Friday, October 24, 2014

The Karl Rove Myth

I recently had an encounter with a local conservative activist which should not have been surprising to me, a man who had previously held a city council seat. We were talking about the recent change to the city's garbage collection service from a twice weekly pickup to once weekly, and the new garbage cans that everyone hates. I told him I thought it might be something he could run on for the next city council election, but he did not because he thought he had already lost on the issue. I finally just asked him if he would change it back if conservatives had the kind of power on the city council that he wanted. He said yes, of course, but it was sort of like pulling teeth. It was clear to me he didn't actually believe that would ever happen, regardless of what the current issues were. In fact, the only reason I was meeting with him was to ask him if he was running next year and to offer my help. He said it was fifty-fifty...and also that he was considering moving his family to another location where things were nicer and explained to me all the terrible horrible things about the place he was currently living, the very place where he was considering running. I was watching this man complain about how conservative people wouldn't get off their lazy asses and vote for him and, at the same time, wondering why anyone  would vote for him if this is the way he always talked to people. I had come to the meeting all excited to help him run again, and I left the meeting deflated and unenthusiastic. Something in me wonders if men like him actually enjoy deflating people. What kind of politician enjoys deflating people? Losers. That's what kind. Not losers in the sense of their personality or life accomplishments, but people who are likely to lose political races and political battles. Losers in the literal sense of the term.

Last week the news broke that Iraq actually did have a massive stockpile of chemical weapons, which we knew as early as 2004, and the Bush administration never used that fact to vindicate themselves on one of the reasons for the Iraq War they had used. As a result, Democrats have been hammering Republicans for years, saying, "Bush lied. People died." We also found out that Senator Rick Santorum had tried to get the Bush administration to release the evidence, even tried to release it himself, all to no avail. We hear from him and others that the decision not to release the information was made by Karl Rove. Rove felt that they had already lost the issue, and so the facts didn't really matter. Bush became wildly unpopular as a result of the dragging on of the Iraq War, which may have happened anyway. But the impression that he lied to us about the reasons for the war never went away. Does anyone believe now that Rove's decision was the correct one? Does anyone believe that we would have "lost on the issue" if we had actually tried to win after being proven correct?

This post is a response to an article written by my favorite columnist castigating conservatives for hating on Karl Rove. That article was a response to another article by a conservative castigating Karl Rove. The former article argues that Karl Rove has become a myth bigger than any one man could be, first for progressives and now for conservatives, for opposite reasons. Progressives hated him for winning. Conservatives hate him for losing, and for constantly saying we should support the less conservative candidate. I think conservatives would hate him less if they ever actually heard him adhere to the Buckley Rule, that we should support the most conservative candidate who can win. Has anyone ever actually heard Karl Rove support the more conservative candidate in any race at all? I sure haven't. Has he ever once in his life used his skills to analyze a race and conclude that we could run a more conservative candidate and still win? All we ever hear from him is we have to support the moderate, that we have to be less conservative, etc., etc. I can't believe this is in line even with Buckley's distilled strategy, much less with Buckley himself, a man who intentionally ran a political race he knew he would lose just to shake up the debate.

Williamson's point that people who have never won a political race should shut up is a valid one. I fancy myself something of a strategy gamer, and I have encountered the unbounded enthusiasm of new players who fall in love with a certain strategy. I know what it's like to try and explain to them why their strategy will likely fail. I also know what it's like to figure out which strategy will likely work beforehand, testing it, and succeeding. But let me suggest to the reader that politics is somewhat different than a pure strategy game. I have in fact played one strategy game in particular where politics plays a large role, something which took me years to realize, amazingly enough. I have watched good leaders and bad leaders in that game. I know how difficult it is to motivate people to do something very simple like log on at a certain time for five minutes, or sometimes five hours, something very similar to voting. There are tactics hard-coded within the game, situations where regardless of good intentions or motivation, you will still fail or succeed based on mathematics, but motivating people has virtually nothing to do with tactics. I'm skeptical of someone explaining to me that motivating people to vote is reducible to statistics. There is virtually no relation between parliamentary procedure and law, the only situation where the rules of politics are hard-coded, and politics writ large.

I am the type of person who enjoys math, and have enjoyed math since I was a kid when the vast majority of the other kids hated it. It always makes me a little bit giddy when the math people win. But the older I get, the more I realize that most of the important things in human experience have little to do with math. This is the part of me that hates Karl Rove. And I know that if even an academic genius and math lover like myself has enough of the human element to hate Karl Rove, than I know for certain that the vast majority of the U.S. electorate identifies even less with him. And you know what? Political movements live and die off those things, not the statistics that Rove loves so much. I have been the Karl Rove numbers guy in a team of people. I know my place in that sort of environment, and my place is to keep my mouth shut the vast majority of the time, especially in public. I know that my advice is useful in private conversations with leaders. It is not suitable for spewing all over the internet and TV in vain self promotion, constantly smashing people with cold reality when what they really need is motivation to go out there and do what it takes to change the reality. Karl Rove has stepped outside his bounds and outside his role as a campaign advisor. If he had realized he also needed to change the way he talks and speaks, I would have no problem with that. People can change. In a very real sense, change is what people do. But he hasn't.

If this was my only beef with Karl Rove, than I wouldn't be writing even this blog post that no one will read. I sympathize with him. I want people like him to succeed, because I am a person like him. My real beef with Rove is that he is wrong in another, more fundamental way. He's wrong because his outlook on U.S. politics hasn't changed, while U.S. politics itself has changed dramatically.

Did you know that the Democratic Party had the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for a period of forty years from 1954 to 1994? During that time, Republicans never had the majority in the House and only had the majority in the Senate for six years during Reagan's presidency. That's forty years of failure. Four with a zero behind it. That's two entire generations. Karl Rove grew up in one of those generations. So did the Republican political establishment that he represents. They grew up in a period of near total Democratic dominance and Republican futility. They formed their political tactics and strategy, to say nothing of their more basic beliefs, in a time when any Republican who succeeded politically did so only by compromising their principles. There was no other way for a Republican to succeed. Those establishment Republicans are still pissed at Newt Gingrich for his government shutdown tactic in 1994. They blame that for losing to Clinton in 1996, even though it got us welfare reform, a resounding conservative success, and even though Republicans have held the majority in the House for all but four of the last twenty years since then, permanently ending the forty year Democratic run. These old men with so much power in the Republican Party are afraid. They are scared of being too conservative because they grew up in a period when being conservative meant political death. They have failed to recognize the situation has changed, and changed dramatically for the better. They are losers with a loser's mentality. In their defense, it's not really their fault. They were the ones who were right when everyone else was left. They were the ones who took on a losing cause because it was the right thing to do. They deserve to be recognized for that, and then put out to pasture where they belong, right there with Bob Dole who was of course the real reason Republicans lost in '96. We don't need losers running the party now. We need winners.

The myth of Karl Rove has nothing whatsoever to do with how much money his Crossroads PAC has donated to campaigns. It has everything to do with the argument he has put forth in his own words in articles written for the Wall Street Journal, in other publications, on TV and in public appearances. The Karl Rove Myth is the idea that being conservative is an electoral loser. It's an idea that he got from the political period of Democratic dominance, in which he succeeded brilliantly, that is now over. People will of course claim that the election of Barack Obama is a watershed in American politics, but it's not the sort of watershed that is usually claimed. The election of Barack Obama inspired the Tea Party and a wave of conservative enthusiasm. He awoke the sleeping giant. At the beginning of the progressive revolution in American politics, brought on most notably by Woodrow Wilson's administration, there was a massive conservative backlash that elected Harding and Coolidge in the 1920s. But we all know what happened after that: three generations of progressive dominance. Obama's election is similar to Harding's. It is a momentary period of backlash by a political movement in the throes of death. We are already twenty years into the conservative period. If the past is any indication that means we are already at least one third of the way through, and all we have to show for it is welfare reform because of timid Republicans leaders like Rove. The future is conservative, and we need leaders who are trying to push us forward instead of holding us back. Opportunities for conservative change abound, but not if the Karl Rove Myth remains the dominant paradigm in the Republican Party. Not if we are so convinced of losing that we don't even try to win.

Now that's whack.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reform Conservatives and the Export-Import Bank

A subset of the conservative intellectual movement has begun to call itself "reform conservatism". Generally, reform conservatives are real conservatives who are too cool for the Tea Party. Paul Ryan is the supreme example. Other notables include Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru and the new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. You might have to ask the above brain trust on whether the former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor still belongs in the club after becoming the first House Majority Leader to ever lose in his own primary. Reform conservatives wear suits, drink wine and pose for pictures like this:

while exercising their supreme intellect, eloquence and influence with the cool kids to get real conservative reforms implemented in government.

After Eric Cantor lost his election to virtual nobody David Brat, reform conservatives began an obviously coordinated effort to abolish the Export-Import Bank. Cantor had been a supporter of the bank, so the rest of the reform conservative movement immediately moved against the institution Cantor had been protecting.  Reform conservatives began writing articles everywhere about how the Export-Import Bank was nothing more than a slush fund, a pork barrel full of taxpayer cash for favored business interests, most notably Boeing. (Boeing stock dropped two percent after Cantor lost his election.) Supposedly the Ex-Im Bank helps American companies export their goods overseas, but we all know this game. Boeing spends a lot on lobbyists, and they get a lot of cash from the government for their efforts. The Ex-Im Bank was an excellent target for reform conservatives. There was no expectation the Democrats would fight it very hard since Boeing is of course a military contractor and a traditionally Republican interest, so it shouldn't have required a Republican Congress to get done. In addition, the Ex-Im Bank was up for extension earlier this month, meaning that a vote was required to extend the bank. Crucially, the movement to abolish it did not require a positive vote. It only needed to stop a vote to extend it, which made it politically possible without Republican control of the Senate. Reform conservatives recognized a genuine political opportunity to actually do something, and launched a coordinated effort against the Ex-Im Bank. As far as I can tell, they've never done anything like this before. It serves as an instructive test as to what these reform conservatives can get done when it really matters, unlike the forty-plus votes in the House to pass the Ryan budget when everyone knew the Senate wouldn't let it out of committee.

In the actual event, reform conservatives managed to get a vote that only extended the Ex-Im Bank for nine months instead of the seven years that Harry Reid wanted. I'm sure they were told it was a compromise, and that they had scored a victory by getting an opportunity to "revisit" the issue again next year. I'm sure reform conservatives were also told that Republicans would be more receptive to the move after the election this fall, that doing it now would make the Democrats really mad, and we just can't have that. "Wait till after the election". Then after the election we will have to wait until after the next one. We've all heard this before. We'll see if reform conservatives remember. I certainly will, and in nine months I'll be watching closely to see exactly how much real power reform conservatives have. I'll be watching to see how many articles they publish on it and how much difference it makes. My guess is not even enough to get rid of a massive government subsidy for a military contractor when the military budget is being slashed all across the board. But I'll bet they have enough power to get the run-around again, another short extension instead of a long one and the chance to "revisit" the issue again. In the meantime, the Ex-Im Bank continues on just as it has been and nothing changes, even if Republicans take the Senate.

The Tea Party, for all its uncoolness, knows something that reform conservatives do not. If you want to wield political power, you must first have it. It's not enough to appeal to the ideology to which every Republican appeals to get elected in his primary. You have to have political power and you have to hurt somebody with it before you are taken seriously. You can't be a wine club that writes articles for online conservative magazines and expect to get anything done.

The Tea Party also knows that the first enemy is not Democrats but Republicans. Nothing conservative is going to happen when conservatives don't even have control of the supposedly conservative party. We are constantly told that anything conservatives want must wait till next time, while raising the payroll tax, extending the Ex-Im Bank, etc., etc., always happens so easily without so much as a peep from the Republican establishment. We are constantly told to wait until the next election, if we do it now we might lose the election, it's not the right time, we must compromise, etc., etc., etc. Reform conservatives seem to take these excuses at face value, instead of recognizing them for what they are: black propaganda. The Tea Party may not look good in suits, but at least we're not dupes.

Now that's whack.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Freedom to Fail

Tomorrow Scotland votes on independence from the United Kingdom of which it has been a part for a little over three hundred years. From what I am hearing the vote will be very close. Also from what I am hearing, the independence movement mostly thinks it can manage its own socialist state better than the UK can. I consider this unlikely for two reasons. First, socialist systems get some advantages from banding together in larger groups. Failure takes longer when there's more to be ruined. Second, England, mostly London, is still one the world's greatest financial centers, if not the greatest. Without all that English money to redistribute to mostly poor Scotland, Scots will quickly find out how expensive a socialist state is and that they likely cannot pay for it. The learning process will of course lag far behind reality, and so we can expect an independent Scottish state to quickly build up massive amounts of debt and become the next Greece, requiring all manner of bailouts from the IMF or the EU and experience the accompanying austerity measures. We shall see if Scottish national pride is enough to swallow all of this, or at least enough to refuse to admit that independence was a mistake if the purpose is to become an even more socialist state than the UK.

Many who have probably already made this same diagnosis might say independence is a mistake generally, but I disagree. I am in favor of anything which may teach people a lesson. Western nations have become far too maternal for my taste, always trying to prevent others around the world from making mistakes and reasoning, correctly, that if they withdrew their involvement these other nations would quickly fall into disarray. It ought to be painfully obvious that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as promised and implemented by President Obama has led to a rapid disintegration there. Nations suddenly given self-government usually find a way to make every possible mistake which can be made, often by explicitly rejecting the right course of action simply because that was what their old masters were doing. India after independence provides a sobering example of this. Dinesh D'Souza's movie, 2016, shows an interesting interview with one of Barack Obama's half-brothers in Kenya who wrote a book arguing that Kenya has been worse off economically after gaining independence from the British. When you treat other nations like children, they tend to become like children. Children growing up can be told all manner of good things they should do and bad things they should not, but most of these lessons will go unheeded. The greatest teacher of humanity is not parents but pain. So here's to pain and failure, to Scotland's independent future, and the lessons they may be about to learn.

Now that's whack.

P.S. There may be another reason to celebrate an independent Scotland. UKIP, the rapidly rising political party in Britain favoring independence from the EU, will likely make significant gains if something like Scottish independence shocks the normally stodgy British out of their complacency. Unlike Scotland's independence, independence from the EU would be unquestionably and immediately good for Britain. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Fly Swatter

George Will has recently published an article endorsing "conservative internationalism" as described by Henry R. Nau. This gives me the opportunity to finish a post I began several months ago when I first read this article by Mr. Nau attempting to answer a very important question that almost nobody of any disposition appears to have seriously grappled with: Why did nation building work in Germany and Japan after World War II yet not work in Iraq and Afghanistan? Mr. Nau has accurately diagnosed several problems with U.S. foreign policy and shows an excellent knowledge of the specific issues, problems and options involved. However I cannot agree with his prescribed solution. In his conclusion, Mr. Nau implies that his solution will reduce violence and tame despots in contrast to the straw-man of isolationism, even as it accepts the political reality of a reduced U.S. role in international affairs. Therein lies the primary problem that Mr. Nau has failed to diagnose and fails to solve.

U.S. foreign policy has failed primarily when it is required to adhere to domestic political concerns. This has been the major spoiler in U.S. foreign policy since World War II and its aftermath. The U.S. failed to achieve its objectives in the Korean War primarily because President Truman and theater commander General MacArthur were working at cross purposes to each other for political reasons. Truman put MacArthur in charge of post-war Japan and kept him there because he considered MacArthur a domestic political threat. Truman, ridiculously, believed MacArthur might become a military dictator that would destroy American democracy forever. Equally ridiculously, MacArthur believed it was both possible and desirable that the United States should invade and conquer Communist China to eliminate communism, making the mistake of pursuing an economic and political goal through military means. These political goals were pursued to varying degrees by each figure in the run-up and execution of the Korean War. China was understandably nervous that while Truman publicly emphasized he did not intend to invade China, he still put MacArthur in charge of the Korean War, sending a mixed message about his intentions there. The Chinese and Asians in general don't listen to what you say; they listen to what you do. So when MacArthur ventured way too close to the Chinese border in pursuit of the retreating North Korean Army against the implicit wishes of Truman, the Chinese understandably felt threatened, entered the war and turned what should have been an unequivocal American victory and a united Korea into the situation we still have today. We all know how domestic opposition to the Vietnam War hamstrung the effort from the beginning and ended it before we could win.

After the Korean and Vietnam Wars things become far murkier. In the Gulf War, Bush ended the effort after liberating Kuwait mostly because the coalition of the willing wasn't willing to enter Iraq and end Hussein, despite the fact the U.S. was providing effectively all of the military resources needed for the conflict. As a result there was ongoing violence between U.S. forces and Saddam's Iraqi forces for twelve years, including Tomahawk missile attacks against Iraqi targets under President Clinton in 1998. The Iraq War of 2003 never should have happened, not because it wasn't the right move, but because it was the right move in 1991. What stopped us then? International politics, and the correct reasoning of foreign policy men like Dick Cheney, who argued at the time that Iraq would be politically unstable after an invasion and removal of Hussein's government. Afghanistan is a tougher case, but the one clear lesson coming out of our involvement there is that nation building has utterly failed, though probably not because of anything the U.S. did or didn't do. When I first began writing this, I wrote that even Iraq is better off than Afghanistan. Due to recent events that is no longer clear.

But let's consider, as Mr. Nau does, the case of Germany and Japan after World War II. Germany and Japan were utterly, totally defeated after the war, and the United States and its allies took full political control over those two countries after the war. The U.S. was the sole power in Japan, and Germany was divided into four sections controlled by the U.S., British, French and Soviets, which became West and East Germany. Not only that, but the Marshall Plan funneled $15 billion over four years to European countries to help them rebuild and was by all accounts a great success. The U.S. and its allies provided security for the conquered countries while slowly handing over sovereignty, and in many respects still provides security to these completely independent, sovereign nations nearly seventy years later. Germany and Japan are today two of the world's largest economies, and there can be no argument that whatever the merits of the nation-building strategy generally, it has been undeniably successful in these two cases. Why? Why successful here but not in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Mr. Nau answers this question with an interesting if vague geographical conception of freedom tailored more towards current geopolitics than an explanation of the aftermath of World War II. Perhaps he explains the concept more in his book, but in the article he treats it as self-evident. He advocates that the United States should not engage in promoting democracy and freedom everywhere, but only in those places which geographically border nations which already have democracy and freedom. In doing this, he assumes that freedom and democracy spreads geographically, naturally, and organically, and has no natural enemies capable of limiting its encroachment, at least none that cannot be overcome by U.S. foreign policy. I disagree with both assumptions, but I think Mr. Nau is headed in the right direction here, at least compared to U.S. foreign policy since World War II. At least he admits of factors in play that cannot be absolutely controlled by the U.S. government.

In that time, U.S. foreign policy makers have generally believed that with the right amount of pressure, whether military, economic, diplomatic or some combination, the U.S. can achieve any foreign policy objective that it wants. According to this understanding, the only variable, the only question that is worth answering, is "What do we want?" No one has stopped to ask the question of what is and isn't possible. We have asked that question in short-term, tactical situations of course, but the overriding belief and opinion has been that the U.S. government can make anything happen in the entire world with enough political will, analytical skill and time. I do not say "with enough power", because the center of this belief system is that the U.S. automatically possesses all power. It's no surprise that men of that strain like Mr. Nau adjust their foreign policy to the domestic political realities of the United States and lament the lack of domestic political will for foreign policy goals. It's also no surprise that critics of U.S. foreign policy such as Ron Paul and the hardcore leftists also adhere to the basic assumption that the U.S. can get whatever it wants and conclude the U.S. is solely responsible for all the problems in the world. According to these critics, all problems in the world are the result of U.S. foreign policy mistakes. It is always interesting to me to discover common principles at work in the thought of extremely antagonistic forces. People with such widely divergent views as Ron Paul and George W. Bush all appear to believe that the U.S. government is the primary, essential force moving the entire world. One might even say the U.S. is the "prime mover" of world politics. Very few people have thought to wonder whether or not the U.S. can in fact always exercise complete control over the affairs of other nations, either by action or inaction, correct or mistaken. Mr. Nau is, I think, at least asking the question, but his answer is completely unoriginal and returns to the basic assumption that in foreign policy, the answer to every question is "yes we can".

Though Mr. Nau acknowledges that the U.S. may be unable to achieve "democracy and freedom" in parts of the world that are too far removed from the borders of "democracy and freedom", he advocates a foreign policy position called "conservative internationalism" which assumes that "democracy and freedom" will inevitably spread across the entire globe naturally and that U.S. foreign policy can speed up this process. But he also presents this policy as a domestic political compromise with the express purpose of achieving as active a foreign policy as possible with the assent of the American people in their current political mood. In other words, the U.S. can get as much as the American people want, as fast as they want it, as if there were no other forces acting in the world.

At this point I find myself coming to the difficult task of explaining something I know to be true which I consider self-evident. It is such a basic part of my understanding of the world as a person who has traveled it fairly widely at a very young and impressionable age, that I fear I will fail to explain it to someone without that experience. I will try explaining it abstractly, and then with a story.

Believe it or not, democracy and freedom, wealth and happiness, are not the most important priorities for every culture in the world. Believe it or not, there are some cultures which value all sorts of priorities above their own comfort, liberty and happiness, even above those same things for their entire community. These values may be family, community or national bonds themselves. They may be honor or tradition. Religion is probably the most important value that is almost always completely overlooked in American foreign policy discussions. Men like Mr. Nau may realize this intellectually, but their response is always to argue that democracy and freedom, wealth and happiness, are superior values and will in the end overwhelm all opposition. This is clearly what George W. Bush believes. Many of them even believe these values are never mutually exclusive; that everyone can have their cake and eat it too. They appear never to have considered the idea that many, if not most people in the world are simply beyond convincing. They have made their choice, and no amount of argument, evidence, well-intentioned or not, or foreign policy pressures, either economic, diplomatic or military, can ever change their belief system. It is quite simply beyond any human power to do so, and any view of the world which fails to acknowledge the limits of human power will not only fail to understand the world, but will fail to act rationally and positively within it.

But I promised a story. I think I will tell two, but I could tell many more just like these.

My Christian college group used to spend spring break in Mexico, not having drunken sex on beaches, but building churches and houses for people there. One year we conspired with a local Mexican church to build a house for a very poor family living in a classic shanty house made of cinder block, random wood planks and a tin roof. We had a few architectural students in our group who came up with this really great schematic for a really nice, small prefabricated house that we could assemble mostly before we went and put it up quickly when we got down there. We had the money and the means, and were all set to go with the plan. All we needed was their permission. To our complete surprise, the Mexican family rejected the idea, on the grounds that the house was too nice and it wasn't right that they have such a nice place when all their neighbors didn't. We were flabbergasted. Something like that had never occurred to us, that a family would reject having something nice because their neighbors did not also have it. We tried to push the issue, but the answer came back that they would rather not have us build anything at all then build for them that house. Out of respect for their wishes we made new plans to build a basic wood framed house with a sort of drywall made of concrete instead of gypsum that we could buy locally. Because the new project would take more time, we had to ask them to pour the cement foundation of the house themselves before we got there. Upon arrival, we found the cement foundation had not been poured level and spent four of the five days we had available jury-rigging the wood frame into a compromise between stability and the uneven foundation, complete with shimmys and shanks all over the place. You see, Mexican construction is based on cinder block and cement for mortar. Uneven foundations are not a problem for them, since they just even it out with every row of cinder block they stack. Uneven foundations are, however, a major problem for wood frame construction. We moved everyone in our group off their other projects to the house on the last day just to get it somewhat close to finished, working from dawn till dusk with a gusto and can-do attitude that, apparently, only the Americans had or cared about for that matter. In the end we constructed a provisionally stable structure according to the explicit specifications of the Mexican family who would live in it: it looked like crap. You could not invent a better parable for the project of building American frameworks on foreign foundations.

I went to China in the summer of 2005 with a Christian missionary group posing their missionaries as English teachers, which are in high demand. Many of my students told me their aspiration to be businessmen, and the primary customer of Chinese business is Americans, hence the desire to learn English. These were all high school students, and after awhile it was clear they already knew English better than many Americans. I think we were there just to expose them to native speakers, not really to teach them anything. But I will never forget one night all the American teachers sat up on the stage so the students could ask us questions. I get the feeling they had asked this particular question before and always received the same answer, but could never quite get over it. The question was: If your spouse and your mother were both drowning and you could only save one, which would you save? Of course the Americans all answered by saying the spouse. There was something of an uproar as the students proceeded to explain to us that we were obviously in error. We should save our mothers, for we only have one. One can always get another spouse.

Experiences like these should quickly disabuse intelligent souls of the notion that all peoples and cultures share the same basic values. The idea that the world turns round on the opinions and values of the American public is fundamentally wrong. It is not always our fault when things go "wrong" in the world. There is not always a course of action we could take to kiss it and make it better. There are a great many people who disagree with us about the very idea of right and wrong, or what is better and what is worse. Our "wrong" might be their "right", and it is not our fault if events on the other side of the world go to hell.

The primary goal of U.S. foreign policy should not be to do as much as we can within the political tolerance of the American people. Our tolerance for foreign adventures is not the primary force acting in those places, and it should not be the criteria by which we act there. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why the Constitution gives so much power over foreign policy to the president. It's the same reason Supreme Court Justices have lifetime terms. The purpose is to prevent democratic impulses from exercising influence over processes, such as war and the justice system, where they have so often proven detrimental. Who can forget the public outcry against the business leaders who got billions in bonuses for presiding over failing companies which received government bailouts? But these things were in contracts which have the force of law. It is not appropriate for government to be the vehicle of the democratic urge to wipe out valid contracts whenever it gets peeved. Likewise, it is not appropriate for men like Mr. Nau, who ought to know better, to give legitimacy to the idea that fickle democratic impulses ought to be the primary restraint on U.S. foreign policy. It appears to me, without having read his book, that he accepts this restraint because he doesn't believe there are any other restraints, "borders of freedom" notwithstanding. And that is our problem. It is no less and no more than that. We believe that we are the only power in the world worth consulting. It never occurs to us to let people do the things we know are wrong because it is their decision to make. It never occurs to us that perhaps we should accept a more Westphalian attitude, that the things which happen in other countries are their business not because it is morally right, not because the American public loses interest or willpower, but because they actually do have the power to do what they want, regardless of how or when we interfere. Their choices, their beliefs, their actions matter more than ours do when it comes to the places in which they live, and we don't.

At the risk of this post becoming too long, I have to finish the thought, which is a long and rather complicated one. I began by raising the same question Mr. Nau raised in his article: Why did nation-building work in Germany and Japan after World War II but not in Iraq and Afghanistan? One could argue that Mr. Nau's "borders of freedom" included Germany since it was at least a democracy, but Japan? Japan had never been a free, liberal society and was halfway across the world from any country that was. Was it really a foreign policy concerned with slowly pushing the boundaries of freedom in the world that turned Japan around? Was it anything we did at all? There are really only two things we did. We told them it was their fault, which they certainly already knew, and that we were going to crush them. Then we did, at great cost not only to them but also to ourselves. The rest was up to them. Maybe there is something about total, crushing defeat, but for whatever reason both the nations of Japan and Germany did a rare thing: they repented.  They acknowledged that what they did was wrong, and they turned from their wicked ways.

Can we say the same thing about Iraq and Afghanistan? The question is complicated by the fact that Iraq and Afghanistan are not really nations in the same sense that Germany and Japan are. Iraq has always been three nations in one state, a fact becoming ever more clear after the lightning rise of the Islamic State. The defeat of Saddam Hussein was really the defeat of the Sunni nation's rule over the Kurdish and Shiite nations. Having the Shiite nation turn the tables and rule the Sunnis was never going to solve the problem. This was the only possible outcome of democracy in a state where sixty percent of the population are Shia. The Sunnis refused to accept that, and the Shiites, being something less than the Western liberal democrats we foolishly acted as though they were, refused to work with them. This is the result, and it would have happened regardless of what the U.S. did or didn't do. There is no future for a state with three nations. There is a future for three nation states, and that is now happening. As for Afghanistan, it has never been anything more than a piece of land in central Asia that is too rugged and too tribal to govern. There is no Afghani nation. There is barely even a state. There are myriad tribes and peoples who have never traveled a valley too far from the place they were born, and they know nothing more. There has never been and never will be an Afghani nation, and the state, like Iraq, is a Western construct, a convenience for confused cartographers.

But did they repent? First we must ask what they did wrong. In Iraq, the wrong was primarily Sunni violence and persecution of the other two nations. Obviously the Sunnis have not repented, so there will continue to be violence. It is their fault, not ours. In Afghanistan, the only wrong was the Islamic government living out their religion. In the case of Islam, that is a serious wrong. We have tried to pretend like it isn't. We have advanced the fiction that Islamic terrorists are only a radical, extremist minority. All we have to do is swat a fly and all our problems will be over. Crazy people have suggested that all our problems with Islamic terrorism stem from the fact that the CIA supported a coup against the democratically elected Islamist government in Iran in 1953. Other perfectly rational people say that Islam is a peaceful religion, and our problem is not really with a 1400-year-old religious belief shared by one billion people. (It never ceases to amaze me how much sway recent U.S. presidents think they have over Muslim theologians. Imagine if Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei gave a speech in which he directly addressed the American people to tell us what counts as blasphemy in Christianity. The idiocy is unbelievable. Would it elicit anything other than anger from us? Should we expect any other reaction from them?) Know this: Insofar as the people of Afghanistan or any other Islamic people do not repent of Islam and turn from it, they are not repenting of killing and warring against non-Muslims anywhere in the world, at any time of their choosing or convenience. If we think that a few missiles or yet another Western occupation is going to convince them to change a 1400-year-old belief system, well we don't just have another thing coming. We are already getting it.

Americans are optimists. We believe that every problem has a solution. We'd like to believe that this problem is easily solved. We'd like to believe that it's only a few extremist crazies who believe in Islamic world domination. But look at ourselves. We believe that democracy and freedom will one day dominate the world. Don't we? Is it rational to think that nobody else in the world has the same conviction about their belief system as a bunch of wealthy, comfortable, naive Americans? In most places in the Islamic world, this belief is all they have. It is everything to them. They are not going to give it up. This problem has no solution. There are no "borders of freedom" slowly expanding into the Islamic world. It has nothing to do with borders, territory, wealth, happiness, democracy or freedom. There are no flies to be swatted at the fickle whims of the American public's tolerance for foreign adventures. There is a monster, not of flesh but of spirit. The only solution is to slay it. Otherwise it will live on, terrorizing the world with its evil.

So what do we do about it? The question too often means: what does our government do about it? The answer is nothing. This is not a military conflict. It is a spiritual, religious conflict which no government, not even the most powerful the world has ever seen, possesses the power to resolve. All attempts to do so will fail. There are some immediate, temporary problems tangential to the main issue which can be solved by a proper and realistic foreign policy, but not if we are restrained by the feelings people get when they watch the six o'clock news and realize that, dontcha know it, bad things happen in the world, but only when it happens on my TV set. I have outlined a very simple, but not easy, set of prescriptions for how to handle foreign relations. The current case in Iraq is murky at best, but since the state of Iraq is a Western construct rather than a Middle Eastern reality, I suggest we let it play out. There is certainly no point in airstrikes when we aren't committed to the security of the Iraqi state. When we say the government should act to protect Christian or other religious minorities who live there, we are making it into a religious war. Unlike the Quran, the Bible does not support religious warfare, meaning warfare aiming to force people to live according to different belief systems. Rather, it supports war for all the normal, mundane reasons that states usually engage in it: territory and property rights. It is sad that this is happening to Christian brothers and sisters, but remember what the Bible says about persecution and martyrdom. We consider it pure joy that we have been counted worthy of suffering for the sake of Christ. As Lieutenant Worf so wisely put it, it is not a time to mourn. They will receive their reward. We should not be using military means to solve religious problems. Indeed, part of our problem, perhaps the whole of it, in this area of the world is we consistently fail to acknowledge that the problems there are primarily religious with no military or economic solution.

There are three nations in Iraq. Let them have their three states, such as they are. Let them have whatever type of government they want. Let them kill each other to their hearts content. But if one of those states decides it is in their best interests to cross that line and attack us or our allies, there can be no testing the wind of public opinion. There should be no politically acceptable wrist-slapping centered around the so-called "borders of freedom", wherever the hell that is supposed to be. There must be a clearly defined line, a real border drawn on a map, and once that line is crossed their religious problem becomes our military problem, and our response should be swift with overwhelming military and moral force.

You are men. You have made choices for which you alone are responsible. You have done evil in our sight and in the sight of God. We warned you how we would respond. You failed to heed our warning, and so we will crush you. We hope that you will repent, but we know that you will not. So know this: We will crush you again and again, once for every time you cross the line.

Now that's whack.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Two updates on Benghazi

In my last post I outlined what I think is going on with the Benghazi scandal. Briefly, I think Hillary Clinton directed her assets in the State Department, which is in charge of foreign embassies, to secretly smuggle weapons to Libyan jihadist groups on the understanding they would be used against the Iranian-backed Assad regime in Syria. When these jihadist groups started moving these weapons elsewhere, the State Department began trying to track them down with the help of the CIA, and the jihadist groups retaliated by attacking the U.S. embassy and CIA annex in Benghazi.

The first update is the Boko Haram situation in Nigeria. Seemingly unrelated to Benghazi, some news outlets reported that Boko Haram had come into possession of weapons they got from Libya. This is not surprising considering the historic overland trade routes between north and west Africa. Boko Haram got into the news a couple of weeks ago because they had become much more aggressive recently and kidnapped over 200 girls, vowing to sell them into slavery. "Boko Haram" means basically "non-Islamic education is sin". The girls were getting such an education when they were abducted. Now, this sort of thing happens all the time in the Muslim world. I question why this particular incident made it into the news. I suppose Boko Haram has been more active lately, possibly due to their acquisition of weapons from Libya, but the rather overblown calls for U.S. intervention trumped up by the media seem fake to me. Again, this sort of thing happens all the time. The U.S. normally only gets involved when it feels as if it has some responsibility for what's happening. Perhaps that is the case in Nigeria because Clinton's State Department supplied the weapons that Boko Haram is now using to escalate their activities. There were all sorts of calls in the media for U.S. to send in troops to rescue these girls, but that is just a political cover for what really ended up happening. The U.S. did not send in special forces to extract the kidnapped schoolgirls. However, Obama did send in an eighty-man drone team for "intelligence purposes". Drones which could potentially scout and identify caches of smuggled U.S. weapons in the hands of Boko Haram. Drones which could fire missiles at those weapons caches and destroy them. Drones which could destroy evidence that Hillary Clinton smuggled weapons to Islamic terrorists who used them to attack schoolgirls. Drones which certainly could not effect a rescue of said schoolgirls.

I should remind the reader that last part is conjecture.

The second update is the escalating situation in Iraq concerning a Sunni jihadist group now known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sometimes referred to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. ISIS is an alliance of Sunni jihadist rebel groups in Syria that has now taken over large portions of territory in Iraq, including several Sunni areas that were the scene of fierce fighting during the Iraq war. It is now being reported that ISIS is in possession of U.S. weaponry. It is also being reported that certain factions in D.C., including Senators McCain and Graham, want intervention in Iraq against ISIS, after advocating intervention in Syria for ISIS. In a little reported episode a few weeks ago, McCain all but endorsed Hillary Clinton at an event in Arizona. I believe Senators Graham and McCain both knew about Clinton's gunrunning, supported it, and are now trying to help her mitigate the consequences by advocating U.S. involvement against Boko Haram and ISIS. Once again, U.S. involvement precipitates more schizophrenic U.S. involvement seemingly acting against itself when U.S. involvement doesn't achieve its desired ends due to massive incompetence in our foreign policy establishment in its basic understanding of the peoples of this world.

Now that's whack.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Benghazi Conspiracy Theory

I just wanted to quickly go on the record about what I think was really going on in Benghazi, Libya before this recently appointed select committee gets to the bottom of it. I'm going to do this quickly so there won't be a lot of references, but I will try to list clearly what I believe are known facts and what is conjecture on my part.


- There were several terrorist attacks on Western targets in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attack on 9/11/12 which killed four Americans.

- Every embassy except the U.S. embassy had left Benghazi due to security concerns.

- American personnel, most notably Ambassador Stevens who ended up dead, were pleading for more security at the embassy and did not get it.

- There were 33 CIA personnel on the ground that day, apparently deployed at a separate building about a mile away from the actual embassy. This is usually called the CIA annex, and it appears this location was supposed to be secret. None of the 33 CIA personnel have talked about what happened that night, and it has been reported that an unusual amount of official pressure has been employed to make sure they do not reveal anything about what happened in Benghazi.

- The attack on the embassy included heavy weapons such as mortars and RPGs. Mortars caused the deaths of the two Navy Seals who died at the CIA annex. The other two victims, Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith, died at the embassy. Military experts have testified that in their opinion the mortar fire was pre-sighted, which means the attack had been planned far in advance. As far as I know, mortar fire was heaviest at the CIA annex, which was supposed to be a secret location.

- The attack lasted nine hours and both locations were attacked. During this time, no military assets in range of Benghazi were ordered to move in and help though at least two units were in range and could have gotten there in time, one in Tripoli and one in Italy. Air power could have been mobilized much faster and used to "buzz" the attackers, which is sometimes effective in scaring them off without firing a shot. None of this was done. In fact, all personnel on the ground even in Benghazi itself received orders to stand down and not intervene when the embassy was attacked. Personnel stationed at the annex disobeyed orders and went to the embassy to help evacuate it, saving several lives. The annex was later attacked as well. The unit in Tripoli actually chartered a private flight to Benghazi on its own initiative and made it to the annex in time to sustain some of the casualties during the attack.

- Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, and President Barack Obama disagreed on arming Syrian rebels. Clinton was in favor; Obama was against. The State Department is in charge of U.S. foreign embassies and was the top of the chain of command for all forces on the ground in Benghazi. The order to stand down came from the State Department.

- Jihadist groups, mainly Ansar al-Sharia, part of Al-Qaeda, in Libya were known to be in possession of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which they greatly desire due to Western air superiority. From what I have gathered, the only confirmed weapons they had were Russian. However, during the Libya action and ever since, Libyan jihadists had repeatedly asked the U.S. for anti-aircraft weapons despite the fact that what little air power Qaddafi had was destroyed within hours of the beginning of the Libyan action.


- I believe that Hillary Clinton was using the U.S. embassy and CIA personnel in Benghazi to arm jihadist groups with weapons up to and including anti-aircraft missiles. I believe she did this without the permission and knowledge of Obama's White House.

- Clinton intended these weapons to be smuggled to Syria, probably overland through Egypt first. I believe the jihadists groups, mainly Ansar al-Sharia, told the Americans what they wanted to hear in order to get access to weapons, and then took them wherever they wanted, not necessarily to Syria.

- I believe Clinton's State Department found out about it and were engaged in intelligence operations and possibly even covert operations in Benghazi in an attempt to ascertain where these weapons were and possibly get them back, since they were not being used for their intended purpose and even finding their way into the hands of people who might use them against U.S. forces. This would explain the CIA personnel as well as why the U.S. embassy remained in Benghazi despite the deteriorating security situation. It explains why U.S. forces were ordered by the State Department to stand down and not intervene in the attack, because any intervention would have escalated it and increased the likelihood of exposure of what was really going on. It would also explain the biggest mystery: why the embassy was attacked. Ansar al-Sharia was striking back to prevent the U.S. from finding and retrieving their weapons and in retaliation for U.S. covert operations against them. 

- Clinton's State Department did not initially communicate what was going on to the Obama White House for obvious reasons, which is why Obama apparently did not consider it a higher priority than a campaign stop in Las Vegas.

- The combination of the White House not being informed of what was really going on, the sensitive nature of the mission, and the incident occurring two weeks before the election led to all of the confusion about what happened, out of which the ridiculous story about a protest against an internet video evolved. The White House was not lying just because of the election. They were lying because they did not know what was going on there until, presumably, Clinton was finally forced to tell them after the attack was over. They were also lying to cover up the fact that the State Department under Clinton had given weapons to terrorists.

Hopefully within the next year or two the Congressional committees will get to the bottom of this and the truth will come out. If I am right, then if all of this does come out Hillary Clinton will never be President of the United States and may not even run.

Now that's whack.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Movie Review: God's Not Dead

The last couple weeks I've been feeling rather bad. A bunch of people at work came down with some sort of stomach flu. It's mild but causes diarrhea and mild dizziness and lasts for two or three weeks. I'm guessing I got the same thing. So please keep that in mind when I say this: I balled like a baby several times during the new Newsboys movie, God's Not Dead. This review will be spoiler-free because it's really not a movie review. I've been reading some other reviews which claim that the scenarios acted out in this movie are unrealistic because we live in a country that is over eighty percent Christian, so I'm going to tell some real stories from my own life that might bear some resemblance to parts of the movie. Mostly, this is me writing to figure out why it affected me so much. I don't think it was either happiness or sadness. It was more validation.

I went to college to study biochemistry because of the book Darwin's Black Box. My dad gave it to me in high school and I was instantly hooked. I was amazed by all the fascinating things that happen routinely in our own bodies. Molecular biology is the mother of all How It Works episodes. I had heard everything that young Christians hear about secular colleges, but I was prepared for it. In some ways, I was too prepared, always expecting a big debate on substantive issues to emerge in every class. Unfortunately I went to a university where just about everyone pretty much only cared about getting through the day, checking the box, signing on the dotted line, getting a degree. College was a big disappointment for me in some ways. I remember taking my Genetics class as an honors course. In order to get honors credit, we had to have a couple of sessions with just the honors students and the professor. The first session we decided what book to read and what chapters we would each be assigned. I advocated for Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, but pretty much everyone else voted for another one. I wanted a debate, and was denied. The second session we presented our assigned chapters to the group. We weren't even required to read the entire book. What a joke. At the second session I was the only one who presented without notes, mostly because I didn't care. From the looks of things nobody else did either. Three more honors credits. Check.

Nothing along the lines of what happened to the protagonist in God's Not Dead happened to me randomly or out of the blue. At my university there was the infamous anti-Christian professor just like in the movie, and some of my friends took his Old Testament class on purpose. I did not. But I did experience situations quite similar to those in the movie, mostly because I expected them and deliberately sought them out. That is an important thing to remember. The secular university is just fine letting people go along to get along, and most students do. The powers that be will only respond with a vengeance when threatened. If you are not threatening, you don't have much to worry about.

My first experience wasn't much to write home about. In my freshman English class which I took as a sophomore, we were required to give a presentation at the end of the semester. Most of the students, in fact I think all of them, presented the same topic as their final paper which made for some real yawners. But our teacher had said we could present on any topic we wanted, so I chose intelligent design. I remember going through most of the presentation completely serious, professional and stone-faced, except for a small bit of early 20th century comic relief:

I remember seeing several very serious looks back from the class, but the professor on the other hand behaved like she had ants in her pants the entire presentation. I was the only one out of the entire class whom she warned for time.

Sometime during my sophomore or junior year I started an intelligent design student club. The club was unsuccessful, mostly because I fail at marketing and people skills. For instance, I refused to go around to the various campus Christian groups to pitch the club, even when my own campus minister wanted me to pitch it for our group, because I was very intent on the group avoiding accusations of religious bias. I wish someone had told me then that the success of the group should not be a lower priority than what people would say about it. I organized a disbursal of table tents in the student union once, but as I found out it takes quite a bit more than that to make a student organization work. The one event we (really I) held was a debate with the campus atheist group, which went very well. I remember holding my own very well against several atheist students who showed up. In particular, I remember telling them very clearly and directly that I had no designs on forcing my religion on anyone, I merely wanted to be able to pursue an academic career in science without being in danger of losing my job. I'm not sure what they thought of that, but I received only silence in return. I knew then and now that many atheists actively and openly advocate against allowing Christians into scientific fields.

(EDIT: A couple years after I graduated, I learned that Dr. Martin Gaskell, the astronomy professor who had signed on as the faculty advisor for my intelligent design club at Nebraska, was denied a position at the University of Kentucky because he was, and I quote, "potentially evangelical". This and other revealing things were learned from subpoenaed emails, such as the revealing conversation among the committee responsible for filling the position saying in plain English that Dr. Gaskell was by far the most qualified applicant. Dr. Gaskell settled the case for $125,000. There are numerous other similar examples of persecution within scientific fields. When it comes to persecution of professional academics, the bias in our academic system is far, far worse than what is shown in God's Not Dead. Even President Obama's appointment of Francis Collins to head the NIH was vigorously opposed by atheists and scientists for no other reason than Collins was a Christian.)

Some time after that I took a philosophy of science course even though it satisfied none of my graduation requirements. Turns out, two of the guys I had debated ended up in the class with me. I thought, "Jackpot!" This was going to be fun. I was itching for a fight and was determined to make it happen. Unfortunately the professor was some LGBT fanatic who apparently had studied philosophy of science to prove the legitimacy of alternative sexual orientations. We spent an inordinate amount of class time going over the myriad genetic diseases affecting gender in excruciating detail, so there wasn't a lot of time for grander ideas. But I did manage to pin her down once when we were discussing matter as a basis for philosophy. I poked holes, prodded and provoked with questions until she finally lost her cool a little bit, took a few menacing steps toward me, loomed over at me and asked, "Well what would you suggest?" I must admit, having spoiled for a fight I was somewhat unprepared to be directly challenged. I will forever regret that the words which came out of my mouth were spoken only loud enough that a few students next to me heard them. The moment passed and never came again. I had won control of the agenda, and she had offered a portion to me, and I wilted. Not for lack of ability or passion. I wasn't a coward. I was simply surprised that what I was speaking about evoked a menacing response from her in the midst of what had been a cool, rational discussion. I wilted because I was embarrassed, yes, but embarrassed for her. The veneer of rational cool had lifted, only for a moment, and the bare emotional core revealed. After the moment passed, I couldn't help but glance at the president of that atheist club taking the class with me. The look on his face was priceless. A nerve had been struck, and he was looking at the professor with new eyes.

The next year I offered to debate the same atheist group again, but their leadership had all graduated and it was being run by completely different people. My debate offer was met with epithets and vitriol. I was directed to the natural history museum to which I had already been many times, being in my hometown. In short, a debate was out of the question. Interestingly though, the old leaders of the group still got all the emails, and several of them, including the old president, responded to the group in no uncertain terms that they would all be better for it if they would take me up on the offer. They still did not of course, but I'm happy to have made a positive impression on someone.

This incident made me quite angry, and I stewed over it for awhile. The thought arose in my mind that if they refused to talk to me in person after their own people told them they should, than they damn well would hear from me in another forum. I pounded out an massive, angry, ill-advised column for the student newspaper and turned it in, never believing for a moment that it would be published. I had published editorials in real newspapers before, and I knew there were standards which I had completely disregarded. Unfortunately for me, student newspapers do not have the same standards. So a few days later I walked into my early morning anthropology class, plopped down in my seat, and started reading the student paper before class started. There to my dismay, in full, five-column glory at the top of the opinion page, was my angry article. My friend told me later it was like I was punching everyone, which he described with the appropriate hand gestures. The general thesis was that truth was being subverted by power on both sides of the origins debate, and that science and reason should be sought out by anyone interested in forming their own, unbiased opinion. I was quite specific about how professors at universities used their power to enforce conformity with certain scientific viewpoints.

That same day, I went to my physical chemistry course. I was still completely mortified and hoping the day would pass without anyone acknowledging my existence. This professor brought in his usual Pyrex beaker full of coffee, a fun little joke of his, as well as a copy of the student newspaper, which he slapped down on his desk with more than a little force. After the lecture, he spent about five minutes of class time going over some obscure enzyme with an active site that could mutate between two different reactions with a single mutation or something. The class was dead silent. This was the same professor who had somewhat randomly lectured the class before on how all professional organic chemists descended from two old European families or some such nonsense. There was the class material, and then there were his soapboxes. This was clearly a soapbox, though I'm not sure how many of the students had either read my article or understood that this professor was doing exactly what I had accused him of doing: using his power to enforce evolutionary orthodoxy. When he made this presentation, his voice wavered like it never had before. His hand shook a little when he drew on the chalkboard. It was extremely disconcerting. This time I knew the whole class felt that same sense of embarrassment for this man as his veil dropped. When it was over, I walked out of class, something which I regret to this day. There was an obvious, sound-byte worthy response to the professor's presentation, one which could even take the form of an innocent question, but like the God's Not Dead protagonist, I did not have it prepared. Unlike him, I never got another chance.

Maybe I made some impression on this professor, because I actually failed his course. Physical chemistry was the hardest course I have ever taken, but I also failed two other very easy courses that semester. I was having some romantic issues and could barely concentrate. Normally when students fail PChem they retake it in the summer, a class known to be much easier. I'm sure this professor was used to students doing that. I wonder if he didn't gloat at my failure. But I refused to take the easy way out. I retook his course the next year. When I sat down to take the final, the TA told me, somewhat conspiratorially, that I could break the curve in the class. I ended up getting an A- because I couldn't remember how to do a specific problem that I had studied very hard, which ended up being the difference. But hey, I went from failing to an A-, so I can't complain. I got the impression during the second time around that this professor had staked a little too much on my not being able to succeed in his course, so when I did it may have shook him up a bit. But I don't know, and probably never will. His strength is made perfect in weakness.

The reader will probably have to actually see the movie to understand why it meant so much to me. God's Not Dead showed me my own world the way it could have been. The way it should have been. I did something, but I feel like it wasn't enough. Goliath is standing in the valley and mocking the Almighty God. If fighting him was as simple as walking out with a sling in one hand and five stones in the other, I would have done it long ago, consequences be damned. This beast lives in minds instead of muscle, and God in His wisdom has granted the beast of man free will. It cannot be slain with a sling, even in the wildest dreams of a man forever reliving his short-lived academic career.

We write and read stories because they are better than the real world. In stories, the good guys win. In stories, Justice is served. In stories, there are happy endings. We can make everything work out in a story. We say the right thing. We remember the right words. The truth is spoken out loud. In the real world, things usually don't go as planned. Things don't work out. We forget the words, and falsehood goes unanswered. Sometimes there just isn't a right thing to say or do because there's something wrong with this world. It's easy to despair of it. It's easy to believe that nothing we've done or said has made a difference in anyone's life. I don't know that much of what I have done or said has mattered, but I know a God who has promised me that nothing I have done for Him is in vain. I believe that promise because God's not dead, and He is the only one who can write stories in the real world.

Now that's whack.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Epic Battle

 I decided to post another chapter from my book called The Epic Battle. I have cut out a few paragraphs and the footnotes to make it shorter. There are some other things I could probably condense or write better, but I feel this is enough for now. The Restoring Honor rally I refer to occurred in August 2010, and I wrote this sometime between then and the next summer, for reference. Also, my state at the time was Nebraska, not Texas where I live now.

American conservatism is at the very bottom a belief that the person most affected by the consequences of a decision should be the one to make that decision. The classic example of this belief is free market capitalism. Every time an economic exchange occurs, a capitalist believes that both parties have made an economic decision that is in both their best interests. When you go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread for two bucks, you are telling the seller that the loaf of bread you bought is worth more than two bucks to you. It cannot be worth exactly two bucks to you, because you also expended the effort to drive to the store, find the bread aisle and bring it up to the counter to buy it. It may seem trivial to add value to those actions, but store owners know that value exists. Store owners know that the more convenient a location, the more likely customers are to come and shop there, and thus the higher profit margin they can make. They also know the importance of where products are placed in the store and a multitude of other factors that add or subtract value from their products. Thus the capitalist believes that prices are at least in part generated from a multitude of local factors, such as the amount of consumers living within a certain radius of the store, the types of jobs and levels of salaries in that area, the price of gas in the area which affects how often people choose to drive to the store. Prices can only be decided at the local level. Government intervention in setting prices is resented because a government is averaging their policies over the entire political body and doesn’t care about variations in localities. All taxes are government intervention in prices, because taxes always adjust the price of a good or service and the price for a good employee. Therefore higher taxes are bad because it represents more government intervention and less local control over economic activity.

All economic choices are made by the relationship between the consumer and the seller, and all of those choices, once made, are “right” automatically. If they were “wrong,” the buyer would not have bought that loaf of bread for two bucks. But since this buyer made the choice to buy that loaf of bread for that price, he is declaring that the loaf of bread is worth more than two bucks to him. The seller in turn, is declaring that he wants the two bucks more than that loaf of bread, and so those two bucks are worth more than the loaf of bread to him. Most likely, both the buyer and the seller will complain to the high heavens that the price is “unfair” and that he is being “ripped off,” but the capitalist pays attention to actions not words. People will say just about anything. A person who likes to complain will wail on and on even if they’ve been treated fairly, whereas a more stoic person will grin and bear it even when they are being screwed. What people say is more dependent on their personalities than actual economic reality. It’s their actions that determine what they really believe about the value of a good or service. In the economy, that action is whether or not a particular transaction takes place.

The basic principle at work can be expressed in game theoretic terms as a non-zero sum game. In a zero-sum game, there must be an equal number of winners and losers. If there are only two players in the game, in this case the buyer and seller of that loaf of bread, then one of them must be a winner and the other one must be a loser. But in fact both are winners because otherwise they would not have consented to the transaction. Therefore the most basic possible economic transaction is a win-win scenario and shows that economics is a non-zero sum game. If the transaction doesn’t take place, then both the buyer and the seller are losers, because they wanted something that they didn’t get. This is the very basis of determining whether or not the economy is doing well in general. An economy is doing well when lots of transactions are taking place and doing poorly when transactions are not taking place. A good economy means there are lots of transactions and thus more winners than losers. A slow economy means less people are making transactions, and there are more losers.

A socialist on the other hand believes against all logic that economics is a zero-sum game. A rich person only obtains their money and wealth at the expense of someone else, usually the poorly defined “poor.” Thus the “rich” person is a winner and the “poor” person is a loser. How does the socialist view economics then? He must believe that when an economic transaction takes place, one person is getting screwed and the other one is getting rich. Thus the socialist always believes that an injustice occurs whenever an economic transaction takes place, and there are usually only two candidates: the buyer and the seller. A socialist must then decide who is being screwed. Because there is no objective way to determine value, who is getting screwed and who is getting rich depends entirely on where the socialist is standing. If the socialist is a public school teacher and a member of the union, then he will likely complain that he is getting screwed by his employer, the government, especially if the government is currently controlled by a political interest he doesn’t control. If, however, the socialist is a politician and a member of the government, they are likely to believe that they are getting screwed by private corporations or in extreme cases, the voters (i.e. taxpayers) themselves. Thus when socialist lawmakers decide to get involved in economic transactions, such as paying for the people’s health-care, they will inevitably complain that health-care providers are charging prices that are too high, and will start making laws that fix those prices below a certain level or simply refuse to pay altogether. But if the socialists are in charge of the milk producing industry, then those socialist dairy farmers will complain that milk prices are too low and they are getting screwed by the consumer. Then they will lobby socialist lawmakers to fix the price of milk above a certain level. If the socialist is on neither side and simply observes as a third party, he will almost inevitably believe that whoever has the most money is the one who is screwing everyone else. When a socialist is not directly involved in an economic situation, any economic inequality means that injustice is occurring because anyone with more money than anyone else must be getting rich while everyone buying the rich person’s product is getting screwed.

A socialist sees an injustice in every economic transaction involving an “unfair” price. He will tend to believe that unless all prices in an economy are “fair” than injustice decreases when economic activity decreases. Economic problems are less important to a socialist than the primary concern of fixing all these perceived injustices. What is a little recession when God Himself is offended? If the socialist cannot directly control prices through the use of political force to make sure every transaction is “fair” in his own eyes, then every economic transaction over which he has no control is automatically unjust. If every economic transaction is a zero-sum game with winners and losers, than the fewer economic transactions there are, the more justice there is in that economy. If a socialist wants to fight injustice as he sees it and does not have the power to control the economy, he will inevitably find himself fighting to lower the amount of economic transactions and in so doing lower the amount of injustice in that economy. He will be in effect fighting against a healthy economy. Thus the socialist must either have absolute power over the economy, or fight to make that economy less healthy. A socialist must be a either a rebel or a tyrant. He has no other options.

Because of this inherent extremism and volatility, a socialist system can only be stable if there is unanimous agreement on virtually every price and every salary in the marketplace. No disagreement can be judged rationally, and so every economic argument must be settled through the use of political force. A capitalist society on the other hand accepts disagreements on value as a matter of course. Capitalists do not assign injustice to every economic transaction. One person may not think that loaf of bread is worth two bucks, but that person’s reaction is not to cry foul but to simply not buy the loaf of bread. If someone else wants to buy it, then obviously they disagree with the first person’s opinion, and that disagreement is not a problem which needs to be solved through the use of political force. The person who thinks the price of bread is too high simply finds another seller willing to sell it for less. If no lower prices are available, he bets that most other people agree with him and waits for the seller to lower his price when not enough people buy it. If the price does not get lower, then he will be forced to buy the loaf of bread at a price determined by the market because most people disagree with him. In the end, prices are determined naturally without the need to go through all kinds of political nonsense. And in the end, the prices and salaries are in fact agreed upon by all the parties involved, not by grandstanding politicians fighting for this or that interest, or by third party observers with no actual stake in the transaction who are simply crying wolf about everything because of their socialist worldview. Thus a capitalist society can easily handle diverse economic opinions, in fact it celebrates diversity of opinion (because diversity of opinion generates innovation), and any economic dispute is easily settled without resorting to politics. A socialist society, on the other hand, must be either naturally conformist in economic opinion or give its politicians more and more power to decide every little economic issue since socialism has no natural way to make these decisions.

The socialist then argues, “What if everyone is naturally conformist? Why is that a problem?” It is not of course a problem theoretically. If everyone wants to think the same thing about everything, then more power to them. Socialist systems do tend to work better in smaller, more homogenous states such as Sweden, but the same problems still exist with a smaller impact. The problem is that in the real world there are always disagreements about value. A capitalist system provides a natural and non-political way for these disagreements to be resolved where both buyer and seller have power over the final decision. The seller gets to set the price, and the buyer gets to decide whether he buys it or not. A socialist system must resolve these disagreements through the use of political force wielded against those with whom the socialist disagrees. In a socialist system, value is determined by the most powerful politicians, and the one party, now genuinely being screwed, loses his power thus unbalancing the economic equation. So how is this party to respond? The only way is to lobby the politicians to move the price more in their favor. The only way is to play the game and buy into the system. Politicians are already invested in economic transactions because of taxes. It is already difficult for a politician to act in the interest of the people who voted for him. Add lobbyists to the mix and it becomes even more difficult. In this way socialism leads to more corruption in politics because in order to stay in business sellers must compete with each other and with buyers for political influence. In a socialist system, a smaller group of people, politicians, are given a larger and larger amount of power at the expense of buyers and sellers.

Thus we come to the real evil of socialism: Big Business. Readers might be surprised to learn that the father of capitalism, that nefarious swash-buckler Adam Smith himself, in the seminal capitalist text Wealth of Nations, explained his aversion to large corporations—in fact, to corporations in general:

"The pretence [sic] that corporations are necessary for the better government of the trade, is without any foundation. The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman, is not that of his corporation, but that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence. An exclusive corporation necessarily weakens the force of this discipline. A particular set of workmen must then be employed, let them behave well or ill. It is upon this account, that in many large incorporated towns no tolerable workmen are to be found, even in some of the most necessary trades. If you would have your work tolerably executed, it must be done in the suburbs, where the workmen having no exclusive privilege, have nothing but their character to depend upon, and you must then smuggle it into the town as well as you can."

It should be obvious why capitalism is naturally against Big Business. The capitalist believes that the primary constraint on the seller is the buyer: the larger the corporation, the more separation between the individual sellers and individual buyers, and the lesser the constraint upon the seller. The primary advantage in forming a corporation is the ability to remove the risk of failure from the individual. If a corporation goes bankrupt, its creditors cannot seize the assets of the individuals involved, but only the assets belonging solely to the corporation. Thus the larger the corporation, the lesser the risk to the individual and lesser motivation for the individual to work hard and provide a good product or service, as Smith observes. Larger corporations are more able to protect themselves from the consequences of failure, and are therefore never as responsive to the needs and wants of the buyers as are smaller businesses. The ability of small businesses to maneuver with the ebb and flow of the market is the hallmark of a capitalist system and why capitalism works so well. Eventually the small business becomes the large business, and in a capitalist system large businesses are at a disadvantage. The natural thing for a large business to do is to split off into smaller businesses to remain agile and competitive. The unnatural thing to do is a merger to make your business even larger and more unwieldy. Yet mergers and acquisitions happen all the time and large corporations seem to have more power and market share than ever before. Why?

The reason is we are no longer living in a genuine capitalist system, and haven’t been for a hundred years. A hundred years seems like a long time, but it is really only three to five generations. Because the United States has remained partly capitalist, it has taken this long for us to be forced to pay the piper for our socialist deviations. But how did this happen? If capitalists are against big business and so are socialists then why have big businesses succeeded more and more?

Our contemporary political intuitions insist that capitalists are for Big Business and socialists are against. This is largely because socialists have made this rhetoric one of their primary marketing strategies. But is it true? Socialists tell us that Big Business is Public Enemy #1, and the job of elected officials is to oppose Big Business and stand up for the little guy. Socialists have invented a surefire way to convince everyone they are putting it to Big Business: government regulations. Government regulations are the solution to every sin of Big Business, and socialists work hard to convince us they are up to a task normally reserved for God. I suspect some socialists are sincerely crusading for the little guy and are just naïve, but I find it hard to believe that none of them are smart enough to have realized the real game being played. Regardless of whether socialist politicians are actually sincere or not, government regulation is almost always to the advantage of Big Business and thus socialism and Big Business are natural allies.

In a true capitalist system, Big Business is always at a disadvantage against smaller businesses as already explained. In order to survive Big Business must gain advantages of its own. Government regulation provides the perfect answer. Large corporations know that regulations are just like chemotherapy. The principle behind chemotherapy is that those chemicals you are taking may be bad for you, but they are far worse for the cancer. Why? One simple reason: You, the human being, are much bigger and have far more resources to draw on then the cancer does. You have much more to lose before you die than the cancer does, so you can sacrifice part of your health in return for completely destroying the cancer. So you take those chemicals, knowing that your hair may fall out but the cancer is faring much worse. Government regulation is just like chemotherapy. It hurts small businesses far more than it could ever hurt large businesses. And there’s another consequence: Since regulations hurt both large and small businesses, the entire economy’s hair falls out. But it doesn’t matter to Big Business, because they have now evened the score and taken back the initiative which capitalist systems naturally give to small business. That they can do so while fooling most of the population into believing that what Big Business wants is really something they don’t want is just a convenient bonus.

As soon as Big Business realizes this strategy, and they realized it a long time ago, their bottom line suddenly depends on how much political influence they have. The game then becomes how much they can control the political system to cater to their needs and fight back the smaller, more agile and consumer sensitive businesses which if they survive the initial stage usually have better business models and higher profit margins. Big Business has become exceedingly good at manipulating the political system to make up for their natural disadvantage. They now routinely use their outsized political influence to buy loopholes in the regulations and even the tax code which favor them.

Of course, the game is up if any large amount of the population figures any of this out, so Big Business must now play politics just as much as the socialist. Take AT&T. Just a few days after Obamacare was signed into law, AT&T suddenly announced out of the blue that the bill would cost them a billion dollars a year. Are we supposed to believe that they just figured it out a couple days after it was signed into law? Hardly. Everyone knew Obama would sign the law. When it passed the Senate and the discussions about reconciliation started the calculations began. The timing of AT&T’s announcement was intended to be clever but any good poker player could see right through AT&T’s hand. AT&T wanted to make it look like the law would hurt them without actually bringing any pressure to bear to stop it from going through. In doing so they were helping out their natural political allies while at the same time complaining that they needed extra help from the government because they were so large the law affected them more severely than other companies. They were playing politics, pretending to be against Obamacare while in reality knowing they could easily turn it to their advantage. The facts since then have borne that out, as AT&T along with many other large businesses have been simply handed tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars from the government to cover some of their losses, losses which in most cases have not even occurred yet.

As for the socialists, if Obama is so concerned about hurting Big Business, why did he and the Democrats insist on bailing them out? After campaigning against Big Business, the first thing the Democrats did when they won the election in 2008 was to save some of the biggest businesses in the world from the natural, capitalistic consequences of their own bad behavior. What was all this “too big to fail” talk? Nonsense that’s what. The real reason the bail-outs happened is that Big Government is in bed with Big Business. They depend on each other. A truly capitalist system would have let those supposedly crucial companies fail and the smaller, more scrupulous businesses buy up their assets at bargain prices and set them straight again. Yes, it would have meant a sharper economic decline, but it also would have meant a sharper recovery instead of this slow burn we are in now. Economic recessions will happen. They are inevitable. The question is how fast do we want to recover? The fastest way is to let everyone who screwed up go bankrupt or get bought out, and let the healthier companies with better business acumen and better standards take over and build it all back up. This is the way a truly capitalist system is supposed to handle recessions. If handled this way, recessions are actually a good thing, like pruning your trees.

But what's in it for the socialists? Why hand out millions and billions of dollars to the biggest businesses in the industry after campaigning vociferously against them? What socialists want you to know is that Big Business is a racket. What they don’t want you to know is that they are in on it. The socialists through regulation and hypocritical anti-business rhetoric get more and more power over the economy and a bigger government, while Big Business gets their dominant position ever strengthened against all those aggressive and upwardly mobile smaller businesses competing for their market share. Socialists want absolute power and control over the economy for reasons already explained, and they have found it's much easier to control a few large businesses with the most market share than to control a very large number of ornery, disorderly small businesses. It's in the socialists' bests interests to have industries and entire economies dominated by Big Businesses which can then be more easily controlled. After all, the end goal is to have the government directly control all production. That means one super massive singularity of a government business running each industry. It's a small, practically meaningless step between a private monopoly controlled by regulations and genuine communism.

On my way back from the Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C., I decided to stop and visit an old friend from high school. He had been far more involved in politics than I had back then, volunteering for Republican candidates. He had even worked for one of our state’s Congressmen in Washington for a few years. It seemed our positions had somewhat reversed as he was now going to grad school when I had always been the one wanting to pursue academics. Now I was the political one. I asked him why he had stopped being involved with politics. He told me stories of how teams of political activists would roam the country fighting for the Republican candidate no matter what the local issues were or even if they actually liked the candidate at all. He said other things, but the gist was he had become disillusioned with politics. He said because of all the money in D.C. now the whole city was being gentrified and the poorer population being driven out, ironically because of liberal Keynesian economic policies supposedly intended to help the poor. I asked him whether he thought the money could be gotten out of Washington again, and he scoffed and shook his head no. Everyone’s in on it, he said. Democrats, Republicans, it doesn’t matter. When they are all in on it how do you fight it? I suggested, pretending to be hypothetical, a political movement whose first and only priority was to get the money out of Washington and the government in general. Their entire focus and reason for being would be to fix this problem. That stopped him. He looked past me out the window of Arby’s at a life left behind and considered. Maybe, he said, but it would be an epic battle.