Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:55

A Word from London

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A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is President Emeritus of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus of New York University, and author of Diary of A Dean, Hamilton Books, and America's Secular Challenge, Encounter Books.

Armageddon 2012

The Iranian government, through a website proxy, has laid out what it considers the legal and religious justification for the destruction of Israel and the slaughter of Jews worldwide. Calling Israel a danger to Islam, the website Alef, with ties to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, said the opportunity must not be lost to remove "this corrupting material." There is a "jurisprudential justification" to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel, and in that "the Islamic government of Iran must take the helm." The article written by Alireza Forghani, a strategy specialist in Khamenei's camp, is being shown on most state-owned sites, including the Revolutionary Guards' Fars News Agency, a clear indication this view is embraced by the regime.

The justification for this stance is the belief Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities and, as a consequence, Iran must preempt. Although many strategic experts described these comments as "bluster," Iran's Defense Ministry fired a two-stage, solid fuel ballistic missile, putting a new satellite into orbit, a development that indicates Iran has ICBM capability.

The head of Mossad recently noted that Iran has sufficient enriched uranium for four to six nuclear bombs and is continuing to enrich uranium despite four sets of UN sanctions. Recognizing this present state of affairs, Israeli forces have been engaged in a variety of preparations for an attack with Secretary of Defense Panetta indicating it may take place in the spring, despite U.S. disapproval.

It should be noted that the 1981 bombing of the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq was also criticized by the American government, notwithstanding the fact nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein would have been a game-changer in the Middle East forestalling the first Gulf War.

Any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities is far more complicated than the 1981 bombing at Osirak where there were only 12 casualties. This attack will have collateral damage and significant political blowback, albeit several Sunni nations will publicly condemn and privately congratulate Israel should the Iranian nuclear program be set back or destroyed.

To avoid or control retaliation, Israel will consider a variety of secondary targets including communication infrastructures and energy resources. But this cannot be a sterile operation; retaliation has to be entertained including the firing of thousands of missiles by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon into Israeli population centers. Israel will be under siege. How the Obama administration responds is critical. The current passive climate in Washington has given the Iranian regime encouragement and explains why Netanyahu will only give DC officials 24-hour notice of the impending attack.

What must be realized is that Israel cannot allow Iran to attack first. That would invite a second holocaust. Every Israeli pilot in his F-16 realizes he is fighting to prevent the slaughter of Jews and the survival of Israel. Iran contends its military doctrine is defensive preemption, what the UN charter calls "anticipatory self-defense." But with the development of enriched uranium and statements about the destruction of Israel from Ahamdinejad to Khamenei, it is Iran that is on the offensive and Israel that must defend itself.

The world is at the precipice of disaster. Should these attacks take place; the U.S. will not be able to insulate itself. Iran will claim Israel needed the approval and assistance of the U.S. before an attack could be launched. And Israel will argue the inability of the U.S. to constrain Iranian nuclear weapons development, forced its hand.

It was assumed by the Obama intelligence team that time is on our side. That moment has now passed. The time is here. Sanctions have not had an appreciable effect in the Iranian enrichment program. In fact, Obama himself has delayed enactment hoping against reality that Iran will come to its senses. There is only a military option that remains, one that the U.S. will not consider, but one Israel cannot avoid. As a result 2012 is the year of difficult and, some would say, unavoidable decisions. The fate of Israel and a large part of mankind hang in the balance.

The Tipping Point

In an effort to bolster the political fortunes of President Obama, the media panjandrums have been cheerleading about the improvements in the American economy. Recovery appears to be building, notes the New York Times. The GDP growth is now projected at 3.5 percent, a tonic for the sleepy start of the fiscal year. The unemployment rate has declined, notwithstanding those who no longer seek employment.

The lights are synchronized in green for Obama's reelection, or that is the growing sentiment. But there is an argument, far more telling than present statistical improvement, which must be made. The policies of Obama's last four years have moved the nation down the road of serfdom. Giveaway programs have tied free individuals to the shackles of the state.

As of 2011, almost 45 million Americans are on food stamps, approximately one in seven people. In New York City 1.8 million citizens collect food stamps, one in four. Forty-seven percent of Americans do not pay a personal income tax, and most of these people receive subventions from the government. Thirty-six percent of Americans who file tax forms do not a pay personal income tax. The number of those in a condition of poverty increased 9.5 percent since 2009, with a total of 43.6 million. Again, almost all of these individuals receive government assistance of one kind or another.

My contention isn't merely that we spend more than we can afford - an obvious and well-treated concern. I would assert that despite positive signs in the economic picture, we are nearing the "tipping point," a transformative moment when a majority of Americans are dependent on government largess. This is the path Americans have been on for some time, but it has been accelerated by the policies of the Obama administration.

Thomas Jefferson once noted, "A government that can give you everything you want can take everything you have." Frederic Bastiat echoed this sentiment when he wrote "Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else," and Voltaire captured this concern with his claim, "In general the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other." It is not surprising that in taking from Peter to give to Paul, Paul doesn't complain.

This isn't merely the essence of class warfare, it is the entrapment of leviathan. Former President Bill Clinton said "The age of big government is over." By any standard this comment is absurd. Big government is alive, well, and growing. There isn't the slightest sign it can or will abate until a crisis arises.

Moreover, it is difficult to envision what happens at that point since depending on one's calculation, the majority is already feeding from the public trough. Will a majority vote to reduce its benefits? Will a president about to be reelected on the basis of public giveaways tell the truth about economic conditions?

This presidential campaign offers a unique opportunity to tell the truth about what ails us. But the Republicans are afraid of "Third Rail" repercussions if they bring up unfunded liabilities in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. And the Democrats want to create the illusion they are the compassionate party, eager to assist the poor and downtrodden, a stereotype that is inconsistent with Big Labor support and the endorsement of the Plaintiffs Bar.

As a consequence, the truth is buried and the Hayakian scenario of The Road to Serfdom is ominously palpable. Perhaps it is time for both parties to accept Edmund Burke's admonition that "No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." My hope is that this campaign is the beginning of a "little," to reverse the emerging tipping point in the American economy.

The Jeremy Lin Story

For diehard New York Knicks fans the last four decades have been years of promise and years of frustration. The Patrick Ewing era began with dreams of championship rings and ended with ringless fingers. For a time Madison Square Garden resembled a tomb of interred memories from Clyde "The Glide" Frazier, to Willis Reed, and from Dave DeBusschere to Bill Bradley. The past projected the only hope for the future. However, several weeks ago, in what can only be described as a magical moment, everything changed!

The Garden was energized by the unlikeliest of sources: a 23-year-old Chinese American who graduated from Harvard, not the most obvious basketball factory. Moreover, the young man in question, Jeremy Lin, was dropped from the roster of two other teams. He was regarded as too slow and too soft to make it in the NBA. He was sent down to the D League to improve his skills and was considered the likeliest person to be cut from the Knicks squad twenty-four hours before the decision was made to keep him.

In a scant half dozen games Lin transformed the Knicks franchise and New York City. He has created Linsanity, a fascination with team play unseen in New York since the early 1970s. Moreover, as opposed to players who preen in front of a camera after a dunk or who have tattoos all over their bodies as advertisements for themselves, Lin is self-effacing, tattoo free, and invariably gives credit to his teammates for recent successes.

In fact, he is the straw that stirs the drink. As a point guard he orchestrates the attack. He has been averaging about 25 points a game with seven assists thrown in for good measure. Most significantly, he has changed the fortunes of the team. The Knicks have won eight of their last ten games by playing team basketball, looking for the open man and unselfishly giving up the ball when the situation calls for it.

Lin was a successful, but not highly recruited basketball player from Palo Alto. In fact, his first college choice was Stanford, but the coach there didn't recognize his potential. He went to Harvard where he majored in economics, not exactly the conventional route to the NBA. He was not drafted out of college.

His parents are both engineers and brought up their son in a traditional Christian home. His dedication to Christian principles invariably emerges in his press conferences. Rather than live the flamboyant life of an NBA player, Lin did not have his own apartment and slept on a couch in his brother's flat, never complaining about the living arrangement.

In his first starting assignment against the Utah Jazz, I was seated in a floor seat about five feet from his brother. Sibling excitement is the only way to describe the scene that evening. Lin scored 28 points that night and led his team to victory, but the smile on his brother's face told an even more scintillating story.

Lin is the only Chinese American in the NBA. He is now a star who cannot be denied fame and fortune. But it is his attitude that wins fan loyalty. He puts team ahead of self, a position almost unknown in the professional ranks today. He gives credit to God for his success, but it isn't a treacly religiosity that he espouses. He appears to be comfortable in his own skin.

Whether he can lead the Knicks to the promised land of the championship remains to be seen. In the short term, he has generated interest in the team, given it a new and healthy perspective, and restored basic team concepts to a game infected with narcissistic attitudes.

Jeremy Lin is a phenomenon who has put electricity into the Madison Square Garden stands. When he is on the court all eyes are on him; he is the one player others want on their team. He makes the basketball machine hum and he did this coming from nowhere and scaling the heights of big time basketball in New York.

College Tuition Rates and the Free Market

When President Obama addressed the issue of unaffordable college tuition in his State of the Union address, he neglected to print out that federal subsidies are often responsible for the increase. He noted, "If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down." However, since tuition is dependent on federal aid, it cannot remain stable or go down unless federal aid is reduced.

Presumably the president is intent on campus-based aid when - only when - universities set responsible tuition policy. But what precisely does that mean? For private colleges and universities the tuition rate is fixed based on the competition. NYU is likely to set tuition increases near the Yale rate and Yale is likely to set its tuition at the Princeton rate and so the beat goes on.

Now if there were a real interest in "providing good value" as the president noted, there would be longitudinal studies on graduates. But what would one say about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ralph Lauren, among others, who were college dropouts? Moreover, what does it mean to talk about "good value" when students can design their own course of study avoiding mathematics, chemistry, American history, even Shakespeare?

Should the government deny assistance to colleges, many would collapse. Would that be a bad thing? It is if one of the colleges is your alma mater, or where your son or daughter is in attendance. But in reality, President Obama is not serious about reducing aid and most university officials know that the award for Pell grants is likely to rise and eligibility to loosen.

The affordability of college tuition is a national preoccupation with the average tuition at a public four-year university increasing three and a half times between 1980 and 2012. Still most parents in the United States contend they want to send their kids to college. They are caught in an ideological dilemma. On the one hand, they want to reduce the size and influence of federal authority; on the other hand, they realize that without the Pell grant and other federal subsidies they may not be able to afford tuition for their children. In 2011 Pell grants alone totaled about $41 billion.

As I see it, universities should tighten their expansive belts by refusing government assistance. This might encourage curriculum reform, a return to basics instead of the present curriculum that includes the fashionable and the trifling. In my experience there isn't a major university in the United States that couldn't cut 10 percent of its budget without in any way adversely affecting the delivery of programs and services. These cuts might also serve to catalyze institutional reform such as on-line programming and independent study projects.

Universities will not be remade over night. However, reducing the reliance on federal assistance would force desirable change. And even though the closure of some institutions might be regretted by students and parents, this action could be a benefit for taxpayers who have been put in the position of underwriting more institutions than the country probably needs.

The trick is to unleash market forces. Let curriculum reform dictate marketability. Let on-line courses serve as a credible alternative to classroom study. Let some universities fail; yes, some should fail. And let parents and students make choices based on the trade-off between taxes and tuition.

It is reasonable to ask, as President Obama has, why tuition is so high. Unfortunately he is prepared to propose a "solution" that only adds to the problem. If he were truly interested in addressing this matter, he might suggest it is time for the federal government to get out of the way so that market forces can flourish. There was a time when tuition rates were affordable for even working class people, but it was at a time before federal intervention. It may be time to turn the clock back to that period.

The Other University Bubble

It has become glaringly apparent that the college tuition bubble is about to burst. At a time of financial exigency, the cost of $250,000 for a four-year education at a private college is beyond the means of most middle-class parents. That story is now very much front-page news. What may not be front-page news, but is itself a related bubble, is the excessive commentary surrounding the liberal arts.

If one speaks to an academic immersed in the academic culture, he is likely to wax lyrical about the virtues of the liberal arts curriculum. I, too, was once in this camp. However, the liberal arts have been injected with foreign steroids that have ballooned the number of offerings and vitiated the meaning of the curriculum. If one were to rely on the Matthew Arnold standard of the best that is known and thought as a guide, the current curriculum is anything that will fit or whatever you can get away with.

The absurdity of the offerings from the Occupy Movement to Film Noir represent little more than outcroppings of the contemporary imagination. In fact, so absurd are many of the college level courses that it is impossible to caricature them. The university has let itself become a feast for those bursting with expression. Rather than distinguish between the worthy and the ridiculous, scholars refuse to distinguish at all. Every course fits the bill surrounding standards to some anachronistic moment in the past.

This is the age of open arms, of responding to student demands, of acceptance. Far be it for some crusty academic to argue that a course on the films of Woody Allen hasn't an appropriate place in the curriculum. To reject this premise is to be judgmental, a sin in the new order.

What students get out of these experiences remains unclear. Surely some of these courses are entertaining, some may even be illuminating, but what, if anything, do they offer the liberal arts? The presumption of the liberal arts experience is that by studying the great works of civilization, one arrives at an understanding (even a partial understanding) of the human condition, i.e., what makes us tick. Differences in time will reveal variegated themes, but passion, loyalty, sadness, conflict, envy, greed, and love do not vary. These are the conditions of life in the very air we breathe, and they are revealed in literature, philosophy, drama, and poetry.

To suggest - as the contemporary curriculum does - that these ideas don't matter is to miss the point of the liberal arts by allowing the trifling, the trivial, and the current to insinuate themselves into the curriculum and devalue the college experience.

As I see it, encouraging serious students to engage in an exercise like work or travel or even reading on their own might be as desirable as paying for the privilege of studying the inconsequential. The tuition bubble is about to burst and with it may be a curriculum that is flatulent and unworthy of scholarship.

Clearly my detractors are baying at the moon as they contend my allegations are exaggerated. But I have a useful exercise for the critics: read a core curriculum guide from 1950 at any major university and compare it with its modern counterpart. Even leaving aside breakthroughs in science and computer studies, the number of new courses with exotic titles is staggering. Expression is deemed good; all aspects of life are considered worthy of investigation and the line between scholarship and self-exploration unclear.

At some point, those who underwrite this very expensive education - whether they are parents, trustees, or government officials - will ask if we are getting very much of a return on investment. If the best one can say is the result is dubious, the bubble could disappear like soapsuds.

Colleges and universities won't die, but they will be obliged to define and justify their missions. That is a task both necessary and desirable for a nation that puts a premium on education and for an institution that has seemingly lost its way. *

Read 2486 times Last modified on Saturday, 05 December 2015 10:55
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.

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