Thursday, August 27, 2015

"The Phenomenon that is Trump"

                       Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Phenomenon that is Trump”
August 27, 2015

First off, I have been wrong about Donald Trump. A few months ago, I thought that by now he would be gone. In terms of political ambitions, I have thought him a clown – not stupid, but neither funny nor nice. Now I fear he is a demagogue. When a leader (or would-be leader) appeals to emotions and prejudices rather than intellect and reasoning, or spews vitriol rather than hope, and when he (or she) appeals to those who prefer to be led rather than guided, the ground is set for demagoguery.

Mr. Trump has tapped into the unhappiness, which polls show to be prevalent, and the cynicism it breeds. Some of his followers may be ill-informed, but they all recognize condescension. Many Americans find offensive the aura of sanctimony that enshrouds politicians in Washington and much of the Press. People abhor attitudes of moral and intellectual superiority. Mr. Trump pierced that veneer and has shown it to be shallow. Despite his privileged background and his wealth, he has become the champion of the disenfranchised – or, at least, of those on the right.

The economic recovery, now more than six years old, has been anemic. Attempts by the President to claim he is working for the poor and disadvantaged are not supported by results. The labor force participation rate remains at its lowest since the 1970s. While the Administration boasts about the number of jobs created, most of them have been low-paying and part-time. Nominal wage growth has been flat to low. There has been no fiscal reform. In 2010, Mr. Obama rejected the Simpson-Bowles recommendations and his stimulus plan proved ineffective. Income and wealth gaps have widened. The Federal Reserve, which has kept interest rates at near zero for six and a half years, has been the only game in town. Raising taxes and increasing regulations served to make a difficult situation worse. All this has been fodder for the effervescent Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump has placed his Republican competitors on the same manure pile of elitist, political establishmentarians. He speaks of how cronyism defines Washington – that it is prevalent in both Parties. Its root causes lie in the size of budgets controlled by Congress, but more importantly in agencies that are responsible only to the President – the EPA and the Justice Department, for example. It is seen in mandates and regulations that are sold as being in the self-interest of the people, but in fact that support special interests in serving the President’s agenda. Wherever there is money, locusts will gather. A tough economy and an aloof Administration have created a world of “them” versus “us”, with the “them” being government, not the “one percent” as some would have us believe. The public sector, supported by lobbyists and the most powerful unions in the country, has prospered. It is not coincidental that Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington Counties in Virginia, along with Howard County in Maryland, rank among the richest in the Nation.

In times of uncertainty and discontent, voters turn to candidates who speak plainly, shun nuances and who fearlessly take on the establishment. These are candidates who appeal to passions and who prey on fears like xenophobia. Mr. Trump has capitalized on concerns over immigration, an issue that has been discussed ad nauseum but without resolution. Those on the Right see it in economic and societal terms – a sector of the population that takes from government without contributing, while criminal illegals escape into sanctuary cities. The left speaks of humanitarian concerns, but in fact sees the issue in political terms – a source of votes they want to protect. Resolving the issue would deprive them of a political cause.

To divert attention from their own weaknesses, demagogues find someone or some group to blame for woes experienced: In Trump’s case, apathetic Republicans, disingenuous Democrats, Mexican illegals and Chinese exporters. Mr. Trump offers sound bites rather than proposals that have merit. For example, building a fence almost two thousand miles long is unrealistic, as is the prospect of rounding up and deporting ten to fifteen million illegal residents. And so is the prospect of imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. We know that border security is an issue and that there are illegals who have become criminals. The border can be enhanced with more personnel and better technology. It doesn’t require Mr. Trump to construct a wall. Sanctuary cities could and should be eliminated and the million or so illegals currently in our prisons could and should be deported. Placing tariffs on Chinese imports may sound appealing, but would negatively impact global trade and would harm our already too-slow-growing economy. The Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 was one of the root causes of the Great Depression.

Mr. Trump has argued that his personal wealth means that he is not obligated to any special interest or lobbyist. Believe that at your peril. He and his business interests are inextricably tied to government. He is a lobbyist. His businesses are dependent on tax breaks and on regulations designed to inhibit competition. If only the rich ran for office, we would live in a plutocracy. Political campaigns consume money, but that is no reason why the talented and aspirant should be denied the opportunity because of a lack of personal wealth. The mixture of money and politics dates back centuries. We should, however, demand full disclosure, complete transparency as to who gives how much to whom. Congress should pass a bill that removes the tax-exempt status for any group that fuels political campaigns – including all PACS and organizations like the Sierra Club and the NRA.

Businesses are profitable when efficiently managed, but democracy is cumbersome. It requires competency, but it is not meant to be efficient. It is meant to be fair. That fact has frustrated many White House occupants, including the current President. Freedom is not easy; it requires vigilance and nurturing. Running our government requires consideration for opposing opinions, the art of persuasion without intimidation and the willingness to compromise – not traits we see in the voluble and egotistical Mr. Trump, nor are they characteristics possessed by Mr. Obama.

Accused of not being “nice,” Mr. Trump responded by saying nice is not necessary and in fact is a hindrance. We need people, he says, who can get things done. That may be – Hitler was efficient in dispatching Jews to extermination camps and Benito Mussolini got trains to run on time – if that is what we want, which I am sure it is not. But nice also refers to character – a person true to their word who will stand on principle, an individual with moral standing who is respected and respectful; one who can be trusted. In my opinion, Mr. Trump fails when those standards are applied. As a conservative, it is my hope that he fails in his bid for the nomination.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"The Iran Nuclear Deal - Obama's Folly"

                       Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Iran Nuclear Deal – Obama’s Folly”
August 24, 2015

The more we learn about the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by President Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry, the more farcical it appears. Frightening is a better word. Iran with a bomb is a scary prospect. It is because of that image that the Obama Administration argues so forcibly that there is no other option short of war. If he is correct – that if in befriending Iran they will enter the ‘community of nations’ – then the deal is worth supporting. But is he and will they?

The public responses of Iranian leaders indicate no willingness to change. If anything, they have become more confrontational and contemptuous. This agreement has a time limit. Iran will be able to continue nuclear research and spin centrifuges. They will have clear sailing to get a bomb once the treaty terminates in fifteen years; so everything depends on altering their behavior. Other nations in the Middle East, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will not stand by; thus the probability of proliferation has increased. As well, Russia wants desperately to recapture her Cold War role. Instability in the region provides opportunities. A hundred billion dollars will be released for the use by Iran’s leaders – for purposes of funding terrorism, and military purchases of missiles, nuclear detonators and offensive weapons. No one expects the money will be used for the welfare of the Iranian people.

Mr. Obama prefers to operate unilaterally, relying on a small cadre of advisors. He makes little effort to consult with Congress, especially with members of the opposition. He presented the deal to the American people as a Hobson’s choice: that, short of war, there was no other alternative. That argument has been dismissed as balderdash. For example, the sanctions were working and could have been tightened. The United States could have increased domestic oil production, keeping pressure on oil prices. Covert operators could have infiltrated Iran, not for purposes of sabotage (though that might have worked as well), but to support dissidents. Iran is a country of 77 million people whose history dates back thousands of years. Inevitably, there are some who are unhappy. In the summer of 2009 thousands of Iranians rose up in what was called a “Green” Movement, a term that recalled the “Green” Revolution of 1979 when the Shah was overthrown. It presented an opportunity for the Obama Administration and a crisis for then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Obama did not seize the opportunity and for Mr. Ahmadinejad a crisis was averted.

Like most Presidents (and most people), Mr. Obama cares about his legacy. He wants history to remember him positively. While the United States has been experiencing the slowest economic recovery in the post-War period, Mr. Obama and his acolytes point to the Affordability Care Act and Dodd Frank – grand experiments, though with questionable results. Internationally, the Middle East is in greater turmoil than when he took office, and relations with Russia and China are the worst since the collapse of the Soviet Union. So Mr. Obama opens the door to Communist leaders in Cuba, who deny basic rights to their populace, and he seeks an agreement with Iran, the world’s foremost promoter of terror.

Typically, advice and consent of the Senate is sought in cases like this. Executive and Congressional negotiations are conducted quietly. When a controversial deal is announced, both parties will have had privately expressed their differences and some resolution will have been gained. It is what allows the engine of government to hum. When Iraq was invaded in 2003, a majority of Democrats voted with Republicans to give President Bush the greenlight. Since, they have become revisionists, but collegiality is not Mr. Obama preferred route. While blame can be spread around for the dissonance regarding the Iranian deal, the buck, as President Truman was wont to say, stops at the White House.

One of the more damning news items that has appeared recently concerns the “side deal” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA is an arm of the United Nations and is tasked with inspecting member’s nuclear weapons. A report from the Associated Press tells that a draft of one of the side deals allows Iran to use its own inspectors at the secret Parchin nuclear site, a military complex long suspected of being home to Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile research and development programs. Apparently (and inexplicably), under the rules, the IAEA is able to negotiate “secret” agreements, as to inspections. Apart from Iran, none of the other signatories to the nuclear deal (Britain, China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) have access to these side deals. None, in fact, have seen the terms of this deal. This is akin to Lance Armstrong conducting his own drug tests and then calling in the results to the USADA. This deal is “trust, but verify,” but without the “verify” – and “trust” relies on one of the most despotic and untrustworthy regimes the world has known.

Both the House and the Senate will likely vote no on this treaty. But, it also appears there will not be enough votes to override a Presidential veto. Regardless, it is likely we have reached a point of no return. Making the most of a bad deal is probably our only option. Mr. Obama, in his preemptive way, took the treaty to the UN, which overwhelmingly supported it. This was before Congress had their say. Sanctions are already being lifted. Re-imposing them would be virtually impossible. Though it has been denied by the Russians, Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani visited Moscow in late July, in violation of a travel ban issued by the UN Security Council. No one at the UN or in the Administration seems to care.

The answers to the questions posed in the first paragraph are ‘no’ and ‘no.’ This deal is worse than no deal. Nevertheless, the world will have to make the most of a nuclear treaty that favors Iran. The genie has escaped. We had all better hope that the UN, the IAEA and the United States are more vigilant and tougher than they have been. We had better cross our fingers that Iran changes. Because the Iran we know with a bomb will be a disaster for the Middle East and the world. We didn’t have to be in this position. It was ego and one man’s concern for his legacy that got us here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Political Correctness and Conformity"

                      Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Political Correctness and Conformity”
August 20, 2015

The 1950s are remembered as a time of conformity. The War was over as was the Depression. We could focus on our wants, not just our needs. The Cold War meant we had a common enemy in Communism. Those who showed an inclination to be pro-Soviet were condemned. People generally abided by commonly accepted rules of behavior. That era is memorialized in books like Sloan Wilson’s “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit” and “The Organization Man” by William Whyte, by TV shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver and movies like Mr. Blandings builds his Dream House, with all-American Hollywood stars: Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. Etiquette and civility were de rigueur. It was a period protected by a political system that reflected mainstream America. Today, many idealize those years and look back on that time with longing fondness.

But conformity hid an uglier America that consisted of poverty, racism, sexism and alienation. Television was in its infancy. If one lived in Fairfield County, one had little concept of the way people lived in Appalachia or Watts. If one was White and lived in the Pacific Northwest, one had no contact with those in Little Rock or Harlem. Class differences were distinct. “People,” as the saying then went, “knew their place.” Young women were expected to be proper. If an unmarried teen-age girl became pregnant, she was whisked out of sight until an illegal abortion could be performed or the newborn baby given up for adoption.

Conformity means little room for differences in opinions. The McCarthy hearings, which dominated the early post-War years, showed the harm done when dissent is censured. The nastiness of Senator Joseph McCarthy was allowed to percolate until finally, in 1954, Army attorney Joseph Welch rhetorically asked the Senator, “Have you no sense of decency?” Even earlier there had been challenges. “Catcher in the Rye,” J.D. Salinger’s coming-of-age novel was published in July 1951, and a year later Ralph Ellison wrote “Invisible Man.” Both were considered blasphemous. The 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause was thought of as scandalous, because the main characters came from “good families.”

Nevertheless, the conformity of the 1950s came to an end – at first gradually and then with accelerating speed, culminating in the late 1960s, with campus protests, civil rights marches and anti-war demonstrations. In the years that followed, campuses once again nurtured those who dared be different. Opposition and diversity of opinions became common.

But that period of relative intellectual freedom began to erode, as political correctness invaded campuses, Conformity returned, but in a different guise. Today, it evidences itself through politically correctness. It is seen most notably in our universities, but also in the speech of the political Left. In the 1950s, it was the “establishment” – the business and banking communities, the country club set, Republicans. This time conformists reside in universities, places in which those of differing persuasions are excluded. They are the California environmentalists, West Side residents and, again, the country club set, but now limited to places like Connecticut. This time it is Democrats – defenders of the liberal Left – who demand conformance to their policies.

Conformity leads to contempt and intolerance. In its worst form, it manifests itself among Islamic extremists who rape, brutalize and kill disbelievers. In a lesser way, but insidious in its subtlety and of more immediacy to us, it is rampant on American campuses. Political correctness is well-intentioned. It is a desire to be inoffensive to those singled out as different – victims, if you will, of the alleged barbaric behavior of society. But it implies superior intellect. It is based on a “group-think” mentality. It caters to the supercilious. It will be ubiquitous during the Paris climate talks this fall. It reflects an arrogance that demands allegiance.

Walter Williams, in a column last Tuesday, wrote of a visit to Oberlin College by Christina Hoff Sommers, an avowed feminist, former philosophy professor and scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. Because her research did not accord with accepted views, trigger warnings were issued. Her presence on campus, it was alleged, was “a form of violence.” Thirty students, along with the college “therapy” dog retired to a safe room, with soft music, crayons and coloring books! (The annual cost to attend Oberlin in the 2014/15 year was $63,696. Is this what parents expect in return?) Keep in mind; the same folks that are protective of Oberlin’s fragile female students are the ones pushing women to be allowed to serve in combat. Should we laugh or cry?

In the past few years, college administrators have retreated to bunkhouses, intimidating those who would challenge the status quo. In the 1950s, it was the “beat” generation – the artistic world of musicians, artists, writers and poets – that challenged authority. This time, students, administrators and most teachers are on the same side. It was the Tea Party that took up the cudgel to defend the right to speak against the nabobs of normalcy that are found on politically correct campuses, and that exist in the cronyism that is a consequence of big government, big business and big labor. This threat of an ideological and imperious conformance reflects a growing dissatisfaction with Washington and helps explain the appeal of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Society is at risk whenever conformity becomes pervasive. It conjures memories of Hitler’s storm troopers, or China’s Red Guard. It explains our experience with McCarthyism sixty-five years ago and the anti-intellectualism prevalent on campuses today. Colleges and universities are the laboratories that prepare the next generation of leaders. To the extent they all march to the same drummer, it portends political and social conformity in the years ahead. Strong leadership can calm turbulent waters; there is comfort in knowing that one is being looked after – think of “Julia” and the “pajama boy.”  But that is the argument every despot has always used. It suggests, as Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “a government of wolves over sheep.” Freedom is not easy and quelling dissension can seem the proper response. But doing so leads inexorably toward authoritarianism. Leadership and political ideas should always be challenged. We are better off with a querulous Congress than one mired in unity. There is no perfect society or political philosophy. Life is about the quest, not the destination. We should welcome those who question, not condemn them as ignoramuses. Conformity is the enemy of liberty.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Hillary's New College Compact"

                     Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Hillary’s New College Compact”
August 17, 2015

To bastardize one of literature’s best opening lines: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a candidate for the Presidency will say and promise anything. Hillary Clinton desperately wants the job her husband once held. But she is mired in scandals from e-mails to Benghazi; she is deemed untrustworthy by a majority of Americans; an announced Socialist is nipping at her coattails and has, in fact, taken a lead among New Hampshire voters. So Mrs. Clinton seizes an issue dear to the hearts of millennials and generation Z’s (and even closer to that of their parents!) – the cost of higher education – and proposes a government answer to a problem caused by government.

Student debt, at $1.2 trillion, is a hurdle for students and the newly graduated. It bodes ill for our nation. In the past ten years, student loan debt has tripled. The cost of a college education, over the past thirty years, has risen at three times the rate of inflation. Since lenders price loans based on default and missed payments, interest rates on these loans are high. The ease with which government is willing to fund students is the principal cause of higher tuitions. While student loans have allowed many to attend college that otherwise could not have, those loans represent cash flow to colleges and universities.

Between 1975 and 2005, total spending by American higher educational institutions, stated in constant dollars, tripled to more than $325 billion per year. Despite a total U.S. population that has increased 15% since 2000 and a four-year college enrollment that has slightly exceeded population trends, tuitions increased 89% during those same fifteen years. Education, which represented 2.6% of GDP in 2000, had risen to 3.2% of GDP by 2010. Has that spending produced more qualified college graduates? Are we a more productive nation?

Mrs. Clinton’s staff estimates that her proposal will cost $350 billion over the next ten years, meaning it would consume less than one percent of government expenditures over that period. (Those numbers, however, are subject to upward revision. Another truth, as elemental as Jane Austen’s precept alluded to in the first sentence, is that politicians underestimate the cost of their proposals.) The largest part of the proposed budget (about $175 billion) would be offered to States in exchange for a no-loan promise from States to public universities. The idea being that loans to students at public universities would be converted to grants; so that students can graduate debt-free. There is a catch. The New York Times noted on Friday: “The Clinton proposal would greatly increase the federal government’s role in higher education.” Other uses of the balance would be to reduce interest rates and provide debt relief for students, graduates and drop-outs.

There is no free lunch. A study by the New York Federal Reserve found that every dollar in aid and subsidized student loans led colleges to increase tuition by $0.65. What Mrs. Clinton sells as debt relief to students and their parents are in fact additional funds for colleges and universities. What is billed as “free” has costs. Who will bear those costs?  Mrs. Clinton answers: billionaires and millionaires. Perhaps? But keep in mind complexity in the tax code is a friend to the super-rich. Far more likely is that the program will cost more than its advocates suggest and its burden will fall primarily on the backs of the middle class. Remember, public spending, a touchstone of the Obama Administration, has been accompanied by a widening in income and wealth gaps. Worse, it will do nothing to rein-in ever-rising tuitions. In fact, as history tells us, it is more likely that college costs will continue to outpace inflation.

No one wants to deny aspirational and deserving students the opportunity for a college education. But, to put current costs in perspective, allow me to relate my own experiences. In the spring of 1961, I left college – the University of New Hampshire – after completing one year of credits over two years of study. During that time away, I worked, met the woman who would become my wife and did my six months of active military service. Changed, I returned to college in February 1963. Given my earlier performance, my family rightfully refused to pay my tuition, room and board. However, I was able to pay my way with a variety of jobs and graduated in February 1965, married and having completed three years of credits in two. I don’t believe that what I was able to do then would be possible today.

When I returned to UNH, a college credit (four were required for one liberal arts course) cost $11.50 for an in-State student. Today, that college credit costs $585.00 – an increase of 50 times. Working a forty-hour week, which I did performing such odd jobs as driving a school bus, writing a sports column for “Foster’s Daily Democrat,” and working in a sandwich shop, I made $50.00 a week at the minimum wage, or $900.00 over the eighteen weeks a semester lasted. That easily covered my four courses which cost $184.00, with money left over for room and board. Today, a minimum wage of $8.00 an hour would only generate $5,760 over the eighteen weeks, not enough to cover the four-course tuition expense of $9,360. ($15 per hour would not be enough to cover room and board, as well as tuition.) Colleges have priced their product too high. Were it not for federally guaranteed student loans, economic laws of supply-demand would have kept tuition costs down. Government interference corrupted the process.

Easy money has not been the only factor in steeply rising tuitions. Administrative budgets have ballooned. A 2011 article in “Washington Monthly” by Benjamin Ginsberg noted that between 1975 and 2005 the administrator/student ratio increased, from one administrator for every eighty-four students to one for every sixty-eight students. The professional staff (admission officers, tech specialists, development officers, etc.) ratio expanded from one for every fifty students to one for every twenty-one. Unions played a role. Their interest is in expanding their ranks, with little concern for the expense borne by parents and students. Amenities like student centers and dorm rooms are noticeably nicer than when I was a student.  But, life-style pleasantries must be measured against common sense. The best book written on the subject of undue administrative expenses is Minding the Gap by Richard Soghoian, Headmaster at New York’s Columbia Grammar School. I recommend it.

Besides Dr. Soghoian’s practical guide, there have been alternative proposals – from freezing tuitions at state universities, to allowing students use federal aid on programs outside of traditional colleges, to permitting students deduct the cost of college from future earnings. MOOCs (massive open on-line courses) are one free-market response. Mrs. Clinton is right that student loans are a concern, but spending more federal money will not solve the problem. Students, not faculty or administrators, should be our primary concern.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"The Debate"

                       Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Debate”
August 13, 2015

For a Party whose obituary has been written, Republican candidates showed themselves to be a lively, diverse and talented group. Among the seventeen on stage Thursday evening were a woman, an African-American, an Indian-American and two Hispanics. They ranged in age from 44 to 69. They included Senators and Governors, both current and past, business people and a brain surgeon. They are more representative of today’s polyglot United States than the bland, old, White folk who comprise those running on the Democrat ticket. Like Mark Twain once wrote about himself, death notices for the GOP are premature.

The debate continued in editorials, columns, on talk shows and in the blogosphere. While a Gallup Poll of likely Republican voters determined Marco Rubio and Scott Walker the winners, Donald Trump became the most discussed participant. While he enjoys belittling others, Mr. Trump has a thin skin. His responses to Megyn Kelly’s questions were incendiary and ungracious. He is not a nice man. Nevertheless, he continues to feed off the discontent that seems pervasive – for some good reasons – in much of the Country. Throughout the debate, Mr. Trump looked like he had bitten into a lemon that was especially sour. He is not my choice and I suspect his fame will fade, but I can understand why so many are fed up with Washington and the cronyism that has become worse over the past six and a half years. The Left, of course, loves the possibility of “the Donald,” as a split among Republicans raises their prospects. In the same manner, Republicans cheer on Bernie Sanders, because he might do the same to Democrats. Both are in the position to become spoilers or king-makers. Which will it be?

Having watched the prime-time debate, I thought the questions too long and the answers pre-fabricated. When the moderators delved into personal matters or asked about God – questions designed either to embarrass someone disliked or to showcase a favorite – he (or she) did the audience a disfavor. It is important to get a sense of a candidate’s moral character, but that is best done indirectly. Keep in mind, the ability to lie is a characteristic common to politicians.

What we should learn is where the candidates stand on critical issues facing average Americans. What are their plans to grow the economy and create jobs? What about taxes and regulation? What will they do to improve education for poorer Americans? Where do they stand on immigration? What policies will they pursue to shrink the income and wealth gaps that have widened under President Obama? How will they deal with entitlements that threaten to swamp us, yet allow the destitute, the aged and those incapable of taking care of themselves to lead dignified lives? How will they strengthen the family and how do they believe happiness should be promoted? What will he or she do about Islamic terrorism, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China? If time is a problem, then let each debate address only one or two issues.

The debate was spirited, with Senator Paul Rand mixing it up with Donald Trump and Governor Chris Christie. While those exchanges lightened the atmosphere, the purpose of debate is to inform, not entertain. While some thought Bush looked stone-faced, I thought he seemed moderate and reasonable. Scott Walker, who can be lively, was subdued. Both seemed influenced by the man between them. The most impressive of the evening was Senator Rubio, whose youth and vibrancy were reminiscent of John Kennedy, but without the Press’s imprimatur of royalty. Humor, which is underrated by politicians, was apparent in Dr. Ben Carson’s closing remarks. He spoke of the “firsts” he had accomplished in brain surgery – separating Siamese Twins, operating on the brain of a fetus still in the womb and removing half a brain. Though, as to the latter he generated smiles when he suggested that obviously someone in Washington had been at work removing half brains for a long time.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (both 44) are criticized because of age and lack of experience. After all, critics note, look at what happened the last time we elected a first-term Senator as President. But it wasn’t age or inexperience that became Mr. Obama’s burden; it has been his ideology. He campaigned as a centrist and unifier; yet he has governed from the far left and has served to divide. He sees the United States as the last of the colonial empires, a country whose power and influence should be weakened. He is Delilah to a nation that is Samson. Keep in mind, one of the Country’s greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, came to office after serving one term in the House of Representatives. It is character, wisdom and judgment – not experience – that counts.

While it was obvious that the candidates were competing for primacy, they enjoyed the spot-light. Twenty-four million people tuned in to watch the prime-time debate – a record for a primary. In 2012, 67.2 million people tuned in to watch President Obama debate Mitt Romney, but that debate was broadcast on cable and network TV. Even the 5:00PM debate had an audience of 6 million, a respectable showing for a debate broadcast at 2:00PM Pacific Coast time. People like fun, so Trump may have been a reason for the turnout. But I suspect the explanation goes deeper. It has to do with the alienation many feel toward a federal government that increasingly seems more intent on fattening itself (collectively and individually), rather than focusing on concerns of average Americans: a good education; a job that brings opportunity and respect; fair and equal treatment under laws that are color and creed-blind; simplified tax and regulatory systems that are not designed to help the politically connected, and the freedom to live lives happily without being harassed unnecessarily by government.

What the debates will achieve (though there is no sign of it yet) is the winnowing of the field. This was the first of eleven scheduled. The next will take place on September 16 at the Ronald Reagan Library and will be hosted by that organization, along with CNN and the Salem Media Group. As the number of candidates becomes fewer, the more penetrating should be the questions and the more detailed should be the answers. Democrats look at this herd and see them as myopically focused. But that attitude either deliberately obfuscates Republican responses to real concerns, or it implies a misunderstanding of the candidates’ policy recommendations.

Washington has become a fraternal order of like-minded men and women who see public service as a necessary step to private wealth. Above all, it is this cronyism that has created dissatisfaction on both the left and the right. It is the reason so many Republicans have committed to run for President. It explains the popularity of those like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The debates will be revealing and may help cleanse the Augean Stables that are Washington. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 10, 2015

"Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Iran, the Bomb and Our Military"

                      Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Iran, the Bomb and Our Military”
August 10, 2015

The War in the Pacific raged for fourteen years. It began when the Imperial Army of the Empire of Japan invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931 and ended on September 2, 1945 when Japan accepted the Potsdam Conference terms of unconditional surrender. While the end had been in sight for several months, it came into focus on August 6, 1945 when ‘Little Boy,’ an American-produced uranium-based Atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima. With no response from Japanese authorities, ‘Fat Boy,’ a plutonium-based Atomic bomb was exploded over Nagasaki a little after 11:00AM, on Thursday August 9. That was enough for the Emperor. By War’s end millions were dead, including 1.6 million Japanese.

In his 1946 book Hiroshima, John Hersey wrote of the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima. His descriptions helped keep the Cold War “cold,” but the damage those bombs caused should be measured in relation to the carnage Japan’s Imperial Army inflicted on Asia, especially China. The 340,000 people who died as a consequence of those two bombs is a lot, but pales when compared to the 4,000,000 Chinese who died during the Japanese occupation and to the more than 400,000 Allied casualties (mostly Americans) in the Pacific and on its islands.

Truman’s decision to drop the bomb is still debated. But, in my opinion he was right. War is not pretty. It carries no romance. Operation Downfall – the proposed invasion of Japan – was scheduled for the fall of 1945. My father, who had turned 35 two days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, was on a ship returning to the U.S. from Italy. Despite his age and the fact he had four children, he did not have enough points to be discharged. After a one month’s home leave, he was to be ordered to the Pacific to train for the planned invasion of Japan. Instead he was sent to Colorado to be mustered out. Listening to his comrades’ rehash their experiences, my father wrote my mother on October 19: “There would have been very few of us left if it had lasted much longer.” It was a chilling admission, when I read the letter fifty years after it was written. The invasion would have cost, according to estimates at the time, half a million American lives and at least twice as many wounded. Would my father have made it home? There is no way to know, but thank God (and Harry Truman and the Atom bomb) he didn’t have to find out.

This is worth considering when we look at the nuclear deal the Obama Administration negotiated with Iran. The agreement was, to borrow Niall Ferguson’s term, based on conjecture – “buying time would improve the relative strategic position.” But will it? Would not strengthening sanctions have worked? Could conventional weapons destroy Iran’s nuclear program? We will never know. What we do know is that in ten or fifteen years Iran will have nuclear weapons.

The reason we have a military is not to conquer peoples or countries. The reason is to preserve peace, ward off aggressors, and defend allies. It may be ironic, but a strong military is necessary to maintain peace. Fortune has made us – a democracy – the singular power. Our role means we must act as the world’s policeman, and that requires a significant military presence. Without police, anarchy would prevail. We can have allies as partners, but there is no one else who can lead. We certainly have faults, but the world has never known a nation so rich, strong and diverse, yet with such a moral sense. We cannot pretend there is no evil, that there are not those who would do us and others harm. We cannot pretend that if we shut our eyes bad guys will morph into good guys. There will always be evil, and the strong will always be tested. We must be resolute and prepared. If we are, the less damage will be done to ourselves and our friends.

“The deal with Iran,” said President Obama defending the nuclear agreement negotiated by John Kerry, “is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.” Yet that is exactly what it is; for Mr. Obama also said that his “hope is that building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently…” To agree to the deal just concluded, Mr. Obama must feel that the Iranians will change their behavior. But on what basis? The Mullahs, after thirty-six years in power, have given no hint that their behavior will change. “Death to America” persists as a slogan, just as the annihilation of Israel continues as policy.

The world remains dangerous. The International Institute of Strategic Studies notes that fatalities due to armed conflict have increased four fold between 2010 and 2014. The number of terrorist attacks quadrupled between 2006 and 2013, with 93% of them attributable to Muslim groups. Iran has been the principal sponsor of Islamic terrorism. The deal just concluded frees up between $100 and $150 billion that can be used to continue to foment terrorism. It surely will be.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a sobering op-ed in last Friday’s Financial Times. He wrote of the marvel that was seventy years without another Hiroshima, and wonders whether the world will be able to go another seventy years without unleashing a nuclear holocaust. During the Cold War fear of MAD (mutually assured destruction) kept the Soviet Union and the United States at bay – neither one willing to risk decimation, and each able to keep respective allies in line. Today, possessors of nuclear weapons are cut from a different cloth – think Pakistan and North Korea. Mr. Haass writes of the deal with Iran, a deal that allows the country to “keep most of the prerequisites of a large nuclear weapons program, and to add to its inventory of centrifuges and supplies of enriched uranium in ten or fifteen years respectively.” Nuclear proliferation in the region seems almost a certainty.

The world did not stand up to Japan in 1931 and it did not stand up to Hitler’s Germany in 1938. Had it, things would have been different. Would they have been better? We can never know, but it’s hard to imagine how they could have been worse.

Today, we have let victory in Iraq deteriorate into chaos. The same is happening in Afghanistan. We did not stand up to Syria. We have not stood up to ISIS. In offering Iran a way off sanctions, is President Obama bringing “peace in our time?” Perhaps for the nonce, but we risk proceeding down the path we trod in the 1930s. Appeasement of dictators does not bring peace and, while it is tempting to retreat within our comfortable borders, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to world peace. We may not always succeed, but we must try. That means maintaining a strong military, not for the purpose of conquest, but to thwart those who would make war. It may seem counter intuitive, but peace is the mission of a democracy’s military.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Climate - Big Government's Trojan Horse"

                      Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Climate – Big Government’s Trojan Horse”
August 6, 2015

I rise early when at home. The outside temperature is checked. On summer mornings, if it is below 65°, the windows are opened and attic fans turned on. Fresh air courses through the house. After a couple of hours, with the summer sun rising and immersing us in its radiant heat, the windows are shut and the fans turned off. The air conditioning goes back to work…polluting the outside air. But being comfortable adds to my productivity and improves my outlook. It is one of thousands of trade-offs we make each day, like President Obama flying off on Air Force One to make a speech about excessive carbon dioxide emissions..

Growing up in rural New Hampshire, I remember old-timers saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” That was true seventy years ago and still is today. Weather is unpredictable. Before my mother went to the village she made a list, not because she was concerned about emitting greenhouse gasses, but because time and money were important. Her efforts at conservation were driven by self-interest, not in obeisance to a government mandate.

As a society’s wealth increases, so does its awareness and concern for the world around it. New York City skies that were smog-filled seventy years ago are now clear. Rivers that were filled with effluence are clean. Much of this happened before Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. This is not to say that the EPA has not been a force for good over its 45-year life. It has, but like all bureaucracies, as it aged it became bigger, more powerful and more intrusive. Its tentacles reach deep into our lives and touch, for example, every small body of water, even those too small for toy boats. Commonsense has given way to “Big Brother.”

I am not an environmentalist, but I love the environs in which I live. I recognize the responsibility of stewardship that comes with the privilege of living along the Connecticut River’s estuary. I have witnessed the changing seasons and seen the immense power of nature. When I water the garden, with the sun just appearing and the moon yet in the sky, I am as one with nature. I go so far as to assign anthropomorphic traits to the roses, peonies and irises that are the targets of my hose. If I miss a day they are resentful, but forgiving when I return the following morning.

One cannot enjoy nature without appreciating the climate within which it lies; nor can anyone who spends time outdoors not realize climate’s ever-changing nature. Change is indigenous. These thoughts occurred as I listened to President Obama’s talk in which he laid out new rules that give additional powers to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. He seemed to get emotional, which I admire, but the cynic in me said he was acting. At any rate, I resented his arrogance and didactic tone. This Plan is not about slowing the rise of the oceans or healing the planet; it is not about letting his grandchildren swim in the oceans, climb a mountain or see a glacier. This they will be able to do. The Plan is about harnessing the natural freedom of people, making them more subservient to an ever-more pervasive state. This is about power and wealth redistribution.

Mr. Obama says his proposal will create jobs. It will – in the renewable energy field. But it will cost more jobs in fossil fuels, especially coal but also in fracking. Electricity costs will rise. As laws like the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank, and as agencies like the EPA are given more powers, growth becomes victim. We are living through the longest period of substandard economic growth in my lifetime. Mr. Obama is the antithesis of Ronald Reagan. The wealthy have done well; it has been the poor and the middle class – the very people Mr. Obama claims to help – that have suffered. Ramping up growth and creating more opportunities for work is what will bring them happiness – and with it, greater appreciation for the world we live in.

In the battle over who or what is responsible for climate change, extremists on the Left have seized the podium. They have discarded civil discourse. Their goal is obvious. Climate is a Trojan Horse for government. John Steele Gordon wrote recently: “Belief in anthropogenic climate change is a heaven-sent opportunity for the Left to vastly increase government control over the economy.” There is no one, to my knowledge, that denies climate changes. “Climate change deniers” is a rallying cry for the Left. It is meant to evoke images of doltish rubes who dare to question the wisdom of their betters. The Left is adamant in declaring that the science is “settled.” In his 2014 State of the Union, President Obama said, “The science is settled. Climate change is a fact.” His words were oxymoronic. Science is never “settled.” What we know today is subject to change tomorrow. His words were an ad hominem attack on skeptics, not about climate change per se, but suggesting those who oppose his proposals are no different from “Holocaust deniers.”

Reasonable people agree that climate change is real. They agree man bears some responsibility. They disagree as to how to allocate fault: what portion is man’s and what is nature’s?  Climate has been changing since the Earth was formed billions of years ago. In the last forty years, the Left has claimed that man-caused effects on climate have left the planet cooling, warming and now just changing. Mr. Obama implied that climate change had intensified storms and worsened forest fires, which is not factually true. Using imperfect knowledge to make policy decisions regarding a large sector of the economy risks big financial dislocations. Yet that is what the President proposed. More than four trillion kilowatt hours of electricity are produced annually in the United States, with coal producing about 40% of the total. Shuttering those plants will have consequences. The Heritage Foundation estimates 500,000 jobs will be lost, along with $100 billion in lost output. According to the Administration’s own data, electricity prices will increase.

Electricity demand in the U.S. has declined in the past seven years by 2.6%, despite a population that has increased by 14 million, a GDP that has risen by $1.3 trillion and the proliferation of hand-held electronic devices. The reason: more efficient household appliances, homes, office buildings, factory floors and longer battery life. Competition breeds positive results. But, despite the decline in usage, the cost of electricity has risen more than double the rate of inflation. Last January, in my part of Connecticut, the price rose 26 percent. For this we can thank the EPA.

The United States, with 5% of the world’s population produced, in 2014, 15% of the carbon dioxide, while generating 22.5% of global GDP. We have become more environmentally friendly. We live more comfortably than most of the world. Should the rest achieve what we have, the world would be a better place. Mr. Obama, unshackle our economy. Our people, the world and the environment would be better for it…and now I need to shut the windows and turn off the fans.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Month That Was - July 2015

                  Sydney M. Williams
                                                                                                                             August 3, 2015
The Month That Was
July 2015

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
                                                                                                                George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
                                                                                                                “Man and Superman,” 1905

July is the month that commemorates our independence from Great Britain. The Declaration begins with the memorable words by Thomas Jefferson: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another…” The Declaration of Independence speaks to the rights of man that were endowed by our Creator, and that among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

While not specifically mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, honor and virtue were traits that defined the character of the Founding Fathers. Two events this past month indicate how far we have strayed from that time. One was the secret filming at Planned Parenthood where doctors casually and callously negotiated the price of fetal tissues while sipping wine over lunch. It was revolting. Most of us recognize the value of scientific research, but most of us also see life as sacred. Reconciling the sanctity of life and the research that helps sustain it is not easy, but that is one function of Planned Parenthood. To listen to them defend what they did on legal grounds, but ignore the question of ethics was disrespectful and dispiriting. All human remains should be treated with respect. It was obvious that, to the people at Planned Parenthood, the fetuses discussed never represented life – hearts and lungs could have been carburetors or fan belts.

The other was Tom Brady’s reaction to the NFL’s upholding his suspension. Brady had to have known that the footballs he was using were deflated. He is the best in the business, an idol to youth and beloved by his fans. To compare what he did to wife-beaters or steroid users is not the point. All violators of rules and customs deserve to be punished, but in Mr. Brady’s case it is especially wrong, because there was no need. He is the game’s best quarterback. Yet he cheated. He deserves no compassion. His defenders are equally devoid of honor and virtue. Have we lost all standards of a civilized society?

Now that I’ve got that off my chest we can move on to people and events that made news during the month. And July was eventful! The spacecraft New Horizons darted past Pluto. In a rebuke to European leaders, Greek citizens voted not to accede to the bailout terms imposed by creditors. The Obama Administration signed a deal with Iran that will affect his legacy – perhaps like Chamberlain’s? A “lone wolf” Islamic terrorist shot and killed four Marines and one U.S. Sailor in Chattanooga

The New Horizon spaceship was launched in 2006. It traveled three billion miles, at a speed of 31,000 miles per hour. It came within 7,000 miles of Pluto. In order to send back the pictures meant pinpoint timing and accuracy. After nine years of travel, it reached the optimum spot within 100 seconds of plan! Its success is a testament to the men and women who work at NASA. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born U.S. citizen shot and killed five servicemen in Tennessee. Since 1992, military personnel have not been permitted to carry firearms when on domestic bases. If you recall, that was one reason Major Nidal Hasan was able to kill so many at Fort Hood in 2009. It makes no difference whether Abdulazeez was a “lone wolf” or acting under orders from a terrorist organization, an armed Marine should have been able to stop him.  Not allowing active duty military personnel to carry weapons is an open invitation to another such incident. Another nut with a gun, John Houser, shot and killed two young women in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana before turning the gun on himself. The Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage. My only objection to the decision is that I believe change in society’s social mores are best determined by popular vote, rather than by the opinion of nine individuals, or, in this case, five.

At least three more Republicans joined the field for the Republican nomination: Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor John Kasich of Ohio and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. With seventeen entrants, it looks like the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. However, by year’s end the field should resemble the Belmont. Conventional wisdom says that a crowded field is bad for Republicans. I am not so sure. It shows a Party with a lot of breadth and depth. While there are numerous issues from immigration, education and the nuclear deal with Iran, the overriding concern for most people is the economy, which has put-putted along at a 2% annual rate since the recovery began six years ago – a third less growth than happened under George W. Bush and only half that achieved by Mr. Reagan and Mr. Clinton. Mr. Obama says he speaks for the poor and downtrodden, yet his policies have made the poor poorer and the rich richer. Republicans sense opportunity, which is why the field is crowded. As they say at the Olympics, which Boston during the month won the right to avoid, “Let the games begin!”

In going to the United Nation’s Security Council before Congress, the President assured that his deal with Iran will come to fruition. Sanctions, the only lever the West had in dealing with the Mullahs, are already being lifted. European leaders have begun meeting with their Iranian counterparts. A ‘snap-back’ of sanctions, as commonsense tells us, is not possible. They are already off the table. Iran is the world’s prime sponsor of terrorism. Globally, terrorism was up 35% in 2014, on top of a 43% rise in 2013. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior (which seems unlikely) the Middle East is going to get a lot more difficult for the next President. Speaking of which, Mr. Obama made an odd comment when speaking to the perpetual leaders of African nations on his recent trip: “In eighteen months, I’m turning over the keys – I want to make sure I’m turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems the country faces and the world faces.” Was that a threat, or just an Obamaism?

Sixty-one percent of Greek voters voted “no” on a Referendum demanding more austerity by creditors. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who in June unfriended Angela Merkel on Facebook, found that ignoring the Referendum was a better alternative than adhering to it. Despite the current calm, Greece’s problems (and Tsipras’) are not over. Full diplomatic relations were restored between the U.S. and Cuba – another incubator of terrorism. ISIS continued its march, killing 30 people in the Turkish town of Surac. As a NATO member, that attack may have consequences. According to a report from the Associated Press last month, American intelligence agencies have concluded that “ISIS is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the U.S. – led bombing campaign began a year ago.” Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzm├ín escaped from a maximum prison, with what appeared to be maximum help and minimum resistance. One of the first things he did was to issue a fatwa against Donald Trump who is prone to disparaging Hispanics, especially Mexicans who illegally enter the U.S.

U.S. stocks were modestly higher during the month, but the Shanghai Index declined 14.3%. The Emerging Market Index was down 6.3%, perhaps in sympathy with commodities, most all of which were lower. Crude oil futures were lower by 21.2%. The VIX, a measure of volatility, declined by a third. The Ten-year Treasury saw modest strength with the yield declining 14 basis points. The Federal Reserve met and stuck to their story: they are preparing for a modest increase – perhaps only because they want to be able to lower rates in the future. Globally, according to David Stockman, central banks’ balance sheets have risen from $3 trillion to $22 trillion over the past fifteen years, with most of that increase in the past seven years. When the history is written of the post-financial-crisis era, the central theme will be this spree of printing money at unprecedented rates and the extraordinary low interest rates that have been its consequence.

July was a big month for sports, with Wimbledon, the British Open and the United States’ women’s soccer team beating Japan to win the World Cup. In the latter, team captain Abby Wambach scored a hat trick in the first sixteen minutes of the game. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz were inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. The all-star game was played on the 14th in Cincinnati, with the American League winning 6-3. On the 28th, after being behind 5-0 in the first inning, the Yankees went on to beat the Texas Rangers 21-5.

The month had its quirky moments. In a case of moral justice,, an online website for spouses who want extracurricular activity in their lives, was hacked. Thirty-seven million users had their information compromised. The Site’s motto, “Life is short; have an affair,” was changed by “The Onion” to: “Have an affair; life will be long.” Divorce lawyers must be salivating! Walter James Palmer, a dentist in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and an avid hunter of big game, became the prey of Zimbabwe officials who want him extradited to face charges for killing ‘Cecil,’ a well known and beloved lion. An earth-like planet was discovered using the Kepler Space Telescope. The planet, Kepler 452B, is 1900 light years away, yet scientists were able to determine that it is 60% larger than earth and circles its sun every 385 days. Those who looked to the skies on Friday evening saw a “blue” moon, called blue because of its rarity – the second full moon in a month. The next one will be in January 2018.

Sixty years ago last month Disneyland opened on 160 acres in Anaheim, California. Medicaid was fifty years old in July. During their first full year they spent $1 billion. In 2015, they are projected to spend $500 billion. The Affordable Care Act increased enrollment in Medicaid; so that 20% of Americans (71 million people) are now covered by this state-sponsored plan. It was in July 1975 that the Communist Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. By the end of his four-year reign more than a million Cambodians were dead. July was also the 20th Anniversary of Srebrenica where Serbian soldiers slaughtered 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. 

August is upon us, the month that marks the end of summer for our children and grandchildren. Use the time wisely.