When America Fails

The natural state of man is slavery. Throughout history there have always been the rulers – and the ruled. Depending on your tradition, you may say serf, or peasant, or even proletarian. Jeremiah prefers the more personal slave. Occasionally, the slaves rise up and … choose new masters. Even in supposed democracies, like the Roman Republic and the American, people want a Caesar.

When fascists write about utopia, they imagine themselves on the throne.

When fascists write about utopia, they imagine themselves on the throne. From the pyramids to Versailles, we marvel at what slaves have built for the glory of their masters. Classical democracy meant power sharing only among the nobility. England still has a governing body called the House of Lords.

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In America, our revolutionary struggle against tyranny was illuminated by a bold, new idea. This was the idea that all power ultimately comes from the people. The people grant to the government only such power as is needed to maintain an orderly society, and no more. The power of the government is constrained by laws, and the people elect the lawmakers.

This idea lasted for roughly two hundred years. It seems apt, historically, for the light of liberty to fail at the millennium. It is fashionable to say that we were duped by the phony war on terror, but there was a phony war on drugs before that, and a phony war on poverty. The statists will always find a phony war to fight when, of course, the real war is against the people.

Two hundred years of liberty, for a tiny fraction of humanity, was just a flash in the darkness. When Rome fell, no paragon of liberty, humanity endured one thousand years of darkness – backward, anarchic mayhem. Liberty was difficult to imagine, and unbearably difficult to create. It may never come again. The natural state of man is slavery.

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American Oligarchy

Former president Jimmy Carter is now the most prominent figure to warn of America becoming an oligarchy. This term, “oligarchy,” is generally applied to post-Soviet Russia, where it took on a special meaning beyond the dictionary definition.

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When the Russians tried to liberate their economy, all of the important assets – oil fields, power plants, and so forth – ended up in the hands of people with political connections. The oligarchs now control the economy, the government, and the state security apparatus.

It is painful to watch a formerly free economy, like ours, degenerate into the same condition. Russia simply failed to privatize properly her state-owned enterprises. Our shame is much greater. We are standing idly by, as an emerging oligarchy takes control of our government and our economy.

The so-called left and right have made common cause. The left loves government meddling in private enterprise – while the right thinks it is protecting same, when in fact they are only protecting entrenched corporate interests. We have written before about this mote in their eye.

The bailout of General Motors nicely illustrates this convergence. The left was able to claim they were “saving jobs,” which, as we explain here, is a chimera. Capitalism, as Detroiter Seth Godin explains, means letting incompetent companies go bust. Keeping zombie companies alive, with taxpayer money, prevents the creation of new jobs in vibrant new companies.

Not only should Congress facilitate the organized bankruptcy of the Big Three, but it should also make it easy for them to be replaced by 500 new car companies.

Our auto industry is a ward of the state, as is Boeing. Banking depends on the Federal Reserve’s largesse. Mortgage lending, and thus the housing industry, depends on the Fed and the FHFA. High tech avionics and robotics, obviously, are funded by the military. Including the Pentagon, as much as 20% of America’s labor force may depend ultimately on tax dollars.

Competition is what once made our economy stronger than the command economies of Russia and China. Even as their leaders are trying to wean China off state owned enterprise, we are allowing our economy to be nationalized by stealth. Businesses are capitalist when they start up but, once they are in a position to buy favors from the government, they become statist.

It is easy to see this unholy alliance of government and big business (and big unions) as a statist conspiracy. Jeremiah does not see conspiracy, however. He simply sees moneyed interests buying influence – to make more money – and government officials selling it, with a revolving door between the two.

Here is a long article in the New York Times explaining how the Clinton family raked in a little over $35 million during a mining rights transaction involving a Russian company and uranium in Wyoming. We write “during,” of course, because we don’t want to imply anything so crass as an outright sale of the State Department’s approval. Oh, and they paid Bill Clinton $500,000 to make a speech.

As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation.

America is being looted, and all of our assets will soon be in the hands of an oligarchy no different from Russia’s. We will be renting tiny homes from Blackstone, on a tiny stipend from HUD. Jeremiah has been watching this for a long time, and he can tell you that the pace is picking up. There has always been corruption, of course, but nothing so big and brazen as what we’ve seen lately.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any policy recommendation much better than those naïve calls to “clean up government.” One possibility might be to dismantle the regulatory agencies, the tax preferences, and corporate welfare. At this point, a return to laissez faire would be just as painful for the (faux) right as for the left.

This is not to endorse laissez faire, mind you. That would mean big setbacks for labor and the environment. The idea would be to “drain the swamp.” The less power government has over business, the less opportunity for corruption. Unable to buy favors from the state, companies would again be forced to compete.

Admittedly, this is not a great solution. At this late stage, it’s hard to imagine the oligarchy being rolled back by any means, and certainly not by the same voters who allowed it to develop in the first place.

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Name Calling

In our reading on censorship, we came across this epithet, “white privilege, patriarchal, slave trading colonizer” – or words to that effect. We distinctly remember that the European Colonization was inflected like that, to make a personal noun. That’s a lot of historical baggage rolled into one epithet, and we wondered what use it could possibly have in a serious policy debate.

When Jeremiah wants to call names, he has to be content with bourgeois and imperialist running dog. “Colonizer,” though – that’s strong. Someone might be advocating, say, welfare reform, and then you hit him with white privilege colonizer. Bam! Case closed.

Unfortunately, this epithet isn’t historically relevant. The only white privilege colonizers in America were the British, and our ancestors drove them out of the country – inventing modern democracy in the process. Our traditional ancestors, that is. Most Americans today are descended from other places, like Ireland, Italy, and India. Plenty of white privilege colonizers in Canada, though.

America, it bears repeating, was never a colonial power.

The British were the most ambitious colonizers in history (after the Han Chinese). The French colonized Indochina, leading, ultimately, to the Vietnam War. The Dutch colonized much of Africa, giving us apartheid. America, it bears repeating, was never a colonial power.

After the British, the biggest colonizers were the Spanish. They invaded all of Latin America, from Tierra del Fuego to San Francisco – except for Brazil, which was colonized by the Portuguese. The Spanish enslaved and annihilated not one, not two, but three advanced indigenous civilizations – at least as bad as what “we” did to the plains Indians.

This is great news. It opens up a whole new group of people we can call “white privilege colonizers.” Too bad racial politics doesn’t consider Latins to be white. This is a drawback with epithets that depend on events from the seventeenth century. Are Spaniards white?

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The lovely Mediterranean style of architecture in California, it should be noted, comes from the Arab invasion of Spain. The Arabs, you see, were also slave trading colonizers. Maybe our new epithet isn’t so strong. We’re going to stick with running dog. Maybe “patriarchal” running dog. That’ll shut up anyone who’s male, at least, unless he’s gay.

Seriously, though, this epithet business illustrates the logical weakness of Howard Zinn’s approach to history. You can’t just scrape together all the crimes ever committed in America and use them as an argument stopper. Colonialism is only relevant if someone is proposing to bring it back.

Oh, but it’s an ingrained cultural attitude, you say. Really? An American named O’Malley whose people came over during the potato famine – after being subjugated by the British – is now a colonizer? It must be contagious! We should round them up and put them in “cultural quarantine.”

In his freshman logic class, Jeremiah learned that if you are going to tabulate, say, “bad things done by nineteenth century Americans,” you also have to look at “good things done by nineteenth century Americans,” and – for historical context – “bad things done by nineteenth century non-Americans,” plus maybe bad and good things done by Americans and non-Americans in other periods.

The proper guide to policy choices in twenty-first century America is a well-rounded study of our history in its comparative context. Anything less is just name calling.

See also: Pope apologizes for Catholic Church’s crimes against indigenous peoples

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The Muslim Reformation

HirsiThe July issue of Foreign Affairs has back to back essays on the Muslim Reformation. The first is by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the second is a rebuttal by William McCants of Brookings. This is a fine example of how Jeremiah is always telling you to form your own opinions.

If you read the New York Times, for example, they equip you with one (1) standard issue opinion, backed up by enough talking points to debate someone who has gotten his opinion from the Wall Street Journal. Foreign Affairs presents debates, like this one, with no guidance but your own.

Jeremiah has a lot of respect for Hirsi Ali, based on the personal risks she has taken to spread her message of Islam – which others call blasphemy.  Her essay was compelling, and resonated with our earlier report on this topic. The call for U.S. involvement, however, might not be a good idea. This brings us to the second essay.

McCants begins defensively, and his first few pages are a straw man attack on Hirsi Ali’s premises. She never suggests a fundamental problem with Islam, i.e., from Scripture. What she says is that terrorists are able to justify themselves as jihadis, and that it is the job of Islamic scholars to deny them cover.

We must not embellish things and say that Islam is a religion of compassion, peace and rose water, and that everything is fine – Ayad Jamal al-Din

Overall, Hirsi Ali has a better grasp of the situation and the desired outcome. She is also more honest in her use of language. McCants adheres to the weasel words of diplomacy, wherein a “violent extremist” is just a “religious conservative” gone bad. On the other hand, he is probably right about the pitfalls of America trying to influence a profound debate at the heart of Islam.

This is where a morality-based foreign policy pays off, bizarre as that may sound. On principle, America should demand freedom of speech for all participants in the debate – no fatwas, no intimidation – and we can make our other values known, too, like gender equality.

Hirsi Ali says we should stand up for the reformers, in our negotiations with allies and foes alike. It may not be constructive for us to take a side in this debate, but we do have a right to articulate our own values – a right, and an obligation.

See also: What Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn’t Get about Islam

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Of Sex and Shackles

Jeremiah was mortified to learn that Facebook offers more than 58 choices of gender identity. Many of them are duplicates! Worse, Facebook has added a freeform text field. This is a missed opportunity for Facebook and for social scientists, because we will not have clear categories to use for marketing and research.

Inventing your own freeform gender identity is part of the fun, but you cannot run, e.g., a dating site this way. Public institutions that need to collect gender information will probably follow Facebook’s lead – and give up. We wondered if it would be possible to categorize modern American gender identities and, if so, how many categories there are.

  • Biological gender – male or female. This may be of decreasing relevance to society, but it is still important for medical research.
  • Sexual preference – gay, straight, or bi. This one is tricky because it relies on the gender identification of your partner. Caitlyn and Candis are both trans female, so they’re lesbians.
  • Elective gender – male, female, or cis. When people say that being trans is different from being gay, what this means is – a different check box.
  • Gender role – masculine, feminine, or non-conforming. Many gay couples adhere to “traditional” gender roles, which is really odd because this is the most obsolescent aspect of gender identity.

Now that our lesbian pals can get hitched, Sue will be the “husband.” Why does a gay couple in the twenty-first century adopt roles from monochrome television? Who knows? Who is John Galt?

That works out to 54 choices, so maybe Facebook had it right after all. As enthusiastic as we are about the proliferation of gender choices, we can’t help but think this is an epic distraction from the ongoing curtailment of civil rights in America.

Everyone is so busy with this narcissistic sense of who they are in terms of sexual orientation or gender, and this intense gender consciousness, woman consciousness at the same time, and meanwhile…

Camille Paglia, herself a lesbian and a feminist, says that preoccupation with gender is a symptom of decadence. It is too easy to focus on things of immediate personal importance, and not notice what’s really going on the country. Chelsea Manning is trans, and she’s in prison.

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Selling Out

The Economist has been just brutal on President Obama’s foreign policy, despite having endorsed him in 2008 and again in 2012. They had some other policy in mind, and Jeremiah knows what it is. To prove it, we confidently predict the magazine will endorse Jeb Bush in 2016. Need a hint? Here is the latest shameless advertisement for Common Core.

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The data in this chart is from Pearson’s annual report. We love The Economist, but it is chump change to the money Pearson makes from its multimillion dollar no-bid education contracts. They might as well use it for an advertising vehicle. Oh, and did we mention that “Doctor Evil,” Eric Schmidt of the Google-NSA security apparatus, recently joined the board?

A Politico investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas.

As for the substance of Common Core, centrist Jeremiah splits the difference. Standards, testing, and merit pay – good. Reliance on agitprop course packs – not so much. At this point, the best way for The Economist to recover its editorial integrity would be for Jeff Bezos to buy it and make it into an app.

Update:  Shortly after this post, Pearson sold FT.  As of this writing, July 28, they also plan to sell The Economist.  Someone must be reading Jeremiah.

See also: Strictly Fishwrap

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Centrist Donald?

GoodwinDonald Trump has an interesting position on free trade. He is against the TPP, really down on NAFTA, and accuses China of currency manipulation.

For a man touted as the Fox News poster boy, being antitrade is pretty far left. Think unions, Senator Schumer, and this leftist cartoon.

The right is blindly pro-trade, assuming that what’s good for business is always good for America. Jeremiah has discussed this conflation, here. The last business candidate to stand up against free trade was Ross Perot.

On the other hand, you can’t hope to build a wall around your national market. That’s a tactic, not a strategy – although China has done pretty well with it. The balance between trade and protectionism boils down to negotiation.

Trump’s native mode of expression is bombast, so it’s hard to tell, but this is actually a nuanced position. Consider the current debate in Congress. The Democrats are blocking President Obama, for the usual antitrade reasons, and the Republicans are afraid of a “bad deal.”

It is doubtful the race will turn on trade policy, but The Donald gets points for the first non-stereotyped idea of the season. Maybe he can get an endorsement from Michael Moore.

See also: Jeremiah on Protectionism

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