No Fun on the Day of the Sun

By Mike Cronin

Disclaimer: I currently work for the US Air Force. The opinions expressed below are mine alone.

What’s all the fuss about with North Korea? They are always making threats.  Why do things seem more dangerous this time around?

Every year on this date (April 15th) while Americans are contending with getting their tax returns postmarked on time, North Korea celebrates “Day of the Sun,” in commemoration of the late Kim Il-sung’s birthday. Kim Il-sung was the founder of North Korea, and is still the Head of State and officially revered as the “Dear Leader,” a god in all but name.  The birthday celebration is the biggest “holiday” in North Korea, and is celebrated with military parades and usually some form of demonstration of military might, such as missile test-launches.

North Korea has announced it will do something spectacular this particular Day of the Sun; the concern is that the “something spectacular” will be the underground detonation of a nuclear device, in violation of UN sanctions.

In addition to celebrating the “Day of the Sun,” North Korea also has a habit of stirring up diplomatic and military trouble to see what they can get away with whenever there is a new US President. The current North Korean regime, led by Kim’s grandson, Kim Chong-un, has been testing Mr. Trump’s administration by launching missiles over the Sea of Japan.  Given that North Korea is believed to have chemical weapons and has allegedly test-detonated nuclear devices before, and that they claim to have produced nuclear warheads that can fit on a missile, these launches have been extremely provocative to South Korea, Japan and the United States.

You may recall the recent launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria in retaliation for the Bashad Regime’s use of chemical weapons against rebels, and the use of the “MOAB” bomb to destroy an ISIS tunnel complex in Afghanistan.  Those actions have not escaped the North Koreans.  The first demonstrated that President Trump favors action over diplomacy as a direct response to aggression, and that US cruise missiles can hit their targets, even when they have to go through heavily defended airspace (such as North Korea’s).  The second demonstrated that tunnels and underground bunkers (such as the North Korean military favors) are no guarantee of safety from conventional US weapons.

USS Carl Vinson battle Group Steams Towards Korean Waters

Kadena AB “Elephant Walk” 

Osan AB “Elephant Walk”

A US aircraft carrier battle group is steaming towards the Korean Peninsula, and there have been two no-notice “elephant walk” show-of-force exercises at Kadena and Osan air bases in recent days.  On top of that, the rhetoric is escalating, making for a tense situation.

Perhaps the most serious indication of trouble is that China has announced it will move 150,000 troops to the region of its border with North Korea, and is calling for cool heads to prevail.

The North Korean regime is like a crime family headed by the selected Kim heir.  They are hideously brutal to their own people and bellicose to the rest of the world. I would not mourn their loss. The trick is to demonstrate US resolve while leaving Kim a way to de-escalate without losing face. Not that he deserves to be let off the hook, but if we leave the North Korean regime with no options, their response could leave our administration without options – and that could ultimately put us into conflict with China.

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My World View, Pt. 1

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By Mike Cronin

Every so often it helps to re-examine one’s goals and purposes.  My goal and purpose for this blog is to help others learn to look at the world through the lenses of reason and liberty.  Sometimes that means offering dry descriptions of how things are vs how they ought to be, other times it means promoting an independent viewpoint on a hot-button political issue. No doubt I have appeared to be a right-wing radical to someone on the left, while I might seem to be a leftist to the right-winger. To others, it might seem like I’m simply sitting on the fence and refusing to take sides.

I have never claimed to be unbiased.  In fact, I have described my bias on more than one occasion, but I haven’t ever really described my full worldview.  I thought I might do so now:

It starts with reality. As Ayn Rand said: “Existence exists, and only existence exists.”  Carl Sagan said that the cosmos is “all that is, all that was, and all there ever will be.”  The evidence that existence exists is axiomatic:  If it did not exist, there would be no one to ponder its nature – there would be no nature.

Speaking of nature: Humans are part of nature. Everything humans have ever made, from bone tools and mud huts to spaceships and iPhones, and every action humans have ever taken, from procreating to mass destruction, is ipso-facto natural. That is not to say it is good or bad.

Evil exists.  There are good people and bad. Context matters: good people are sometimes capable of bad things, and evil people may sometimes perform a benevolent act.  Hitler might have treated a pet well, for instance…but that cannot begin to atone for the fact that he inspired and led the industrialized murder of millions. Because Hitler was human, his actions were natural…but because he failed to credit whole segments of humans with having any humanity, he dehumanized himself. He became a monster of natural, not supernatural origin.

Nor was he the only one. Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Tse-tung. Saddam Hussein. Every era of history has its brutal dictators and ruthless rulers who don’t hesitate to bathe in the blood of millions.  The rational failing of all of these monsters is their inability or refusal to recognize the worth of other humans as humans, or to even recognize other individuals as human at all.  They have actualized the ultimate expression of collectivism: the subsuming of the individual human being into a collective. Collectives that can be branded sub-human and disposed of at whim.

Humans have been ruled by such men as could take control of the levers of power since we were clans of hunter-gatherers.  Every so often, a breakthrough would occur and the building blocks of civilization were laid, even if technology advanced at much more stately pace. The Mesopotamians or other earliest civilizations gave us agriculture and the division of labor.  The Egyptians gave us paper and the concept of a massive library to store the sum of human knowledge.  The Greeks gave us the concepts of reasoned philosophical debate, and democratic and republican forms of government, and more.  The Arabs gave us Algebra, the concept of zero, and names for many stars we see in the night sky. The Persians or their predecessors gave us Indo-European languages, the wheel, chess (probably by way of India), and more. Largely unbeknownst to the west, the Chinese developed many of these same foundations earlier, or at roughly the same time, as their Western counterparts.

All throughout history, threads bind early developments to later ones.  The Greek concepts of democracy and republicanism found a circuitous path that eventually led to the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights…and the United States of America. An imperfect country, established with imperfect, yet eloquent documents, written by imperfect, yet remarkable men…the first country ever founded on the basis of an ideal: recognition of individual rights, liberty, and the rule of law, protected by a government chartered for that sole purpose. Imperfect though it is, via the combination of the freest form of government, ample natural resources, and the best geographical location, the US rose to become the most dominant economic and military power in the world, and to raise the standard of living for more people than any other nation, empire, or civilization in human history. That much power attracts pathological personalities –both to wield it, and to destroy it.  Thus it became inevitable that the US would make enemies. No matter how benevolent the US might be or might have been, our very existence as de-facto world hegemon is a threat to those who aspire to great power, such as Hussein or Osama bin Laden. To wit: something like 9/11 was inevitable.

As beautiful as the founders’ vision of the US was, the implementation of their vision was flawed from the start by four major areas of dysfunction, which I examined in five posts in 2014.

Slavery was chief among those, as it was incompatible with the spirit of the Charters of Freedom.  Our earliest Congress partook of the same sin as Hitler, if perhaps to a slightly lesser degree and without the nationalistic zeal: they justified slavery by willfully neglecting to grant the status of “human being” to slaves. It took nearly 3/4 of a century from the founding to end slavery, and nearly 200 years to reverse most of the direct damage of that failure. We are still dealing with the indirect damage to this day.

This is not to say that things can be put right by going the other direction. Dehumanizing and hating whites, especially white, middle class males, cannot free the long-dead slaves of times past, nor can it improve the lot of the descendants of slaves living today. Holding inter-generational grudges leads to incessant conflict – such as that between the Israelis and Palestinians, which is but a proxy for the much older conflict between Arabs and Jews.

How can we overcome the pain of the past without inflicting all new pains now and in the future?  More on that next week.

Three Tips for Filtering the Feed

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By Mike Cronin

Last year I wrote about the war on Christmas. This year the election of Donald Trump has overshadowed the usual brouhaha over nativity scenes at City Hall. So this year I thought I’d go with something a little more practical. The guiding purpose of this blog is to make sense out of the vast array or “manufactured truth” that we are constantly bombarded with. Here are a few tips and tricks to deal with it every day:

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  1. Consume news skeptically: the first thing you need to remember about the news media is that their first concern is to sell advertising. Their second concern is often to reinforce a narrative or advance an ideological or even partisan agenda. Running in third place is actually informing you about the new events of the day. There has been much ado recently about fake news. Given the first and second criteria just outlined, almost all the news is fake to one degree or another. When there is some crisis happening, such as 9/11, and the news “breaks in” to tell us about the event as it’s happening, they haven’t had much time to adapt it to their preferred narrative. In those cases we are usually getting real news, even if some of the details are inaccurate while the debris is still falling or the smoke is still rising. As soon as one of these stories acquires its own theme music, it’s no longer breaking news. At that point you must start taking it with a grain of salt. In reality, the best way to glean something of the truth may be to examine headlines from multiple news sources, to include some foreign outlets such as the Economist, BBC, and perhaps even Al Jazeera or Xinhua.  Even so, while those sources may tell you what’s happening and why, they seldom articulate what it means and what will likely happen because of it. Personally, I like to scan the news headlines, but I also like to read intelligence. One of my favorite sources is StratFor; a private “intelligence” firm that uses the lens of geopolitics to explain the world.

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  1. Geopolitics, as you might have guessed, is not just about geography or politics, but about how geography enables or constrains political and/or economic action between nations and other actors. For example: The United States is largely regarded to have the largest economy and the most powerful military, and we are generally thought of as being the world’s only superpower. But it is not only our military might or our form of government that has led us to this condition. The United States is this way in part because of where it’s at and what it has. The most striking example of this is our river and coastal waterway system. “The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin.” (From StratFor’s “The Geopolitics of the United States.”) Give these advantages, it would have been a shock if the US had not become an economic powerhouse! By way of contrast, consider the difficulties faced by a landlocked country. Afghanistan, for example, is estimated to have over $1 trillion worth of natural resources in the form of valuable ores and minerals. Yet owing to the difficulty of getting to and from Afghanistan and navigating within its borders, and the fractured nature of its tribal society, Afghanistan has never realized its economic potential, and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. Where the United States has abundance of access, Afghanistan has a dearth. Geography has dealt a difficult hand to landlocked countries, but there is at least one way to overcome that difficulty: adopt a Western form of governance that recognizes individual rights and promotes liberty. Switzerland is the epitome of a country that can overcome geographic isolation by staying neutral in the conflicts of its neighbors and giving its people freedom.
  1. Like most, I’ve had geography classes, and classes on US. Government, but I never had a “geopolitics” class per se in my formal education. Our schools are set up to teach material as discreet subjects, but our brains are not set up that way. We learn and make memories by association. Another example might be economics. The word economics conjures up thoughts of central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, changing interest rates and conducting “quantitative easing.” Those elements of economics were among the set popularized by John Maynard Keynes, and “Keynesian Economics holds sway among the vast majority of economists today.  9i7jfxdepbiuxmllhv6wxoykazrjmeynuapn20ngnu0But in a broader sense, economics is the study of human activity. This goes hand in glove with geopolitics, as does history. Come to think of it, so does psychology. What if there was a way of learning economics (and other subjects) in a way that more closely mimics the way the human brain learns? Under such a rubric, there would be far fewer barriers between what we think of as the traditional subjects. Such a field exists.  It’s called “praxeology.” In short, praxeology is the study of volitional human action, and it is a basis for the Austrian school of economic thought.  We can borrow the concept to help us understand the world without trying to become economists ourselves.

Using these three tools (skeptical news consumption, understanding how geography can enable or constrain political and economic action, and removing the artificial barriers between “subjects,” and examining human action holistically), we can better learn to Filter the Feed.

Globalism vs. Trumpism

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By Mike Cronin

A common thread in the alarms raised by the election of Donald Trump is the concern that his brand of nationalism/populism will turn the US isolationist, or worse, into a fascist dictatorship. Why are globalists, themselves no friends of individualism, alarmed at such a prospect?  It might help to understand more about the complexities of globalism/globalization.

According to http://www.globalization101.org/what-is-globalization/;

“Globalization is a process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology. This process has effects on the environment, on culture, on political systems, on economic development and prosperity, and on human physical well-being in societies around the world….

…Globalization is deeply controversial, however. Proponents of globalization argue that it allows poor countries and their citizens to develop economically and raise their standards of living, while opponents of globalization claim that the creation of an unfettered international free market has benefited multinational corporations in the Western world at the expense of local enterprises, local cultures, and common people. Resistance to globalization has therefore taken shape both at a popular and at a governmental level as people and governments try to manage the flow of capital, labor, goods, and ideas that constitute the current wave of globalization.”

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing inherently wrong with globalization per se.  In fact, taken at face value, it is probably a net benefit to humanity. Think about the spread of modern medicine and information technology, for example.  I think unfettered international free markets would be a great thing.  I have often presented my bias for free-market capitalism.  My bias has no border.  Unfortunately, the only unfettered free markets that exist today are the “black” markets for illicit goods, and unfortunately, human trafficking.  The rest of the global market is beset by trade imbalances, currency manipulation, defaults, sovereign debt crises, bailouts, and other “fetters.”

Given that explanation, the shape of the globalist critique against Mr. Trump (and the recent “Brexit” vote) begins to emerge.  Among the proponents of globalism are those who have been unethically enriched by manipulating matters at the diplomatic, international finance, and CEO levels.  Many of the proponents of globalism are not proponents of an unfettered free market. They seek to establish and/or perpetuate imbalances that they can profit from.  These are not productive people; they are more like vultures or parasites. These are the globalists who fear that Donald Trump’s administration, a Republican majority Congress, and a conservative Supreme Court will upend the existing “globalist” order – the globalists who have the most wealth and power to lose.

And that is why we must also examine nationalism.  The elite manipulators of international intercourse may be parasitical; but that does not make their concern over a rise in Trump-branded nationalism baseless.  Extreme nationalism has led to dark places before. Consider the word “Nazi.” It’s a German abbreviation for Nationalsozialist, i.e. “Nationalist Socialist,” hence the anti-Trump crowds’ easy conflation of Trump’s “America First” populism with fascist nationalism.

Will Mr. Trump’s brand of nationalism lead to that same dark place?  Did we just elect a tyrant-in-waiting?  Time will tell.  If Trump does become a dictator, I wonder: will the lachrymose legions lamenting Hillary’s loss begin to see the wisdom of the Second Amendment?

Elevating “Minority Rights” over Individual Rights Yields Chaos

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By Mike Cronin

Free market advocate Richard Maybury often mentions the two “laws” of human civilization: Do all that you have agreed to do; and do not encroach on others or their property. According to him, every place that has based their justice systems on these two fundamental principles (wittingly or not) have been relatively more prosperous and free than the places that have not adopted them. Maybury even coined a term for the places where these two principles hold no sway: Chaostan. It comprises, roughly: The Balkans, most of Eastern Europe, Russia and the rest of Asia (minus Japan), North Africa, and the Middle East.

The current troubles in Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan are the most recent manifestations of the chaos endemic in that region.  As long as, and to the degree that, the two laws of civilization hold no influence in that part of the world, it will remain conflicted and embattled. We should take note as our own government takes ever more liberties with its own laws (as if governments do not have to obey the same laws as individuals) and leaves us with less freedom, less order, and increasing chaos.

Two recent examples of chaos encroaching:

  1. The Ninth Circuit Court’s arbitrary ruling in California that in effect promotes Mexican culture and the “rights” of a group (Cinco de Mayo celebrants) over American culture and the rights of individuals (see my post from March 2nd).
  2. The recent cases in Colorado and Arizona that in effect promote minority rights over the rights of individuals – as if they were different. In this set of cases, the state governments have created a “right” for homosexuals to not be refused service by business owners. In other words, in Colorado and Arizona, the government is compelling business owners to conduct business that may be potentially offensive to them (providing goods or services to same-sex weddings) in order to not offend the homosexual constituency. In both cases, authorities have:

-Failed to recognize individual rights. One group does not accrue special privileges over another simply because they have lacked special privileges in the past, or because they are a minority. (If we stop and ask “what is the smallest minority?”  The answer: the individual.)

-Failed to apply the basics of the two laws: in the California case, it is no infringement, or encroachment, on the rights of the Cinco de Mayo celebrants for other student to wear patriotic American clothing, nor should it be considered an infringement for those wearing patriotic Americana to have to tolerate the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. In other words, such displays of cultural enthusiasm ought to be protected as free expression, with the realization by the celebrants that doing so does not grant a right to be protected from competing cultural enthusiasm in a public forum. In the Colorado and Arizona instances, there is no violation of individual rights if the owner of a private business refuses to do business, (i.e., declines to associate) with anyone for any reason, though it may indeed be discriminatory, bigoted, and economically unwise.

No one has the right to not be offended, but our governments are trying very hard to make it a crime to offend…some people some times.

When the government encroaches on others by telling them how they can or cannot express themselves, or compels them to conduct business that offends them, it is making a mockery of the concepts of free expression and free association and displacing the concept of the rule of law with the chaos of rule by influence and pressure.

The Ninth Circuit has no Appeal to Patriots

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By Mike Cronin

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that it is Constitutional for a California high school to ban students from wearing patriotic American-themed clothing, such as t-shirts displaying the stars and stripes, during the the Mexican commemoration day Cinco de Mayo. Their reasoning is that the school has issues with ethnic tensions between its majority Hispanic and minority white student populations, and that the school was acting prudently to ban the patriotic garb so as to reduce friction between the two groups.

The court’s decision has inflamed adults in the name of reducing the tensions of students. On the one hand, it very well may be provocative to “throw the flag” in the face of Cinco de Mayo celebrants, especially if that were the obvious intent of those so clothed. On the other, the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular, offensive, and disagreeable speech. It is a wonder to patriots that such a ban, seemingly in direct conflict with the freedom of expression, can be upheld, and it’s insulting and supremely ironic that the proscription elevates the cultural expression of a hosted culture at the expense of the host. (Note that the court did not ban Cinco de Mayo or Mexican-themed apparel.)

To be clear: The Ninth Circuit upheld the ban on the basis that the school was acting for the safety of the students. If that is truly their reasoning, then why not ban patriotic apparel for both cultures?  If wearing American-themed apparel at a high school in the United States of America, which receives funding from the American government at the expense of American taxpayers, is offensive to some Mexican students, could it not also be just as likely that celebrating a Mexican commemoration at that same high school might be offensive to the non-Mexican students?

The court made at least two serious errors: In banning patriotic wear, i.e. self –expression, it has taught the teens that their individual rights are to be violated at whim by authority rather than protected by it. In making the ban applicable to only one set of cultural expressions (American-themed), it has taught the students that it’s the majority that rules (at that school, the majority is Hispanic), not the law.

I wonder what country the Ninth Circuit judges come from?

Why is the Trouble in Ukraine Newsworthy here?

Location of  Ukraine  (green)in Europe  (dark grey)  –  [Legend]

(image from Wikipedia)

By Mike Cronin

During the days of the USSR, Ukraine was one of the many Soviet Socialists Republics.  Ukraine is an energy producer, breadbasket (third largest food exporter in the world), and industrial power, similar to the US Midwest. Ukraine has Europe’s 2nd largest military (and for a little over five years, it was a significant nuclear power: Ukraine inherited nearly 2000 nuclear weapons during the dissolution of the USSR; it returned all of them to Russia for dismantling by 1996), and it hosts the Russian Navy’s Black Sea/Mediterranean fleet at Sevastopol.

Russian rulers have always felt the need for buffers between Russia and its potential adversaries. During the Soviet days, that buffer was made up of the various Soviet “republics,” such as Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine. When the Soviet Union fell, such republics became independent countries. Since Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia has been steadily trying to reassert itself in those countries that were once part of the USSR – including Ukraine.

Current events in Kiev matter because Ukraine is the northern edge (Turkey is the southern edge) of the intersection between the Russian, European and, to some extent, Muslim spheres of influence. In fact, the name Ukraine literally translates to “on the edge.” None of these factions wants to see a prize like the Ukraine fall into another’s orbit. Ukrainians themselves understand this, and want to be independent while playing all sides off each other – a risky, but profitable, strategy.  This is not new. Ukraine has been invaded many times over the course of Eurasian history; and it sits at the historical intersection of the Christian, Islamic and Eastern Orthodox spheres of influence. In the early 20th Century, World War I ended the Ottoman Empire, to which the southern portions of Ukraine belonged. Soon after, the Soviet Union was formed – with Ukraine as a founding member.

Expect periodic drama and conflict regarding Ukraine to continue for decades, if not centuries – it’s the normal pattern of life for valuable territory on the geopolitical fault lines between civilizations.