Taking a Knee (to the Face)

By Mike Cronin

After several highly-publicized shootings of young black men by white police officers in 2015 and 2016, San Francisco ‘49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of football games. In one post-game interview, Kaepernick explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Since then, Mr. Kaepernick has lost his job, but several players, and in some cases entire teams, have begun emulating his actions. Many fans have been outraged, including President Trump. Both attendance at stadiums and ratings for televised games are way down. This story is vitiating the country.  So, what gives? Let’s unpack it a bit.

First and foremost is whether the protests are having, or can have, the desired effect: eliminating racism, especially alleged police brutality driven by alleged white racism against blacks. That will be hard to measure, since each and every case of alleged racially-driven brutality must be judged against the context of the situation and the facts of the incident that precipitated it. We cannot rationally, automatically infer that just because a young black man is shot and killed by a white cop that there was any racial bias (or injustice of any kind) involved; that has to be proven.  In some cases it is, in many more, the opposite conclusion is reached.

Second is the issue of context and message delivery. While Mr. Kaepernick told the press his actions were taken in protest to police brutality, in his statement above he conflates police brutality with the entire country being oppressive against blacks and other minorities: “I am not going to…show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people…” This is perhaps the most contentious aspect of the entire affair. Mr. Kaepernick may have been the subject of racism and police brutality himself at some point (I have no idea), but as someone who made more money in a single game than most NFL fans will make in several years, he is at best an unlikely spokesperson against oppression. He brought further ambiguity to his alleged anti-oppression message by wearing socks depicting a pig in a police hat during training camp:

And by attending as press conference wearing a pro Fidel Castro T-shirt:

That tone-deafness has now been amplified by entire teams of seven- and eight-digit salary earners “taking a knee” for the anthem (in stadiums often built with the aid of tax subsidies) to protest the “oppression” of the nation that gave them the opportunity to become one-percenters, while the people that defend that opportunity in some cases don’t even make enough to buy groceries without resorting to food stamps.

Maybe Mr. Kaepernick really is just trying to turn the national conversation towards the elimination of police brutality and racism. Or, perhaps Mr. Kaepernick hates cops and hates America. Or both, or neither. The trouble is: his message is mixed, and those who are emulating him are diluting it further. Are we to accept that our entire country is racist and oppressive? Racism and oppression have certainly existed and will continue to exist, in this country and elsewhere, as long as humans refuse to treat others as individuals, instead of as units. Even so, I don’t think we have to accept the premise that the entire country is that way now. After all, every racial barrier to high office or position has been broken: President of the United States. Senator. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State. Ambassador. CEO. Doctor. Lawyer. Astronaut. General. Police Officer. Professor. Sports Star.

That leaves police brutality. Are we instead to infer that all police are brutal, racist thugs? That’s a ludicrous proposition that I won’t even dignify with a rebuttal.

Third: Rights. The players protesting the anthem absolutely have the right to do so, but they do not have the right to usurp someone else’s platform to spread their message, nor can they reasonably expect that they can piss off their employers’ customers and keep their jobs.

Lastly: Importance. In the grand scheme of things, the NFL, its games, its ratings, and its stadium attendance are irrelevancies, but the issues of racism, police brutality, and patriotism are not. I don’t know, or care, what Mr. Kaepernick really believes or what message he thinks he was really trying to get across, but he certainly started a national conversation about…something. To borrow from Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy:

If you cannot treat your fellow Americans with dignity and respect, then get out.

The Gouge on Price Gouging

By Mike Cronin

In military slang, the word gouge can mean information or intelligence. For example: One person tells another a trick or hack for getting a task done quicker. The second person might say “thanks for the gouge.”

On the other hand, people are very much not thankful for what they perceive to be the price gouging happening in Houston and the rest of the Hurricane Harvey impact zone.  Loosely defined, price gouging is when a vendor radically raises their prices, as often occurs in and near disaster zones. Potential customers believe such vendors to be vultures, capitalizing on the misery of others.

But is that what is really going on?

In a recent Facebook post, A group called  “Educate the People” shared pictures of a convenience store billboard showing gas prices over $8.00 per gallon, and a case of bottled water going for nearly $45.00.  The caption beloe the pictures read “Heartless Capitalist Texas Store Owners.”

“Educate the Public” indeed! It’s not heartless. If millions of people are trying to “get out of Dodge,”(or stockpile at the last minute) because a disaster is imminent or in-progress, then supply trucks aren’t going into Dodge. When that happens, the things we normally take for granted are suddenly in much more demand, soon to be much scarcer, and thus suddenly much more valuable. When the demand for something skyrockets, but the supply is shrinking, the price must skyrocket as well. It sucks if you want to buy the thing that has quadrupled in price (so you have some to spare), but if you genuinely need it for survival, there just might still be some available because the people who merely wanted it weren’t willing to fork over the cash. It may seem like the store owner is profiteering, but consider: The store is still open and doing business when everyone else is trying to flee or hole-up!

If the store owner left his prices at the normal level (or was forced by the government to do so), he’d be out of stock in hours – or even minutes, with no routine resupply on the calendar. What is he, or his customers most in need, to do then?

The purveyors of “Educate the Public” should consider taking some remedial economics lessons instead of pandering to a generation of Americans who are being taught that they are entitled to something just because they think they need it.

To save them some time, here are the applicable points:

Price, cost, and value are not the same thing; however, in a functional system of mutual trade to mutual benefit, they are closely related. If the thing is becoming scarcer because the gap between supply and demand is increasing, the price will go up as a message to the consumer that the scarcity of the thing has increased.

When some force, usually in the form of government, compels a vendor to ration items, or to limit prices, the system is no longer about mutual exchange to mutual benefit. It has become dysfunctional, shredding the relationship between price, cost, and value. The price of an item no longer communicates the scarcity to the consumer. This increases the risk that hoarders and black-marketeers will buy up all the stock in a short amount of time, leaving the shelves bare, and leaving people in crisis with far fewer options. This will in turn lead to more desperation and lawlessness, not less.

In short: price gouging is not evil, though radically increased prices may shock and offend our sensibilities during a crisis, lulled as we are by generations of living in the stability of the largest economy in the world. On the other hand, anti-price gouging and rationing laws just might be evil, because they create more harm than they cure – by causing or exacerbating  shortages in the guise of mollifying the unthinking and easily offended.

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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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?

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.

An Open (and Polite) Letter to the Gun Control Faction

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By Mike Cronin

Here’s my take on the bitter firearms dispute vitiating our country. I offer my commentary without vitriol. No contempt. No condescension. No name-calling, baiting, or inflammatory rhetoric; just exposition.

Obviously, we have a fundamental philosophical difference.  I don’t know, but I suspect that your apprehension over firearms is energized by a belief that it is the government’s responsibility to protect the citizenry from harm, and that you see firearms in private hands as a huge threat, especially given horrific mass shootings.  Ergo, the government should further regulate firearms or ban them outright. If I am articulating it wrong, please correct me.

I can’t speak for every pro-gun rights person, but I suspect most of us subscribe to a quite different interpretation of the government’s duty to protect us than you do.  I see it like this:  All of us have the inherent right to defend ourselves from immediate violence.  It would be nice if there were always a police officer around to intercede on our behalf, but that’s just not feasible, so we compromise.  We retain the ultimate individual right to self-defense, but we delegate the right to retaliate after the fact (via impartial criminal prosecution and punishment) to government.

So far, you may not see a large gulf between our positions.  Yet there is a significant one:  It is my position that the right to self-defense is absolute.  By that I mean that I have the right to defend myself from ANY initiation of violence (or the imminent threat of same) from ANY initiator – up to and including government agents, should they act in the absence of due process or turn overtly tyrannical.  A shotgun or revolver is hardly proportional to such a threat. Since our own government, should it turn tyrannical, and the forces of other governments, should they unwisely choose to invade this country, possess weapon systems of devastating destructive power, it is more than reasonable for a free individual to possess mere firearms to stand in opposition, even if such opposition must take the form of a covert insurgency. It is reasonable that a free person possess firearms identically lethal to those his oppressors routinely bear.

Does that mean I think private individuals should be able to go down to “Booms-R-Us” and buy guided missiles and tanks and chemical weapons?  In the absence of a better argument, I’ll accede to this principle: the more indiscriminate a weapon is, the harder it should be for anyone to obtain.  That principle is already largely in effect. Regardless of anybody’s desire, there is no “Booms-R-Us” to go to in this country. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t legally buy a grenade, landmine, or bomb as a private citizen without an enormous amount of oversight, if at all. Conversely, hand-held firearms currently legal for possession are discriminate enough that law-abiding individuals should not be further barred or banned from buying and possessing them, regardless of militarized appearance, magazine capacity, fire rate, trigger function, or other minutiae, or whether some sociopath or jihadist has used one to commit mass murder.

There has been, and will continue to be, all manner of legal wrangling over the exact meaning of the oddly-phrased Second Amendment within the bounds of “the letter of the law.” However, the Founders made the spirit and intent clear in their other writings.  The Second Amendment does not primarily protect the right to hunt or compete at the skeet range, that protection is a byproduct.  It protects the individual right to self-defense. (Don’t take my word for it; the Supreme Court has said as much in D.C. vs. Heller.) A populace that can assassinate tyrannical leaders and their henchmen and fight a well-equipped guerrilla war against its oppressors is a populace that will not be easy to subjugate. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee that America has such a populace.

If we look at our positions from a purely logical standpoint, I posit that we are arguing from different premises: The pro-gun rights argument rests on the premise that individuals have an inherent and inviolate right to self-defense, and that our government is obligated by the Second Amendment to protect that right through non-infringement on keeping and bearing arms. If I have not misread the argument for the gun control faction, your premise is that government’s obligation to protect our rights gives it (or should give it) the purview to limit the potential for anyone to cause harm.

I contend that the more power you give to the government to prevent anyone from causing harm, the more pathological personalities you will attract who seek to wield that power…to cause harm!  Eventually, you will get a card-carrying totalitarian who will turn the United States into a Venezuela or an Iraq, or worse. The alternative is to accept some risk with your freedom: occasionally, a nut with a rifle will kill a bunch of innocent people.  The proper mitigation to both threats: A populace that can shoot back!

A Crazy Idea

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By Mike Cronin

In the 1600s, pilgrims came to this land to escape religious persecution. Other colonists soon followed. In the late 1700s, the thriving 13 colonies decided to throw off the yoke of their far-off ruler. In the 1860s, we fought a war over slavery.  (Some will tell you the war was about state’s rights, but the “rights” being fought over were the right to secede from the Union in order to continue the practice of slavery.) About a half-century later, women won the right to vote. Nearly another half century after that, we had the civil rights and equal rights movements.  At some point, other groups saw that these early movements were largely successful in gaining for their members the recognition that they deserved the same rights as anyone else. But then new groups started seeking privileges disguised as rights.

For instance: the gay marriage movement.  This movement sought (and is still seeking) the privilege for one person to be able to marry another person of the same gender. The movement postulates that since heterosexuals have a “right” to marry, homosexuals deserve no less. Advocates of this arrangement are right that homosexuals ought to have the same rights as heterosexuals; but they err by seeking parity with heterosexuals in being permitted to marry by the government. If marriage (or domestic partnership), or any other kind of association is indeed a right, then the movement should be demanding the elimination of government intrusion (except for the function of contract enforcement) in the domestic arrangements of competent, consenting adults. (Freedom-loving heterosexuals ought to consider advocating for the same thing!)

Now we live in a time with a constantly-increasing number of movements and causes seeking special privileges for smaller and smaller groups of people.  The latest examples: Trans-gendered folks seeking the “right” to use whichever public restrooms are appropriate to the gender they “identify” with.  College kids demanding “safe spaces” where they can be free from challenging ideas espoused by disagreeable people. Illegal immigrants demanding in-state tuition rates and voting rights. Minimum-skilled fast-food workers demanding higher pay than junior military members (who have months of technical training) make. Able-bodied yet jobless people demanding food stamps.

Before you know it, every single individual in this country will get the crazy idea that they deserve equal rights for themselves.  Some will demand free speech, others will want to own a gun, and many would like to have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.  Some might even want to be free to associate with whomever they’d like.

Folks might get the fantastical notion that a genuine individual right cannot require or obligate anything of anyone else other than that we leave each other alone and honor our voluntary commitments.

Some thought leaders and other prominent people might even get together and decide to craft a document that would enshrine these ideas.  They might imagine that the best way to organize a government would be around the concept that its sole purpose is to protect the rights of free individuals, and that such freedom is the best way yet devised by humans to deliver the greatest good to the greatest number.

I wonder what it would take to produce such a document and put it into force. Could such a society ever flourish? What would we call such a place?