstage theme, Western nations prefer conciliation to violence, even if it means undermining the fabric of society. That explains why British and Danish representatives have discussed acknowledging sharia in legal matters. Of course, reconciliation isn't possible since sharia is not capable of accommodating common law and Constitutional principles. For Muslims, it is all or nothing and, since they recognize the vulnerability of Western institutions, it is more "all" than "nothing."

That an intelligent group of doctors does not recognize the implications in its action is truly puzzling. But then again, so many are blinded by fear and hope a "modest" measure of compromise will satisfy the demanding voices. Rarely, of course, does reciprocity enter the equation. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. Unfortunately that is not the way Islam is treated in most Western capitals.

This is not the end of this cultural tale: there are and will be further compromises, and from many surprising sources. Where this is leading is frighteningly clear: the incremental adjustment in Western standards will lead ultimately to civilizational change, unless a cataclysm awakens Western societies to the imperial reality of extremist Islamic sentiment.

The E.U. and Its Likely Breakup

There isn't any need to say "I told you so" for Euro skeptics. They knew what few would admit about the European Union. The fractures in the union now apparent were there all along merely waiting for one crisis to make them self-evident.

With demonstrations over tough austerity measures in Greece, the E.U. is experiencing the first of what could be a host of violent reactions across the continent. In a sense, Greece is the canary in the coal mine foreshadowing what might occur in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland.

In conversations in Austria the typical response is "why should we bail out the Greeks for their profligacy?" Alas, this is the typical German response as well. The Germans were willing to be an underwriter of the Greek bail-out, as long as the IMF is a major partner. But there are limits. Borrowing costs for Europe's most vulnerable countries are soaring and the euro's value is plummeting. E.U. officials warn of "high uncertainty" surrounding the region's economic recovery. Despite a $141 billion rescue package offered the Greek government, it is not clear this sum will cauterize the problem or stop its spread elsewhere.

It is instructive that pensioners took to the Athenian streets in protest against financial retrenchment. In news interviews, the point was often made that these aging citizens saved for retirement and counted on a pension during retirement. Now they find themselves in a financial quagmire they did not create.

Should Spain, with an economy considerably larger than Greece's, face similar economic pressure -- a condition that seems inevitable -- Europe could face an unprecedented banking crisis. While the bail-out could help Greece and might be needed for Spain, it is already widening the divide between Europe's southern area where the financial problems are concentrated and the northern tier, which contains most of the industrial exporters best positioned to take advantage of a weak euro.

Some European economists contend that devaluation will serve as a spur for exports, for growth, and a return to balance of payments equilibrium. But this scenario overlooks the fact that 27 euro-zone countries are inextricably linked to the euro that militates against individual trade strategies. What might be desirable for Sweden could be undesirable for Spain. This is the E.U. dilemma in a nutshell.

Bail-outs come with prescriptions, specifically deep austerity cuts to compensate for generous government hand-outs. However, this measure has, and probably will, spark social anger wherever it is applied. While Greece has been in the forefront in this financial crisis, the IMF has raised the possibility Spain could be next on the road to insolvency. It is estimated that a bail-out for Spain could cost five times the sum allocated for Greece. According to Mark Kirk, a U.S. congressman on the committee that oversees financing for the IMF, "that amount of money is far more than is available to lend."

One Vienna merchant described the crisis personally and poignantly "I do not feel any responsibility to assist a welfare recipient in Barcelona or Lisbon." Whether he feels responsibility or not, the E.U. locks him into a confederation that imposes a level of responsibility. That union cannot continue if the taxes in industrious areas rise to assist nations that are or soon may be insolvent. The complication of regional multiplication is that it penalizes the strong members of the union so that they can assist weak members. By any political calculation this is an unsustainable arrangement.

When the E.U. falls victim to these centrifugal forces is difficult to say, but in my judgment it will happen, and with it, the euro will be a casualty as well, returning Western Europe to its traditional status as a continent with individual states, languages, histories, and economic conditions.

The Search for Equality

If healthcare reform and its aftermath mean anything, it is the calculated attempt to address inequality in the nation, a matter that surfaced during the presidential campaign and an issue that goes to the heart of this administration's game plan.

The presumptive gap between rich and poor has been the catalyst for the Obama obsession with the redistribution of wealth. Mr. Obama claimed that healthcare reform would "mark a new season in America." He added, "We have now just enshrined . . . the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care."

Leaving aside for the moment whether the healthcare legislation provides this basic security and, of course, its effect on the quality of care, the notable portion of the money to pay for this bill will come from payroll taxes on households making $250,000 or more. On average, the annual tax burden for households making a million dollars will rise by $40,000. Another source of financing will come from cutting Medicare subsides for private insurance, ultimately affecting insurance company executives and shareholders.

By contrast, the benefits of the bill flow mostly to households making less than four times the poverty level. Those without insurance in this group will become eligible to receive subsidies or to join Medicaid. Of course, many of the poor are already covered by Medicaid, but this bill extends coverage dramatically. The bill will also suggest that healthy people will be coerced into buying insurance, thereby subsidizing those who heretofore did not have insurance or had preexisting conditions that militated against coverage.

While Mr. Obama has commended President Reagan for "changing the trajectory of America," this bill has changed America, period. From the trickle down view of the economy, Obama has instituted bottom up growth, a theory without an empirical basis. As the president now sees it, class warfare is not only desirable, it is a way to redress economic disparities. Presumably the laissez-faire foundation that Reagan commenced will be undone brick by brick with Obama led redistributionist schemes.

Unfortunately, class warfare of the kind President Obama has in mind cannot possibly generate the goals for which it is aiming. Raising taxes to extortionate levels does not produce additional revenue for the government. Beyond a certain point, wealthy people work less, and earn less, or put their assets off-shore, but they will find a way to avoid the coercive reach of Uncle Sam. What the Obama administration seems to ignore are the incentives that drive economic growth. As Reverend William Boetcker noted, "You can't make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor." How can an economy grow when the catalysts for growth are thwarted by the extensive reach and policy orientation of government?

Establishing the proper balance between the market and government is never easy. But in the case of President Obama, we have a leader motivated by ideology to tilt the equation in the direction of government control. If the prescribed way of dealing with unemployment and unfunded liabilities is economic growth, the president's polices insure the opposite. It is not coincidental that the nation's Founders put a premium on opportunity and free markets, recognizing full well that a market dominated system will invariably result in disparate rewards that encourage inequality. Economic equality can only be achieved by political engineers who take from some and give to others.

Should one parse the language of President Obama, this egalitarian agenda is his goal. Healthcare reform is merely one manifestation of his plan for the future. Surely he is not the first to attempt this quasi-Marxist economic vision. But we know from vast experience in Europe and the Soviet Union that the result of this quest is a stagnant economy, invidious comparisons, and slow to nonexistent economic growth.

Frederick Brown, writing in Harpers magazine (December 1981) wrote:

It could be said that each leftist generation reinvents, with such material as the age suggests, a lost utopia, an ancien rgime, and a new order: each one finds its soul in evangelical distinctions between a "before" and an "after."

President Obama is apparently searching for his lost utopia unwilling to recognize what came before and willfully shopping for a new tomorrow. *

"Justice is the end of government." --James Madison

Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:42

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

Brzezinski, Obama, and Foreign Policy Reconceptualization

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski outlines the ambitious efforts of the Obama administration to redefine the foreign policy of the United States and, as he puts it, "reconnect the United States with the emerging historical context of the 21st century." According to Mr. Brzezinski, President Obama has done this remarkably well reconceptualizing foreign policy in several areas that he outlines:

* Islam is not an enemy, and the "global war on terror" does not define the United States' current role in the world;
* The United States will be a fair-minded and assertive mediator when it comes to attaining lasting peace between Israel and Palestine;
* The United States ought to pursue serious negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, as well as other issues;
* The counterinsurgency campaign in the Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan should be part of a larger political undertaking, rather than a predominantly military one;
* The United States should respect Latin America's cultural and historical sensitivities and expand its contacts with Cuba;
* The United States ought to energize its commitment to significantly reducing its nuclear arsenal and embrace the eventual goal of a world free of nuclear weapons;
* In coping with global problems, China should be treated not only as an economic partner but also as a geopolitical one;
* Improving U.S.-Russian relations is in the obvious interest of both sides, although this must be done in a manner that accepts, rather than seeks to undo, post-Cold War geopolitical realities;
* A truly collegial transatlantic partnership should be given deeper meaning, particularly in order to heal the rifts caused by the destructive controversies of the past few years.

For all of this, Brzezinski adds, Obama did deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course, the erstwhile national security advisor does not point out that he heaps praise on a policy he helped to shape. That observation might well detract from his presumptive objectivity. But in almost all respects the reconceptualization attributed to Obama is either wrong, misguided, or based on a set of false assumptions.

Let me cite the ways. The global war on terror is a war against a radical strain of Islam that has imperial goals and a jihadist tactical temperament. The U.S. may avert its gaze or ignore the magnitude of the threat, but the threat remains and weakness as a response only makes it more threatening;

Second, the U.S. was a fair-minded mediator in the Israel-Palestinian issue as the evolution of the two state-solution suggests. By "fair-minded" Brzezinski means tilting in favor of the Palestinians whatever objections the Israelis may have;

Third, serious negotiations have been on going with the Iranians through back channels and the Europeans for years. Yet despite blandishments and mild threats, they have not had the slightest influence in defusing the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons. From the Iranian perspective, nothing the U.S. offers can compare to the regional influence nuclear weapons can confer;

Fourth, counterinsurgency, according to the General McChrystal plan, was conceptualized long before the Obama presidency, and relies on securing strongholds in Afghanistan's urban areas. It is both a confidence-building strategy and a military plan;

Fifth, respect for President Chavez and Fidel Castro has not yielded reciprocal reactions from these leaders. On the contrary, they are intent on spreading their brand of socialist revolution throughout Latin America and have done their utmost to undermine President Uribe, a true democratic leader, of Colombia;

Sixth, by agreeing to equalize its delivery capacity with Russia, the U.S. has accorded Putin and company a unique advantage. Since the U.S. nuclear umbrella protects Japan, Taiwan, etc. we require delivery expansiveness and, secondly, much of the Russian decrease in capacity is composed of planes and subs that were scheduled for mothballing in any case;

Seventh, China is not an ally and not yet a foe. However, with a blue water navy and patrols in the Sea of Japan, it is engaged in sabre rattling that bears careful observation. It is hard to think of China as a partner when it provided the advanced technology for the Pakistani nuclear arsenal;

Eighth, surely acceptance of post-Cold War geopolitical realities should be recognized by the Russians, but Putin's strategic vision is predicated on the reacquisition of the near-abroad as recent actions and doctrine indicate;

Ninth, a transatlantic partnership should be recognized and encouraged. But it should be noted that the U.S. has assumed a disproportionate share of NATO expenses and the Europeans, who have grown to love freedom and prosperity, do not yet know how to defend these cherished concepts.

Alas, what Brzezinski provides is a cliche-driven set of propositions that have little if anything to do with real world conditions. In the aggregate these positions make the U.S. look weak and ineffectual, in my opinion.

In the end, however, it is not what drives this reconceptualization of policy, but whether or not it is successful. So far, this effort has been a failure, but President Obama has several years to recover from missteps. Perhaps one way to begin is by not taking Brzezinski's proposals too seriously.

Conservatives' Road to Recovery

After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery, by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., (Thomas Nelson Inc: Nashville, 2010 pp. 272.

Although Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review, argued the Conservative movement is "dead" and interred, the redoubtable R. Emmett Tyrrell in his latest book After the Hangover tells us that reports of conservatism's death are greatly exaggerated. With his usual panache, Mr. Tyrrell offers a remarkable distillation of conservative history and, most significantly, how it is unfolding in the United States circa 2010.

Sitting on his perch at The American Spectator, Tyrrell has lanced the boil of contemporary liberalism and has offered a valuable critique of conservatism, both its wisdom and failures. In what can only be described as a tour de force, Tyrrell chronicles the ebb and flow of contemporary politics from the Republican success in the 1994 congressional elections to the defeat in the 2008 presidential election.

Despite an inclination to embrace conservative ideas and what Tyrrell calls the conservative "temperament," he includes a scathing indictment of conservatism as often "pinched by a smallness that has set the movement back and encouraged intramural squabbling." Alas, based on my own experience, this is an accurate portrayal.

Without the heavy-handed club conservatives sometimes employ to attack media myrmidons, Tyrrell notes that gaffs of a truly amusing variety by President Obama and Vice President Biden are given scant attention by members of the press corps (pronounced as "core" for President Obama's edification). Tyrrell recognizes the obvious bias, but doesn't dwell on it; what he does dwell on is the difference between elites and the man and woman in the street. He recalls with nostalgia a time when there was genuine solidarity among conservatives, the height of what might be called the William F. Buckley era and the founding of National Review.

However, the political ascendancy of conservatism in the 1950s and 1960s occurred in large part because the movement was small, united, and virtually powerless. Fragmentation insinuated itself into conservatism with the political success of the Reagan years. At that point Young Americans for Freedom conservatives saw themselves as the genuine article as opposed to the arriviste neo-cons and the paleos of yesteryear. Liberals, as Tyrrell points out, have "silenced disagreement," a conspicuous difference with conservatives. And yet even after Obama's election, roughly twice as many Americans claim to be conservative as opposed to liberal, a legacy, I suspect, of first principles on which conservatism was founded. Nonetheless it is important to note, that many, if not most, of these conservatives are not registered Republicans.

What appears to enjoin liberal loyalty is a general cultural understanding ratified by moral sentiment, etiquette, and reflexive cues. "Bush lied," "McCarthy destroyed civil liberties," "trickle down economic theory adversely affects the poor," are homilies that drip from the lips of liberals without the slightest regard for historical accuracy or context. Here is the herd of independent thinkers incapable of nuanced thought. These views sculpted into the national culture through textbooks such as Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, represent the conservative challenge for the future. Tyrrell describes it as overcoming "Kultursmog."

A new generation of conservatives face a challenge its predecessors did not have to consider. Fifty years ago the ideas that threatened America came from outside our borders; now the threat is from within as the servants of a command economy are attempting to impose a behemoth government on every American. They do so with the conviction this helps the poor and downtrodden, but as conservatives understand, dividing the economy doesn't multiply the wealth.

It is difficult to convince youthful idealists that the road to serfdom (apologies to Hayek) is paved with good intentions. The conservative attitude is predicated on individualism and anti-utopianism, ideas that do not immediately awaken youthful enthusiasm. However, as the ship of state moves relentlessly down an ocean of hazards and icebergs, there will be many looking for a helmsman who can provide a different direction. As I see it, they need look no further than After the Hangover since R. Emmett Tyrrell has outlined a remarkably sensible agenda for the future with his policy prescriptions. I was particularly taken with his reassertion of American exceptionalism. At a time when "declinists" are on the rise, it is refreshing to read that with all our national imperfections the United States is still the beacon of hope for mankind.

As a conclusion, Tyrrell notes the nation's political center is shaped by conservatism. There is little doubt that is true, but there is a major task ahead in reclaiming the culture from radical elitists who dominate it. That is the mission this book explores and the reason it should be read.

Start Up May Be a Start Down

"Aquarius," the show, is in revival on Broadway and in revival in the Obama administration. The utopian idea of "the zero option," of eliminating nuclear weapons, of an apollonian globe where lions and lambs live in harmony, is alive and well and evident in the new Start treaty.

Of course it would be wonderful if we had a world without nuclear weapons, but the genie is out of the bottle and weapons of mass destruction offer influence, prestige, and power even for nations that cannot adequately feed their people.

While the START treaty reduces delivery capacity of Russian and U.S. missiles, planes, and submarines, using arcane accounting methods, the real issue, as I see it, is that Russia reserves the right to withdraw from the treaty if it deems missile defense deployment in Eastern Europe threatening.

The obvious question is why should the United States Senate ratify a "conditional" arrangement? If the treaty is ratified (a likely prospect) the United States is committing itself to unilateral compliance. In other words, Russia determines on its own whether the treaty remains in effect. This is a truly unprecedented matter, one that may indeed violate national security interests.

Moreover, in an effort to convince other nuclear powers that they should embrace our disarming impulse, the president has circumscribed "no first use policy" to only those adversaries employing nuclear weapons and has announced that the U.S. will not develop a new generation of nuclear weapons. I'm sure that this heartfelt gesture has resonated appropriately with Kim Jung Il and Ahmadinejad. It would take a leap of illogical proportions to assume that if the U.S. does not modernize, China, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan will follow suit.

This treaty also means in effect that President Obama will not upgrade U.S. missile defenses. If he were to do so, the Russians would pull out of the treaty. The one major bargaining chip former President Reagan had in his negotiations with the Soviet Union was Star Wars, or missile defense. Now the Obama team is willing to give it away and receive nothing in return. The only way to describe this negotiating strategy is political ambition wrapped in the cellophane of naivete.

One gets the impression that the president operates from a view of what he would like the world to be, not what the world is. Unfortunately the globe is an unwieldy place where national interests invariably trump international equilibrium. There is no way to eliminate nuclear weapons so long as rogue nations cheat, the non-proliferation treaty is ignored without penalty, and nuclear weapons offer nations political clout. Who would care about a backward nation like North Korea if it did not possess nuclear weapons?

The fear for those of us who believe in "peace through strength" is this START agreement is merely the beginning of a unilateral disarmament campaign following Obama's life-long adolescent vision for a world without military tocsin in the air. It is already rumored that the president will attempt to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and limit defense deployment in space. What can allies like Taiwan, Japan, and Canada, to cite a few examples, be thinking when the U.S. nuclear umbrella that affords deterrence is now laden with holes?

The voluntary abandonment of U.S. superiority in space technology and nuclear weapons could haunt our people and our allies. It is as if the U.S. is suffering from leadership fatigue and wants to halt the course of history. However, historical forces march to their own drumbeat.

What we may want -- whatever utopia we may envision -- is often undermined by the constraints of reality. As I see it, President Obama hasn't learned that lesson. I can only hope our enemies aren't looking and listening too closely.

There is a Russian tale that takes place in a zoo where a lion and a lamb reside together in the same cage. Onlookers are astonished to see this unlikely union. At one point, a sightseer asks the zookeeper how this happens. "Oh," he notes it isn't difficult, "We put a new lamb in the cage each morning." If only President Obama knew this Russian tale.

ACT Reviews Education in America

To cite a cliche, the more things change, the more they remain the same. This applies to many areas of life, but arguably it is the essence of educational reform.

Recently the ACT, an independent organization that provides assessment, research, and program management in broad areas of education, issued a statement on the "essentials for college and career readiness."

What it found is precisely what evaluators of education in the United States have been saying for decades. Despite an enormous per capita national expenditure for education, exceeded only by Switzerland, "high school learning standards are still not sufficiently aligned with postsecondary expectations."

Across the curriculum, college instructors and high school teachers differ on the level of preparation for college assignments with many more high school teachers than college instructors reporting that graduates are prepared. At the same time, while college math and science instructors agree that reading is one of the most important skills needed for success in this century, "overwhelming majorities of them report spending little or no time teaching reading strategies in their courses."

Apparently findings indicate that students are shortchanged in high school and post secondary courses, despite the fact many high school teachers believe their students are adequately prepared for higher education study. There is simply a huge disparity between skill level and performance expectations.

To address this concern the ACT contends high school standards should focus on fewer -- but essential -- college and career readiness conditions and a rigorous core curriculum should be mandated for all high school graduates. These are sensible recommendations that have been advocated for at least half a century. The key question is why haven't these recommendations been put into practice if everyone -- or almost everyone -- knows what should be done.

There are several factors that account for this state of affairs. One, student readiness is not related to faculty compensation. In fact, merit pay, which could be related to readiness, is consistently opposed by the teachers' union. Second, relatively little time is spent on "hard subjects" such as math and science. The curriculum is, to some degree, a mirror on national social conditions. If there are fatalities on our highways, driver education is encouraged. When rates of illegitimacy rise, sex education is emphasized. As rates of drug abuse assail us, drug education is introduced. And, of course, political correctness is a time-consuming theme that crosses all disciplines, even the sciences.

There are, in most high schools, pep rallies prior to the Friday night football game. There are announcements of various kinds during the school day and, of course, the required weekly assembly program.

In addition, distractions prevail. Texting is the nemesis of concentration. There are video games, e-mails, Facebook, sororities, fraternities, parties, and television programs that trump serious study. It is also the case that high school teachers are among the most marginal students in their college classes. Although there are superb teachers, the profession lacks the status and prestige that accompany other professions.

Last, perhaps most noteworthy, is the nation's dysfunctional social life. Divorce, illegitimacy, and various forms of social deviancy have disrupted home life so that mom at the kitchen table with cookies and milk at 3 p.m. is as rare as two-dollar bills. Mom is probably working; no one is there to guide Johnny and Mary when they return from school except Oprah Winfrey. Homework is for autodidacts and, most teachers do not count on homework assignments, a bygone vestige of education in another era.

The "Leave It to Beaver" family is interred and with it have gone attention to student performance. Parents may retain expectations for their children, but the conditions necessary to achieve these goals are lacking. Now schools do not concentrate on subjects that matter, distractions make learning a chore, and the mediating social structures that aided educational attainment are in trouble.

Clearly ACT should be commended for pointing out what should be done to improve educational performance, but I've heard all the claims before. Until there is recognition of what ails us, there will be many more reports in our future, but little progress in student attainment. *

"National defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman." --John Adams

Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:39

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

The Spiritual Dimensions of Nationhood

I've said this before but no matter how many times it is said, it bears repeating: the threats that the United States faces from a fanatical Islamic foe are made possible by our devotion to positions that undermine our heritage, accomplishments and Founding.

It is not coincidental that I'm reminded of this condition by the passing of Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of The United States. This best-selling book, memorialized by the pseudo-intellectual rants of the actor, Matt Damon, is among the most influential textbooks ever published. Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote a saccharine eulogy which suggested Zinn was a "national treasure." If so, it was a treasure of fool's gold.

Zinn was not a historian in any real sense, but an ideologue who would envision only the blemishes in America's past. For him, the American experiment was predicated on colonialism, imperial aims, exploitation and enslavement. But the curious matter is that Zinn's brand of contemptuous nihilism, his anti-American posture and hatred of capitalism, have caught on among American elites.

Is it any wonder that a multi-cultural stance that denigrates our national experience and superordinates the goals of other nations is now the prevailing orthodoxy in our schools and colleges? If the United States is the world's exploiter, the despoiler of the environment, and the hegemon that restrains the impulse for liberation, why should it be admired? Alas, in many universities, the United States is the enemy. This condition cannot be laid at the doorstep of Mr. Zinn solely, albeit he is a central contributor.

However, the drumbeat of criticism has taken its toll. Students very often can tell you that Jefferson was a slaveholder, but know nothing about his framing of the Virginia Constitution. According to many, Columbus came to the New World in order to dominate and exploit the indigenous population.

That the United States has been the beacon of hope for mankind, that it has afforded its citizens an unprecedented degree of liberty, and that its openness has yielded technical breakthroughs that have enhanced people across the globe, are conditions that students of an earlier time imbibed as if mother's milk.

That has changed. The pseudo-sophisticated cynics have come to dominate the academy. American history has been put through the cauldron of political correctness. At best, the U.S. is merely one of 192 nations with its own history that is neither special nor exceptional; it is simply unique. At worst, American history is a steamy tale of conflict: workers versus bosses, plantation owners and slaves, guardians of the status quo and change agents.

Invariably many of those who are force-fed these arguments ask logically, "Why should I defend this nation?" If the United States is an outlier whose history infers struggle, the spirit necessary to sustain the nation may not be evident.

I often observe this spiritual enervation; this belief that our time, our glory has passed. In my judgment that explains, at least in some part, why radical Islamic ideas have gained traction in this nation. How do those who have lost confidence in the national heritage defend against a fanatical faith that has precise goals and direction?

The relentless critics of the nation may not have anticipated this result, but our homegrown radicals invariably express despair with what America stands for, or should I say, what they think America stands for.

Of course, not every American shares this anti-American sentiment, but I am confident a large segment of elitist opinion embraces it. The manifest form it takes varies. There are the cultural warriors who see America as depraved. There are the academics who win plaudits for nihilistic expression (vide: Howard Zinn). There are the radicals ready to leap into anarchy. And there are jihadists -- homegrown jihadists -- who have been radicalized by a faith that preaches triumphalism and a justification for violent behavior.

Our vulnerability does not stem from a lack of resources or even inept leadership, but rather from a void that emanates from not knowing what we believe. Our real enemy is a lack of confidence, of not believing in our own national achievements. Arnold J. Toynbee argued that civilizations die as a result of suicide, not murder. I am not yet willing to concede death, but there isn't any doubt that America is at risk because of a loss of self-confidence. What ails us internally is at least as threatening as the forces found externally.

Remembering Liberty

There is a shift occurring in the United States, a tectonic shift that is imposing statism in a land predicated on limited government.

In the past, the not very distant past, mediating structures served as a barrier against managerial despotism. But these structures have been under assault for decades and are showing signs of weakness and decay.

The family has been undermined by divorce and illegitimacy. Schools have eroded rigor and standards. Churches resemble social institutions more than religious centers. And associations like Rotary and Lions are suffering from insufficient enrollment and a lack of interest.

The America Tocqueville described in mid-19th century is largely gone, a testament to the past when national identity was being refined. The New Hampshire slogan "Live free or die" is great for license plates, but not for contemporary politics.

Some would argue that big government is a natural consequence of living in a bigger and more complex nation than was the case a hundred years ago. Needless to say, this is obvious. But what is not so obvious is that incrementally the government has assumed the position of granting rights to citizens instead of having citizens grant rights to the government. During this onset of the recession it was believed by members of both parties that extending government power was essential in dealing with the economic vicissitudes of the moment. In doing so, however, the politics of grievance has emerged. If the government uses its largesse to address social woe, how are rights determined and who allocates the benefits? A government insistent on handouts will be a government that encourages grievance.

Let me not overstate the case. Despite an inclination to support limited government as the nation's Founders did, my issue with the Obama administration, to cite one example, is that it is weak where it should be strong and strong where it should be weak.

For example, the president has put his prestige and influence behind a healthcare proposal that a majority of Americans oppose and that willy-nilly will shift healthcare to the public sector. By contrast, Iran has violated the non-proliferation agreement, has abused its citizens for contesting electoral manipulation, and has been the leading state sponsor of terrorism. Yet the president who should recognize and resist these challenges seems weak and unresponsive.

The road to serfdom is paved with rights and benefits. People want more of whatever someone else will pay for. The casualty in this assessment is personal responsibility and liberty.

We are not yet an authoritarian state and my hope is that America never will be one, but it is imperative we guard against that eventuality recognizing that the rights we invent come with a corresponding withering away of freedom. Big government may not be a problem if it exercises power judiciously and in ways that promote American interests. Yet it is also true that government has a stake in perpetuating itself. It may not always be the problem, but it is rarely the solution, and all the programs that the American people covet may in the end alter the America they once loved and admired.

Now let me comment on the other side of the coin. Despite a breakdown in personal responsibility, a dumbing down of the population, and defining cultural deviancy down, the U.S. with all its flaws and imperfections, is, in my judgment the exceptional nation. A common misperception is that the U.S. is in decline. In fact, there is a "declinist" school of historical analysis comprised of Dean Koh, Ann Marie Slaughter, Geoffrey Hodgson, Amy Guttman, Richard Sennett, Andrew Bacevich, and Farid Zakaria among others who believe in historical inevitability, a Marxist view that the forces of historical determinism are not on our side. But, like Charles Krauthammer, I think declinism is a choice. Americans are the most resourceful and resilient people on the globe. We don't shrink from challenges. The biggest mistake any politician can make is to underestimate the people of this great land. I realize things often look bleak and indeed are bleak, but it is important to realize the U.S. is the land of miracles. We turn detritus into energy; failure into success, and we do it routinely.

I'm reminded, at this moment, of verses from Lee Greenwood's "I'm Proud to Be an American."

I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free,
And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today
For there ain't no doubt I love this land, God bless the U.S.A.

Presidential Denial

Denial is a powerful influence in public life. It is obviously a major influence in the Obama administration, which may explain why a Republican party and conservatism that were declared dead institutions and philosophies have risen as a phoenix with life and vitality.

In response to Scott Brown's remarkable Senate victory in Massachusetts, President Obama said:

The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they're frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years.

Here is the blame George W. Bush gambit yet again, even though Scott Brown is a Republican who ran against Obama's policies in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic.

To make matters even more risible, the president went on to say:

If there's one thing that I regret this year, it is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crisis that [was] in front of us, that I think we lost some of the sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values.

Well, the question remains, what precisely did he get done? He did get a stimulus bill through the Congress that has done nothing to stimulate national employment, even though that was the promise. For a man busy with getting stuff done -- a curious rhetorical position -- he had the time to deliver 411 speeches, 52 on healthcare alone, which by presidential standards is unprecedented. Moreover, the president, who often speaks of core values, ignores the obvious fact that so many Americans repudiate his healthcare bill because it imperils the core value of personal freedom to select a physician and treatment they prefer.

Instead of facing questions directly, the president invariably engages in scapegoating. If there weren't a George W. Bush to rely on, he would have to invent one. Moreover, there is a barely veiled effort to suggest the public is angry, a kind of generalized anger unrelated to policy concerns. What Obama cannot admit is that much of this anger is directed at him and his policies. Instead of a psychological response, he needs a mirror.

President Obama seems to believe that the personality cult he created during the campaign will carry over to his government. He is so busy doing good stuff that he lost focus. Does that include vacationing in Hawaii, dates with Michele in New York, frequent appearances on the golf course, and basketball games in the White House gym? The president doesn't have a communications problem, he has a credibility problem. The issue with this White House is competence. "Is this president competent to govern?" is the question that has emerged in recent campaigns in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. That is something the president either doesn't understand or, as I see it, chooses to deny.

Comments that ignore the obvious political reality only make White House denials seem petty and foolish. Perhaps the president actually took seriously the fatuous New York Times editorial that the Scott Brown victory was not an indictment of the Obama administration. Democratic Senator Jim Webb certainly sees things differently. He called the Massachusetts race "a referendum not only on healthcare reform, but also on openness and integrity."

At this point, the president desperately needs a large dose of humility. It is discomforting to have a president so reluctant to listen to what Americans are saying. Instead of being obliged to consider his positions based on the Brown victory, President Obama seems to be feeling sorry for himself, since the public doesn't appreciate the "good stuff" with which he is preoccupied. As I see it, humility is a good way to attempt to resuscitate this presidency along with a sustained reality check.

Terrorism's Victory

As George Orwell noted the first duty of intelligent people is "the restatement of the obvious." It is obvious or should be obvious that the goal of terrorists is terrorism. What that means precisely is not clear based on recent news accounts.

According to reports, the United States escaped an enormous tragedy when a Nigerian, Umar Abdulmutallab, was apprehended when he attempted to blow up a KLM flight from Africa to America via Amsterdam. Alas, that is accurate as far as it goes. Overlooked in this calculus is that a terrorist who gains access to a commercial flight has already achieved his goal, i.e., promote the fear of terrorism.

When Richard Reid attempted to blow up a Boeing 767 between Paris and Miami by detonating his sneakers, he too was restrained by fellow passengers, but in the process he promoted fear. The risks of air travel may be miniscule -- if one relies on the comments of F.A.A. officials -- but for the average person Reid and Abdulmutallab have had a profound effect. The notion that any passenger can be a human time bomb has entered the consciousness of the public.

Moreover, it hardly establishes confidence when Ms. Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, assures the public "the system worked." Clearly a risk-free air flight doesn't exist, but newly instituted measures like magnetic resonance scans and banning blankets and bathroom visits during the last hour of a flight are not likely to mitigate anxiety about flying.

To compound the fear, the Obama administration has been briefed about the bombing technique attempted on flight 253 and about the Nigerian carrying the explosives. Since 2001, there have been a reported 28 failed terrorist attacks against the United States. It is obvious, that despite administration claims to the contrary, this was not an isolated incident of "human error." It is a failure up and down the metaphorical food chain, from the White House to the clerk who issued a visa.

The president, as commander and chief, has the responsibility for national security, but the issue at hand is not only protecting lives; it involves the maintenance of psychological equilibrium. With each airborne thuggery, timidity sets in. This is the victory terrorists seek. When ordinary people are afraid to leave their homes, terrorism is gaining traction.

I cannot tally the number of trips not taken or the business ventures cancelled because of flight fear. But I am sure, based on anecdotal evidence, that the numbers are substantial. One may fly through the sky, but flying friendly skies as the commercial suggests is not as likely as it once was.

Terrorism has altered our way of travel and our way of life. And in a sense has forced almost every traveler to ask, "Is this flight safe?" Well, yes, most flights are safe, yet trepidation about terrorism has entered the equation and it is not going to disappear in the short term.

Being on an airplane may lead to uneasiness, but terrorism has led to a special concern. As I see it, that special concern is terrorism's victory. All the effort to thwart a full-scale attack is obviously necessary. However, the very fact that a known terrorist, whose father warned U.S. authorities about his son's radical views, can gain access to a commercial flight has escalated the risk factor and the fear of flying.

Every time I enter an aircraft I look suspiciously at the other passengers. Are there terrorists on board? How would I know? What are the telltale signs? The very fact that I ask these questions indicates terrorism has gained entry into my mind set. That is the price we pay for conciliation and political correctness, a price that undermines the freedom we once enjoyed.

Iranian Influence in Iraq

In an ironic twist of fate the future of Iraq may be dependent on the good will of Iran. A Shiite-led, government commission in Iraq is currently examining which Sunni politicians are eligible to participate in upcoming elections. This is disconcerting because the last time Sunnis were restricted, using a debaathification policy to do so, the Sunnis launched an insurgency drive for political influence. A potential Shia-Sunni split represents an opportunity for Iran to assist its Shiite brothers with political, intelligence, and military assets, including, of course, the prospect of nuclear weapons.

For Iran, history appears to be moving in its direction. The desire to influence, indeed to dominate, Iraqi politics has long been a strategic goal going back to the Iran-Iraq War several decades ago. One might even contend that the nuclear weapons program is linked to its ambitions in Iraq.

In the days leading to Iraqi elections, Iran's influence in this neighboring nation is palpable. The Iranian seizure of the al Fakkah oil well in southern Iraq was a poignant example of encroaching dominance, an event that received almost no attention in the United States and one in which Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki averted his gaze. In fact, to demonstrate that Iraq's government and Iran were dancing to the same tune, a government spokesman said any U.S. attempts to save a place at the government table for the Sunnis would "not achieve anything." Our State Department may not read the signals, and the Obama administration seems mired in concerns with domestic programs, but the message being delivered loud and clear is that Tehran, not Washington, has the upper hand in Iraq.

Based on its influence in Iraq, Iran is using this development as a bargaining chip with the U.S. in nuclear negotiations. Since the Obama administration has made it clear it wants to disengage from Iraq, Iran holds the key to regional stability and must be considered a negotiating partner in any future arrangement. A potential Sunni insurgency could upset U.S. withdrawal plans. Hence Iran has the ability to assist or thwart U.S. goals, a position that complicates negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and puts the U.S. in the position of seeking assistance on the one hand and chastisement on the other.

This leverage gives Iran an enormous negotiating edge. If the U.S. wants to avoid an eruption in Iraq that is tantamount to a civil war, then according to Iranian leaders, Washington will have to meet Tehran's terms on the nuclear weapons issue and forestall any military option by the U.S. or Israel. As Iran sees it at the moment, it is holding all the cards. Arguably the ace in the deck is the apparent cooperation between Prime Minister Maliki and the Iranian mullahs. Since Maliki understands he cannot rely on U.S. forces to maintain stability -- with withdrawal the overarching goal -- he has thrown in his lot with the Iranians.

It is apparent the Obama administration has not considered the law of unintended consequences. The announced plan for withdrawal has set in motion actions American military commitments were designed to prevent. It is ironic that the United States is dependent on Iran to bail it out of a dicey situation at the same time it claims to oppose Iranian nuclear ambitions.

As I see it, the die is cast. The United States' government will allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary. Furthermore, it will seek to obtain Iranian influence as a regional stabilizer even if it means the mullahs will insinuate themselves into Iraqi politics.

Clearly the spin-doctors in Washington will attempt to put the best possible gloss on this situation, but as I see it, this is a lose-lose for American diplomacy and a significant blow to U.S. policy in the Middle East. *

"In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution." --Alexander Hamilton

Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:37

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

Fighting Jihadism At Home

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) recently revealed that the Ansar Al-Mujahideen jihadist forum issued a statement in praise of the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hassan. This statement was aimed at Muslim associations in the United States that condemned his murderous acts.

The statement reads:

. . . We issue this statement in support of the actions of brother Nidal Malik Hassan, as a congratulations for his brave and heroic deed, as well as the jealousness (i.e., zeal) he displayed for the pains suffered by the Muslim Ummah as a result of the modern Zionist-Christian Crusades against it. May Allah reward you, brother Nidal. We ask Allah to accept this great feat of yours and make you an example for others to follow.

As this statement goes on to note, Hassan's actions are not contrary to the religion of Islam, but are encouraged by it. Furthermore, there is the call for Muslims in the United States Army to repent for their apostasy and think of Hassan as a role model, instilling fear in the enemies of Allah and taking them by surprise wherever they may be.

What is one to make of this statement? It is obvious that Islam, or a branch of it, is at war with the United States and will use any method to threaten or destroy American assets and interests. Surely this situation cannot be tolerated. If the allegation that Saudi money has persuaded Muslims to join the Army as a quisling force aiding and abetting our enemies, Pentagon action is certainly warranted, albeit evidence for this allegation has not yet been uncovered. However, the complacent response of the FBI to incendiary emails sent by Colonel Hassan represents an intolerable "What me, worry?" attitude.

There is little doubt we must be vigilant in ferreting out enemies ensconced in our military services. If this violates General Casey's dedication to diversity, so be it. It is inconceivable that American soldiers should be put in harm's way in their own barracks.

If one accepts the febrile mental state of the jihadist, any act against the Zionist-Christian Crusade is acceptable. Presumably, it doesn't have to involve a crusade since the Koran specifically cites antipathy to apostates, i.e., nonbelievers of Islam. Once you are defined as less than human, any act is permissible. Here is the moral perversity of Holocaust logic all over again.

In a curious way American tolerance is the enemy when it cannot draw lines of acceptable behavior. There isn't any excuse or rationalization for Nidal Hassan's murders. If his religion compelled him to act, then we must reject that form of religion from the precincts of protected faith. The First Amendment should not tolerate murder.

That there are jihadists who value killing is evident from any reading of a daily newspaper. But we cannot allow this bloodthirsty sensibility to insinuate itself into our lives or institutions. Those who contend we can talk these people out of their fanatical beliefs do not understand our enemy. The best we can do is defeat these people on the global battlefield and separate ourselves from their potentially dangerous actions at home. To do any less plays directly into their hands, hands already covered with the blood of innocent American soldiers.

Tightening the Noose on Foreign Policy

As the plans for American foreign policy are being debated in the White House and the corridors of Congress, it is increasingly apparent that the options are limited.

It is not that options are limited by the lack of imagination, albeit that is a factor. The overarching concern is that foreign policy options are limited by the lack of resources.

The Obama initiatives to stimulate the economy and insinuate the government into the banking, financial services, automobile, insurance, and health care industries are tied inextricably to the decisions on the foreign policy front.

It would appear that intentionally or inadvertently domestic decisions are driving national security and foreign policy goals. How can you build a 300-ship navy when you require resources for universal health care? And how can you pay for sustained military deployments when the deficit is 40 percent of GDP?

It may be convenient for this administration to have an aggressive domestic stance, one that devours the bulk of the budget so that the president can pursue his desire for the incremental withdrawal of forces abroad and the cessation of new military hardware. Why even consider the F22, for example, when there are insufficient funds for the construction of this aircraft?

This is the pursuit of a global strategy using capital limitation as its justification. Just as it was fashionable in the 1990s to discuss overreach -- the worldwide deployment of troops that drained our resources -- it is now appropriate to describe present policy as underreach -- the belief that any deployment is beyond our present resource capability.

Where this strategy leads is obvious. The United States is on the highway to Great Britain of 1990, a once-great power that ruled the seas, but is relegated to marginal military status in the present. Should the U.S. pursue this goal to its logical conclusion, there will no longer be a global hegemon capable of shaping world affairs; there will only be regional powers and international instability.

Of course it should be noted that all foreign policy decisions are constrained by available capital. A nation incapable of generating wealth can only be a military power if it impoverishes its people. For democracies this tactic is unacceptable. If we have guns, we insist on butter as well. Hence an Obama plan that promises a lot of butter, limits and eliminates guns.

What differentiates President Obama from his predecessors is that domestic spending drives his agenda and offers a rationale for international timidity and conciliation. He embraces a view of U.S. imperial impulses that must be subdued, and he seeks to do so by spending on the domestic front, thereby forcing decisions on the international stage.

As the president has noted "we have run out of money." But we have only run out of money for defense preparations. The domestic agenda proceeds in an unrelenting fashion, oblivious to asymptotes. One Obama aide noted the only limit to our spending is in our imagination. Presumably that imagination has the dollar printing presses working overtime.

This condition has alarmed our putative allies and given comfort to our enemies. The president may appear as a sensible man doing only what the budget dictates. But, in truth, the budget is a political instrument that can be used to drive policy decisions. The nexus between domestic and foreign spending is palpable. In the Obama age only the former counts; it is the manifestation of his philosophical underpinnings and the rationale for his foreign policy decisions.

The Triumph of Hope Over Reality

President Obama went to Copenhagen with proclamations about reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the first time in more than a decade that an American administration has offered even a tentative proposal to reduce production of so-called climate-altering gases, the spin meisters in the White House have announced.

But what do these proclamations mean? Five major nations, India, China, South Africa, Brazil and the United States, forged a climate deal that doesn't legally commit any of the nations to gas emission targets. The deal asks the parties involved to list how they will cap emissions with set amounts, among other general and vague goals. Friends of the Earth tore into the arrangement as "a sham agreement with no real requirements." Moreover, the conference also turned into a bash capitalism festival. The biggest applause line came when Hugo Chavez, among others, said capitalism accounts for global warming and socialism is the cure.

In effect, the Copenhagen meeting has been transmogrified into a giant extortion racket with the poor nations demanding a pay-off for the profligacy of the West, a profligacy that accounts, in their febrile minds, for the problem. The president of the Sudan had the audacity to suggest that the $140 billion the U.S. offered to deal with global warming in the developing world was "not enough." In addition, such stalwart leaders as Robert Mugabe and Chavez have demanded funding to deal with the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in their respective nations, nations that have wantonly exploited environmental integrity.

The absurdity of the posturing in Copenhagen demonstrates a great deal about the hubris in the developing world, the naivete of President Obama and this administration, and an inability to distinguish between hope and reality. It has often been said that one of the great lies of our time is "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you." I guess there may have been times when the government has helped. The problem, of course, is that most issues are local and Washington is far away in distance and emotion, and Copenhagen is now a center for political rhetoric, not for addressing issues.

Just as William Buckley once said "I'd rather be ruled by the first one hundred names in the Boston telephone directory than the Harvard faculty," it is also the case that Harvard faculty, metaphorically of course, ends up in Washington, and does make judgments for the country. And as one might guess, hope invariably trumps reality.

The entire healthcare bill is also predicated on hope: hope that the expense can be absorbed without rationing; hope that adding the uninsured to the hospital rolls will not lead to an additional expense; and hope that the elderly who need care will still be able to receive it after Medicare is cut by $455 billion. The Congressional Budget Office estimates provide a reality check which suggests none of these hopes can be realized.

The government promised the American people that a $787 billion stimulus bill would create or save 3 million jobs, a number that gets smaller in size each week. Yet the unemployment rate has gone from 8 percent when the bill was enacted to over 10 percent at the moment. There were, of course, many detractors who argued that this stimulus is little more than pork barrel legislation that cannot possibly influence the unemployment rate. It seems these people were right. But does the government care? It operates on hope and continues to contend the stimulus is working.

Perhaps President Obama thinks his decision moves us closer to a solution for the dubious proposition of global warming. I'm sure he believes his actions will do so. But first the problem should be well understood. Exaggerated claims must be addressed. And, most significantly, the president should say that extortion is something Americans don't countenance. We should not transfer $140 billion dollars to satisfy feelings of guilt or to justify the manifestations of capitalism. Our economic engine benefited the entire world. That is nothing for which we should apologize, nor is it a condition that warrants an extortion payment.

One of the first rules of public policy should be don't let hope trump reality. I only wish this administration in its legislative overreach and the crowd in Copenhagen had taken this advice seriously.

"Race to the Top" Merely Another Education Gimmick

In the 11/25/09 issue of the Wall Street Journal three eminences of public education, Harold Ford Jr., Louis Gerstner Jr., and Eli Broad, reflect on ways to improve public education: "Race to the Top in Education." Alas, over the last several decades there has been a lot of racing, significant funding, and abysmal achievement. "Now, however," they note:

. . . President Obama has launched "Race to the Top," a competition that is parceling out $4.35 billion in new education funding to states that are committed to real [my italics] reform.

This package, notes the authors, augur well for meaningful change.

I beg to differ. Despite the emphasis on so-called "performance standards and competition," clearly goals that are needed, my guess is this initiative will fail as all of its predecessors have.

As I see it there are three principal reasons for failure: democracy, unions, and the culture.

Several years ago I was an advisor on educational matters for a mid-western state that had competency exams for 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 12th graders. I reviewed the exams that had reasonable requirements, although hardly excessive by Korean standards. In the first year this program was instituted less than a third of the students in the aggregate passed. Parents were outraged. "My Johnny is very bright; the exam is a foolish exercise," wrote one parent; letters of a similar variety came pouring into the governor's office like a gusher.

A governor, like every elected official, wants to be reelected. As you might guess, he asked to have the exams "modified" (read: made easier). Alas, this was done, not once but twice, until the reading and math passing scores exceeded 80 percent. Like those in Lake Woebegone everyone must be above average. It's good for politicians and a conclusion that satisfies parents. Unfortunately, Johnny doesn't read, write, and compute as well as mom and dad think.

Then we have the unions whose leadership is concerned with their constituencies solely. As Al Shenker of the AFT once noted, "when students start paying dues I'll be as interested in them as my teachers." Hence competition of any kind among teachers, such as merit pay, is anathema. Unless the NEA's grip on public education is broken, competition, genuine competition, cannot be implemented. Moreover, how can this administration, already beholden to the teachers' union for financial support, challenge the NEA?

Last, it should be noted that even the most dedicated and effective teachers cannot compete with the osmotic effect of the culture. Television, computer games, Facebook, sports, texting, diversions of every variety the mind can conjure vie for attention with scholarship. And if the general level of cultural ignorance is any measure, guess which side is winning?

Although it is unfair to generalize from a sample of one, I viewed a Jay Leno program in which he asked a teenager the country Christopher Columbus was from. His response, "Ohio." Well at least he knew Columbus is in Ohio. Admittedly my experience is anecdotal, but as I visit American universities I find students are more familiar with the words to the latest rap music -- if you can call it music -- than a Robert Lowell poem or the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. As Thorstein Veblen noted, "students are being trained in incapacity." In large part, this is the case because the culture forces deviancy down. This is America's accelerated dream of egalitarianism in which the bottom quartile moves slightly upward and the top quartile moves down creating a compression at the mean.

The gang of three -- Ford, Gerstner, Broad -- mean well. They are sincere in their desire to improve public education. But "Race to the Top" is no different from "No Child Left Behind" and dozens of predecessors. Until the real issues are addressed -- if they can be addressed -- don't count on any more success in education than we've encountered before.

Egyptian Chutzpah

I wonder how you spell chutzpah in Arabic? For years the Egyptian government railed against Israel for erecting a security fence in the West Bank. It protested the construction of this wall in the United Nations and in every other international body, usually employing the phrase "apartheid wall."

But now, mirabile dictu, Egypt in building a wall of its own along the border of the Gaza Strip. And, as one might guess, will not entertain any criticism of this project. The Israeli barrier was built to prevent suicide bombings and other terrorist activities against Israelis; by contrast, the Egyptian fence is designed to stop Palestinians living in Gaza from entering Egypt.

One might well ask why President Hosni Mubarak would want to keep his Arab brothers locked inside the poverty-stricken area of Gaza, among the most congested places on the globe. In fact, by keeping the border crossing into Egypt closed, Mubarak is sending the Palestinians to Israel for help. In the byzantine world of Middle East politics Arab leaders want the Gaza Strip to remain an Israeli problem exclusively.

The irony, of course, is that the millions of dollars required to build the new fence could have been employed to build hospitals, schools, and housing. Palestinians crossing the border generally do so in search of employment or to be reunited with families residing in Egypt. At the moment even medical and humanitarian aid cannot get through the Rafah border crossing and human rights activists are invariably stopped at the border as well.

Mubarak contends, with some legitimacy I might note, that Hamas' presence in Gaza could be a destabilizing factor in Egypt if the border were porous, albeit Hamas poses a threat to Israel more formidable than its threat to Egypt. The stated Hamas goal is "liberate Palestine," not occupy Egypt. Moreover, if Hamas were an existential threat to Egypt's national security, why has Mubarak been negotiating with Hamas leaders for years and why has he been at the center of talks over reconciliation with Fatah?

Recognizing the potential embarrassment of this security fence, Egyptian leaders denied its existence, until photographs made such denials risible. The Egyptian fence is actually a ten kilometer underground metal barrier that will cost approximately $500 million. Whether it turns out to be a real barrier remains to be seen. Palestinians involved in the smuggling of contraband material are very adept at bypassing barriers. If anything, the Egyptian wall will probably escalate tensions in Gaza since it is the metaphorical cap on a boiling pot of soup.

Palestinians in this tiny strip of land suffer from Hamas terrorism, lack of jobs, lack of basic facilities, congestion, and a host of corrupt and misguided leaders. Nonetheless, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has defended Egypt's right to build a separation wall. Here is the irony of ironies. It was the same Abbas who condemned Israel's "apartheid wall" and urged the international community to tear it down.

In the Middle East wonders never cease. Lies are verbal instruments for manipulation. And as this event on the Gaza border suggests, it is not a matter of Israelis against Palestinians, but Arabs versus Palestinians.

The next time an Arab ambassador rises at the United Nations to criticize Israel, he should be reminded of the manifold ways Arabs contain, constrain, and exploit fellow Arabs. If the term "apartheid" is used as a condemnation of Israel, it should be hurled back at Egyptians who, sanctimoniously, engage in actions they once condemned. Hypocrisy thy name is Mubarak.

"A fondness for power is implanted, in most men, and it is natural to abuse it, when acquired." --Alexander Hamilton

Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:33

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

A Man Apart

Albert Camus was expert at describing a man apart, an existential man, the Stranger, who didn't belong in the society in which he found himself. He didn't have emotional roots; in fact, this character was haunted by shadows -- the real and the metaphorical. He is the quintessential rebel challenging normative standards.

At the risk of drawing literary comparisons, I am persuaded based on his performance that President Obama is a man apart. He seems to equate power with arrogance; pride with willfulness, and exceptionalism with dominance. As a consequence, he has changed foreign policy perceptions. The America he leads is a nation like any other -- no more, no less. In fact, as a Nobel laureate, he is considered by the Europeans as a man of the world, not merely a citizen of the United States.

When asked if the United States is exceptional, President Obama said America is exceptional, and England is exceptional, and Greece is exceptional. That the United States is sui generis didn't cross his mind. How could it? He is pledged to a scenario in which America opts out of its traditional role as peacekeeper, the balance wheel in maintaining international equilibrium. The war against terrorists is over, along with the nation's hegemonic role.

Unfortunately the war fatigue President Obama embodies is not embraced by our global enemies who see this shift in his policy attitude as a sign of weakness and retreat. I believe President Obama actually thinks that unilateral concessions to our real and putative enemies will result in reciprocal responses. But as his bizarre overtures to the Olympic Committee demonstrated, gestures directed at multilateralism and celebrity status do not result in favorable results. Real power as opposed to soft power still has meaning on the world stage.

A man with roots would know that wild policy swings of the kind that we've experienced with healthcare, cap and trade, and education proposals cannot possibly fly with the American people, even with those who voted for President Obama in the last election. Despite cultural shifts in the nation, the United States still fashions itself as a conservative nation. Only a man apart cannot sense that condition.

My contention is not that the President is devoid of conviction. In fact, his political tilt is decidedly to the left, the hardcore left. My assertion is different. I believe this President doesn't understand the rhythms, the pulse of the American people. He is not merely outside the main stream. He doesn't even recognize it. He is a basketball player who has been asked to bat.

At first I thought his initial popularity would carry him through to a second term. But as each day passes and the false, almost inappropriate, gestures register, Americans are beginning to recognize this man apart. He is our stranger in a land he doesn't understand.

Americans are not war-like, nor does imperial ambition fill their souls. They have done almost nothing for which daily apologies are necessary. Their blood soaks the beaches of Normandy, their graves litter European towns, and their fortune saved millions from the plight of destitution. Americans do not appreciate a man so removed from their history, so out of tune with the American experience, that he reflexively expresses regret for the very conditions that should engender pride.

Perhaps this president will learn. But I am not confident that can happen. His life experience without a father in his home and a mother seeking adventure abroad is unstable. His closest associates vilified the nation he now leads. Is it any wonder his wife said she could take no pride in America till now? The past is to be rejected. Milestones in history are erased from memory as storage cast aside as unnecessary.

This is a unique moment in our history. It is certainly the only time in my life when our national instincts are being reconditioned. From a nation that was a model to the world, we are now told that superiority is unbecoming, a hindrance for the emergence of global egalitarianism.

President Obama, as a man apart, may attempt this recasting of America, but, as I see it, America is not yet ready for his experimentation and, most likely, never will be.

The New and Old Socialism

Whether it is the socialism espoused by the Nazis or the socialism of the former Soviet Union or the socialism that is emerging in the United States, there is one overarching sentiment, however different socialism in these three societies may be. Socialism everywhere expresses envy of excellence by treating the contributions and wealth of the successful as the wages of sin.

The Nazis saw the sin as a Jewish conspiracy; the Soviets saw sin as the exploitation by the bourgeoisie; and what is emerging in the United States is the sin of the wealthy.

In the Obama administration greed is considered the sin that must be opposed. But greed, whatever its deficiencies, is, as Adam Smith pointed out, an incentive for the promotion of capitalism which in the aggregate has a salutary influence on the economy. To combat greed, the socialists emphasize envy. Since equality is the goal, even trivial differences in income are exaggerated and the progressivity in the tax system is employed as a blunt instrument to impose equality.

Lincoln said "you can't make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor." But President Obama seems to believe that wealth is invariably related to the wages of sin and must be controlled or, to use his language, "spread around." To make sure this happens, government must expand and, in so doing, the private sector will inevitably contract. That explains why socialism, which purports to represent the interests of the average person, ends in overwhelming government control or outright tyranny.

Just as greed has its excesses, envy manifests excess in schadenfreude, a desire to destroy rivals or, in this instance, penalize the alleged wages of sin. If you assume wealth is bad, invariably a function of illicit or inappropriate acts, it must be penalized by surtax to pay for universal health care or a 40 percent income tax. Even though one percent of the population pays for close to 40 percent of government revenue, it is still not enough for the masters of egalitarianism. They ask, why should so few have so much? And they answer by arguing for leveling, i.e., a collision at the income mean through transfer payments.

Of course, what the egalitarians never realize is that at some point the rich will take their assets to a safe harbor or, assuming there are restrictions on moving capital, will simply be less productive. Contrary to the supposition of the enviers, it takes only about ten percent of the population to be a catalyst for innovation and wealth generation. If there aren't rewards for this portion of the population, there won't be the technological breakthroughs that foster economic growth.

That, of course, is the rub for President Obama. On the one hand, he needs to tax heavily in order to generate the revenue for his ambitious domestic agenda. On the other hand, excessive taxation will most likely result in more disappointing revenue projections than he anticipated since the wealthy will be less productive than they were in a low tax environment.

That socialism cannot work is the inevitable conclusion of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and the historical experience of the 20th century. If excellence isn't the goal of personal achievement, conformity or mediocrity reigns. If wealth isn't a reward for success, poverty reigns. And if success is a sin, failure is a virtue.

Yet, despite this reality, socialism is a persistent idea. My suspicion is that socialism is related to the belief that most people think they can be free riders; they can get something for nothing by taking from the rich. But this Robin Hood psychology is, in fact, a form of theft. It subtracts from the fruits of one's labor and, without apologies, contends arbitrarily that some people simply have too much.

Alas, socialism condemns "too much" and ends up giving too little. What it offers is an ideal, an abstraction of equality that is intoxicating. But its destructive influence inexorably becomes apparent. Why be productive, if others produce for you? And why would you oppose high taxes, if these revenues offer "free assistance?" As Hayak noted, the road to serfdom is littered with promises of the golden age, a time when the government provides all that you need.

President Gerald Ford put this matter in perspective when he noted "that a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have." It's too bad President Obama doesn't read history.

Losing Liberty

There is a shift occurring in the United States, a tectonic shift that is imposing statism in a land predicated on limited government.

In the past, the not very distant past, mediating structures served as a barrier against managerial despotism. But these structures have been under assault for decades and are showing signs of weakness and decay.

The family has been undermined by divorce and illegitimacy. Schools have eroded rigor and standards. Churches resemble social institutions more than religious centers. And associations like Rotary and Lions are suffering from insufficient enrollment and a lack of interest.

The America Alexis de Tocqueville described in mid-19th century is largely gone, a testament to the past when national identity was being refined. Not only is the culture unable to orchestrate the competing interests of government and the individual, it contributes to the widespread belief that if liberty must be modified for the sake of security, that is a trade-off the public is willing to accept. The New Hampshire slogan "Live free or die" is great for license plates, but not for contemporary politics.

Some would argue that big government is a natural consequence of living in a bigger and more complex nation than was the case a hundred years ago. It was needless to say. But what is not so obvious is that incrementally the government has assumed the position of granting rights to citizens instead of having citizens grant rights to the government. During this onset of the recession it was believed by members of both parties that extending government power was essential in dealing with the economic vicissitudes of the moment. In doing so, however, the politics of grievance has emerged. If the government uses its largesse to address social woe how are "rights" determined, and who allocates the benefits? A government insistent on handouts will be a government that encourages grievance.

If government benefits end up as more important than liberty, this democratic republic cannot survive. As Frederic Bastiat among others noted, a plebiscitary democracy that hands out "free" benefits will end inexorably in authoritarianism. This is, alas, the road to serfdom as Friedrich von Hayek described it.

Let me not overstate the case. Despite an inclination to support limited government as the nation's Founders did, my issue with the Obama administration, to cite one example, is that it is weak where it should be strong and strong where it should be weak.

For example, the president has put his prestige and influence behind a healthcare proposal that a majority of Americans oppose and that willy-nilly will shift healthcare to the public sector. By contrast, Iran has violated the non-proliferation agreement, has abused its citizens for contesting electoral manipulation, and has been the leading state sponsor of terrorism. Yet the president who should recognize and resist these challenges seems weak and unresponsive.

Americans realize the government of Grover Cleveland may not be an appropriate model for President Obama. But they are beginning to realize that government intrusiveness can reduce if not discard their liberties. In fact, there is hardly a liberty enumerated in the Bill of Rights that hasn't been curtailed in some fashion by recent governments. Perhaps the only liberty that has expanded its reach under a heretofore unknown precedent of privacy is sexual freedom. But is sexual freedom cover for the reduction of every other form of liberty?

The road to serfdom is paved with rights and benefits. People want more of whatever someone else will pay for. The casualty in this assessment is personal responsibility and liberty.

We are not yet an authoritarian state and my hope is that America never will be one, but it is imperative we guard against that eventuality, recognizing that the rights we invent come with a corresponding withering away of freedom. Big government may not be a problem if it exercises power judiciously and in ways that promote American interests. Yet it is also true that government has a stake in perpetuating itself. It may not always be the problem, but it is rarely the solution and all the programs that the American people covet may in the end alter the America they once loved and admired.

The Race Ploy

In 1994, during my campaign for New York State Comptroller against Carl McCall, the race card was played persistently by members of the press and by my opponent. Since I had been active in civil rights causes, opened a headquarters in Harlem, was a sponsor of CORE events and had two men of color as my campaign chairmen, Reuben Diaz and Roy Innis, I was perplexed and disappointed. It became exceedingly ugly when Bob Herbert in a New York Times column called me a "racist," a claim that was made without the slightest effort to speak to me directly or examine my record.

Even though I thought I was emotionally calloused, the charge hurt. Most significantly, it had a chastening influence on my campaign. Even though I felt Mr. McCall made mistakes in our debates and had adopted positions that made him vulnerable to criticism, I was reluctant to challenge him. It was restraint borne of a false, but effective, charge.

As I listened to comments by former President Jimmy Carter and other members of the Democratic party, I have had a strange sense of deja vu. Some have argued that criticism of the president's healthcare proposal is based on race, not the weakness in the proposed legislation. If you accept this argument, criticism is negated by its egregious and prejudicial character. Presumably President Obama wants to move the country ahead, but the contemporary Bull Connors have plotted to undermine his effort.

It is one thing for an irresponsible radio personality like Janeane Garafalo to make this outrageous claim, but when it is made by leaders in the party, the effect can be chilling. What it means is that bullying tactics can be used to stifle debate. Not only will race be employed as a trump card, it will be the catalyst for dictatorial control.

Should criticism hit home, arguments that cannot be rationally countered will be neutralized with the "nuclear race option." Surely serious proponents of Obamacare must realize that well-meaning critics can differ with the president on the essential features and details of his proposal. But it is easy to challenge reflexively using race as the sine qua non of argumentation.

For a president who said he was committed to a post-racial administration, it would make sense for him to repudiate this stratagem. Yet he has been either conspicuously silent on this matter, or insulting to his critics. In a way that may indeed be inadvertent, he is promoting the use of the race card as a political device.

It is instructive that the more argumentation reverts to this base ploy, the less value it has. The racist charge has lost its effect because of the irresponsible manner in which it's employed. I can recall Rep. Charlie Rangel maintaining that tax cuts were a function of racism. Every police action against a black assailant is invariably a racist act according to the Reverend Al Sharpton. And companies that do not support Reverend Jesse Jackson's foundation are ipso facto racist organizations.

The public is increasingly desensitized to this extortion racket, but it is quite another matter when the president's adherents rely on white guilt to buttress their position. This stance is divisive and dangerous. Stifling debate is not the sort of thing a president can encourage without deep-seated damage to the body politic.

I have been on the receiving end of this tactic and can testify it isn't pretty. I won't say it isn't fair since that is obvious. But with some -- and I fall into this category -- it is effective. Once you start engaging in preemptive censorship, the other side of the debate has won even if his position is flimsy and unworthy.

It is time to put race to bed, to realize it should neither be an advantage nor disadvantage. For race baiters, however, that is impossible; it is all they know and the one tactic that has yielded the result they want. But if President Obama is intent on bringing Americans together, he must denounce this ploy once and for all, even if it means his detractors are free to challenge his proposals. After all, these challenges could make his arguments stronger than they are at the moment, and might even be good for the soul of the nation.

No Taxation With Representation

The American Revolution had one inspirational lament that echoed through the pages of our national history: "No taxation without representation." For our Founding Fathers these poignant words meant that the British imposition of taxes was unacceptable without the expressed will of the people. It was an idea that was built into a republican form of government and was as much a British idea as an American one.

In 2009 a new, arguably perverse, view of this proclamation is in vogue: "No taxation with representation." It is increasingly clear that at least 45 percent of the American people do not pay income tax yet are key to the election of many representatives. Their votes count as much as the 55 percent who do pay taxes. Moreover, if one relies on the quasi-Marxist rhetoric that emanates from Washington, the nontaxpayer has a claim on the assets of others.

In the Republic Plato argues against democracy because he feared the power of the mob, those free riders who expect others to care for and attend to them. When their numbers increase to some tipping point, democracy is imperiled.

At the moment one percent of the population pays about 40 percent of the tax revenue for the country. When President Obama talks about "spreading the wealth," what does he mean? Should one percent pay 50 or 60 percent and, if so, what are the disincentives to wealth creation that will emerge? As it stands, ten percent of the population generates over 90 percent of the revenue.

The influence of high taxation on a minority invariably breeds resentment. But the effect on the large majority is just as significant. For those who obtain benefits without payments, an entitlement psychology unfolds. It's my due say the less wealthy as if wealth itself is a sin. Although it is hard to generalize from a sample of one, I can recall that during the Obama campaign an adherent said she favored the Democratic nominee because he would assist with her mortgage, her car payments, and her accumulated debt.

That in a nutshell is the spirit of national welfarism, something for nothing. Is this woman concerned at all about the tax burden on others? Is she aware of the disincentives for productive activity? Are the politicians who pander to those who crave a handout sensitive to the effect of their policies?

What conceivable interest can this woman have in national tax policy? As far as she is concerned a 100 percent tax is desirable as long as she gets her due.

From my perspective everyone should be taxed. If progressivity is the standard, invert the rate for the poor. Those who have little should pay little, but they should pay something, anything that displays a commitment to the nation and its goals. The negative tax doesn't demand that sentiment and, as I see it, the nation requires this understanding.

Some have said that there should be a property requirement for voting, a demonstrated stake in the society, and a standard that existed before 1820. I don't think that idea has any chance of acceptance, but I do contend that everyone should pay taxes, whether it's $5 or less -- a sum that suggests the individual is a party to the national interest, not merely a free rider.

In a sense, this gesture is symbolic. It certainly won't generate revenue sufficient to deal with unfunded liabilities. However, it does send a message that we are in this national mission together. It is time to overcome the belief that a small minority is obliged to address the concerns of a large majority. And it is time as well to suggest that no one is entitled to the fruits of someone else's labor.

A tax must be perceived as fair and universal. And if the populace wants the benefits of representation, it should display an interest in taxation. Wasn't that once the American way? *

"To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." --Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:26

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

Healthcare Reform and Personal Freedom

Writing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal (8/4/09) Laura Landro raises the question of how to make ever more complex health decisions when faced with multiple options, each with no clear advantage. According to Ms. Landro, this decision-making process involves coaching, consultation with a physician, and the education of the patients.

As I see it, this recommendation makes eminent sense. Weighty healthcare matters should involve research, conversation, and an assessment of risks and benefits. But as I was reading this article, it occurred to me that with Obamacare, or the bill being considered in the Congress, the personal deliberation and consultation would not be possible.

Although the president is quite right in his desire to eliminate waste in healthcare expenditures, he seemingly overlooks the personal decision-making that undergirds the existing system and creates a remarkable level of assurance for the American people.

With Obamacare a council or a bureaucrat relying on a computer program will determine the appropriate level of care. If an eighty-year-old, for example, needs a hip replacement, the bureaucrat is likely to argue that a tin joint as opposed to a titanium joint is appropriate since the person only has a few years left based on actuarial expectations. Or if an eighty-year-old has cancer an advisory council might suggest that aggressive and expensive radiation treatment doesn't make sense since that person doesn't have long to live whatever the treatment.

This is ostensibly a rationing and triage system that determines who is treated and what kind of treatment is appropriate. The word "appropriate" is what is critical. Rather than the best care, the word appropriate is widely employed by members of the administration.

It is instructive that in countries that have a single-payer system in which the government makes healthcare decisions, the death rate for those suffering from cancer and heart disease is higher than the United States. This isn't coincidental. If one is obliged to wait for months to see a physician or is denied care because it is deemed too expensive for someone near the end of life, death through inattention is the likely result.

It is equally instructive that Canadian residents with resources don't wait in the public queue for care, they travel to the United States and visit physicians here. Of course that may not be possible if the Obama bill becomes law. But it is odd that this administration is intent on altering the healthcare system most people in the world regard as foremost. Yes, it is expensive, but it is understandable that an affluent society would spend large sums on healthcare.

The arcane assessment of healthcare finances misses a point that Ms. Landro's article makes. Flushing out unnecessary expenditures comes at the price of restricting personal freedom to choose. That is the argument the Obama team seems to ignore and, frankly, it is the argument Republicans seem incapable of making.

For a nation that has put a value on liberty, the idea that the government will determine the nature of healthcare is unacceptable on any level, if only the public appreciated the fact this is the intent of the legislation. Perhaps in this recess period before Congress is back in session, this bill will be fully parsed. Without major changes, healthcare will change and despite President Obama's assurance that this is the change the public has been waiting for, it will be the change most Americans abhor.

The Crisis Syndrome

It is customary for politicians to describe an issue that is important to them as a problem. After all, problems require solutions and solutions are what get them elected. Rarely, if ever, will a politician describe a "condition" since conditions occur in the natural order and aren't subject to positive intervention.

The Obama administration, however, has a new tactic, one that has raised the level of concern and the need for action. Every issue is described as a crisis. For example, we don't have an unemployment problem, we have an unemployment crisis. We don't have a healthcare problem, it is now elevated to a crisis.

Moreover, if it is regarded as a crisis, the government must act immediately. No time to dally. It is instructive that President Obama has noted that there is a deadline for healthcare reform. If the Congress does not comply, God only knows what will happen.

Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has said a crisis is too important to be wasted. Surely it is a way to motivate the Congress to act. Presumably that is why bills have been pushed through the Byzantine process of law making. Yet it is obvious that no one including President Obama read or had any idea of what was in the $787 billion, 1200-page stimulus package. Here was a bill designed to deal with the "unemployment crisis." When it was initiated unemployment was at 7.6 percent; after adoption unemployment escalated to 9.5 percent. But that crisis -- even more severe now -- has been pushed aside for the healthcare crisis.

President Obama has said if we do not act now 47 million Americans without health insurance will be left floundering. Unfortunately, the president has neglected to point out that no American can be denied medical treatment in a public hospital. He has also ignored the fact that a large majority in the uninsured category earn more than $75 thousand a year and could afford insurance but choose not to register. And he might have pointed out that a sizable number in this population are uninsured for a year or less. But if he were to say these things it would be hard to sustain the argument that there is a crisis.

While there may be tactical value in claiming a crisis instead of a problem, there is a dangerous side to this claim. At this point President Obama is losing his credibility. This tactic is like crying "wolf" every time an issue emerges. Even if there were a crisis, why would you believe this president?

Moreover, this tactic often confuses relatively manageable events with those that are intractable. As I see it, for example, healthcare insurance can be managed for a fraction of what the president has in mind if one were to realize there are about eight million people without insurance who do not have the means to pay for it and require government assistance. By contrast, an Iran with nuclear weapons intent on using them to wipe Israel off them map may be a crisis-in-waiting if action isn't taken to thwart this eventuality. Yet in the rhetoric used by the president there isn't any distinction. Both are crises of seemingly similar magnitude.

In discussing North Korea's missile tests, the president employed strong language to chastise Kim Jung Il. He noted at the time that words must have meaning. Rather than use words as an empty gesture, the president insisted that his language be taken seriously. Yet it is the president himself who undermines this assertion with grandiose claims that are unrealistic or heightening the importance of issues with fear-laden terminology.

Surely he must realize that not every matter that crosses his desk is a crisis. But with a mindset of pushing legislation through ala FDR in the first one hundred days of the New Deal, every matter is essential, every bill must be dealt with immediately and every issue is a national crisis.

If, God forbid, a national crisis does emerge that requires mobilizing public support, a significant part of the population will say "not again, this is simply another rhetorical exercise." If President Obama needs them, his rhetoric may push them away.

Fatah Speaks

August 4 was not only the birthday of President Obama, it was also the opening date of the Fatah general conference in Bethlehem. Despite concern, the Israeli government surrendered to U.S. pressure and allowed an influx of Palestinian hardliners and notorious terrorists to attend this meeting. According to reports, national security adviser James Jones offered a list of Palestinians the Obama administration wanted present at the Fatah event in order "to save the conference and Abu Mazen." One of those present was Khaled Abu Esba, who blew up an Israeli bus on the Tel Aviv highway in 1978 killing 35 Israelis.

What was saved at this conference is a matter of some conjecture. Although the Obama administration hoped that this Fatah conference would result in the emergence of moderate positions toward Israel, the obverse was the case. Not only was Israel routinely and ritualistically condemned, but there wasn't the slightest gesture in the direction of conciliation.

Fatah leaders argued they would continue their armed struggle against the state of Israel engaging in whatever force is necessary to undermine the Jewish state. They made it clear that there wouldn't be any modification in their charter, thereby avoiding any possibility of recognizing Israel as a legitimate nation. To gild the lily, a number of spokesmen contended that Israel was responsible for the death of Yassir Arafat, a claim made without reference to any evidence.

While President Obama has adhered to what he would describe as an "even-handed policy," it is clear that his effort to employ Fatah as the moderate counter-weight to radical Hamas will not work. The difference between Hamas and Fatah is that the former want to kill Jews now and the latter want to kill Jews after concessions have been vouchsafed.

The conference comments should disabuse Obama administration officials of the dubious notion that settlements in the West Bank stand in the way of some accord between Israelis and Palestinians. There is little doubt the settlements argument is a ruse designed to make the Israeli government pliable. Moreover, the issue creates a separation between the Obama and Netanyahu governments that can be exploited by the Palestinian leadership. An illusion has been created over settlements that the Israelis are intractable and unwilling to come to the negotiating table in good faith.

Yet the conference in Bethlehem reveals an undisguised truth: It is Fatah that is unwilling to modify its hateful stance towards Israel. In an effort to compete with the sanguinic aims of Hamas, Fatah engages in rhetoric that is remarkably similar. Notwithstanding the words that are used, the Obama administration continues to search for a silver lining. This commitment to Abu Mazen, a man without any real influence or standing in the West Bank, would be comical were it not so tragic.

In the incandescent precincts in Washington, Israel is the problem and all evidence to the contrary, including the language and intent of Fatah, is either ignored or rationalized. According to Obama spokesmen, there is a policy in place for a two-state solution and Israel's withdrawal from territory in much of the West Bank is its critical feature. That condition remains unaltered whatever the circumstances on the ground.

Peace, the much-abused word in these discussions, can be achieved overnight if Fatah would stop armed resistance against Israel and recognize Israel as a legitimate nation. If Obama wants Israeli flexibility, this is the way to achieve it. All other negotiating points merely bypass the central issue. Whether Fatah can bring itself to adopt this argument seems unlikely since the coherence in the organization depends on armed aggression.

President Netanyahu has tried to persuade President Obama of this Middle East reality, but obsessions and policy obduracy stand in the way. As a consequence, all of the talk in this multilateral negotiation, including Russia, the EU and the UN, can come to nothing productive. Should President Obama squeeze Israel, which he seems inclined to do, he only increases the likelihood of future bloodshed that withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon presaged.

If there is pressure to be applied, there is one side where the application makes sense. I doubt there will be a policy shift in the administration, but it would make sense for the president and his aides to read a transcript of the conference in Bethlehem. After doing so, I wonder if erstwhile General Jones can describe who he is saving and for what end.

Cronkite Revisited

At long last someone had the temerity, or is it courage, to tell the truth about Walter Cronkite. Writing for his blog, the redoubtable Cliff Kincaid, notes that the "voice of God" -- as Mara Liasson referred to him -- embodied every liberal and radical idea on the political waterfront and to some degree, had had a baneful effect on the news and public opinion.

Mr. Cronkite was the quintessential transnational progressive who believed and spoke on behalf of world government, UN authority and all the treaties that would ultimately reduce American national sovereignty. He received the Global Governance award, addressed the leftist People for The American Way, and challenged President Reagan's unilateral military actions. Later he attacked the Bush administration for its arrogance.

But more than any other matter was his egregious role in the Vietnam defeat. Some misguided media types have described this role as the highlight of his career. Yet Cronkite's public verdict that the 1968 Tet offensive was a major defeat for the United States forces is widely regarded as a turning point in the war leading directly to the incremental withdrawal of troops and an ignominious defeat. Cronkite also claimed the Vietcong had held the American embassy for six hours and that its offensive "went on for two months." The facts show this was wrong. Moreover, as historians have continually pointed out, the Tet offensive was a defeat for North Vietnam. But why let facts stand in the way of a good story? Cronkite could not be dissuaded from his firm ideological commitment.

This commitment was on display in other matters as well. In 1979 Cronkite gave an interview to the Soviet magazine, Literary Gazette, and said, "the Soviet threat" was "most likely . . . a myth." He went on to note that "I will never believe in a Soviet threat." This statement was made in the same year Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.

I believe it is inappropriate to speak ill of those who have passed this mortal coil, but Cronkite, regarded as a national hero, was wrong about the Soviet Union and misguided on most public policy questions. Sure, his voice is the one Americans heard on the moon landing. He recounted historic moments and his daily pronouncements reached millions, but the one thing he was not is a dispassionate, fair-minded journalist. Cronkite had an agenda. Was the country lucky to have him in that anchor seat, as Chris Wallace contended? I doubt it. Most Americans probably didn't recognize the propagandistic dimensions of his editorials confusing a mellifluous voice with biased prescriptions.

At a time when sophistry is in vogue, it is useful to recall that an anchor usually reads the news that someone writes for him. It is useful to recall that the New York Times is the paper of record for those on television stations. If a story leads in the Times, it will undoubtedly lead on the 7 o'clock news. Therefore, it isn't surprising Cronkite has espoused the views he did. The only surprise, as I see it, is that the public never seemed to catch on that he was a pitchman for an ideological position. May he rest in peace and may we revisit the news reports he once gave us. *

"You know you're getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you're down there." --George Burns

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Annual Dinner 2020
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Words of Wisdom