Monday, October 22, 2018

"When Means Become Confused with Ends"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“When Means Become Confused with Ends”
October 22, 2018

Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem,
in my opinion, to characterize our age.”
                                                                                                Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
                                                                                                Out of my Later Years, 1950

Most days, I read or skim five newspapers. Like many, I strive for some sort of balance. But it is difficult. Families and friends avoid politics for fear personal animosities will subsume relationships.  Partisanship is everywhere, especially in the media. Either we, as a people, have become reflective of the them, or they of us. We read and listen to one side; we ignore (and condemn)those who think differently. Think of our universities, network TV and late-night comedians. The consequence is that real news is hard to discern. We all have examples of a news item picked up by The Wall Street Journalthat is ignored or exaggerated by The New York Times, or vice versa. Editorial pages smack of hypocrisy, sanctimony, mendacity and schadenfreude, depending on which side of the story the editor finds him or herself. Often, I find myself – and I am sure I am not alone – tossing the papers aside in frustration and picking up a novel, a Wodehouse for its comic relief, or a Times crossword puzzle for its mental stimulation. I am not without prejudice, as you all know, so find myself wondering:why is the Left so consumed with hate? I know many of these people and many are friends. And I know they wonder:why am I so stupid, insensitive and obtuse? I don’t think I am, and my guess is that most of my friends are not filled with hate. But we have allowed extremists to define our opinions; and politicians, watching which way the clouds move, sail with the wind

The problem, as I see it, is that both sides fail to recognize that we, generally, have the same ends – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and all that encompasses). It is in the means to achieve common goals where we differ. In recent years, as rhetoric has amplified, a desired political end has justified not only nasty words but acts of violence, “whatever it takes,” as one Democrat put it. We saw it in the Senate Visitor’s Gallery during the Kavanaugh hearings and in restaurants that forced out Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Ted Cruz, among others. Listening to the bickering of Senators last month reminded one of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” “…where ignorant armies clash by night.” “Never argue with a fool,my father used to say, “for a passer-by could not tell which was the fool.” Like a lover’s quarrel, both parties may be at fault, but both parties are not equally at fault. Despite a mainstream media that would have us believe otherwise, it is the left that has elevated hateful discourse to new levels.

In a Wall Street Journalop-ed last September titled “Why the Left is Consumed with Hate,” Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institute explained what he thought was the answer: “The great crisis for the left today – the source of its angst and hatefulness – is its encroaching obsolescence.” Perhaps? I don’t know. In my opinion, part of that angst stems from the failure of the progressive Presidency of Barack Obama to leave a lasting legacy. Despite being elected President twice and remaining popular as an ex-President, Mr. Obama, over the course of his eight years in office, saw Democrats lose the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.  Worse, Democrats lost heavily in state and local elections. In 2008, there were twenty-eight Democrat governors and twenty-two Republican governors. Eight years later, Democrats had lost twelve governorships and Republicans had gained eleven. (Bill Walker of Alaska is an Independent.) During those same years, Democrats lost over a thousand state legislative seats. Mr. Obama may remain personally popular, but he destroyed the Democrat Party.

Nevertheless, with expectations high in 2016, Democrats felt their time had come. Mrs. Clinton tilted left, endorsing Pyrrhic victories, such as gender equality, transsexualism, abortion on demand, identity politics and liberalizing marijuana, while ignoring the economy, jobs and middle America’s, “deplorables.” Tasting victory, Mrs. Clinton tweeted that Mr. Trump must be a good loser. Results turned out otherwise. While Mr. Trump may not have been the most gracious of winners, Mrs. Clinton did turn out to be one of the sorest of losers. It would have been one thing to have lost to a mainstream Republican, like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, but to lose to a reality-TV star with orange hair and whose speech did not carry strains of the ivy league was too much for progressives who believed it was their destiny to transform America.

Gutter tactics, once the choice of a few, have gone mainstream. Mr. Trump is a fighter. He had witnessed what happened to those who acted civilly – like George W. Bush who was reviled and Mitt Romney who was splattered. Offering good counsel, Michelle Obama said, “When they(Republicans) go low, I go high,” but others in her Party ignored that advice. Eric Holder recommended kicking them if they went low. Mrs. Clinton said civility among Democrats would not return until Democrats regained control of Congress. And, remember how Mrs. Obama’s husband once said he would bring a gun to a knife fight? Such incivility is not new. In 1856, South Carolina pro-slavery Representative Preston Brooks (a Democrat) bludgeoned abolitionist Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (a Republican) with a cane. Nevertheless, there have always been those who stood for decency: “I could never divide myself from any man upon the difference of an opinion,” so wrote Sir Thomas Browne, on the eve of the English Revolution, in 1642[1]If only a Sir Thomas would appear today. 

While many of my generation grew up in ethnic neighborhoods, we were proud to be Americans. We had common goals regarding marriage and families, but we took different paths, and most of us ended in a place where we were content – sometimes after more than one marriage! We had differing goals regarding jobs and careers, reflecting differences in ambition, intelligence, athleticism and looks. But we had common beliefs in what America stood for – liberty, self-government, rule of law, freedom to express opinions and to worship, and respect and tolerance for those with whom we disagreed, and to do all this in a fiscally responsible manner. This faith in America was based on what we had studied in school. We read history. We studied people and events and learned of how thousands had died that others could live in freedom – that a Civil War had been fought to free enslaved Americans, but also for “a governmentof the people, by the people, for the people.” We were told civility and thrift were good and rudeness and indebtedness bad. We were taught that evil exists and that even good men can do bad things. We read of how our government came into being and how it works, and that it was – and is – not perfect, but unique, the best the world has yet devised. We learned that different people believed in achieving common goals – gender, racial and religious equality, freedoms to express opinions, better living standards, financial stability – but through different means. We learned that if we agree on the ends, we should be able to civilly debate the means.

Extremists on the left, however, say our goals are not the same, that conservatives lack compassion, that they want to put women back in aprons and Blacks back in chains. If that reflects the true feelings of Democrats, we are lost. If the refusal to accept election outcomes, is greater today than what the Country experienced in 1861 or 1933, then I fear we are lost. But I suspect that such naysayers are only a noisy fringe. There is a tendency to assume we live in unique, extraordinary times, that, for example, the 2018 midterm election is the most momentous of our lifetimes. Not to make light of the current elections (or even of the witches in Brooklyn who placed hexes on Donald Trump, Justice Kavanaugh and Mitch McConnell), I question the assumption. For together we have lived through a lot: The American Revolution; the War of 1812; the Mexican War of 1846; the Civil War; the panic of 1907; World War I; the stock market crash of 1929 and a decade of depression; Pearl Harbor and World War II; the Cold War; Vietnam; 1968, with its race riots and assassinations; the stock market crash of 1987; 9/11 and ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the credit collapse of 2008, and the assassinations of four Presidents – Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. Today’s concerns pale in comparison to what we have experienced and overcome. In his first inaugural, Abraham Lincoln, facing a far more divisive time than what we face today, wrote: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”     

That, it seems to me, should be our goal. Let loose the better angels of our nature. You are not filled with hate, and I am not insensitive. Don’t be sure that your Party has all the answers. Don’t assume that your political opponents want to destroy democracy. Discover and decide on what and where we agree, then debate how to get there. Martin Luther King once wrote, “In the final analysismeans and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and, ultimately, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.” Amen. 

[1]To be clear, I have never read anything by Sir Thomas Browne. The quote appeared in a delightful book I am reading, The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, by John Carey. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Can Connecticut be Saved?"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Can Connecticut be Saved?”
October 11, 2018

Remember, you will be faulted not because you are ignorant against your will,
but because you neglect to seek out what makes you so.”
                                                                                                Saint Augustine (354-430)

Connecticut is in my blood. While I grew up in New Hampshire, I was born in New Haven. During the Second World War, while my father was overseas, my mother returned to her parents in Madison, bringing her [then] four children, including me. In December1965, my wife and I bought our first house, a cape in Glastonbury. A year and a half later we moved to Durham, and four years later to Greenwich. After two decades in that tony suburb, we bought a house in Old Lyme. Two and a half years ago – after a quarter century of idyllic living on the marshes – we moved to Essex.The State resonates with personal history. Two ancestors served as colonial governors (John Webster in 1656 and Thomas Welles in 1655 and 1658). Another two fought in King Philip’s War – Daniel Hotchkiss, a six-great grandfather, served as a sergeant and Captain Stephen Greenleaf, a seven-great grandfather, was wounded at the Battle of Hatfield (Massachusettsin September 1677. A five-great grandfather, Captain Caleb Hotchkiss was killed during the Battle of New Haven in July 1779, during the American Revolution. Their blood courses through my veins and those of my children and grandchildren. Forefathers are buried in New Haven and Hartford. It is the State in which I was born, have lived most of my life and where I expect to be buried.

So, what has gone wrong with this State, with its magnificent Connecticut River and estuary, its hills, seaports, harbors, country churches, world-class universities, parks, meadows, beaches, towns and cities? Why is Hartford, once the richest city in the United States, on the verge of bankruptcy? Along with Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport and New Haven have credit ratings that rank in the bottom 10% nationwide. Why did Bridgeport, the state’s largest city, re-elect a man as mayor who served seven years in prison for corruption during his first term? Why have Hartford and New Haven landed on a list of the nation’s hundred most dangerous cities? What happened to industries like insurance and manufacturing? Connecticut is still wealthy. In terms of GDP per capita, the State ranks 3rdin the nation and is 6thin median household income; yet, it ranks 4th in terms of state and municipal debt per capita.

Why does Connecticut rank 4th in the nation in terms of the percent of the population moving out-of-state? Is it, as Governor Malloy would have us believe, because youth wants to live in cities, not suburbs, or is it because the State is unfriendly to business? Its corporate tax is 9thhighest in the nation and its personal income tax is 10thhighest. Is it because the State’s economy has shrunk at an annual compounded rate of 0.5% over the past nine years, while Massachusetts’ (formerly known as “Taxachusetts) economy has grown at an annual rate of 2.1 percent?  Or is it because of a loss of freedom? In a 2016 survey, the Cato Institute ranked Connecticut 45thin terms of personal and economic freedoms. In 1971, when we moved to Greenwich, the State, then with no income tax and low property taxes, was considered the “Switzerland” of the region for commuters into the City. It is now a State that is shunned. 

Between 1955 and 1980 fifty companies moved their headquarters out of New York City, with many moving to Stamford, a city of 130,000, which became the third largest center for corporate headquarters, after New York and Chicago. Today there are ten States that have more S&P 500 companies’ headquarters than the entire State. In the past three years, Aetna, General Electric, Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Duracell have moved out. UBS and RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) have abandoned their trading floors in Stamford. In a CNBC business ranking of States, Connecticut scored 45thin terms of the strength of its economy, 26thin terms of business-friendly, 43rdin cost-of-living and 46thin cost of doing business. Overall, it ranked 37th, with education (9th) being its most positive attribute. In an April 2017 analysis of the nation’s fifty states by the American Legislative Exchange Council – which looked back over the decade 2005-2015 – the State ranked 49thin economic performance and 46thin economic outlook. (In 2012, when the current governor Dan Malloy took office, the State ranked 36th.) 

In bygone days, Connecticut had been attractive to business. It had some of the nation’s finest universities, an excellent public-school system, an educated and well-paid labor force, low property taxes and no income tax. Into the mid 1980s, the State continued to do well. It had weathered the outward migration of textile and rubber businesses. A September 18, 1984 New York Timesreport noted that the State was “on a roll,” led by defense spending, corporations moving out of New York City and with small, technology companies replacing brass mills and textile plants. “Most of New England is doing well, but Connecticut stands out,” said James Moor, director of economic research for the Hartford Insurance Group. Unemployment stood at 4.3% versus a nation-wide average of 7.1%. Per capita income was second only to Alaska’s. 

But things began to change. As is common, there is a pendulum-like swing to political parties. In the 1960s, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – a union founded in 1932 – became more aggressive in Connecticut. The union had been founded to counter the patronage system that caused thousands of workers to lose their jobs every two or four years, as political parties changed. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Yankee traditionalism gave way to social revolution, with its emphasis on civil and women’s rights. (I remember attending, as an alternate delegate, the State Democrat convention in 1970 – the booze, the noise, the pot-filled air gave a sense of the surreal to those of us there.) In 1973 state workers in Connecticut were granted the right to organize, with teachers getting the right in 1975.  As public sector unions expanded in numbers and influence, the power of private sector unions waned. The 1970s recession put pressure on manufacturers, so managements switched retirement programs from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. Keep in mind, when corporations experience financial stress bankruptcy is an option. It is also an option for municipalities, but not for states. Today, according to the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, 94% of Connecticut’s 50,082 fulltime public employees are unionized, earning an average of $73,036, about the same as median householdincome in the State. Current unfunded retirement benefits amount to $100 billion, meaning each of the State’s 3.5 million residents is responsible for about $30,000. Unfunded healthcare benefits add another $10,000 to each of our liabilities.

With the intention of offsetting rising unionized labor costs, higher transfer payments and diminishing State revenues, then Governor Lowell Weicker (Connecticut Party), in the summer of 1991, signed the State’s first income tax legislation. In doing so, he violated a basic principle of governmental fiscal math – increased taxes do not result in smaller deficits. They are always used to justify higher expenditures on new projects, never to reduce debt or ameliorate the expense of existing programs. A simple flat 4.5% income tax in 1991 has been expanded to a complex – 6.99% at the high end – tax, with seven brackets. Deficits have widened, and unfunded pension and health benefits have ballooned. The only beneficiaries have been lawyers, accountants, moving-van companies and State employees.

What has been good for Connecticut’s government workers has not been good for everyone else. A report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that personal income growth in Connecticut in 2017 was 1.5%, versus 3.1% for the nation, placing the State 44thout of 50 and the lowest in New England, behind both Maine and Rhode Island, the traditional laggards. Governor Malloy’s tax increases have neither bettered the State’s income prospects nor alleviated its budget and unfunded pension and health liabilities.

The most attractive option for many of the State’s high-earners and wealthy retirees has been to abandon ship. According to the Yankee Institute, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, 20,179 residents left Connecticut, taking with them $2.6 billion in adjusted gross income, or $128,846 per individual. During the year, the State accepted 18,000 migrants from outside the United States. As a rule, (and not surprisingly) immigrants’ consumption of a State’s resources, in their first two or three years, exceeds their contribution. Even excluding any costs associated with immigrants, lost tax income to the state – from those who chose to leave – amounted to about $100 million. Only New York, New Jersey and Illinois had a greater percentage of their population leaving.

Since Mr. Weicker introduced the income tax to Connecticut, the fiscal situation of the State has deteriorated, under two Republican governors and one Democrat – Republican John Rowland (who went to jail); Republican Jodi Rell, who switched her residency to Florida once she left office, and the current Governor Democrat Dan Malloy, who raised taxes more than all other governors combined and who has the dubious distinction of bearing the lowest approval rating of any governor in the Country. While neither Republican governor stemmed the bleeding, there has been, throughout this period, one constant: A Democrat-controlled legislature. The last time the State had both a Republican Governor and a Republican Legislature was 1976. Forty-two years is a long time for one-party rule. Should Connecticut elect a Republican Governor anda Republican House and Senate there is no assurance that sanity would return, but it is the best shot we have to emerge from the darkness that has enshrouded the State. To travel with Ned Lamont down the road paved by Dan Malloy would be to do “the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”[1](A vote for the third-party candidate Oz Griebel, with his poll numbers barely out of single digits, is to vote againstyour second choice.) The decision, when one walks into the voting booth on November 6, is easy – vote for Bob Stefanowski and the Party that has not had a majority for half a century.

Contractual agreements with unions have starved other programs badly in need of assistance. A recent report cited by CNBC ranks Connecticut the 4thworse in terms of infrastructure. Sixty-two percent its major roads are in “poor or mediocre” condition. Eight percent of its bridges (more than 300) are considered “structurally deficient.” Eleemosynary institutions, which serve physically and mentally disabled and disadvantaged children and adults and that depend on State support, are being starved for funds, forcing them into the competitive world of private solicitations. Can Connecticut be saved? The State needs a re-boot and its unions and leaders must face the consequences of what they have wrought. Bankruptcy may not be an alternative, but Venezuela serves as an example of what happens when socialistic, business-unfriendly progressives, on empty promises, seize power. Everybody loses. 

As I wrote at the start of this essay, Connecticut has long been my home and I would prefer to have it remain so. It is also home to two of our children and seven of our grandchildren. I wish them the same love for its history and its natural beauty. I want them to look upon the State not only for its past achievements but for what it can accomplish in the future. Be proud of its education system – its public and private schools and its public and private universities. The State was once the region’s Mecca for freedom, economic growth and universal wealth creation. There is no reason it cannot be so again. We grow most confident and we look forward most assuredly when we have, as mole said in The Wind in the Willows, “…the special value of some anchorage in one’s existence.” Connecticut has served that purpose in the pastNow, it is up to the voters to let it fulfill its promise for the future.    


[1]A quote generally attributed to Albert Einstein.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Burrowing into Books - "12 Rules for Life"

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
Reviews of Selective Readings

                                                                                                                                    October 9, 2018

“12 Rules for Life”
Jordan B. Peterson

“…without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions –
and there’s nothing freeing about that.”
                                                                                                Dr. Norman Doidge
                                                                                                Author, “The Brain that Changes Itself”
                                                                                                Introduction to 12 Rules for Life

Dr. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist who practices in Toronto and teaches at the University of Toronto. Previously, he taught at Harvard. His interests and expertise range. He has taught mythology to lawyers, doctors and business people and has published more than a hundred scientific papers. One might wonder why would I, a non-scientific sort and now in my autumn yearsfind compelling a book written by a medical doctor about rulesIn part, it is because his rules are unlike most we deal with. They come with titles like Rule 1, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back;” Rule 7, “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient);” and Rule 12, “Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.” But most important, it is because his observations make sense and are lucidly offered.

In the first chapter, when the author writes of standing straight, he is speaking not only of the physical act, but metaphorically, of accepting the responsibilities that come with the “burden of Being,” that as humans we have an obligation to live civilly and respectfully. He writes of navigating between chaos and order, order being explored territory – the “tribe, religion, hearth, home and country” – and chaos being “the domain of ignorance…the place you end up when things fall apart…” He writes, “Order is the shire of Tolkien’s hobbits: peaceful, productive and safely inhabitable…Chaos is the underground kingdom of the dwarves, usurped by Smaug.” But order alone does not advance the individual. “Thus,” he writes, “you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering.” It is the experience common to all high school seniors, in the fall of their final year. For twelve years, they have known where they were headed the next September; this fall they face an unknown future. Like Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins, with experience they become wiser and more confident, using what they have learned to explore and conquer the unknown. 

He tells us that it is through stories we learn the virtues of honesty, perseverance and diligence. He uses literary figures to make his point. He quotes from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s, The Gulag Archipelago, a book “written with the overwhelming moral force of unvarnished truth.” With his wide-ranging interests, he references the Bible, George Orwell, Dostoevsky, T.S. Eliot, Stephen King and John Milton. He quotes Goethe through the voice of Mephistopheles, of hurdles a rules-based culture can overcome:

What matters our creative endless toil,
When, at a snatch, oblivion ends the coil?”

He writes of Carl Jung and Christianity. In Chapter 7, “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”, he offers his fundamental moral conclusion: “Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death.”

Rules are embedded in our democratic republic through our system of laws, which guide our behavior. They lead us between chaos and order; they provide the balance necessary for a productive, fun and interesting life. He tells us we should be obeisant to rules, but unafraid of the unknown future, to venture (carefully) toward chaos. We should be stable enough to be secure, but flexible enough to transform.  “Clear rules,” Professor Peterson writes,and proper discipline help the child, and the family, and society, establish, maintain and expand the order, [which] is all that protects us from chaos and the terrors of the underworld…”

At a time when moral clarity has evaporated into a miasma of moral relativism, when lives can be destroyed because people are convicted in courts of public opinion absent any empirical evidence, when ethics are set aside to gain political advantage, when red herrings are tossed up to deliberately conflate issues, this is a book to savor, to keep on the shelf, to peruse at will, to help cope with this complex, contradictory and sometimes unfair world