The Power of “So?”

By Mike Cronin

The 85 Richest People In The World Have As Much Wealth As The 3.5 Billion Poorest

So?  That headline is meant to make us hate the rich and want to see them taxed into submission.  It is meant to create envy and division.  Did those 85 people steal that wealth from the “bottom half,” or did they produce it? If they produced it, it’s theirs.  If they stole it, then prosecute them.  If you want to help the “bottom half” improve their lives, then help them. Appeal to the wealthy for donations all you want, but don’t believe that you can cure poverty by ostensibly playing Robin Hood. He didn’t steal from “the rich” and give to “the poor,” he stole from the government and gave back to the taxpayers!

The Israelis are doing__ against the Palestinians again!

So?  There is a meme circulating that states:  “If the Israelis wanted war, the Palestinians would be wiped out.  If the Palestinians wanted peace, there would be peace.”  It’s not 100% perfectly factual, but there is a high degree of “truthiness” in that statement.

___member of the Trump Administration had contact with Russian diplomats while serving in Congress (or some other governmental or international corporate position) before the election.

So?  That’s what the Russian diplomats are here for!  That’s why we send American diplomats to Russia! It is far better that our leaders have contact with their diplomats than that we stop talking to each other and start rekindling the Cold War in earnest, isn’t it? We’ve already had Vietnam and Korea, and we’ve been stuck in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years.  Syria could easily become the next quagmire if it isn’t already.  Do we really need to increase the likelihood of that happening by not having any dialogue with the Russians?

Sports stars get paid more than military troops and teachers!

So?  Stop paying them! If you think star athletes get paid too much, don’t go to the games, don’t buy the fan merchandise, and don’t pay for sports packages on satellite or cable.  If you think teachers and troops deserve more, write your school board and your congressional delegation and tell them you want to donate more money on top of your paid taxes so they can get a raise. Better yet, gift some money to a teacher or troop of your choice (but less than $10,000, please.  We don’t want to make them pay higher taxes for getting your gift!)

Somebody offended me!

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So? Call the whaaambulance and wait for it in your safe space, ya simpering snowflake!  You have a right to free speech AND you have a right not to listen to the free speech of others. You don’t have right to not be offended.

They gave the Best Picture Oscar to the wrong movie.

So? Does that have any bearing at all on your life?  It’s mildly interesting to watch the antics of celebrities, but we only fuel the worst aspects of their personalities by obsessing over their affairs and faux-pas.  Maybe we need that spectacle to distract us from the real issues, which would be fine if that’s all Hollywood did (i.e. produce distractions). But that’s not all is it?

(Pick any Hollywood celebrity) said (something pontificating or pious about national or international issues)

So? How does a career as a professional pretender confer to anyone the bona-fides to provide a value-added perspective on …anything that matters?

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.

Random Matter 2

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By Mike Cronin

The tidal wave of angst unleashed by the election of Donald Trump is not wholly explainable by his crudity, political outsider status, media and polling industry failures, hacked emails, possible election tampering, or Hillary Clinton’s campaign style.

For too long, the beltway establishment has been driving this country down a two-lane country road that ends at a cliff: tyranny. When the liberals where at the wheel, the conservatives would call the cliff “socialism” and say the Democrats were racing us towards it, while the liberals would say that conservatives were steering us headlong towards the “fascism” cliff when Republicans had the wheel.

It was always the same cliff.

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Now the liberals are howling that Trump will stomp on the accelerator, and the “Never Trump” branch of the conservative establishment isn’t sure that he won’t do just that.  Nor am I.

What I am more confident of is that for perhaps only a brief moment, by electing Trump, the passengers have made ALL of the drivers slow down and take notice of the impending danger. Even if Trump turns out to be wise at the wheel, we may be in for a period of painful adjustment.

***

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Have you ever been irritated by Pecksniffian pipsqueaks who take any statement that does not absolutely validate or corroborate what they say and allege it means exactly the opposite?

Pipsqueak: We have to raise the minimum wage for the poor. (Sips his latte.)

Host: But won’t that mean there will be fewer jobs?

Pipsqueak: Hate speech! What do you have against poor people?  Are you a one-percenter? I can’t believe we still have troglodytes like you in this country!

Host:  But I was just-

Pipsqueak: I have to go. My limo is double parked, and I’m late for therapy.

***

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Congress is now considering bills that would make it mandatory for females to register for the draft with Selective Service.  In my opinion, obligatory service of any kind is anathema to freedom.  You cannot protect freedom by taking it away. It is also not very effective to staff a high-tech, professional military with conscripts. It takes an inordinate amount of effort to train, motivate, and discipline people who are potentially there against their will…though it can, and has, been done.

It is far more efficient, effective, and easier to train qualified and self-motivated volunteers.

Wisely, the US stopped the draft in 1973…but unwisely kept the Selective Service, and is now taking a step in the wrong direction, IMO.  Instead of making females register, it should stop requiring anyone to register!

On the other hand, I would be in favor of examining the idea that we stop automatically conferring citizenship by birthright.  The idea that one should have to earn citizenship, with public service being one avenue to that end, has some interesting potential.

Ten Observations on Election 2016

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By Mike Cronin

Donald Trump’s victory certainly stirred up a lot of clamor and noise this week.  Let’s see if we can herd some of the cats:

  1. Democracy has failed. The people chose Hillary Clinton by 200,000 votes, but the electoral victory went to Trump. Our “democracy” cannot fail if we don’t have one, which is in fact the case. We were given a federalist republic under the rule of law. We use democratic processes for some decisions to give the people a voice, but we are not supposed to have a system of straight-up majority rule. As to the electoral vote: It remains to be seen whether any electors will “go rogue” and vote against their “pledge” on Dec 19th, but it has happened before (as recently as 2004).  Of course, it’s never been by enough margin to change the outcome of an election.  In this case, at least 38 would have to be “faithless electors” to get Clinton to 270.
  2. Trump hates immigrants. He hates Mexicans. He hates Muslims. He’s racist.  We’ll, he might. Only he knows for sure.  However, he is married to an immigrant and he has people from all walks of life working for him.  He certainly doesn’t think people should be here illegally, which is not the same thing as hating the people who are or the people who want to be.
  3. Trump is a misogynist sexual predator. His caught-on-camera crudities certainly lend themselves to this narrative. There’s little actual evidence and no credible accusers that demonstrate he hates all women or has assaulted any of them, but Trump’s verbal vulgarity in this area is one of the most troubling things about him. Still, while Trump has been caught speaking like a sexual predator might; Hillary Clinton continues to aid and abet one.
  4. Trump is going to destroy all of the progress progressives have made over the last eight years. Possibly, but presidents seldom accomplish their full agendas.  Yes, Trump will have a Republican-majority Congress, but it won’t be a super-majority, and the Republican establishment doesn’t like him.  Trump bills himself as a deal maker.  He’ll have to be to get his agenda anywhere.
  5. Trump is going to elevate nationalism over globalism. Both are euphemisms for collectivism; only the boundaries are different. Neither is as good for individuals as unfettered free market capitalism.  There might possibly be temporary beneficial effects for Americans in the shift, especially if our troops come home and small businesses can thrive again.
  6. Trump is an idiot/outsider/politically inexperienced. He certainly does not articulate himself with Obama’s grace, but he is no dummy. In fact, he’s likely quite adept at persuasion (see items five and six on this list). He is certainly gifted at getting free publicity (or at least notoriety) from the very mass-media that hates him. Also, his lack of political experience, i.e. his NOT being a career politician or D.C. insider, is one of the fundamentals that led him to get elected.
  7. What happened with the polls? They consistently gave Clinton the edge! Bottom line: garbage in/garbage out.  The pollsters drew their samples from the same body of “likely voters” they always used, and in some cases “oversampled” Democrats.  The former was neglectful and led to the Democrats believing in their own invulnerability; the latter was a nefarious attempt to convince would-be Trump voters to stay home on Election Day. Once exposed, the revelation likely caused the exact opposite effect. Either way, the pollsters failed to obtain accuracy because they could not, or would not, sample validly.  
  8. FBI Director Comey’s shenanigans (i.e. his announcements regarding the on-again/off-again investigation into Clinton’s email debacle vis-à-vis Huma Abedin’s laptop) comprised the quintessential October Surprise, and it hurt Clinton. It certainly didn’t help, but it’s much more likely that Clinton’s shenanigans hurt Clinton.
  9. Why were Clinton and Trump our candidates? What secret weapon did they employ that none of their competitors had? 30-plus years of universal name recognition.
  10. What does it mean that Republicans gained more seats in Congress, strengthening their majority? They didn’t get a super majority, so there are a few (rare) actions they would have to earn Democratic support for in order to act: Impeaching the president and overriding his vetoes are two such cases. 2. Republicans will get to shape the Supreme Court for the next generation. 3. Republicans now have an opportunity to reverse much of the Democrats’ work over the last eight years. Whether they will actually do so, or get complacent and/or get caught up with internal divisions remains to be seen.

RIGOROUS RED OR BOGUS BLUE, PT III

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By Mike Cronin

The focus of the last two posts was on the “blue pill” as it regards our “progressive” education system.  I have written several previous posts dealing with political prescriptions for “blue pill” thinking.  The imagery and tone of those pieces and this one may lead you to assumes I am associating all things “blue pill” with liberal/Democrat/ “blue state” politics, and red pill rigor with Republican/conservative/”red state” politics.

You would only be partially right.  Our education and media elite are certainly dominated by those who would prefer a tame, conditioned electorate, but that desire is not exclusive to the panoply of progressive poohbahs.  There is no shortage of conservatives/traditionalists that would like to impose their own brand of “blue pill” virtuality upon us using the existing, Prussian-model school system.  The pill would be “branded” quite differently, of course: Teaching of creationism/intelligent design as science and mandatory recitation of the pledge of allegiance (a loyalty oath) by children too young to understand the concept of total commitment are two ways that come readily to mind.

“In our secular society, school has become the replacement for church, and like church it requires that its teachings must be taken on faith.” ― John Taylor Gatto

So what can be done?  Ultimately, a “red pill” solution would entail the separation of school and state, in the same way and for the same reasons we have separation of church and state.

Whoa! How can you say such a thing, Cronin?!  If we don’t have public education, we’ll have a bunch of uneducated kids running around that can’t think critically, getting into mischief and gangs and criminal conduct! We won’t be competitive in the global market!

How would that be different than what we have now?

Believe it or not, before the imposition of public schooling, and especially the Department of Education, the literacy rate in this country was actually higher than it is now across many demographic groups. (Admittedly, that is a tough comparison to accept. It requires that one omit slaves from the calculation, for instance, as the first public schools appeared while slavery was still legal; teaching slaves to read was often prohibited.)

I ask you: If a thing can be done privately, what business does the government have doing it?

But if we don’t have public education, won’t the private education system be just as much of a “blue pill?”

Unlikely. The key ingredients missing from education in a system monopolized by government are competition and choice. In a competitive education market, schools would have to meet their customers’ expectations or go out of business.  Good teachers would be highly sought after and well compensated.  Bad teachers could be fired. Government is force. Government performs exceedingly well where force is the required tool to solve a problem.  At best, government achieves a desultory mediocrity at everything else it does. Is force the correct tool to use to educate our children?

We are indoctrinated by a school system designed to mass-produce workers and consumers, “informed” by a mass media machine that continuously keeps us alarmed, and led by politicians whose only concern is getting elected or re-elected.  How could anything be wrong?

Testing our Constitution

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By Mike Cronin

Today ought to be a national holiday.  229 years ago today, the Constitution was created.  It was ratified and became the highest law of the land two years later in March of 1789.  Contrary to popular opinion, or even popular “fact” taught in many of our schools, the Constitution didn’t give us a democracy, even though it specified certain democratic processes for electing the president and members of Congress and for proposing and enacting legislation.  It gave us a republic – a form of government where the people’s rights were protected by law and could not be voted away at the whim of the majority.  It gave us the first country in the history of mankind founded on the ideal of individual liberty and personal freedom.

The Constitution, and our republic, has been under attack, either literally or rhetorically, ever since.  Some, like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, would have us believe the Constitution is a “living document,” i.e. open to re-interpretation through whatever cultural lens exists at a given time.  The Framers knew better than that.  They knew America would not be the same in 1887 or 1987 as it was in 1787, so they crafted a mechanism into the Constitution that would allow for it to be changed: via amendments. They deliberately made the amendment process challenging, but not impossible.  It has worked just fine at least 17 times over the last 229 years.  The most recent, the 27th Amendment, was ratified in 1992.  (Yes, there are 27 amendments, but the first ten were enacted simultaneously as the Bill of Rights, hence 17 instances the amendment process has been carried out.)

One of those amendments, the first in fact, is being tested right before our eyes today. There is a public controversy over several NFL players who are refusing to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.  As a veteran, I am in the curious position of both feeling pained and proud.  It pains me to see people disdain the anthem, because so many have fought and died to protect the freedom and liberty the flag stands for. And yet, the very first freedom protected by the Bill of Rights is the freedom of expression.  As much as it galls me to admit it, our country has not always acted in accord with its own highest law.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, for nearly a century after the Constitution was ratified, men could own other men in this country…if they were black. Our history has other examples of its failure to abide by the Constitution and the principles of individual freedom it protects: Confiscatory income taxes. The draft. Excessive bureaucracy and scandalous deficits and debt. Spying on citizens. Obamacare. Failures to hold officials accountable for their transgressions in office. The list is not short.

So when an NFL player refuses to stand for the National Anthem, and no government sanction ensues, I can be proud to witness an instance where the Constitution itself is being honored by the government, even if those who have given everything in its defense are being dishonored.

Of course that works both ways.  Just as those few players have the right not to stand, the fans, the teams, and the league have the right to express their displeasure at the offending players.  It would not pain me at all to see the league fine, or the teams discharge, the players in question!

The Land of the Free* (*terms and conditions may apply)

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By Mike Cronin

When asked what kind of government our new country has, Benjamin Franklin is widely quoted as stating “a republic, if you can keep it.”  Apparently we could not.  It’s almost universally accepted these days, to the point of being taught as fact in schools, that we have a democracy. Yet our Constitution outlines a republican form of government with three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial) that functions with some democratic processes. (You can check this for yourself – the word democracy does not appear anywhere in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence).

Unfortunately, we’ve accumulated three additional, unofficial branches of government, and devolved so far from our Founder’s vision that we may no longer have either a republic or a democracy, but an oligarchy (i.e. a form of government where power is held by small group).

What are the three “unofficial” branches that the oligarchs use to wield power?  The donor branch, the media branch, and the education branch; all run by the so-called “elites.”

I’ve written before about the “elites” that steer this country, and you’ve probably read or heard others speak of them without really explaining the composition of the group.

Who are the elites in the United States (international elites are another subject)? They are people at the head of the three legitimate branches and the three “shadow” branches of government. In influential order:

The President of the United States: Head of State. Head of Government. Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Branch and Commander in Chief of the military. The incumbent holds possibly the most influential position in the world; certainly whoever occupies the Oval Office wields the most diplomatic influence backed by the most extraordinary military.

The donor class – the folks who provide significant funds to politicians, PACs, and campaigns and are owed favors and quid pro quos. Think George Soros, the Koch brothers, corporate lobbyists, and the like. If we could dig deep enough, we might also find drug lords and other organized crime dons in this class.

The rest of the elected politicians at the Federal level: the 535 members of Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate), plus the vice president.

Next come political appointees: ambassadors, cabinet secretaries and other cabinet-level executives, federal judges, and military combatant commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff – and the emeriti of these positons – e.g. Henry Kissinger.

There is some overlap between the politicians above and the influencers in their networks. These are their fellow Ivy-League and service-academy alumni, corporate and institutional boards, bank chairmen, media moguls, etc.

Perhaps at the bottom rung of the elites are the folks who try to influence us more directly. This group is largely composed of the academic and think-tank intelligentsia and “on-air talent” in the mainstream media.

Perhaps not really elite, but still somewhat culpable for the direction of our country: The entrenched bureaucrats just below the political appointee level. They provide institutional continuity across multiple administrations – and they are largely not accountable. Not because they don’t “report” to anyone, but because it’s so damn hard to fire someone in the Federal government, and because they can just outlast the appointed bosses that can fire them.

Altogether, I estimate that there are perhaps as many as 300,000 to as few as 30,000 people running our country of 300,000,000+ people.  What would you call a form of government where perhaps 1/1000th to 1/10,000th of the population holds almost all of the power?