Thursday, February 27, 2020

"A Strategic Mistake?"

Sydney M. Williams
30 Bokum Road – Apartment 314
Essex, CT 06426

Thought of the Day
“A Strategic Mistake?”
February 27, 2020

Hope is not a strategy.”
                                                                                    Attributed to Vince Lombardi (1913-1970)

The strategic mistake to which I refer was the one made by Michael Bloomberg to enter the Democrat primary for President, rather than to run as an independent. At least, that is my belief. The error was understandable in that no third-party candidate has won the Presidency, since the current two parties began competing in 1860. But, to use those over-worked and dangerous words, this time is different. The incumbent is a man who has never received more than 50% approval, despite the fact that the economy and employment are doing well. At the same time, Democrats have moved decidedly leftward, leaving their center undefended.

In his recently published book, A Time to Build, Yuval Levin wrote, “…[political] parties have been de-professionalized, cannot control their own internal processes, and are increasingly exposed to the power and pressure of political celebrity culture.” What he wrote is visible to anyone with eyes to see. The 2016 presidential election changed the Republican Party. The old way of doing things no longer applied. The 2018 midterm elections, which brought Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MI) to the House, changed the Democrat Party, swinging it far to the left. Optimism for the future was replaced with hatred of the past. In both cases, the change reflects the fact that elections have become less about policy and enacting bi-partisan legislation, and more about platforms for radical ideas. Traditional party members, on both sides of the aisle, have become as isolated from real concerns of the people, as they are distanced from the victorious radical newbies who joined their party. In part, this has to do with the mathematical fact that our national legislature is less representative of the people than it once was. In 1800, the House of Representatives consisted of 106 members; in 2020, there were 435 House members. So, while the overall population has grown by a factor of 72, the number of Representatives has increased by just over four times. In other words, legislators are less representative – in sheer numbers – than they were two hundred and twenty years ago. But these changes also reflect a cultural shift that demeans family, history and tradition. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have taken advantage of the fact that many voters feel that politics as usual no longer applies.

Mr. Bloomberg is a different breed of cat. After a successful career on Wall Street and then founding an enormously successful, eponymous firm that services Wall Street and the world, he began his mayoralty at a difficult time, January 1, 2002. The attack on 9/11 was less than four months in the past. The stock market, which had peaked in March of 2000, would have another year of decline before finding bottom. He weathered the credit collapse of 2008 and a greatly altered financial industry, a mainstay of employment in the City. Despite some nanny-like instincts, like proposing a ban on sweetened drinks of more than 16 ounces and a grandiloquent decision to seek an unprecedented third term, Michael Bloomberg was a successful mayor of New York. The City’s GDP rose about 25% during his tenure, from approximately $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion. He turned a $4.7 billion deficit into a $2.4 billion surplus. New York City’s population declined somewhat after 9/11, but by 2012 was above where it had been when he was sworn in as mayor. Crime rates, which had already fallen in the 1990s, declined further during his tenure: Major felonies were down 40% and murder rates dropped 35% during his tenure. High school graduation rates increased. Mr. Bloomberg, during those years, was more pragmatic than ideological.

His pragmatism could be seen in his party affiliation when he first ran for mayor. Instead of competing in the Democrat primary, he switched parties and ran as a Republican. As Mayor, he expanded the “Stop, Question and Frisk” policy begun by his predecessor Rudy Giuliano. As a consequence, streets were safe and crime rates continued down. He took on the teachers’ unions, especially the United Federation of Teachers, in ending social promotion for students, instituting merit pay for teachers, closing low performing schools, opening more, smaller ones and championing charter schools. He confronted labor unions when policies were harmful to the city’s economy. All of these actions are now an anathema to a Democrat Party that has lurched far to the left; so, he has apologized.

Instead of standing by his record of success, Mr. Bloomberg joined the chorus of leftist progressivism, donning a uniform that ill fits and is unsuitable to a majority of Americans. Theirs is a platform that promotes redistribution over wealth creation. In a column last December, titled, “I Was Once a Socialist. That Changed.”, David Brooks wrote: “Capitalism is really good at doing the one thing socialism is really bad at: creating a learning process to help people figure stuff out.” Capitalism creates a learning process in which the participants – a country’s millions of citizens – make even more millions of decisions every day. Together, we are the system. More than a billion people have been lifted from extreme poverty in the last forty years thanks to capitalism. Socialism, on the other hand, impoverishes the people, while enriching a country’s small band of political leaders. In the best cases, Socialism has had to be modified, to become more capitalist, as those in Scandinavia have discovered. In the worst cases, like Cuba and Venezuela, it leads to tyranny. There is no question about Mr. Bloomberg’s capitalist leanings, but why won’t he defend the system, as Nikki Haley did so well in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed?    Is it because of the rise of political correctness, which has even infected the Business Roundtable who now call for “stake-holder” capitalism? Without profits, companies fail, owners suffer. But, so do employees who lose their jobs, suppliers who lose business and the communities in which they operate forego the benefits of a prosperous business. The message from a moderate Democrat who wants to look after the working poor and the disadvantaged, but who recognizes that capitalism is critical to our country’s survivability, is the one Michael Bloomberg should have run on. He is his own best example.

The opportunity he had, in my opinion, was not to get into the mudhole with myriad Democrat contenders, but to run as a third-party candidate. It is true that third-party candidates have not had success in our two-party system, at least at the top of the ticket. The last to attempt was Ross Perot in 1992. But this year is different, if I may again use those dangerous words. In 1992, George H.W. Bush was running for re-election against a moderate Democrat, the former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Voters felt safe with either man. This year, Democrats have moved far to the left, and the incumbent, Donald Trump, is a polarizing figure whose poll numbers, while now at their highest, have never been above fifty percent. Should Mr. Bloomberg have decided to run on his success as Mayor of New York – and avoided the political correctness that is swamping the Democrat Party – he might well have become the 46th President of the United States. He would have attracted Republicans who like Mr. Trump’s policies but who are uncomfortable with his character, as well as Democrats who realize that their Party has spun far away from the mainstream.

It could be that I am mistaken (it has happened before!), and that Mr. Bloomberg is motivated by principle, not power. But I doubt it. The Office of the President of the United States is the most powerful in the world, so serves as a magnet. China and India have more people. Russia has more nuclear weapons. But when one lists nations by wealth, GDP, defense spending or simply the most desirable destination for immigrants, the United States stands alone. Further, the Presidency of the United States has been strengthened over recent years by a Congress that has abdicated much of its responsibility to the Executive and Judicial branches, choosing to walk away from contentious issues like abortion, gun laws and immigration. The Presidency of the United States is the ultimate crown of the politically ambitious, and there are few people more ambitious than Michael Bloomberg.

Monday, February 24, 2020

"What Ails Us?"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“What Ails Us?”
February 24, 2020

When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
                                                                                                            Mark Twain (1835-1910)
                                                                                                            Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1935
                                                                                                            Editor, Albert Bigelow Paine

In the summer of 1961, after my sophomore year in college, I worked in the smelter of Canada’s Falconbridge Nickel Mines just outside of Sudbury, Ontario. There were a number of Canadian students – all men – working in the mine that summer. On weekends, we would head into Sudbury to have a few beers and otherwise relax. One evening, fortified with libations, we attended a student union debate. The subject:Resolved: I Would Rather be Dead than Red,” a common debate topic at the time. At the debates’ conclusion, members of the audience were asked if they would like to come up and speak, first for the affirmative and later for the negative. Having enjoyed debate in school and with vocal cords loosened with a couple of Molson Ales, I approached the dais and gave my reasons in the two minutes of allotted time. A few other students did as well. Then the moderator asked who would speak for the negative. At first no one rose, so again I approached the dais, this time to applause, to offer my opposing views.

The idea of debating two sides of an issue was always good training. Aristotle is alleged to have said that “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I would go further and claim that if one does not understand an opponent’s position, then there is no possibility of reaching compromise. We have entered a twilight zone where biases are so extreme that we no longer communicate but talk over one another. Institutions, like family, church (or, at least, traditional Christian churches) and community organizations are in decline. They have been replaced by groups like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #Resistance, #MAGA and social media, which give participants a chance to gather on like-minded platforms but offer little opportunity to witness or appreciate opposing views.

Unlike Swedes, French, Chinese or Japanese, we are Americans by choice, a choice that was either ours or that of our forefathers. While a typical Swede or Chinese can be imagined, a typical American cannot. We are too diverse. While our land was inhabited by immigrants in the early 17th Century, our nation was formed in 1789, with men wise in the knowledge of laws and with an understanding of the governments of other nations, past and present – their strengths and their weaknesses. Like Shakespeare’s King Lear, the Founders knew that “…unaccommodated [uncivilized] man is no more but a bare, forked animal…,” metaphorically suggesting he was anarchical, with the capacity for good and evil. They also knew, through a study of history, that governments without restrictions become instruments of tyranny. So, they devised a government in which laws, not men, set boundaries, and one in which three, counter-forcing branches balance one another, so that no individual or group would wield power indiscriminately.

Our Founders were not perfect by today’s standards, but measured against those of 250 years ago, they were extraordinary, enlightened men. From the start, we were a polyglot nation. In those far away days, according to Joshua Kendall’s biography of Noah Webster, The Forgotten Founding Father (and my four-greats grandfather), more than fifty languages and dialects were spoken in Pennsylvania alone. Overtime, the country became – and is still becoming – a melting pot. The mixing of religions, ethnicities and races. Not too many years ago, Germantown, Little Italy and Chinatown were culturally distinct neighborhoods in New York City, not marketing venues as they are today. Europe, with its long history of nativist populations, has had a far more difficult time integrating immigrants, as has been seen in violent attacks in France, Sweden, Germany and Britain. Yet the consequence of progressives today, with their emphasis on identity politics and victimization, is to divide a people struggling to unite, to create a salad bowl, a place where the radishes, carrots, peppers and tomatoes have their distinct places. Their reason for doing so is political, as it is easier to tailor messages to distinct groups – ones of race, religion and heritage, and others of gender and sexual preference, but not ones of ideas based on a study of history and civics. What has been lost is a sense of what America means, of a people of disparate opinions, backgrounds, aspirations and abilities who formed (and are still forming) a nation unlike any other on Earth.

As well, the composition of our political parties has changed. It was in 1860 that the first presidential election pitted a Democrat against a Republican. The 2020 election will the 40th such election where those two main parties represent the myriad views of millions of voters.  Today’s population is eleven times bigger than it was in 1860. A microcosm of the change that has taken place in political parties over the past sixty years could be seen in Connecticut’s 2018 gubernatorial election. The Democrat Ned Lamont is the great grandson of J.P Morgan’s partner Thomas W. Lamont. He grew up in Laurel Hollow, Long Island and attended Phillips Exeter and Harvard. His father worked in the Nixon Administration. The Republican Bob Stefanowski grew up in a working-class family in North Haven, CT. His father was a scoreboard assistant at the Yale Bowl. He is a graduate of North Haven High School and Fairfield University. Sixty years ago, Lamont would have been the Republican and Stefanowski the Democrat.

Privileged is a word tossed around carelessly today. Those of us fortunate to live in the United States are all privileged. We live in a nation without aristocracies, where backgrounds account for less than talent and aspiration. We live in a nation of laws that protect private property. We have abundant resources and no enemies on our borders. We come from all corners of the globe. According to the Census Bureau, over three hundred and fifty languages are spoken in this country. Success is a function of desire, ability and a willingness to work hard. Yet, all of us do not accept the opportunities our privileges permit.

Contradictions abound in today’s political environment. Extreme right-wing Republicans push nativist policies, incompatible with our multicultural country. Progressive Democrats, push dependency on government, to reassure their re-elections. Dependency is necessary, when individuals cannot care for themselves, but in other cases dependency deprives the capable and aspirant from realizing their hopes and dreams. What makes this ironic is that technology, particularly the internet, has boosted opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs. What Joseph Schumpeter described as “creative destruction” has hit our economy, destroying old industries – some known for lifetime employment – but creating new ones, which offer risk and opportunity. The taxi industry is a good example. Collusion between politicians and medallion owners limited competition in cities like New York. When Uber and Lyft entered the market, they felt the wrath of government, even as consumers benefitted. Creative destruction is not a new phenomenon. It is the way economies and societies advance. Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer prize winning novel The Magnificent Ambersons – subsequently made into a movie directed by Orson Welles – described the horse-carriage businesses bankrupted by the new automobile industry. Without adapting, businesses die. Retail, communication, entertainment industries and others are undergoing “destructive” change, with positive consequences for consumers and opportunities for risk takers. In many sexual abuse cases, presumption of innocence has too often become assumption of guilt. News programs have given up a search for truth and become advocates for policy preferences. Families have been subordinated to “villages,” in terms of raising a child, yet where else than from a family does a child receive unconditional love?

Ironies abound. There is irony, as Victor Davis Hanson recently noted in National Review, in universities that have achieved record endowments, while their students are burdened with record levels of debt. What allowed this to happen? If colleges and universities, not just U.S. taxpayers, had assumed some of the financial risk of student loan default, would tuition prices have risen as rapidly as they did? Colleges and universities took no risk. They knew they would be paid, so lifted prices and competed on the basis of physical plant and administrative help in non-educational endeavors. Attitudes toward government have changed. The call of duty, so famously echoed by John F. Kennedy, has been replaced by a demand for entitlements. Vulnerable children from troubled and impoverished families are no longer called “at risk.” They are now “at promise.” Is there not a difference between a child at risk, and a child who, given his or her untapped talent, has a promising future? In mass shootings, we blame the weapon but place no responsibility or accountability on he who pulled the trigger. We have entered an Orwellian world where universities, places that light the flame of curiosity, have banned books considered offensive to a few. That such actions are similar to those taken by tyrants in despotic states seem to be of no relevance to today’s college administrators.

Why are we in this place? We are wealthy. GDP is at record levels and unemployment at record lows. We are free, privileged to live in a democracy. We are engaged in no major wars. Despite climate-scaremongers, our carbon emissions are lower than they were ten years ago, and our rivers, lakes and beaches are cleaner than ever before. Can we do more, and should we not help developing nations? Of course, but celebrate what has been done. Blacks and Hispanics are repeatedly told that the economy and politics are not working for them, that they are victims of white oppression. Yet their unemployment is at record low levels and their real wages have begun to rise for the first time in years. President Trump is accused of being crude (which he is), yet his accusers talk of assassination without condemnation or even comment. He is accused of authoritarian tendencies, yet he has reduced regulations. Which President weaponized the IRS in 2013 to go after conservative organizations? And which political party colluded with the Justice Department and the CIA to publish false information on Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2017, first the candidate and later the nominee? Why has hatred for Mr. Trump so infested mainstream media and members of the Washington elite, that reason is no longer an arrow in their quivers? Cannot bureaucrats in Washington and elites in Hollywood, the media and in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston and Austin understand that is a lack of consideration of some of these facts and a failure to respond to unanswered questions that led to the election three and a half years ago of Donald Trump, and which will likely lead to his re-election this November?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote: “It’s a universal law – intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impertinence, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.” What ails us is a sense of arrogance that there is only one side to an argument – the one we profess, that those who disagree with us are stupid, elitist, blind or deplorable. As Mark Twain suggested, when you find yourself among only those who think like you, it may be time to regroup. Would not teachers in schools and colleges be wise to require students to debate issuess from a position opposite from what they believe? Would not that help them formulate their own ideas, as well as to help them learn something of the opinions of their opponents? Should not college be a time to be skeptical and a place to delve into the murkiness of history, to learn from the wisdom of those who came before?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"William Barr, 5G, China and the Threat of Cyber Attacks"

Sydney M. Williams
30 Bokum Road – Apartment 314
Essex, CT 06426

Thought of the Day
“William Barr, 5G, China and the Threat of Cyber Attacks”
February 20, 2020

Short of war, China is destined to dominate the global 5G market,
with positive implications for its economy and negative ones for America’s.”
                                                                                                Simon Hunt
                                                                                                Simon Hunt Strategic Services
                                                                                                February 6, 2020

It is a given that war produces physical and psychological horrors that statistics do not describe, movies cannot portray, and fiction cannot illustrate. It is a maxim that the best way to avoid war is to be so strong and so vigilant that no rational nation or group will attack. Even then, there will always be attempts, for reason is too often absent and evil is always with us.

The next major attack on the United States is less likely to come from missiles or suicide-intentioned terrorists, and more likely to emanate from disruption or corruption of technology systems that govern our lives. Any enemy state or terrorist organization could be the culprit, but high on the list of bad actors are the Chinese. As the internet and “smart” devices become more pervasive in our lives, our dependency grows. We have become more vulnerable, as our negligence has allowed China to take the lead in the development of next generation networks known as 5G and the superfast networks. These technologies will facilitate communications; financial institutions; transportation systems, including rail, autonomous vehicles and highways; energy and utilities. “For the first time in our history,” Attorney General William Barr was blunt in his keynote address to the Department of Justice’s China Initiative Conference on February 6, “the United States is not leading the next technology era.”

It is 5G that is of concern. David Goldman, an American economist who as “Spengler” writes in the Asia Times, recently wrote in PJ Media: “We sat on our hands while China’s Huawei took the lead in the game-changing technology that will usher in what the Chinese call the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Everybody has heard of 5G, but few appreciate its ramifications. Reading the Attorney General’s speech[1] woke me like a rooster crowing at `dawn. Barr is not new to this subject. He focused on China studies at Columbia University in the early 1970s and then spent fifteen years at GTE and its successor firm Verizon, so knows something of the communication industry. He quoted one of his classmates: “Russia wants to conquer the world. We can deal with that. China wants to own the world. That is going to be more challenging…”

China, according to the Attorney General, has 40% of the global 5G infrastructure market. China’s bid to be the supreme global power can be seen in its Belt and Road Initiative, which involves investments and development in nearly seventy countries, and in its activities in Africa where they provide financing in exchange for raw materials. As well as 5G, their omnivorous foreign policies can be seen in the transportation industry where, according to a recent article in the Financial Times, rail systems built by China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) now account for two thirds of all fast train lines in the world. They desire, as General James Mattis said in 2018, “other nations to become tribute states.”

 “Politically,” Mr. Barr said, “the PRC (People’s Republic of China) remains a dictatorship under which the Communist Party elite jealously guards its monopoly on power…Centuries before Communism, China regarded itself as the Central Kingdom – the center of the world. Its ambition today is not to be a regional power, but a global one.” Huawei, in their drive into the bowels of the West, employs 50,000 foreigners. They operate two dozen research centers around the world. In 2011, they hired, as head of their UK business, John Suffolk, the then Chief Information Security Officer of the British government. The next year they hired Andy Purdy, a former member of George W. Bush’s White House staff, as the company’s chief security officer. That same year, with David Cameron as Prime minister, they announced an investment of £1.3 billion into the UK.

In 2015, China launched its “Made in China 2025 plan.” China’s development of 5G communications, through Huawei, are evolving into the central nervous system of the next generation of the internet, called the “Industrial Internet.” Its products, according to U.S. officials, will allow the company to spy on the cellular networks it builds out. China’s approach to customers includes the financing of developing the network, thereby, insidiously, tying customers to their systems. The U.S.’s response has been non-partisan, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted, in an otherwise rambling and somewhat incoherent speech at last weekend’s Munich Security Conference. She told them that when a country chooses Huawei to build out their 5G networks – even with strict monitoring – they are opting for “autocracy over democracy.” Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued similar warnings at the same conference. According to reports, most Europeans sat stone-faced. Europe is delusional when it comes to security and defense. They sit alongside Russia, with China an important trading partner. Nevertheless, they feel entitled to be protected by the U.S. Yet, a recent Pew Research poll regarding NATO showed that only 38% of Europeans supported honoring commitments should one of their members be attacked by Russia. If delusional is the proper diagnosis; subjugation would be the consequence. Much of the West seems unaware of the trap into which the Chinese are luring them.

In July 2016, President Obama offered $400 million to back speedier networks for a 5G network. But that is in contrast to the $400 billion China expects to spend over the next ten years. In October of 2018, President Trump “instructed” the federal government to speed up investments in 5G. But, why have we allowed this situation to happen and who is to blame? Are we too late? Mr. Barr’s February 6 speech was a wake-up call. In it he floated the possibility of the U.S. taking controlling interests in Nokia or Erikson, or both. History shows that free market capitalism, with its risks and rewards, serves people better than planned economies, be they the German national socialism of the 1930s-40s, or the more recent Communist regimes of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba or Venezuela. Yet sometimes government needs take the lead, as happened with the Manhattan Project, the response to Sputnik or the abandoned SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative).

In the report from which I drew the rubric that heads this essay, Simon Hunt concluded: “Back in 2015 China had the vision [of] how its economy would evolve with an aging population. All those factors Barr listed that spin off 5G – smart homes, smart appliances, smart factories, etc. – are already in place in China. America companies were too `caught up in their own hubris to visualize how 5G technology would pan out.” Huawei and the Chinese government are indistinguishable. What information is collected by the former is available to the latter. Even should our defense and intelligent services be safeguarded, can we ignore security risks to our financial, utility, transportation and energy businesses? I think not. Politicians were all over the alleged meddling of Russians in the 2016 election. Where is the sense of urgency in this far greater threat to our democracy? There are times when collaboration between business and government is critical. This may be one of those times

[1] Barr’s speech can be accessed through the Department of Justice’s website. It was delivered on February 6 at the Department of Justice’s China Initiative Conference. I would encourage anyone concerned about this issue to read it.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

"Two Coots in a Canoe" by David Morine

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
“Two Coots in a Canoe,” David E. Morine
February 16, 2020

Rivers can’t survive unless they’re constantly moving. That’s how they breathe.
Flowing free had given the Connecticut a chance to take a deep breath and clean out is lungs.”
                                                                                                Two Coots in a Canoe, 2009
                                                                                                David E. Morine (1942-)

The Connecticut River is part of who I am. For twenty-five years my wife and I lived on the River, about a mile from its entrance to Long Island Sound. We would delight in the abundance of wildlife – marsh plants, birds, fish, turtles, muskrats and other denizens of the marsh – that comprise a cornucopia of nature. What we looked out upon was of course the omega of the River; the alpha, the source, began four hundred miles to the north.

Two men, David Morine and Ramsay Peard who had met at UVA’s Darden School of Business in the late 1960s decided to canoe the length of the Connecticut in the summer of 2003. They were friends but had gone separate ways – Morine had spent most of his career as head of land acquisition for the Nature Conservancy, while Peard had had a series of jobs in consulting and manufacturing. Both were retired. Both had a familiarity with New England, due to family vacations and boarding schools, but neither had spent much time in canoes. Both felt they were too old (or disinclined) to camp out, so arranged, like Blanche DuBois, to “depend on the kindness of strangers” for sleeping, as well as evening and morning meals. This is the story of those two coots who canoed 400 miles of the Connecticut River.

During the course of their research, Ramsay Peard had contacted the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) and spoke to then associate director Whitty Sanford, who was intrigued. He sent a press release to their 1500 members, which prompted invitations for the evenings they were seeking shelter. Nevertheless, shortly after putting into the river in Canaan, VT, Morine writes that the thought suddenly hit him: “What in the world had I done? Here I was alone on a river paddling 400 miles with a guy I hadn’t seen in twenty years. Neither of us knew squat about canoeing.

But this was more than an endurance test for two retired sexagenarians. Having worked in land conservation, Morine was aware that there were sixty-one small trusts established to preserve land along the Connecticut. Through the generosity of Dan Lufkin, whom he had met at the Nature Conservancy and who had set up a foundation for acquiring land, he was made am unpaid, one-month project manager with $50,000 to spend helping a few of these trusts, which he did as they paddled along.

The reader learns fascinating details, for example that Stratford, New Hampshire was the lumber capital of the United States in the late 19th Century, sending 50 million board feet down the River in 1890. We learn that those log drives, which ran for 36 years ending in 1915, catapulted the neighboring town of Woodsville, New Hampshire – a town now of 1100 people – into the “biggest and best red-light district north of New York City!”  We learn that Moore Dam near Littleton, NH is the largest conventional hydroelectric power plant in New England, and that Dartmouth’s Ledyard Canoe Club, founded in 1920, was named after John Ledyard who, in 1772, canoed the 173 miles, through rapids and over waterfalls, from Hanover to Hartford. We read that the 7.2 million acres that comprise the Connecticut River watershed are inhabited by two million humans, and that the presence of eagles in Sunderland (Massachusetts) told Morine that “…at least along this part of the river, conservation efforts by the CRWC and other groups were starting to show results.” However, further south, through a twenty-mile stretch that includes Springfield, he writes: “Holyoke Dam had taken away whatever shred of decency the once mighty Connecticut had left. The river was now repulsive. Canoeing it was like driving through the Bronx; we couldn’t wait to get out of there.”[1]

Below Windsor to Long Island Sound, however, there are no more dams, so the River “was its own master.” In contrast to Springfield, Hartford created parks along the River, working with a nonprofit Riverfront Recapture. Just south, between Glastonbury and Wethersfield, the Great Meadows Conservation Trust, working with the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, is trying to preserve 4500 acres of rich bottomland.

Morine notes that towns, which embraced the river, “like Bradford and Bellows Falls, seem to be prospering. Towns that ignored it, like Woodsville and Windsor, seemed to be going nowhere. Making parks and green spaces along the river part of a downtown area capitalizes on a tremendous resource” – a statement we know to be true. After twenty-seven nights with strangers, Morine and Peard docked on Griswold Point at the mouth of the River. From there they sent postcards to all their hosts: “Success!! Thanks to the kindness of strangers, we made it. Your friends, Ramsay and Dave.”

This story, unfortunately, does not end the way the reader would have chosen, but things happen in life that we cannot change. Five months after completing the trip, Ramsay Peard committed suicide. His decision was not spur of the moment. Eighteen months earlier he had purchased the pistol with which he ended his life. Morine quotes the late British critic and poet Al Alvarez who had once attempted suicide: “Once a man decides to take his own life, he enters a shut-off, impregnable, but wholly convincing world where every detail fits and each incidence reinforces his decision.” Dave had no idea that his friend Ramsay was considering such an act, but he writes that it explained his odd behavior as they approached the end of the trip: “For Ramsay, reaching Long Island Sound wasn’t the end of our trip, it was the end of his life.”

Putting aside that ending, the book is a paean to the River, its people, its history and the beauty that nature provides, which is reflected in its waters and embankments. It is a reminder of our obligation to preserve rivers for future generations. As Jerome Kern wrote about an even bigger river: “He must know something, but he don’t say nothing/He just keeps rolling, he keeps on rolling along.” Roll on Connecticut!

The book was published in 2009 by Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut. It can be purchased through Amazon or from your favorite independent bookstore.

[1] A clean-up process is now underway in Springfield, with the construction of a 20-mile Connecticut River Walk and Bikeway, addressing concerns raised by the author.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"You're a Racist!"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“You’re a Racist!”
February 13, 2020

The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in a moment of
comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
                                                                                                Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
                                                                                                Strength to Love, 1963

“You’re a racist!” The words stung. At first, I was upset and mystified. The word racist is defined by Webster as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human behavior and the racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” I could not understand the vitriol that prompted the accusation. I do not (and did not) believe I am racist, nor do I think I am misogynistic, anti-Semitic or xenophobic. While this incident occurred three years ago, I had not belittled Blacks by urging them to be dependent on an all-caring government. I have never implied they could not make it on their own; in fact, I have suggested they could and would – that aspiration was half the battle. I have never denied Asian-Americans admission to America’s most prestigious universities, simply because they were Asians, nor have I ever supported Boycott and Divest Sanctions (BADS) against Israel, just because the Jewish people wish to defend a homeland that dates back 2000 years And I never persuaded a young intern to perform oral sex in my office.

I am certainly no paragon of virtue. But all I had done was to write words in support of Mr. Trump’s attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to “drain the swamp,” a quagmire of corrupt politicians, crony capitalists and bureaucratic administrators who feed off the public teat. I had had the temerity to defy teachers’ unions, when writing in support of school choice for inner-city children. I had provoked the anger of the “woke” by supporting the “stop, question and frisk” policy in cities where crime is a constant menace for minorities.

My accuser was a man plagued with Trump Derangement Syndrome – an emotional condition that infects the rationally challenged. My support for Mr. Trump was based on his belief that smaller, less intrusive government, with less regulation and lower taxes, provides the incentives to drive economic growth. I believe it is the private sector, not government, that allows higher living standards. I support Mr. Trump’s concern for failing public schools, especially those in inner cities, and that choice should be available to all Americans, regardless of income or wealth. Is it right to conclude that order and discipline in the classroom are necessary for learning, or are they instruments of oppression as claimed by New York City Schools’ Chancellor Richard Carranza? Is it racist to help raise living standards for Blacks and Hispanics? Is it racist to support better schools for inner city children? In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Jason Riley wrote: “According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 67% of charter students are nonwhite and 58% come from loc-income families.” We live in a world where demand for such schools exceeds supply, yet they are denied by politicians financially obligated to teachers’ unions.

Is it racist to curtail illegal immigration and encourage legal immigration, and is it racist to argue against sanctuary cities and states? Most of those negatively affected by the influx of illegals, are under-educated, poverty-stricken minorities living in inner cities. They are the ones who must compete for jobs, as well as for federal and state-offered services. They are the ones most affected by the squalor and human excrement on streets in sanctuary cities like San Francisco, Boulder, Chicago and Hartford. According to the Federation for Immigration Reform, there were in the U.S., in 2018, 564 sanctuary jurisdictional cities and states in the United States. A nation of individual states is held together by common bonds and by federal laws that apply equally to all. Cynically, Democrats see illegal immigrants as a way to propagate voting supporters. While I find Mr. Trump’s character off-putting, I find his policies enlightening and supportive of individual liberties and free-market economics. Vice President Joe Biden once claimed that Republicans want to put Blacks “back in chains!” But do not policies of progressive Democrats serve to chain Blacks and other minorities to dependency on government? There is nothing racist in encouraging family formations and self-sufficiency.

Which party supports “cancel culture,” with its, microaggressions, intersectionality, trigger warnings and safe places, where cancelling events deemed “hurtful” or “unsafe” has become the norm? Which party has promoted identity politics that encourages separation, which divides not unites? Which party has embraced censorship at colleges and universities, which denies free speech by preventing speakers of opinions contrary to the standards taught?

Epithets such as “You’re a racist!” are the refuge of the unoriginal, mean and the ignorant. Those who use such words refuse to debate issues on their merits; they substitute emotional outbursts for reasoned discussion. While Blacks represent 13% of the population, they account for almost 50% of murder victims. Yet, 89% of Black murder victims are killed by other Blacks. Have policies of appeasement succeeded? Was not racism a factor in Jussie Smollett’s faking a hate crime in Chicago a year ago?

There is no question that racists exist, but they are not exclusively conservatives. There is no question that prejudice is a characteristic of some on the right – bigots who feel their color makes them superior. But there is also no question that there are racists on the left – those who feel that Blacks cannot make it on their own, so must be made dependent on the goodness of government. One stems from ignorance and a feeling of inadequacy; the latter emerges from a supercilious attitude that the masses should defer their political opinions to their elite betters. Which is worse? The question is rhetorical, as all forms of racism are wrong. Martin Luther King once said: “I look to the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” That is a goal worthy of us all.

The beauty of American democracy is the ladder up which people climb, when aspiration, dedication and talent move them, and down which they descend, when sloth, carelessness and ineptitude infest them. America is a country rich in diversity of ideas, as well as in its people and natural resources. According to the U.S. Census, in 1950, non-Hispanic Whites comprised 87.5% of the population. Today that number is closer to 60%. That percentage will continue to fall. From its inception, the United States was deemed a melting pot. People come from all over the world, from all nations, races and religions. They are drawn by the ideals laid out by the Founding Fathers and enunciated by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, that this is a nation “of, by and for the people.” There is no aristocracy or embedded ruling class. In coming to the U.S., immigrants seek the liberty and freedom America offers. While they maintain some of their cultural ways, they throw off the yokes that bind them to other, less free, regimes and nations. They integrate into the American psyche.  

When my interrogator spat out the words of venom that prompted this essay, he demonstrated his crudeness and illiteracy. It is actions not words that should concern us. Words are cheap (and often cowardly, as were those of my accuser). To stand up to false accusations, face opposition and confront reality requires fortitude. It is the challenge to which Martin Luther King referred to in the rubric that heads this essay; it demands a rational response. Ironically, many of those who utter such venom are themselves responsible for the cultural schism that divides our country. A hash-tag society that promotes identity politics and victimization divides not unites. The consequence is a new form of segregation. Far better to treat people equally, and let the aspirant, regardless of race, religion, sex, or ideology achieve the American dream.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

"The False Promise of Equality"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The False Promise of Equality”
February 1, 2020

By nature, all men are equal in liberty,
but not in other endowments.”
                                                                                                Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274)

Since time immemorial, a perfect society has been a dream. In the “Book of Revelations,” a thousand, golden, peaceful years are promised, when Christ returns to reign before the final judgment day. In 1516, Thomas More coined the word “Utopia” that he incorporated into the title of his classic work, in which he described perfect conditions on the island of Utopia. In 1620, Pilgrims came to the “New World,” in search of a “city on a hill,” a society under God’s guiding hand. Brook Farm, in West Roxbury, Massachusetts was founded by the transcendentalist and former Unitarian minister, George Ripley in 1841. It was to be an egalitarian, self-sufficient community with no distinction between intellectual and manual labor. While FDR’s New Deal was a response to the Great Depression, the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson was an attempt to banish poverty and let equality rule. The belief that man could live as brothers in peace has long been a promise of idealists, swindlers, fraudsters, charlatans and politicians – or do I repeat myself?

The word ‘inequality’ evokes emotion. Webster defines equality as the “quality or state of being equal.” When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…,” he was not implying that all persons are equal in talents, or that outcomes should be equal. He was saying we are equal in those natural rights granted by God. Under the Constitution, we are equal in our right to assemble and to speak freely; we are equal in our rights under and before the law, and we are equal in our right to vote.

We should strive for equality of opportunity, but we should acknowledge that opportunities differ. Those born of wealthy parents in affluent communities have better educational opportunities than those born to poor parents in impoverished neighborhoods. Parents can try to address such challenges with competition, like voucher programs or charter schools for those who otherwise are stuck with the sole choice of a monopoly public school. Sanctimony abounds, with many leftist politicians in Washington, who rely on teachers’ unions for funding, condemning choice for the poor and middle class, while they take advantage of private schools, an avenue unavailable to those without means. But to pretend that we have the right to equal outcomes sends a false message of hope; it gives rise to the hypocrisy of an egalitarian ideology satirized by George Orwell in his 1950 allegorical novel, Animal Farm.

Despite the histrionics of opposing political parties, conservatives are not against equality. We believe in the wisdom of the people, free markets and competition. Yet, when we admit to preternatural abilities and the inequalities that naturally ensue, we are slandered as unfeeling and prejudicial. Inequality is a fact of life. Is it fair that I am five feet nine, when my brother is six feet? Was it fair that I was born and raised as a white male child of educated parents in the United States, while another child, born the same day, was raised in a primitive, poverty-stricken African village and nation? Of course not, but that is reality. Is it fair that professional basketball teams have proportionally more African American players than their percent of the population would warrant? Is it fair that Jewish and Asian children score better on aptitude tests than their Caucasian, Black and Hispanic neighbors? Would Harvard be a better university if merit was never considered in admissions? Is it not the desire of most of us to be the best we can? We can never have equal outcomes, because we are not equal in intelligence, athleticism, temperament, wealth or artistic ability. We are not equal in aspiration, determination and in the willingness to work hard. Each of us should take advantage of our individual talents and do the best that our abilities allow. We owe that to ourselves, to our families and communities. But outcomes will never be equal.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times by Ary Amerikaner, vice president of the nonprofit Education Trust, spoke to the hidden inequality in schools. Her concern was that resources provided, and dollars spent per pupil, were not equitably distributed. However, in no place in her column did she lament the monopoly position of public schools, nor did she express concern about the political power of the two major teachers’ unions in deterring competitive alternatives for low and middle-income families. In her view, the answer to academic underperformance lies solely in dollars per pupil expended. Competition, families and absenteeism played no role. Dollars spent is important, but so is home environment and school choice.

The battle over the inequality in free speech could be seen in an episode last Fall at Georgetown Law School. Angered and aggrieved students disrupted and prevented from speaking Kevin McAleenan, then acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. His right to speak and the rights of students to hear him were denied. The emotional outbursts of a small cadre of students brought to mind the words of Maine’s Republican Senator Susan Collins when she voted to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court: “We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.” The students at Georgetown Law now claim that any discipline imposed for their illicit behavior would have a “chilling effect on free speech and expression.” In other words, free speech is fine when it comports with preconceived ideas, but not okay if the speaker has views contrary to what the disrupters believe. If that behavior prevails, we are headed to a new dark age.

Striving for perfection is something we should all attempt. But expecting perfection is naïve. Utopias are dreams, false promises, seized upon by charlatans to convince the naïve and unwary to accept their ideas of equality. Ironically, the closest to egalitarian status I have experienced was in Army basic training, in the summer of 1962. Our First Sergeant saw no difference between the three in my company who had just graduated from Harvard Law School and those who came from the streets of Harlem and the hills of Arkansas. We were all equal in his eyes. But service to the nation is not on the bucket list of the “Woke.”

Thomas More fully understood that the Greek roots of the word ‘utopia’ mean no place. An ideal living place is a siren call of those who would be dictators, like National Socialist Adolph Hitler and Communist leaders, such as Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Today we see such threats in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Iran. Their leaders seek a government free of dissenting ideas and opinions. And the consequences under all were (and are) enslaved populations and the killing of those who dared (and dare) disagree. In contrast, it should be our responsibility to make the world a better and fairer place. We should treat all people with respect, whether they agree or disagree with us. The biggest impediment to equality is the promise of equality. Aristotle is quoted as writing, “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.” We are not equal. We differ in myriad ways. We have different talents, desires, and creative genes. Some of us are good and some of us are evil. Voltaire wrote: “All the citizens of a state cannot be equally powerful, but they can be equally free.”  The role of government is to protect our naturally granted equal rights, not to make equal those things that can never be equal. As we strive to be more civil, we should celebrate the differences that allowed a Michael Jordan, a Mother Teresa, a Warren Buffet, an Eleanor Roosevelt, a Stephen Hawking and a Margaret Thatcher to succeed in ways most of us could not. The world is a better place because of their individual and superior talents.