Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: Whether We Stand or Fall, America IS Divided

"The truly interesting question isn’t whether America is becoming more conservative or more liberal, but whether there is any single significant cultural, religious, or political trend that is pulling this nation together rather than yanking it apart."

 --David French, National Review

1. “Joy”

Joe Morgenstern is the Wall Street Journal movie critic. The paper is pro-capitalist, so when it comes to the movie “Joy” -- based upon the entrepreneurial success of Joy Mangano, the ex-housewife and airline clerk who invented the “miracle mop” -- how does Morgenstern handle the clash between the values of his employer (conservative) and those of his Hollywood world (liberal)?

It’s not a close call. Morgenstern, along with most of his movie critic pals tanks “Joy” as a mixed bag that can’t survive superstar Jennifer Lawrence’s outstanding individual performance.

Morgenstern calls “Joy” a “seriocomic fable of entrepreneurship.” It’s not a fable, as were Horatio Alger’s 19th Century stories that inspired generations of future, up-from-dirt, middle class youth. No, “Joy” is a true story.

And “Joy” is no more or less a comedy than “American Hustle” or “Silver Linings Playbook,” two other David O. Russell-directed Jennifer Lawrence vehicles with over-the-top acting that critics then loved. But with “Joy,” Morgenstern hacks at Robert “De Niro’s insistently self-commenting performance.”

Also Morgenstern mocks “Joy” for “selling a succession of story points about persistence, independence and Joy’s creativity.” What’s wrong with “persistence, independence” and “creativity”?

Here’s why movie critics must drown “Joy” the same way they go after movies about war heroes or Christians saving souls. Entrepreneurs (soldiers, Christians) creating a better world through capitalism (war, faith) strike at the heart of progressive (anti-war, secular) collectivism. And advancing progressivism is Hollywood’s higher calling.

2. Crime

We all want less crime. Where liberals and conservatives clash is on the role strong police work plays in reducing crime.

Heather MacDonald is at the conservative Manhattan Institute. MacDonald helped create the term “Ferguson effect,” which describes the police pull-back from aggressive enforcement that followed the Summer 2014 clashes between (mostly black) protesters and local police triggered by a white policeman’s killing of an unarmed Ferguson Missouri black. The Ferguson riots generated national attention, with demonstrators gaining widespread progressive support, including from President Obama and his Justice Department, even though in the end, Justice concluded the white Ferguson policeman committed no crime.

MacDonald has the statistics to back up her assertion that the “Ferguson effect” generates higher crime rates. She writes that researchers from the liberal Brennan Center for Justice:
gathered homicide data from 25 of the nation’s 30 largest cities for the period Jan. 1, 2015, to Oct. 1, 2015. The researchers then tried to estimate what 2015’s full-year homicide numbers for those 25 cities would be, based on the extent to which homicides were up from January to October [in 2015] compared with the similar period in 2014. The resulting projected increase for homicides in 2015 in those 25 cities is 11%. An 11% one-year increase in any crime category is massive.
Baltimore’s per capita homicide rate, for example, is now the highest in its history, according to the Baltimore Sun: 54 homicides per 100,000 residents, beating its 1993 rate of 48.8 per 100,000 residents. . . Homicides in St. Louis were up 60% by the end of August. In Los Angeles, the police department reports that violent crime has increased 20% as of Dec. 5; there were 16% more shooting victims in the city, while arrests were down 9.5%. Shooting incidents in Chicago are up 17% through Dec. 13.
As to the “white police kill unarmed blacks” narrative that triggered the Ferguson riots, according to a Washington Post survey, American police fatally shot 965 people in 2015, of which 564 were armed with a gun, 281 with another weapon, and 90 (less than 4 percent) were unarmed. In 75% of shootings, “police were under attack or defending someone who was.”

MacDonald believes progressives are determined to deny that depolicing is affecting public safety, committed as they are to the “root causes” theory of crime. She notes:
The Brennan Center study [hypothesizes] that lower incomes, higher poverty rates, falling populations and high unemployment are driving the rising murder rates in Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans and St. Louis. But those aspects of urban life haven’t dramatically worsened over the past year and a half. What has changed is the climate for law enforcement.
Comment: Across a broad spectrum of topics -- capitalism, religion, war, crime -- America is divided into two camps, with each camp placing its preferred narrative above facts.

Which camp one identifies with seems to come back to Isaiah Berlin’s 1958 “two concepts of liberty,” a division that has preoccupied this blog ever since its 2006 year of origin. Do you truly believe in “negative liberty,” which allows each person to pursue happiness as free as possible from outside interference (beyond basic protection), or do you favor “positive liberty,” which allows the collective (and its leaders) to guide us toward “the better angels of our nature?”

Does it “take a village” to raise a child, or not?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

God is Love, Selfie Sticks Not So Much

“I’m– I’m a brand, and I am like—You’re trying to promote yourself. The brand. I’m the director of the– ‘And you’re the product.’ ‘You’re definitely trying to promote yourself.’ ‘To stay relevant, you have to—You have to work hard.’”

--Female Selfie Fan

Ben Domenech quoted the above while writing about selfie sticks. Domenech says:
In an era when the ability to capture a still life or one in motion is in your pocket at all times, people . . . do so [by putting] themselves in the foreground of existence, which inevitably means putting life behind them [see picture]. It requires you to look away from the thing you wish to capture in order to put your face in the shot, and to do so over and over and over again. No stranger would willingly stand there snapping away at you, so you need a stick to ease the challenge – it eliminates the human interaction and increases the options and angles you can use.
It’s Christmas, a time for living love, absorbing joy, looking around, and putting selfie sticks down.

As humans, we have free will. Life often seems beyond our control, and in many ways it is. Chaos theory is math, and provable. “The approximate present does not approximately determine the future.” Over time, any slight change can end up being totally disruptive--chaos.

But over our own lives, we do exercise control. And religion helps us move past the moment to address what life is really about.

When we die (and are usually buried by a religious figure), will others talk about how well we branded ourselves? Or will they think about the impact we had on others? They may be silent about our wrongs and loud about our virtues, but thoughts will run to the balance between the two.

Did love win out?

So we need religion, whether or not we know it. We can’t do it alone. We need support, we need help, and in some form we want help.

When we focus on life’s true meaning, we want faith, hope, and love, with love the greatest of the three.

Wise people figured this all out long ago, in different ways, in different parts of the world, in different cultures. But there’s a common theme. You can pass time living in the moment; you can discipline yourself to seek something higher. You can be self-centered and self-satisfied. Or you can be humble, you can listen, you can learn.

To be sure, being a loving person takes confidence. One needs the self-assurance to get past worry and fear. Also, one must move beyond linking happiness to others’ reactions -- positive or negative. Love begins with you, with one’s own confidence, and moves finally to the maturity of loving others with no expectation of love in return. It’s giving, giving freely and unconsciously.

Faith is crucial. I’m unimpressed by the prevalence of secularism in modern society. Secularism is old times. It’s so limiting to think of humans as the ultimate force for good--that’s back with human-like Greek gods, man at the center of all, back B.C.E.

Faith can’t be proven. Nevertheless, either there is meaning in love, or there isn’t. Faith believes in love and the power of love. Faith is beyond whatever humans figure out on their own. The mystery of faith itself brings peace and joy.

Of course, faith takes many forms. In secular America, one of faith’s most obvious forms is environmentalism, nature worship, Rousseau’s “noble savage,” belief in a perfect balance of natural forces disrupted by humans that must be restored. If such a faith inspires people to love other humans, what’s not to like?

I believe perfection in humans to be non-existent.  Faith helps greatly here.  My background is Christian, and the bedrock of our faith is that Jesus died for our sins, liberating us through faith from the need for perfection, freeing us instead to embrace faith, hope, and love.  Thank God.

Life’s basic truth is that we are born, we live, we die.  Hope is vital to getting us past death.  I am an imperfect human, severely limited in my ability to see beyond the grave.  Hope means being positive about the future; to me, understanding that love conquers death by living on in those we love.

Basic to love is understanding we control only ourselves.  Love is liberating, love is never controlling others.  Love accepts others as they are, taking joy in their fulfilling independence, even if realized through a selfie stick.  And love is patient, kind, never insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful, aiming for joy.

Faith + hope + love = happiness today and forever.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Obama Gets Away with Scandal

Liberal Bill Scher brags that “Obama, unlike all of his second-term predecessors in the last 40 years, has not been knocked off course by scandal." Scher gratuitously calls Hurricane Katrina George W. Bush’s “scandal,” placing that natural disaster alongside Nixon’s Watergate, Reagan’s Iran-Contra (by the way, a scandal with no lasting impact), and Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky.

Scher adds,
Obama . . . mastered the art of scandal management, while his Republican opponents lost credibility by transparently politicizing every investigation. . . Republicans never learned how to calibrate their reactions. Instead of following the facts before drawing conclusions, they proclaim the worst—and then fail to prove their allegations. That’s why the pursuits of wrongdoing in Fast and Furious, Solyndra, the IRS audits and Benghazi have all fizzled.
“mastered the art of scandal management”! That’s one way to describe total and complete stonewalling of Republican and independent inspector generals’ efforts within the departments to unearth the truth about genuine scandals in “Fast and Furious, Solyndra, the IRS audits and Benghazi.” And that doesn’t even cover scandals in the Veterans Administration, the Secret Service, Homeland Security (TSA and lack of border enforcement), State Department (visas), the General Services Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, along with White House suppression of intelligence agency reports on actual al Qaeda and ISIS threats.

Of course, “mastery” of “scandal management” benefits hugely from legacy media cooperation; a non-stop effort to play down negative reporting on the Obama administration. Keeping Democrats in power overrides the press’s historic responsibility to -- whatever the party in power -- “afflict the comfortable.” No, by 2016 and now in late-stage permanent government corruption, it’s all about hanging onto power.

Doubt me? Look then at the scary story of Dinesh D’Souza, as told by National Review conservative writer Andrew McCarthy. The story, “part memoir, part polemic, part prescription, and part Kafka,” in MaCarthy’s words is “frightening because it is so verifiably true. . .one of the grossest abuses of power by this lawless administration.”

Obama’s team prosecuted D’Souza for a campaign-finance offense. D’Souza’s Dartmouth classmate was waging a futile campaign against incumbent U.S. senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Instead of time, D’Souza provided financial support, going above the personal maximum of $10,000 by making two other friends nominal contributors, thereby exposing himself to a felony punishable by two years’ imprisonment plus a large fine.

Yet few actually get prosecuted for this offense, i.e., the Obama 2008 campaign’s millions of dollars in illicit contributions were settled with an administrative fine. And when a case is pursued criminally, it’s usually due to an expected quid pro quo, not for helping a friend. Furthermore, D’Souza had no prior criminal record.

But D’Souza had made himself an enemy of a vengeful and powerful Obama. During the president’s 2012 reelection bid, D’Souza released the documentary film “2016: Obama’s America.” The film was extraordinarily successful and for that reason, drew a strong White House rebuke.

Election over, Obama’s Justice Department went after D’Souza in a vindictive manner that alarmed two legends: Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz and New York City defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman, who first believed D’Souza was paranoid, but took his case and ended up convinced D’Souza had been railroaded.

After D’Souza pled guilty — rather than risk imprisonment — Justice responded by asking for 16 months in prison. The Clinton-appointed judge subjected D’Souza to a tongue-lashing and almost sent him to prison before agreeing to eight months of halfway-house confinement.

McCarthy called the sentence irrational except as a form of abuse. Had D’Souza been given the 10-to-16-month sentence, he’d have gone to a minimum-security prison camp with other low-level offenders. By contrast, a halfway house is a way station for serious criminals: murderers, rapists, gang-bangers, drug traffickers.

When D’Souza arrived at his “halfway house” in a rundown part of San Diego, the first order of business was a mandatory class on how to avoid being sexually assaulted. In the end, D’Souza treated his experience as an opportunity to learn. A re-educated D'Souza now views his political adversaries as enemies and criminals rather than worthy opponents.

D’Souza understands progressives to be engaged in a massive scheme to “steal America,” including all its wealth and traditions. Incoherent ideas are a Machiavellian ploy, a pretense to morality (because the public expects it) that camouflages the acquisition of power needed to rob the public, a kleptocracy, as we have repeatedly said.

The progressive grip on power — crony capitalism, discretion over prosecutorial decisions, promotion of favored factions — robs Americans of economic opportunity and subjects them to governmental abuse. Progressives proceed in the manner of the gangs D’Souza learned about first-hand, moving from plan through recruitment and rationalization and ending with cover-up.

To D’Souza, America throughout history flourished because it was an anti-theft society: freedom married to protection of private property, unleashing creativity, entrepreneurship, and unprecedented prosperity. The progressive critique of that society is simply a “con” designed to seize achievers’ wealth and power.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Trump and Putin: Our Mussolini-like Obama Antidotes

One-time Italian dictator Benito Mussolini told us:
Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. . . The Liberal State is a mask behind which there is no face; it is a scaffolding behind which there is no building.
75 years later, we have our “little Mussolinis”--Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and GOP candidate Donald Trump. Both are popular as the opposite of “leading from behind” Barack Obama and his “soft power.”

After Putin praised Trump on Thursday as "bright and talented" and "the absolute leader of the presidential race," Trump called Putin's praise a "great honor" and added:
He's running his country and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country. I think our country does plenty of killing also.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Republican Debate No. 5 Helps Cruz + Christie

New York Post conservative John Podhoretz provides an excellent analysis of last night’s GOP debate. “Excellent” is a word often reserved for an opinion (or opinion piece) that brings pleasure because it matches one’s own views; Podhoretz’s views on the debate did match mine.

 Podhoretz writes that:
  • [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie played to his own strengths, talking tough on ISIS and terror while making the key point that the signal responsibility of the president is to keep the citizenry safe. 
  • Christie’s future in the Republican race rests entirely on his ability either to win or place a very strong second in New Hampshire['s primary]. 
  • divisions on foreign policy were stark. [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio is the hawk of the race, advocating without apology for the use of ground troops against ISIS in Syria. 
  • [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz . . . called him reckless and hungry for war — and tried to tie Rubio to the ideas of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. 
  • Rubio likely got the better of the foreign-policy fight, but he certainly got the worse of the exchanges over his stance on immigration. 
  • Cruz ripped into the Florida senator for supporting a path to citizenship in the failed immigration-reform bill Rubio co-sponsored in 2013. 
  • Rubio tried to get Cruz to admit he supported a legalization path. . . — Cruz said exactly that during a Senate hearing on May 21, 2013 — but Cruz skillfully used slippery Clintonian language to evade Rubio. . . 
  • Rubio came out a bit bloodied. But that was inevitable. Immigration is his greatest weakness. . . bound to become a major discussion point at some point, and it became so last night. 
  • The person with the most to gain from a successful Cruz assault on Rubio is Christie.
Comment: Cruz not only linked Rubio to Obama and Clinton, he also tied him to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer each time he mentioned the ill-fated 2013 immigration bill, and Schumer is just as unpopular with Republican activists as are Obama and Clinton.  Also, Christie referred  to senators fighting over meaningless bills while governors make decisions--comments aimed at comparing Rubio adversely to Christie.

Cruz hopes to emerge as the only alternative to Trump, and to become acceptable to a GOP majority on that basis. A “bloodied” Rubio helps the Cruz strategy, so Cruz did well along with -- as Podhoretz noted -- Christie.

Rubio is down but not out. Cruz escaped last night from his 2013 effort to give illegal immigrants a path to permanent residency, but the truth is on video, and is beginning to come out. As for Christie, he must beat Rubio in New Hampshire 55 days from now--or else.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Big Government: Climate Change

Quotation without comment

From a Wall Street Journal editorial:
if climate change really does imperil the Earth,. . . nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it. What will help is human invention and the entrepreneurial spirit. To the extent the Paris accord increases political control over human and natural resources, it will make the world poorer and technological progress less likely.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Big Government: Smart People, Dumb Choice. . . Obamacare

Edward Morrissey is a conservative. In the “Fiscal Times,” an independent paper, he catalogs the problems with Obamacare today, five years later:
  • Obamacare has depressed job growth, producing a labor force about 2 million full-time-equivalent workers smaller in 2025 than it would have been without Obamacare, with taxpayers subsidizing the health care of those not working; 
  • medical costs are escalating at a higher rate, up 5% in 2014, well above the rate of inflation, and the fastest it had grown since 2007, with Medicaid spending up 11% because of Obamacare expansions, Medicare up 5.5%, and even private insurance up 4.4% because of Obamacare; 
  • barely a dent has been made in the numbers of uninsured, reducing the percentage of U.S. residents without health insurance by just 2.7% from 13.9% to 11.1%, and; 
  • insurers are either exiting the markets or failing altogether, with the rise in premiums in 2014, followed by their explosion in 2015 along with deductibles so high that many decided not to be insured at all having led to over half of Obamacare’s co-ops collapsing this year, with providers who took their clients stuck with the bills, with nonprofit startups backed by Obamacare loans out of money before paying their medical claims, with the co-op Health Republic Insurance of New York failure leaving $165 million in unpaid bills, and 64% of New York providers waiting for payment they may never see. 
Why do otherwise intelligent people actually seem to believe government works better than a competitive private sector? Couldn’t any objective thinker in 2010 have predicted that Obamacare would be sinking within five years?

Adam Smith was right in 1776. He's right 240 years later.  Don’t put the economy into the hands of a few bright people at the top. Let the market sort out good ideas from bad, in the process putting the talents and skills of millions of hard-working people into play. Accept that people driven by self-interest existing in a sea of others pursuing the same objective and helped by a fair marketplace will create jobs and prosperity--as they have in East Asia over the past half-century.

Conservative Kevin Williamson wisely reminds us that progressives “falsely believe profits to be net deductions from the sum of the public good rather than measures of the creation of real social value.”

We need jobs coming from “creation of real social value.” Why can’t smart people accept profit as a measure of social value, then support the resulting smart, job creating choices?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Progressives, Terror, and Gun Control

"Progressives tend to believe that government — if made to have sufficient size, scope, and proper management over the affairs of man — will fix or at least seriously mitigate the problem of evil in the world."

--Mollie Hemingway, “Federalist”

There is a coherent ideology behind the elite that runs the country today. They are activists, they are the “better people” guiding us to a brighter future, they rose by merit, they rule through government’s coercive power, and they are certain in their right to damage and destroy the less qualified who unjustly seek to take their power away.

In all this, they resemble every elite that has ever ruled.

Right now, the progressive elite’s hold on power is threatened by poor job performance. As Daniel Henninger of the conservative Wall Street Journal tells us (subscription):
Whatever Obama promised. . . any sense of a nation united and raised up is gone. This isn’t normal second-term blues. It’s a sense of bust. The . . . Pew Research poll[‘s] headline message is that trust in government is kaput. Forget the old joke about the government coming to “help.” There’s a darker version now: We’re the government, and we’re here to screw you.
Threatened, the elite’s mainstream media mouthpiece shouts into an echo chamber that reverberates with the same ideas. Repeated over. And over.

Reporters are frustrated progressive politicians. They are activists who -- in order to move their ideas forward -- must work closely with those who hold actual power. That’s a clue as to why the elite sings the same songs. Power holders and mouthpieces, crooning in harmony.  


Hierarchy is the key to elite rule. Begin with education, a culture of learning within which one advances by repeating correct thinking. The reward is movement up the intellectual ladder. You may not take joy at your (low) place on the ladder, but gain depends upon staying on and supporting the ladder. Forget democracy. It’s about serving those above. And that means singing the same song in harmony.

Hierarchies don’t work well. They suppress new ideas in the interest of conformity. Rewards are highly restricted with most human resources wasted. But hierarchies work in the short run to maintain top-down control.

The progressive elite echo chamber currently sings that Republicans -- unlike Democrats -- will lose because they fight among themselves. But as Noah Rothman writes in the conservative journal Commentary:
Republican disorganization. . . is a good problem to have. Unruliness is a feature of an ideologically diverse coalition of competing interests. The conversation inside the left’s closed circle is a self-reinforcing one; dissent is hard to come by and is punished by the movement’s most dogmatic enforcers when discovered.
Reality TV

Progressive certainty about victory rests heavily on Trump’s rise within the GOP and his simultaneous long and growing list of defeat-guaranteeing errors. Bill Murray (no, not him), in “RealClearPolitics,” joins us in wondering what’s the basis for Trump’s endurance in the face of withering fire:
Trump’s open antagonism toward political correctness and his disdain for the establishment media’s role as the American public’s chief intermediary has not disqualified him from office, but instead has enhanced his reputation with the Republican electorate. Why?
Murray believes we are at a turning point in how politicians reach voters that matches when radio replaced newspapers, and then TV replaced radio. Roosevelt nominating “The Happy Warrior” Al Smith, and in the process wowing his early, 1924 radio audience. Kennedy catching an unready Nixon on television in the 1960 first presidential debate. Reagan, polished by years on TV (“GE Theater,” “Death Valley Days”), rolling over Jimmy Carter in their 1980 debate.

Now Trump, comfortable with reality TV from running his show “The Apprentice,” is connecting with a mass, unwashed Republican base. The less educated identify with the real people they believe they know from reality TV programming such as “Jersey Shore.” It’s TV beyond elite control, and Trump understands it.  

Elite Fights Back

The legacy media may not be overpowering a new “reality,” but they know the old ways to search and destroy. Hillary Clinton’s great vulnerability is people don’t trust her. So as ex-CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson suggests, the “post truth media” is out to make sure that whoever becomes Hillary’s GOP opponent will also carry the label “dishonest,” thereby neutralizing the trust issue as much as possible.

And at present, progressive leaders and their media handmaidens are unfolding a coordinated push to elevate gun control as a national issue. The New York Times, leading voice of the liberal elite, has just published its first front-page editorial since June 13, 1920 (picture above). And it’s about gun control.

Gun control isn’t a popular issue, especially in the face of Islamist extremism, responsible recently for the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. So what’s going on?

Answer: progressives need to change the subject away from Islamic extremist terror, the issue that carried the GOP to victory in 2004, the last time a Republican won the White House. And as progressives, their response to terror must include launching the government into action.

Should the top issue remain Islamic extremism, the GOP will win. Gun control unites progressives against Republicans, whom the left see as prisoners of the National Rifle Association, even as the wider public doesn’t back stricter gun laws. And gun control baits the GOP into a fight much less costly to Democrats than the war on terror. "Let’s talk guns," not Islamic extremism.

The New York Times. Still orchestrating the progressive song.