The illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths. –Aleksandr Pushkin, poet, novelist, and playwright (1799-1837)

There is a general consensus that our political system is broken. The electorate views with disdain the inability of those in charge of our government to treat opponents with civility, let alone to govern efficiently, forgetting all the while that it is we who continuously place such people in office. We thus now, to paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson, are having to sit down at our banquet of consequences. Among citizens, those on opposite sides of issues often also fall on each other like wolves. As illustrated in the following table, the irreconcilable policy chasm between our two political parties has now reached seismic proportions.

Percentage who rate their support for issues at 8-10 on a 1-10 scale

Source: Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, taken in mid-December (Margin of error = +/- 4.9%)

Traditional Definition of Marriage 69% 25%
Support Gay Rights 14% 63%
Support “Right-to-Life” 57% 23%
Supporters of “Black Lives Matter” movement 6% 46%
Support the NRA 59% 11%
Combat Climate Change Immediately 13% 62%
Support Unions 15% 52%
Support Business Interests 49% 26%

Worse still, the disrespect that each party has for the other further jeopardizes the possibility of any meaningful dialogue. According to a 2014 PEW Research Study, 79% of democrats hold an unfavorable view of republicans, almost half of whom (38%) harbor a “very unfavorable” view, and over a fifth of whom (27%) view republicans as being a threat to the country. Similarly, 82% of republicans view as unfavorable the democrat party, over half of these (43%) hold a “very unfavorable” view, and 36% (nearly 45% of those in this category) view democrats as a threat to the country.

Look closely, however, and the eight major issues of contention in the above table. What problem do any of the positions solve? Does what the proponents and opponents of each issue advocate serve the principles of American constitutional traditions? Moreover, most of those positions are empty slogans. “Right-to-Life” is not opposed by “pro-choice” advocates; it is simply that the latter deems the quality of life of the mother as a higher priority. Similarly, “Right-to-Life” proponents are hardly anti-choice; it is just that their choice is the one that they believe should be enforced. A larger, wholly ignored, issue however is that there is no agreement on what “life” is. How is it possible to resolve the controversy of legalized aborton when some define life as beginning at conception, whereas others view it as being when the fetus takes its first breath. If we could first come to an agreement on what is life, the debate might well be different.

What we are witnessing at work however is a focus on issues that is the product of ideological simplification. By definition, an ideology is a worldview that explains why things are and how things work. It is not, therefore, a hypothesis that was arrived at through empirical research and trial and error, nor is it the product of a non-result-oriented search to discover what works. It is, however, a simplified, top-down approach to address infinitely complex problems; problems which, because of the myriad of actors within a society, each of whom influences and changes the behavior of others, cannot possibly be correct all the time.

The damage of ideological decision making is not limited to occasional failures. It also exacerbates problems in two crucial ways. First, as a belief system an ideology is a self-contained set of principles built upon one or more major premises or values. These major premises or values are taken as “givens” and thus are not subject to contestation. Thus, each side of the ideological divide cannot debate each other as neither will critically analyze the propriety of their own fundamental postulates. This, of course, leads to the ad hominem assaults that now permeate our political debates. As the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed, “Men follow their sentiments and their self-interest, but it pleases them to imagine that they follow reason. And so they look for, and always find, some theory which, a posteriori, makes their actions appear to be logical. If that theory could be demolished scientifically, the only result would be that another theory would be substituted for the first one, and for the same purpose.”

Second, and both more troubling and fundamental, ideologies lead to a focus on the wrong issues, issues that are not the problem. In the words of Thomas Pynchon, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” Perhaps the clearest example of this is the current debate between the progressives and the conservatives on the benefits and detriments of socialism versus capitalism. This is a false debate. As will be shown in the balance of this piece, socialism is not an alternative to capitalism; under our American system, it is an alternative to liberty.

To begin with, capitalism is a policy pursued in all socialist countries, such as in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, etc, while the United States, a country that primarily pursues capitalist principles, has also adopted some socialist programs. Thus is it clear that capitalism and socialism are neither opposites nor necessarily incompatible with each other. However both socialism and liberty, as the latter term is defined under our American constitution, are approaches to how our society deals with and protects rights in property, and that is precisely where the conflict arises. The types of rights that are the focus of socialism, for example, are the right to a free education, the right to a guaranteed income or minimum wage, and the right to healthcare. By its very definition, however, since such “entitlements” do not fall like mana from heaven, socialism operates by making claims on property of others.

Our Founding Fathers drafted our Constitution with a focus on property rights. Contrary to current, progressive misconceptions, this was not because they were primarily “propertied” – as we use that term today – patricians. Rather, the term property encompassed all rights to which a citizen was entitled as a matter of natural law, whether tangible or intangible, as a consequence of being a member of a republic that cherished liberty above all things. Indeed, the most valuable “property right” within a free society was not material wealth, but access to knowledge, the principal protector of which is the “property” right of freedom of speech. As succinctly stated by John Adams in his 1765 “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law:”

Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported . . . cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people . . . And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.

The application of this approach to property was expressly set out by James Madison in his March 29, 1792 essay in The National Gazette entitled “Property.” In it he established that under our American system of government, “property” is connected to all of our rights, including things such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The truly American thinking of Madison’s day was that a person’s rights in general – separate and apart from material possessions – were also an extremely important, if not the most valuable, part of his property; that, in Madison’s words, one has not only a right to property but a property in his rights. It is worth setting forth the opening of this piece at length:

This term in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage. [The emphasis is Madison’s.]

In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or is called his property.

In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.

He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.

He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.

He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.

In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.

Where there is an excess of liberty [and here the expression “excess of liberty” refers to license], the effect is the same, tho’ from an opposite cause.

Madison’s expansive definition of property therefore was a reflection of his firm belief in his holistic view of human beings as a fully integrated and inseparable combination of both body and soul. The Constitution therefore was specifically constructed to adopt as its primary values, from which all of its specific provisions both were derived and intended to serve, the four cardinal virtues set forth by Plato in his Republic and adopted as an essential part of the Christian tradition; namely, courage, temperance, justice, and prudence.

This formulation of our property right of freedom necessarily deprives us of the false security and veneer of certainty that follows from ideological dogma. But then as Søren Kierkegaard noted, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

The ideologues of the left and of the right thus seek to save us from this dizziness that only freedom can offer and seek to give us the inferior substitute of license. As the noted jurist Learned Hand warned,

I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon law and upon courts. These are false hopes, believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no courts to save it.

© Richard L Wise and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The New McCarthyism

December 30, 2015

“You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott? [Maxwell Scott:] No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

America’s political dialogue has ceased to be about facts; it is only the narrative that matters now. Grand and petite juries speak, but when their evaluation of facts fails to support the narrative legend, the legend prevails and is what is discussed by a somnambulant press seeking to cater to the ideological fervor.  Computer models, whose predictions are regularly wrong and are thus recalibrated, are accepted as fact instead of recognized as fallible theories conflating coincidence with causation in their obeisance to the Ptolemaic narrative of man-made global warming. Those who disagree are ridiculed as believing in a flat earth and are shouted down with hosannas of “the subject is settled science.”

The narrative of Barak Obama’s presidency was set early in his first term. When a white, Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer, responding to a citizen’s call that someone was trying to break into a black man’s home, arrested an arrogant, effete Harvard professor who happened to be black and a crony of the president, Mr Obama turned this minor incident into a national debate on racism in America because the professor was his buddy. Holding a press conference on the incident, the president began by conceding that he did not have all the facts, and then proceeded to express his judgment. Why proclaim judgment in advance of examining all the facts? Because the facts did not matter. It was all about the narrative.

I have little doubt that Mr Obama suffered some painful and repulsive discrimination because of his skin color when he was a youth. I, too, suffered and continue to suffer similar abuse due to my religion. So what? Must this nation repeatedly rend its garments and beat its breast because of the president’s childhood trauma? We cannot answer for the actions of others in the past; we can only answer for ourselves and for what we do today. We overwhelmingly elected a black president. Does that not speak volumes as to how we have changed as a nation? Is Mr Obama ridiculed by his opponents? Of course. That is what is done irrespective of skin color. The ridicule directed at Mr Obama is, frankly, tame compared to that experienced by past presidents such as Lincoln, Cleveland, and Bush Junior.

For Mr Obama, however, racism is everywhere and is the root cause behind all actions and positions with which he disagrees. It is the New McCarthyism. Ad hominem illogic has become the guiding principle. Jury decisions cannot be correct when they fail to support the major premise of this twenty-first century witch hunt. They are decisions based in racism and thus may justly be ignored. Of course there is not the slightest shred of evidence of racial motivation, but the narrative does not require this because we all know that we are a racist society at its core. Yet if one thinks about it, charges of racism only work against people who are not racist. Real racists, like the KKK, revel in the name.

The truth is that racism is as dead in this country as it will ever be. My generation did that job in the 1960’s. It is not gone, of course, but that is because there will always be envious, mean-spirited people and because we revere freedom of speech. Like the teachings in the ancient Nordic myths, we ought to make it disappear by turning our backs on it and forgetting those on both sides of the subject who seek to prolong its prevalence. We all know that publicity feeds evil.

For the young, progressive radicals, they are rebels in search of a cause and, in their inability to find a just cause that comports with their narrative – G-d forbid they condemn Islam’s violence against and abuse of women – they rend our society by resurrecting and railing against an apparition that exists in prevalence only in their own minds. Note that their narrative prescribes that it is currently racist to say that all lives – black, white, police – matter. One is only permitted to say that black lives matter.

George Santayana observed that “In every generation we face a barbarian threat in our own children.” Note that he said not “to” our children. Sadly, as a consequence of the neurosis caused by trauma in his youth, a lust for power, or both, our president’s narrative seeks to foment discord, urging the country to abandon the pursuit of reasoned debate in favor of a commitment to a futile ideology, dedicated, figuratively, to the building of a bridge in a place where there is no river.

© Richard L Wise and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

America’s Matrix

November 20, 2013

“The Matrix … is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Morpheus

Language is a means by which we express ourselves, yet more recently it has become a focus of forces of disinformation to obfuscate the truth and manipulate people’s thought processes.  The Nixon administration, responding to heavy lobbying by the beef industry, changed the definition of what constituted “sirloin steak.”  They boasted that this would help consumers by lowering the price of this prized steak, which it did. What they did not tell the public was that what used to be called “rump steak” disappeared as it was now defined as “sirloin” and sold as such.

That administration also was the one that first gave us the term “stonewalling,” meaning to answer without answering; a technique now perfected by politicians and bureaucrats of all stripes whereby they pretend politely to answer pointed questions, but as an honest answer would reveal a truth that they do not want us to see they instead answer a question that they wished had been asked.  Witness a House Education and Labor Committee hearing from June 23, 2009 where Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a Republican who is also a physician, was questioning Christina Romer, then chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers regarding whether under ObamaCare people would be able to keep a plan that they were happy with:

Price:  You also mentioned, as other folks have, that the president’s goal–and it’s reiterated over and over and over–that if you like your current plan or if you like your current doctor, you can keep them.  Do you know where that is in the bill?

Romer:  Absolutely.  And things like the employer mandate is part of making sure that large employers that today–the vast majority of them do provide health insurance. One of the things that’s–

Price: I’m asking about if an individual likes their current plan and maybe they don’t get it through their employer and maybe in fact their plan doesn’t comply with every parameter of the current draft bill, how are they going to be able to keep that?

Romer:  So the president is fundamentally talking about maintaining what’s good about the system that we have.  And–

Price:  That’s not my question.

Romer:  One of the things that he has been saying is, for example, you may like your plan and one of the things we may do is slow the growth rate of the cost of your plan, right?  So that’s something that is not only–

Price:  The question is whether or not patients are going to be able to keep their plan if they like it.  What if, for example, there’s an employer out there–and you’ve said that if the employers that already provide health insurance, health coverage for their employees, that they’ll be just fine, right?  What if the policy that those employees and that employer like and provide for their employees doesn’t comply with the specifics of the bill?  Will they be able to keep that one?

Romer:  So certainly my understanding–and I won’t pretend to be an expert in the bill–but certainly I think what’s being planned is, for example, for plans in the exchange to have a minimum level of benefits.

Price:  So if I were to tell you that in the bill it says that if a plan doesn’t comply with the specifics that are outlined in the bill that that employer’s going to have to move to the–to a different plan within five years–would you — would that be unusual, or would that seem outrageous to you?

Romer:  I think the crucial thing is, what kind of changes are we talking about?  The president was saying he wanted the American people to know that fundamentally if you like what you have it will still be there.

Price:  What if you like what you have, Dr. Romer, though, and it doesn’t fit with the definition in the bill?  My reading of the bill is that you can’t keep that.

Romer:  I think the crucial thing–the bill is talking about setting a minimum standard of what can count–

Price:  So it’s possible that you may like what you have, but you may not be able to keep it?  Right?

Romer:  We’d have–I’d have to look at the specifics.

Now, in this fall of 2013, the Obama administration wants us to believe it was acting properly because the president was “essentially” seeking only to eliminate from the health care marketplace health plans that were in actuality abusing the public because they were “substandard.”  Their goal, so they said, was simply to require that the health care industry give us “better health care coverage.”

Simply stated, the use of the term “substandard” is a clever, intentional lie that was chosen because, also being a pejorative term, it leads the listener to believe that the administration was only seeking to banish a market abuse.  Note how this term has been picked up by most of the press and by both, major parties.  But let us parse the term.

“Sub-standard” literally means what is below a given standard.  So what was the “standard?”  For individuals and for companies providing health insurance coverage for their employees, the standard was the coverage they would like to have commensurate with price.  This obviously means that the “standard” will vary from individual to individual and from company to company.  It is a reflection of the notion of freedom of choice, a tenet upon which this country was built.  The Obama administration, however, found such a state of affairs unacceptable and believed that what would be better for society as a whole would be if individual preferences were made subservient to its plan for our society, so it set one, single standard for the entire country and got the democratically controlled Congress in lock step to adopt it.  This law then outlawed perfectly excellent policies which were branded the “untermenschen” of the health care industry.

However the moniker “substandard” was adopted to hide a more insidious truth, one that became apparent when Obama was forced to run for cover and declared that he would change his mind and let those happy with their substandard policies keep them.  Within a few days, and after a private meeting with Obama, both the insurance industry and their state regulators patiently explained that it is now impossible for them to offer the policies that had been cancelled.  The reason for such impossibility is that unchanged from ObamaCare is its central individual mandate requirement.  That is, ObamaCare seeks to fund both the subsidies that it authorizes and the coverage for the highest risk enrollees (those who are medically uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions) by mandating a compulsory list of gold-plated benefits and conscripting wealthier and healthy individuals who would never purchase such a policy to make overpayments.

In other words, the use of the term “substandard” is used to blind the electorate from the truth that ObamaCare is in reality a pure income redistribution scheme and always was intended to be so.

If you are ready to unplug yourself from the seductive matrix of Obama’s words, in the words of Morpheus……………. “welcome….to the real world.”

© Richard L Wise and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It is time that Americans took a deep breath and stepped back from the barrage of disinformation and appeals to emotion – as opposed to reason – coming from the fog and spin machines operating at three shifts per day by the two, major political parties.

As I have pointed out regularly in the past to pro-abortionists (let us dispense with the unhelpful euphemisms; the sole issue is whether you favor making abortions legal or not) the “pro-choicers” are not “anti-life” and the “pro-lifers” are not “anti choice.”  Pro-choice advocates have made the determination that the life and well-being of the woman should take paramount importance to that of a product of conception, whereas pro-life advocates have made the opposite choice that the continued existence of a product of conception should be paramount.

To my mind, however, the essence of the differences between the two positions is what is to be the determinant of a crucial decision in a woman’s life.  Thus, the pro-life faction asserts that the determination should be in accordance with their ideology; an ideology that defines when life is created and whose totem is that because all life is sacred, we may not destroy it.  The pro-choice faction, on the other hand, maintains that there are no absolutes, and that the decision is a “facts and circumstances” issue that needs to be made by a sentient being after evaluating the dilemma being addressed in light of the hierarchy of values that is a part of that being’s nature and which she will have to live with.  Clearly, a product of conception is not a “sentient” being.

Putting this distinction of decision-making another way, the anti-abortionists follow a top down approach that mandates what the individual must in all circumstances do, whereas the pro-abortionists hold that the decision is a bottom up one as determined by the affected individual.

I submit that the anti-abortionists’ approach is fundamentally at odds with American legal tradition.  At its core, US law follows an “enabling approach”; that is, everything is permitted unless it is specifically prohibited.  The focus of our culture is on the individual and individual choice.  Moreover, principles of federalism and interstate commerce require and encourage jurisdictions to compete for business and workers by offering broad discretion and protections to the individual states that wish to be more enabling.  This American approach is in clear contradistinction to the traditions of continental Europe which, because of their monarchical roots, follow a restrictive approach premised on the notion everything is prohibited unless it is expressly permitted.  There, the sovereign determines and plans what is best for society as a whole.

Liberals, as last exemplified by Bill Clinton, are willing to coexist with conservatives, markets, private property, private enterprise and our cult of the individual.  Progressives are not.  Progressives have an ideology that defines what is good in life, and they hold that all must follow their ideology as to how the lives of all those within the society must be conducted.  Thus, the hallmark of progressive legislation is the word “mandates.”  You will do what we tell you is good for you and you will comply or you will be punished.

Most recently, we see this in the [Un]Affordable Care Act.  This law mandates what kind of de minimus health care you must carry.  If you liked your plan but it did not comply with what Big Brother thought best, you are wrong and cannot have that anymore.  If you do not feel you need healthcare because you are young and healthy, you do not have that choice anymore as you must pay into the system so that old and sickly people will pay less.

This is not atypical of central planners.  They have determined that you cannot have incandescent light bulbs anymore as Big Brother has determined that it is bad for the collective whole.  You cannot install toilets that use more than a gallon of water, even though they may be incapable of disposing of larger masses – as Dave Barry called them, an “Act of Congress” – without repeated flushings, because the “gubment” knows better.  And it gets “curiouser and curiouser.”  Children’s home lunches are being searched and cleansed of “inappropriate” parental choices; large sized full-calorie drinks are banned from New York City.  And the petty bureaucrats making such rules act as though all this will make momentous differences because their pseudo-scientific and unverified theories (such as the basis for the FAA’s now-revoked ban on use of all electronic devices during takeoff and landings) tell them so.

As a culture, American bristle at being told what they can and cannot do, what they can and cannot buy.  We exalt the right of each individual to make his or her own choices. We reject others, and especially government bureaucrats, making our life choices for us.

As C S Lewis so eloquently stated it in his 1948 essay anthology God in the Dock:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Would that the progressives who currently control the Democratic Party understood this.

© Richard L Wise and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Way to Hell

October 16, 2013

Set theory in mathematics concerns itself with defining what exists in a given universe (the “set”), including how the elements interact with and respond to each other.  Political ideologies follow much the same pattern, and in the idealized world in which they operate, including their consideration of limited actors, their predictions generally prove accurate.  The larger and more relevant question however is whether the universe envisioned by any ideology bears any resemblance, and thus has any relevance, to the real world in which we all must live and make informed decisions.

An ideology is a worldview that, like any mathematical set, defines a universe.  Because the human mind is incapable of comprehending all of existence, ideologies are helpful in simplifying our thought and reasoning processes so as to enable day-to-day functioning.  However by virtue of such simplification ideologies must exclude certain, if not most, of the elements of the real world.

The very nature of the real world it that it is an exceedingly complex system whose myriad of elements and actors cannot be accounted for by any one ideology; hence the need for pluralism and constant empirical testing of results and without the blinders of “confirmation bias.”  Proceeding headlong with an ideological methodology without an appreciation of its inherent limitations and flaws will, of necessity and as the other actors and elements of the real world universe come into play, have spillover effects the have unintended and deleterious consequences.  Three such examples appear in three, unrelated editorials in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The first involves the push for federal ratings for colleges in time for the 2015 school year.  Mr Obama also wants federal aid to colleges based on those ratings.  Mr Obama’s noble intent is to reward “value,” a vague term at best and without evidence that the federal government in fashioning a “one-size-fits-all” protocol could do better that the current private ranking services. As Mitchell B. Reiss, the 27th president of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland notes in his editorial, the unintended consequences could be a disaster:

“For example, if you judge schools by their graduation rates, then you risk schools moving students along to graduation whether they are qualified or not.  And if you tie Pell grants and Stafford loans to graduation rates, then you may devastate many historically black colleges, whose students often leave college before graduating because they don’t have family support or can no longer afford college. …

“If federal aid is linked to a college’s rating, and a student attends a lower-rated college because it is closer to home to save money by commuting, then the student would receive less, not more, federal aid.

“If you judge schools by the income that graduates earn after joining the workforce, then you discourage schools from helping students seek jobs that benefit society, such as teaching or nursing, but don’t pay as well as many others.

“If you measure schools by the amount of debt that graduates leave with, then you automatically favor those schools with the largest endowments, which can better afford generous financial assistance.

“The list could go on, but you get the idea.”

A second example involves a case now before the Supreme Court and involving the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act.  At issue is whether the EPA’s right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars (“mobile sources”) applies to “stationary sources’ like buildings and plants.

It is clear that when Congress first drafted the Act, it had in mind traditional pollutants like sulfur dioxide or ozone and, accordingly, set the level at which “stationary sources” would be subject to extensive permitting and supervision at 100 tons per year of pollutant.  However in 2004, environmentalists forced the EPA also to regulate CO2 in cars (Massachusetts v. EPA, 2007).  The unintended consequence of this was that if the 100 ton per year threshold is applied to CO2, by the EPA’s own estimates this “would require some six million buildings to get environmental permits, including such grand polluters as churches and farms … [and] would create ‘absurd results’ like shuttering the entire economy… .”

A third example involves a suit between Amazon and IBM:

“Amazon was awarded a large cloud-computing contract from the Central Intelligence Agency. However, IBM, one of the losing contractors, protested the award.  The lawyers circled the wagons, and the Government Accountability Office overturned the contract award.

“What was Amazon’s mistake?  It had the audacity to propose something better than what the government had originally requested.  The CIA, to its credit, recognized the better solution and went for it. Isn’t that what the procurement process is supposed to do—get the best solution?

“Not in the Mad Hatter world of government contracting, where adherence to rules and “fairness” are valued above all. Value to the taxpayer seems to have been long forgotten. Is it any wonder that sane commercial firms run away from the federal marketplace, or that government employees with procurement and budget expertise such as outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter end up frustrated in their attempts to reform the system?”

The above three examples are only from today’s paper.  What they have in common is that not only do ideologies that have the best of intentions regularly have spillover effects that are harmful, but that such consequences are likely because they can never contemplate either the full complexities of the systems within which they operate, and because life is dynamic, ever mutating and changing.  All that we can be certain of is that tomorrow will not be like today.  As Heraclitus observed, “No man steps into the same river twice; for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”

The Clean Air Act and the federal bidding rules can of course be amended by congress, but let us never delude ourselves that merely because “they are the law,” that somehow they should be regarded as sacrosanct commandments that came down to us from Sinai.  Similarly, before we start major tampering with our university system and make it subject to federal oversight (just look how well the post office is doing), we need to humbly acknowledge the limitations of our ideologies and constrain our passions to “do good” by Hippocrates’ rule that, at the very least, we do no harm.  The latter can only be achieved through pluralism; that is, testing our hypotheses in the crucible of opinions and concerns of all actors, each of whose knowledge base no one man, or one party, can have.

© Richard L Wise and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines exceptionalism as “the condition of being different from the norm.”  As applied to a country, however, the term has its roots in the romantic writings of the eighteenth century German philosopher-historians Johann Herder and Johann Fichte.  These thinkers de-emphasized the political state and instead emphasized the uniqueness of the people (“das Volk”).  To understand the concept of “American Exceptionalism,” therefore, one must understand the historical and social milieu that gave birth to our nation and our system of governance.

Our “noble experiment,” as American democracy has been called, represented a radical departure from the top down approach to governance that characterized both the European and classical liberal approaches to governance.

European governance had its roots and traditions in centuries of monarchical rule, which, in essence, leaves development of laws and customs based upon the naked preferences of and deference to the ruler.  While limits on such naked preferences were imposed through force during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, even under the resulting constitutional monarchies, the sovereign retained considerable power.  Commoners lived and worked “by the leave” of the nobility.  Culturally, commoners were not even permitted to think that they were entitled to common courtesies.  The terms “please” and “thank you” were reserved for lords or one who was a similar hierarchical superior.  “Please” is short for “if you please,” “if it pleases you to do this” — it is the same in most European languages (French: s’il vous plait: Spanish:  por favor).  Its literal meaning is an acknowledgement that “you are under no obligation to do this.”  Similarly, as David Graeber noted in his book Debt:  The First 5,000 Years, “In English ‘thank you’ derives from ‘think,’ it originally meant, ‘I will remember what you did for me’ … but in other languages (the Portuguese obrigado is a good example) the standard term follows the form of the English ‘much obliged’ — it actually does means ‘I am in your debt.’  The French merci is even more graphic:  it derives from ‘mercy,’ as in begging for mercy; by saying it you are symbolically placing yourself in your benefactor’s power — since a debtor is, after all, a criminal.”

England began to diverge from Continental Europe in the development of its legal system.  Rulers on the continent adopted top-down codes that were developed by philosophers and scholars and which became the Civil Law tradition.  Under this tradition, the goal in arguing any case was to show that a core, primary principle was at play in the case that was presented to a judge.  Civil Law codes thus reflected the classical liberal approach that the interests of society were paramount and thus individual choices were to be subservient to what the sovereign knew to be best for the people.  As for private commerce, effectively everything was prohibited unless the sovereign expressly permitted it.

The Common Law tradition in England took the opposite approach.  There the law grew in accordance with decisions of individual judges who sought to do rough justice or deal with what was the right result at the time.  Innumerable exceptions and technicalities were grafted onto the various forms of actions or criminal laws; in the latter case this probably was due to the fact that, with over 170 crimes punishable by death, judges sought, for example, to find ways to avoid having to send a young lad to the gallows for simply stealing some bread.  Thus the Common Law pursued an approach of distinguishing the present case from others and, thereby, began to highlight individuality.

However under both systems, all real property belonged to the state, in the personification of the ruler.  “Ownership” of land therefore was by a grant of tenure.  As the king or Queen owned all land, lords were “enfeoffed” with the grant of a parcel of land in exchange for their reciprocal obligation to provide services, taxes, etc to the ruler, and these lords similarly made sub-grants to sub-lords upon similar requirements.  Thus all ownership was “of” or “through” a superior lord.  Obviously, under such a system concepts of “squatting” or “adverse possession” cannot exist.  (Indeed, even in America today principles of “adverse possession” cannot apply as against state or federally owned land.)

America, certainly through the mid-nineteenth century, was effectively a third world country.  The first settlers who came to these shores were, as described vividly by historian Peter Charles Hoffer in his Law and People in Colonial America, a “cold, tired, apprehensive assemblage of men and women … gathered on the western shore of the Atlantic, peering into a densely wooded wilderness.”  Law then in the colonies rapidly began to change.  Economist Hernando de Soto, in his book The Mystery of Capital, describes this succinctly:

Initially, colonists attempted to apply the doctrines of English property law to bring order.  But English Common Law had not envisioned a society that was rapidly generating new forms of property access without an established and generally accepted titling system. …

Most of these colonists, however, had little comprehension of the technicalities of English law.  Many did not know or care to know the differences between legal writs, law and equity and other subtleties. …

In matters ranging from domestic political autonomy to the use and distribution of land, colonists began to deviate in significant ways from English laws that had little or no logical relevance to the realities of colonial life.  As Peter Charles Hoffer emphasizes, “In theory they were part of the king’s personal domain [and subject to all his laws], but fact preempted theory.  Far from England, thinly populated, rich in natural resources, and occupied by men and women who knew their own minds and grasped a bargain when they saw it, the colonies edged towards self-government.”

Primarily due the lack of any reliable title records, ownership here began to be established through American concepts such as “squatting,” “cabin” or “corn” rights (building a cabin or planting corn), all of which evolved into our laws of “adverse possession.”  American juries refused to convict the “holder” of such titles from killing the sheriff who came to evict them.  As a consequence, land ownership in American evolved into “allodial” ownership that was free of any of the incidents of tenure that accompanied ownership in Europe.

The significant import of this development however was that laws and governance (a) followed from the will of the populace – that is, bottom up versus top down – and (b) as pragmatic responses to real life necessities.  Thus, when the thirteen colonies thus broke with England, those principles were formally reflected in the establishment of a governance system that (a) derived its authority from the consent of the governed (i.e., bottom up) and (b) was established as a republic of reason (as opposed to naked, monarchical preferences).  Further, checks and balances were created so that no branch of government could ever impose its will on the others and unbridled political debate was enshrined under protections of complete freedom of speech.

In the realm of commerce, this also created a culture of individualism and an enabling approach to business and invention; that is, everything was permitted unless it was specifically prohibited.  Further, major internal policies, such as the Homestead Act of 1862, were adopted in response to and as a formalization of cultural changes that already existed among the populace, as opposed to rulers or philosophers determining what was best for society.  The law here was thus the trailing, as opposed to leading, edge of change.

Continental Europe, and most of the rest of the world, is still guided by the dead hand of their historical roots.  It is in our differentiation from those traditions and approaches, exceptionalism, if you will, that America stands apart.

© Richard L Wise and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This September 2nd is the 112th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s speech at the Minneapolis State Fair wherein he uttered the now-famous phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

The fundamental premise of that policy is, as Roosevelt later described it, that one must apply “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.”

As conservative member of parliament David Davis noted in explaining his vote against the UK joining in any military action, the British – have been “sitting on the sidelines” for over two years while Assad’s forces have “shelled, bombed and shot their opponents with impunity.  The U.N. puts the death toll at more than 100,000. Civilians have been gunned down by snipers, burned to death by napalm, dismembered by bombs and crushed in falling buildings.”  While this observation also obviously applies to US, we have also long had knowledge that the current use of chemical weapons was not the first such instance.

Applying President Roosevelt’s rules for foreign policy action, it is, and always was, far too late for Obama to draw the “red line” of threatened military action when he first made that statement on August 20, 2012.  We are not, and were not then, “far in advance of any likely crisis”  The crisis is here, and has been for a long time.  Moreover, let us examine what “decisive action” the “exercise of intelligent forethought” could have chosen.  To put this issue another way, what were the underlying facts and what could have been America’s proper goals and objectives?

Syria is and for years now been embroiled in a bloody civil war.  Assad’s opposition groups, such as the Syrian National Council, are really Islamist front organizations, funded by the Saudis and Gulf states and infiltrated by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.  These fundamentalist groups have persecuted Christians and other minorities in Syria and across the Middle East, and evidence had mounted that rebel forces have carried out ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control.  Do we therefore really want one tyrant supplanted with another?

Mr Obama has said “no” to support of any regime change.  This is consistent with his lack of serious military support for the rebels from the beginning.  So what is our goal and objective?  And what are the possible consequences that should reasonably serve to have dissuaded Assad from using chemical weapons?

I am in accord with John Donne’s view that because I am involved in humanity, every man’s death affects all of us.  But does that necessitate that the US become the international policeman as to all atrocities?  Do we have the right to self-appoint ourselves to such a position?  If we do, as Mr Obama has indicated, view ourselves rightfully to act in that capacity, what should we, as the self-appointed cop on this beat, do?  Do we seriously want to embroil ourselves in another Iraq or Afghanistan.  Mr Obama has astutely ruled out that option.  This then leaves us with the concept of “deterrence.”  In other words, we must have in mind some action, the consequences of which should be reasonably calculated to induce Assad to determine that is would be better not to use chemical weapons in the future.  And such action is………………………..what?

Should we send missiles to destroy the chemical weapons caches?  Do we really know where they are?  Surely, they are not stored in either remote areas or under Assad’s bed.  To the contrary, they are often strategically located near hospitals and schools.  Thus, destroying them would release the toxins into the air, thereby causing more suffering and death by innocent civilians.  Further, as Mr Davis also noted, “even the precision-guided missiles that British forces would have used against Syria are not always as accurate as advertised.  In previous wars, a significant number misfired or missed their target.  By attempting to punish Assad, we would almost inevitably have caused more civilian deaths.”

Should we bomb military airfields and weaponry?  Russian has already supplied the Assad regime with advanced anti-aircraft missiles.  Mr Putin has already taken clear pleasure in pulling Mr Obama’s nose hairs.  Certainly he would quickly replace any assets so destroyed twice over and, in the process, the Assad-Russian-Iranian alliance would be emboldened and made stronger without any meaningful consequence to Assad.

An “eye-for-an eye” might work.  By this I am taking about the US targeting Assad and his family personally.  However Mr Obama has also already ruled that out as well.

In view of the possible options and Mr Obama’s self-imposed limitations, there are no deterrents that would follow from any military action nor is there any overarching goal and objective that military action would serve. That being the case, what was the purpose of laying down “the red line?”

There is an old gunfighter’s rubric that “if you are going to step out into the street, you had better be prepared to die.”  Teddy Roosevelt, the old gun fighter that he was, understood that well.  Another way of putting this is that crises are solved through the application of principles of escalation dominance.  Look at the Cuban Missile Crisis as a perfect example.  We have no ability here to dominate through escalation.  All we can thus accomplish with any futile action is to lessen further our stature and prestige in the world.

And why?  Because Assad and Putin are – rightfully – laughing at Obama’s self-inflicted impotence?

© Richard L Wise and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Pox on Both Your Houses

August 10, 2013

Events of the past few months should, to any thinking individual, convince him of the disingenuousness and ineffectualism of the partisanship and ideological that pervades our political system, and which are two sides of the same corrupt, counterfeit coin. 

As several prominent Republicans queued up to ridicule President Obama for his long-planned week on Martha’s Vineyard, especially in the midst of so much turmoil (as though there has been no turmoil for the preceding fifty-one weeks), Congress adjourned for a four-week summer “recess” after doing virtually nothing when it was in session.  According to my count, Congress passed a mere fifteen laws in the past six months, which, at that rate, would make it the least productive Congress in history. (On second thought, in view of their collective lack of competence, perhaps that is a good thing.)

 Similarly, after ballyhooing incessantly that Obamacare needs to be repealed and funding for it denied, just prior to going into summer recess Republicans rushed to join with their Democrat counterparts who at least ostensibly, vigorously support the law, to praise Mr Obama’s “reinterpretation” of the law so as to exempt Congress and staff members from having to pay for their own medical coverage as we lesser citizens have to do.  You may recall that in 2010, amidst much fanfare, Congress boasted that since Obamacare was good enough for all other citizens, it should apply equally to those in Congress, and both parties amended the law so to provide.  Not so fast!  As the consequence of that commitment was about to become a reality, members of Congress and their staff began to freak out.  Under present law, they will lose the subsidies that they presently receive under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, or FEHBP, which picks up about three-quarters of the average premium, while correspondingly, because they make too much money, they would not qualify for subsidies under the Obamacare-mandated exchanges.  Recognizing that it would be a horrible injustice for Congress to have to abide by the laws to which the rest of us are subject, at Mr Obama’s request with Congress’ blessing, the Office of Personnel Management decreed that the provision in the 2010 law (and which begins with “notwithstanding any other provision of law”) was not intended by the Affordable Care Act to change the subsidies granted in  the 1959 law that created the FEHBP.  Voila, taxpayers will continue to chip in $4,900 for individual and $10,000 for family coverage for millionaire Senators and the affluent professionals who are chiefs of staff, legislative directors and the like.

 Charles Beard (a historian with whom I have little agreement) liked to argue that the American revolution was less about “home rule” that it was about “who rules at home.”  While that point is debatable with respect to our Revolution, it is clear that partisanship and ideology are mere proxies for a bedrock thirst for power by small minded, self-centered individuals.

 George Washington warned us that “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master.  Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”  We have consented to making it our master.  Unless we all discard such foolishness and concentrate only on what empirically is shown to work, we shall reap the whirlwind.

 Of course that’s just my opinion; I could be wrong…………………….

© Richard L Wise and 2013  Reproduction, copying or use of this post without the written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lost in the histrionics surrounding yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing on same sex marriages was a silly, politically correct underpinning in a hypothetical posed by Justice Kagan to Charles Cooper, the lawyer defending Proposition 8.

Mr Cooper offered the risible argument that the “that redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes.”  This prompted Justice Kagan to ask the following:

“Well, suppose a State said, Mr. Cooper, . . . that, because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55.  Would that be constitutional?”

Mr Cooper had no comprehensible answer to this question, although that may have been merely attributable to his not having thought through the issue sufficiently to prepare a response.

The offensive part of the Justice’s hypothetical, however, was in its supposition that both parties be over 55.  Such a statute would constitute invidious discrimination against men, because whereas women are infertile after age 55 (Abraham’s wife Sarah, who allegedly conceived at age 80 notwithstanding), a man can sire a child at any age so long as he can rise to the occasion.

Justice Kagan’s postulating a statute that treats both sexes as the same probably derives from an ideological political correctness.  Yet it is premised upon distinctions that are clearly unconstitutional for reasons wholly unrelated to the issues involved in California’s gay marriage ban.  As noted by James Taranto in the March 27, 2013 Wall Street Journal,

“A law treating 55-year-old men and women as if both were equally infertile would be based on an obviously false premise and hence would lack a rational basis. But a law distinguishing between them would amount to discrimination on the basis of sex.”

While I believe that the good justice intended no slight and was focused on other considerations, her ideology, and the foolish barring of any considerations admitting of differences based on sex requires her to operate within a reality that does not exist.  The resultant will be the creation of rules that deny the extraordinary and different talents, proclivities and needs that each sex possesses.

But perhaps worse was that such ideology obscures a far more profound challenge that could have been posed to Mr Cooper:  Where is it written that marriage primarily addresses procreation?  I thought that it was about building dedicated, cohesive a family unit and, among other things, to foster the security and growth of the next generation.  With respect to this latter purpose, would not any child be better off being raised within a strong family environment, irrespective of the sexual preferences of the parents?  With respect to the former purpose, procreation is not even an issue.

I find myself troubled that the Newthink of political correctness that is becoming more and more entrenched in our political debates is now infecting judicial thinking as well.  But I suppose that I should not be surprised.
© Richard L Wise and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

At least one way of measuring the freedom of any society is the amount of comedy that is permitted, and clearly a healthy society permits more satirical comment than a repressive, so that if comedy is to function in some way as a safety release then it must obviously deal with these taboo areas.  This is part of the responsibility we accord our licensed jesters, that nothing be excused the searching light of comedy.  If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted.  –Eric Idle, comedian, actor, and author

I tire of having to listen to the left’s incessant, public ranting of how Mr Sadek’s puerile trailer depicting Mohammed as a lecherous incompetent, in the words of a September 12, 2012 New York Times editorial “did true damage to the interests of the United States and its core principle of respecting all faiths.”  True, the purported denizens of free speech all gave the obligatory lip-service-condemnation of the savage murders in Libya, the simultaneous attacks on other United States embassies around the world, and the public burnings of American and Israeli flags.  However the juxtaposition of the two “wrongs” in the same breathe clearly implies some degree of empathy or understanding for the Islamic Neanderthals, even though the Times would never agree – at least openly – that two wrongs may have made a right.

Anyone with an intelligence quotient north of double digits who tried to view this trailer – I could only make it through around nine of its fourteen minutes before my brain waves started to flat line – would know instantly that it was not possible for any sentient human to be offended by this banal production.  Thus any purported outrage over this clip was simply a pretext to carry out the murders and terrorism that we now know had been planned for September 11th last.  This trailer is too trivial, too ridiculous to be able to rise to the level of being condemned.  I have seen better acting and better make-up in my children’s kindergarten plays.  The risible computer animation would, in comparison, make the “killer bunny” on a string in Monty Python and the Holy Grail appear to be worthy an Academy Award for special effects. 

The hypocrisy of the left’s double-standard political correctness is almost palpable.  Compare for example the New York Times’ support in its October 2, 1999 editorial of the Brooklyn Museum’s decision to display Chris Ofil’s painting entitled Holy Virgin Mary.  If you are unfamiliar with this vile but proper exercise of freedom of speech, the description of it from Artnet is as follows:

“A very black woman cloaked in a stippled, Prussian-blue robe hovers over an intricate golden ground of enamel dots and glitter. Her mantle is open to reveal a black breast made of elephant dung and festooned with pins. The painting rests on two clumps of dung; one is decorated with the word Virgin, the other with the word Mary.

The figure is surrounded by 100 cutouts of female genitalia and buns. At first these variously colored bottoms look like little putti, a celestial choir; it’s only when you get close to the painting that these flickering cherubs turn rude.  Ofili loves to mix the sacred and the profane — the image of the spirit with the stuff of the earth.  Absurdity and humor mingle with something intensely penetrating and rise off Ofili’s image like a dank perfume.

Here was the New York Times’ view of this exhibition:  “…[A] Daily News poll shows that the majority of New Yorkers support the museum over Mayor Giuliani by a ratio of two to one. Those numbers show a broad-based support for New York’s role as the nation’s cultural capital. The people understand intuitively what Mr. Giuliani ignores for political gain.  A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it, or else the museum becomes a chamber of attractive ghosts, an institution completely disconnected from art in our time.”

So where is the outrage at this “painting’s” violating America’s “core principle of respecting all faiths”?  Is Roman Catholicism entitled to less respect that Islam?  Is it a second class religion?

Take also the Monty Python films The Life of Brian, which closes with a dancing “kick line” of crucifixions, or The Meaning of Life, where Catholics are skewered for their rejection of birth control in one vignette which shows a poor Catholic family with what seems like a hundred children and the mother unceremoniously dropping yet another baby from her womb as she continues to clean her house.

What would the Times have said if Italians murdered the American Ambassador to Italy in protest to any of these?  What would the Times have said if instead of the Virgin Mary, Ofil’s painting had been of Mohamed similarly depicted?

Obviously, no Roman Catholic ever considered engaging in any of the rabid responses as did the Islamic fundamentalists, no matter how they were offended, because they understood that such a response had no place in any civilized society, because they understood that freedom of speech meant that we must also suffer the utterances of fools who wished to make asinine and hurtful statements, and because they are a decent people, respectful of life and property.

So why is it that the left is offended by gross insults to Mohamed but not when made about the Virgin Mary?  Are they saying that they are only offended if the targeted group engages in extreme violence?  Are they saying that we know it is offensive only because it incited violence; indeed, if that be the case, are they not giving the Islamic fundamentalists an incentive to riot?

The fact is that, according to the left’s political correctness policy, Islam is a protected class, whereas the Catholic Church is not (perhaps due to its opposition to another sacred totem of the left, namely abortion).  According to that theory, cultural relativism requires that we Westerners engage in yet another affirmative action policy, and abase ourselves by being more sensitive to the mores of another culture and that not criticize it merely because its customs are not ours.

I contend that that dogma is obscene.  There are fundamental norms of all civilized societies which are universally true.  This therefore means that there are practices which are universally unacceptable as being reflective of a barbarous, uncivilized people.  The generally accepted practice in certain societies of clitoral circumcision is but one example.

But that is beside my point.  For these terrorists have, it appears, successfully brainwashed the liberal elite into sacrificing their otherwise stalwart defense of Freedom of Speech so as to be thought “tolerant” of what is in reality merely a barbaric sect. 

Neville Chamberlain in his well-intended, foolish politically correct belief that Hitler was a reasonable man who could be bargained with, allowed Europe to be plunged into our most destructive war yet rather than mobilizing to stop the entrenchment and spread of fanaticism.  Only time will tell if we intend to make the same mistake.

© Richard L Wise and 2012tten permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.