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What Happened to Brazil? April 1, 2017

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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What happened to Brazil (economically-speaking)?  In previous articles, I have already spelled out the problem in so many words.  Brazil did enjoy economic growth for a while, which made them appear as though they were ready to join the grown-ups table of commerce-oriented countries.

But then Brazil hit an economic downturn from which it has failed to recover.  Even in 2009, it was still able to display a facade of prosperity, and thus successfully sold the International Olympic Committee on the idea of becoming the first country and city [Rio de Janeiro] to host the Olympic Games.  All those sports venues, built by government money, are now vacant and deteriorating, by the way.  So much for governmnent “stimulus”.

But do not take my word for it.  Now, Felipe Moura Brasil, a native Brazilian, offers his perspective on the systemic problems that have brought Brazil to this sorry pass (video at the top of the article).  Watch, listen, and learn.

Among the points he cites are:

  • Government transferring money from the rich to the poor.  Funny who the poor never got any richer as a result.
  • Those who did get richer by the aforementioned government actions of legalized theft were — surprise, surprise — Lula da Silva (Brazil’s then-president) and his corporate cronies.
  • The Socialists increased government spending, deficits, and debts, calling it “Stimulus” (e.g., all the Olympic venues that are now abandoned).
  • The same Socialists also increased the salary and retirement benefits of those in the civil service, euphemistically calling it “investing in the future”.
  • Handed out thousands of jobs in state-owned companies to political allies, euphemistically spinning such corruption as “good governance”.
  • Government spending kept going up, causing the economic growth to eventually collapse.

Fortunately, the Brazilian journalist in question cites some good news in the wake of this government-begotten economic wreckage.

One is that, according to Brasil, more Brazilians are starting to see capitalism and limited government as the way out of their national malaise.  As we have already pointed out on this blog, da Silva’s successor, Dilma Rousseff — also a Socialist — has been impeached and removed from office.  Her successor, Michel Temer, has already been leading some important economic reforms.

As Brasil himself points out at the end of this video, it will take a long time for his native country to recover economically from the havoc wrought by the Socialists.  This is to be expected for a country that was still on the upper end of the “developing country” spectrum, and whose corrupt government policies preempted it from being able to fully emerge as one of the truly grown-up, commerce-oriented nations (e.g., the United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Australia, etc.).  Brazil’s only hope to be able to recover so as to emerge as one in the future is through, again, limited government and free enterprise.

Just as socialism wrecked Brazil’s economy and continues to wreak apocalyptic havoc in Venezuela, it can also cause America’s prosperity and social order to also collapse.  Bernie Sanders supporters, take note.

On the Errors in Jeff Daniels’ Newsroom Rant September 16, 2016

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There is a video clip that continues to surface on Facebook periodically.  Each time this clip surfaces, it continues to draw fresh accolades from many a user.  Of course, I am talking about this oft-shared clip below:

Many users seem to gush over how the character played by Jeff Daniels “nails it,” to use the modern vernacular.  The message of Daniel’s character is blunt:  “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”  It is an impassioned rant on a stage, and perhaps the best explanation for its wide appeal is that it makes an overall emotional, yet ostensibly learned attempt to explain what ails America today.  In so doing, however, the character actually ends up libeling America, as the message behind his rant takes much for granted, and in the end, is destitute of foundation.

To ensure intellectual honesty, the character, Will McAvoy, demonstrates an important decree of rectitude early in his answer to a question from an audience member.  He prudently observes that James Madison was a genius, that the U.S. Constitution is a masterpiece, and even goes so far to say that the Declaration of Independence is, in his words, “the single greatest piece of American writing.”  Agree or disagree with the last clause, one strongly can agree with the impetus behind the observation.

Where McAvoy quickly errs, however, is the litany that follows after what he stated correctly.  The reason this litany is baseless, on the whole, is that this attempted chastisement of an audience member is replete with half-truths, carelessly listed without the slightest bit of context.  To wit:

“Canada has freedom.  Japan has freedom.  The UK, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium….207 sovereign states in the world, and 180 of them have freedom.”

Truly?  One-hundred eighty countries out of 207 sovereign nation-states is a percentage of nearly eighy-seven.  Google indicates that there are 196 countries in toto, and of those, not even half of them on a map have been color-coded “free” by Freedomhouse.org.

Moreover, just viewing the small list of countries that McAvoy cites, (Japan, UK, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium) are “free” due to the fact that it was America that either freed them from fascist totalitarianism, or made sure (in the case of Great Britain) that they remained unmolested by it during the Second World War.  Moreover, America protected all these countries from the Soviet Union’s imperialist advances during the Cold War.  Only the greatest nation in the world could claim such feats.

Pursuant to the same point, the Bill of Rights, a crucial document that puts checks on government’s never-ending appetite for power and control, is absent in Europe.

“There is absolutely no evidence to support…that we’re the greatest country in the world.”  Obviously, he overlooked the fact that the free world has expanded greatly since the Second World War on account of America’s efforts.  He also overlooked how it was America’s efforts that ultimately brought down the Evil Empire that was the Soviet Union.  But when one is consumed by emotion, why allow for this inconvenient truth to interfere with one’s self-indulgent litany?

“We’re seventh in literacy,” he continues, “twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, fourth in exports.”

These statistics seem so randomly drawn as to give the discerning observer the sense that they were fabricated.  Indeed, basic research validates this scrutiny.  Are we truly 49th in the world in our life expectancy?  In reality, it is 31st.  Still not great, but it obviously shows the error and lack of truth in his rant.

So what might account for a life expectancy of only 79.3 years, compared to Japan’s, the leader at 83.7 years?  Leftists relish using this misleading statistic as an accusation against our supposedly defective healthcare system.  What is conveniently ignored in this instance is that America is the most diverse country on earth compared to Japan, which is very homogeneous.  Leftists usually worship diversity as one of their many false gods, but conveniently overlook that one of the side-effects of “diversity” is diversity of behaviors.  Some behaviors lead to long, healthy lives, while others will cut life short.  Such diversity of behaviors account of having, on average, 4.4 fewer years of expect life compared to Japan.  To express it differently, the greatest doctors in the world cannot do anything about the rampant murder rates in many inner cities, which naturally bring down the national lifespan average.  But in things doctors can control, such as cancer survival rates, we do indeed lead the world.

Concerning being “third in per capita income,” the same thing regarding diversity applies.  Not everybody has equal ability to be equally productive.  Not everybody is equally ambitious.  More to the point, there will always be those who worked harder than most other people.  With such a wide range of those proclivities within our population (all 319,000,000 of us), is there no surprise what our per capita GDP is slightly lower than that of small, homogeneous Luxembourg?

How about all the high taxes in Japan and much of Europe that discourage entrepreneurship and increased productivity compared to America?  Did Jeff Daniels’ script writers factor that key element into the equation regarding the supposed “freedom” in the countries he casually listed?

Already having demonstrated to be cavalier with the facts, McAvoy nevertheless continues:

“We only lead the world in three categories:  number of incarcerated citizens per capita; number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”  Well.

Concerning the first point, it is a commentary on two things.  First, too many laws.  He may have a point, but he fails to mention it, and it surely deserves further, in-depth discussion as to the systemic legal reform we desperately need (John Stossel once offered a novel idea of clearing out antiquated laws and placing sunset provisions on all laws retained and added).  But the other thing regarding incarceration rate conveniently overlooks the fact that many of the perpetrators are those who have bad, warped values, who must be removed from civil society so civil society remains safe from the evils they would otherwise perpetrate.

Concerning McAvoy sniffing about adults believing in angels, it betrays his fundamental misunderstanding of what has made America great in the first place.  A strong religious grounding (specifically of the Judeo-Christian varieties) is essential to the well-functioning of America.  Our Founding Fathers knew this when they first practiced statecraft.  Indeed, John Adams concisely underscored this necessity when he observed “[O]ur Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Angels are thoroughly understood and valued within Judeo-Christian theology, and McAvoys casual, callous dismissal of such belief betrays his true ignorance of a necessary pillar to America’s fundamental greatness.

Concerning the third point regarding defense spending, and why ours is so huge compared to “the next 26 countries,” that is because almost all of those “26 countries” rely on America to not only protect itself from evil regimes and rogue terror groups, but they also rely on America to come to their own defense in their own possible time of need.  Many countries in western Europe have allowed for their militaries to atrophy because since the end of the Second World War, they counted on America for their own defense from the Soviets during the Cold War, and from terrorists today.

The error that leftists always make is equating “greatest” with “perfect”.  No reasonable person would make such an equivalency.  Moreover, reasonable people would also concede that systemic problems exist that need to be addressed so that we maintain our top spot amongst the other nations overall.  Rather than strive for perfection (unattainable, as humans are inherently imperfect), to maintain the greatest, one must simply strive to be better.  We have excelled at that since our founding.  Let us always keep in mind that our liberties are not granted by our Creator as means unto themselves, but rather as means to strive for improvement itself.

On an even more fundamental level, it has escaped a critical mass of user’s notices on social media, of a fundamental, logical implication within the rant in question.  If America is no longer the greatest country in the world anymore, which country has taken its place in the supreme spot of rank of nations?  Is it Canada, with only eleven percent of the population of its might neighbor to its south?  Is it China, what with its systemic problems of entrenched totalitarian government and continued human right violations, coupled with disturbing demographic trends of age?  Is it France or Germany, with its critical masses of unassimilated Moslem immigrants who do not share the values of the generous countries who have let them escape their origins of squalor?  If McAvoy/Daniels and his sycophants still cling to this message even after demonstrating it is lacking in reason, they continue to fail to select the country that has supplanted America as the greatest of nations.  Perhaps that might be the baseless rant’s greatest failing of all.

***********

As a postscript, the fellow seat next to the Will McAvoy character gave an all too expedient, incomplete, and lame answer.  Freedom is all well and good, but as already mentioned, for liberty to mater, it must be leveraged for improvement, wed to proper religious grounding.  The lady on his other side gave an answer that inadvertently misled.  “Diversity” and “inclusion” are ornaments, not strengths, of a great nation.  To relay on those two ornaments as structural elements to uphold a nation is as foolish and dangerous as to build one’s house on a foundation of sand.

On the Fundamental Problem of Brazil August 5, 2016

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There is an old saying that Brazil is the nation of the future, and it will always be.  Despite the myriads of problems posed by hosting the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, I am still looking forward to the commencement of said Games.  But, the reservations cannot go ignored, and indeed, I have chronicled most of them in a recent article.

The shorthand laundry list of issues includes the notorious favelas, a local term given to the many slums that are part of this megacity;

Riots in Brazil over the past few months; protests that have disrupted the Olympic torch relay, even extinguishing the flame;

-Fears, possibly exaggerated, of the spread of the Zika virus;

The murder rate in Rio is on the rise, up 7.5% in the first six months of the calendar year;

-Let us not forget the raw sewage contaminating the local waterways;

The government is embroiled in a massive scandal of political corruption, with the state-owned oil company, Petrobas, at its epicenter;

The corruption in turn has led to the impeachment of its current president, Dilma Rousseff.  Her predecessor, Luiz Lula da Silva, is also charged with corruption.

All this in turn has led to a political crisis just when Brazil would desperately want to put its best foot forward, so to speak, as the world descends upon Rio for the Olympics.  Instead, the country itself is descending into chaos.

But at the heart of the majority of these problems is the economic turmoil.  Brazil is in its worst economy since the 1930s.  No, really.  For a while, it seemed as though Brazil’s economy was becoming increasingly robust, so much so that it was about to join the grownups’ table of world affairs.  The acronym “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) became a trendy term to use in economic and geopolitical contexts.  Brazil certainly took advantage of a strongly emerging economy to the utmost, and played on that image to help persuade the International Olympic Committee to grant them the coveted hosting of the Summer Olympic Games for 2016.  Surely the IOC was more than willing to be persuaded, as political correctness no doubt took hold of the organization, and they were more than receptive to the PC siren’s song that it was South America’s turn to finally host the Games instead of proven successful locales in Europe, North America, Australia, or even east Asia.

Then the economic downturn took place in the several years that followed.  The key question becomes, why?  The short answer: Socialism.  This defective ideology/macroeconomic policy, a watered-down version of its monstrous brother Communism, has proven to wreck economies worldwide.  One need only see Brazil’s neighbor to the north, Venezuela, to see how Socialism has brought that country to absolute ruin.  Keep in mind that Venezuela was, for a long time, one of the wealthiest countries on the South American continent what with its robust oil industry.  Not anymore.  After the notorious dictator Hugo Chavez forced socialism on his country, he stifled the people’s incentive to be productive.  When that happens, the every-day exchanges that keep an economy running become stifled as a result.  It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that when the incentive to be productive is taken away and business exchanges continue to dwindle to nothing, eventually real-world shortages ensue, such as the chronically empty shelves in grocery stores all over that country, and the general chaos that follows as a result of that.  Lest you think that the Venezuelan government has come to its senses, instead of allowing people to keep more of their hard-earned money and to free up regulation for free commercial exchange, its solution is to this chaos is to enslave its citizens (a Draconian way of doubling down on its failed leftist policies).

Did Brazil learn from the mistakes of its neighbor to its north?  Apparently not.  It’s “Worker’s Party” (any political party with the word “worker” attached to it is going to be very hard-Left) has been in power since 2003.  Like other socialist counties, the Brazilian government owns a large percentage of the means of economic production, including the oil company Petrobas, part of the major political scandal embroiling that country right now.  Which begs the question:  why does the Brazilian government need to own such a large company in the first place?  Here in America, ExxonMobil and Chevron are privately owned, and are producing petroleum products quite well.  Grousing about gas prices usually makes companies like these the undue scapegoats, but that only exposes the ignorance of the complainers.  When gas prices spike, it is largely due to crude oil prices spiking on the commodities market.  The other major reason is constricting the supply on the refining end due to government over-regulation.  But more on that at a different time.

What led Brazil to its current economic collapse was the socialist party in power spending too much money on too many things.  It did not happen immediately.  Indeed, for a while, the Workers Party was popular because the economy was on the rise due to the commodities supercycle.  Because commodities prices were spiking for a long period of time, there was lots of extra cash to engage in vote-buying via cash transfers.  Yes, the current crop of crook politicos in Brazil came to power by basically promising voters free stuff, paid for by taking money from people who already earned theirs.  Then, the commodities prices fell, and there was no more cash to throw around.

In other words, to give a nod to the late Margaret Thatcher, the Brazilian government ran out of other people’s money.  Governments with spending problems always do.

So what is the solution to Brazil’s systemic economic problem?  Start by privatizing Petrobas and other state-owned companies.  Governments are horribly inefficient when it comes to managing the means of economic production.  Part of the reason is that normal market forces that incentivize both efficiency and effectiveness for firms in the private sector do not apply in the public sector.  For example, when was the last time you saw the U.S. Postal Service turn a profit?

Indeed, the Olympics themselves are part of the problem, in this case.  What do Athens, Beijing, and Rio all have in common?  They all hurt their local economies by excessive, wasteful government spending on sports venues that have turned into, at least in the case of the first two cities, abandoned money pits instead of profitable enterprises.  Even Beijing’s famous “Birdsnest” stadium has deteriorated some from its 2008 glory.  When American cities host the Games, they rely much more heavily on private corporate sponsorship, and the cities’ economies were actually given a temporary boost in the process (see: Ueberroth, Peter, and Romney, Mitt).

Even if a government-owned corporation like Petrobas in Brazil is profitable, that can lead to other problems.  One, it can conceal possible government mismanagement, at least temporarily.  But more importantly, the revenue from that corporation seduces politicians with too powerful a temptation to spend that money, thus begetting further corruption.  Rampant spending, after all, encourages what economists describe as “rent-seeking behavior” from otherwise private citizens.

Let us not forget that these exact same failed policies of government taking over whole industries is exactly what the so-called “Bernie bros” and their demented, septuagenarian Dear Leader in Vermont currently champion.  But as we have seen in South America and elsewhere in the world, these policies only lead to ruin and government-induced suffering.

The best way to stem corruption in government is to curtail its spending, and one can do that by restricting its means for revenue.  Privatizing Petrobas would be an important start.

Given that there is some important degree of democracy in Brazil, one can hope that these market reforms will be able to eventually take hold so as to avoid the mistakes and further catastrophes that we are witnessing in its next-door neighbor, Venezuela.  If Brazil’s government fails to implement such reforms, however, then their current crises, both political and economic, are but a prelude of worse things to come.

Choose Wisely Where to Campaign, Sen. Cruz March 10, 2016

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Cruz-TrumpThere is an old saying of “choose your hill to die on”.  The meaning behind the saying is that nobody has unlimited resources/energy.  Therefore, one must pick one’s proverbial battles judiciously if that person has any hope of succeeding in his/her endeavor.

The overall message of the Tuesday, March 8 Republican primaries is that they are anything but settled.  As Michael Barone points out, a Donald Trump delegate majority is anything but inevitable.  The key to ensuring the prevention of Trump ruining the party is, at this immediate point, to vote tactically, not strategically.  Ohio and Florida are both winner-take-all primaries.  With four candidates remaining in the race, that means a win on plurality instead of majority is a foregone conclusion.

Both the aforementioned states off lots of delegates.  The ideal tactical votes right now is for Ohio GOP voters to give the delegates to Gov. John Kasich.  Likewise, the ideal tactical vote in Florida is for Senator Marco Rubio to win.  Both of these candidates are the most viable alternatives to Trump in these respective states.

Enter Cruz, who seems to have no concept of these important tactics.  He has been going after Rubio in Florida and going after Kasich in Ohio.  This is madness.  Undermining both of these candidates in these respective states can only help Trump.  Extra votes to Cruz in both of these states are unlikely to be detracted from The Donald, but are very likely to hurt the respective viable alternatives to Trump.

Cruz has thus become a very frustrating candidate to follow.  His energy is admirable, but he has proven to not have an eye for these important tactics, and that could be potentially hazardous to us all.  For if Trump wins the GOP nomination, the party faithful are essentially doomed to a Bataan Death March of a political campaign, slowly and agonizingly dragging into early November.  Moreover, those of us who care about the Constitutional limits on governmental scope and power shall be particularly scorned, as neither nominee of the two major parties will, in this scenario, have any respect for America’s founding document.

The irony in all of this is that Cruz bills himself as a Constitutional standard-bearer.  Yet his lack of tactical sense in this crucial primary could very well undermine his most cherished selling point by not understanding which states he can credibly win and which states he ought to let other anti-Trump nominees win to make sure The Donald does not gain further strength.

Be wise, Senator Cruz:  leave Florida to Rubio and Ohio to Kasich, and by all means, concentrate your energy in the other states still in play.  Otherwise, you might ruin things for all us, in some way for a generation to come.  Should the unthinkable come to pass, how then will you be of any benefit to those of us who share your ideology?  Sharing our values is all well and good, but if you lack the discipline to effectively advance these values, you become a liability and thus an unaware tool for those who are hostile to that which the Constitution stands.

Where David Brooks Got it Wrong on Orthodox Republicanism March 9, 2016

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David Brooks, the in-house, right-leaning centrist for the NY Times, has written yet another thought-provoking article (this on March 8, 2016). This is not news.  He usually does this, and does so rather eloquently, though he lacks the true intellectual firepower and vocabulary of George Will.  This is not to be held against him:  who does have such capacity as Will?  Hands, anyone?

Thought-provoking as his most recent article may be, entitled “It’s Not Too Late,” there are some problems with his thesis.  Yes, he did get some things right, but he also got some key things wrong.  But in which respective areas?

Let us start with what the article is all about.  Brooks clearly recognizes the urgency within the Republican primary at the moment.  That is to say, the majority of the GOP electorate recognizes what a disastrous candidate Donald Trump would be in the general election, and his would-be GOP nomination must be thwarted at all costs.  Moreover, Brooks proceeds, further down in the article, to lay out the systemic problems behind Trump’s cult of personality.  He outlines that Trump’s populism is premised on an active, big government that is energized to help the American working class, but doing so in negative, defensive ways.  The blowhard wants to build walls, to close trade, to ban outside groups, and to otherwise smash enemies.  Put all your trust in Trump (half-sarcastically described in source-synonym form as “The Great Leader”), and he’ll take all enemies down.

This dovetails nicely into where Brooks made some very insightful observations, and also some caveats.  Let us look at where he “got it right” and “got it wrong” simultaneously.  He points out that Goldwater and Reagan positioned the Republican Party as that of those who are free-market and anti-government.  He got the first part correctly, the second part, not so much.

Goldwater and Reagan, for example, were trying to tackle the issues to make the marketplace freer after decades of Democrat interference via excessive regulation, excessively high taxes, union-friendly laws and trade-protectionist laws that ended up raising costs for consumers, allowing consumers fewer options, and stymying the economy in so doing.  Reagan helped re-energize America by doing away with most of such hindrances.  Today, the market is freer and taxes are much lower than they were prior to Ronaldus Magnus.

Since “Dutch” left office, most folks in the GOP have been searching for “the next Reagan”.  Here’s the problem, though:  since Reagan, new challenges have emerged.  Today, the economy has become much more unforgiving (“crueler” is Brooks’ adjective of choice).  Technology – particularly automation – has displaced workers and globalization has dampened wages.  Also, the social structure is far more atomized and frayed than it was 30 years ago, especially among the less-educated.  If that is not enough, demographics have also shifted, though to my mind, the previous item is part of this last item mentioned.

So far, Brooks is spot-on in listing some of the major domestic challenges that Americans face today.  Each one deserves lengthy, multi-installment analysis.  But where Brooks gets things wrong is by saying that “Orthodox Republicans” (embodied by Ted Cruz – Brooks describes him as the “extreme embodiment”, emphasis mine) are out of date.  Indeed, allowing free people to freely transact with one-another, abiding by sensible regulations and sensible laws, is never out of date.  Those were Reagan’s principles, and they still work today:  indeed, they work in any era, because human nature has not changed since the dawn of Man.

The other part of Brooks’ erroneous assertion is that Orthodox Republicans see no positive role for government.  Orthodox Republicans / doctrinaire conservatives do indeed see a positive role for government, but only in areas where they rightly recognize the things for which government is built to do effectively.  The Federal Government, for example, is built to defend our country, which is why conservatives call for a strong military.  Conservatives/Orthodox Republicans also recognize that the Federal Government is there to deliver the mail.  It can also help out with the national infrastructure (i.e., interstate highways, bridges, etc.), and is also there to regulate interstate commerce (see:  Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution), though vigilance must be maintained to keep said regulation sensible and thus to keep it from getting out of hand, as it is apt to do if we elect too many big-government liberals to Congress.  Beyond that, you leave it up to the States to decide, as it is written in the Tenth Amendment.

What Brooks has also overlooked is that, yes, while new challenges have emerged for America since Reagan’s time, some of these challenges can be addressed by Orthodox Republicans.  For example, lots of jobs have been killed by excess regulation.  It paralyzes innovation, it stymies companies trying to expand, and thus kills job growth.  Many of us want more manufacturing jobs in this country, but that will not happen with the EPA being allowed to run amok under the Obama Administration, for example.  An Orthodox Republican like Cruz would put a stop to that.  Same thing goes for the amazing potential to create jobs for the educated and under-educated alike in, say, the energy sector.

Another aspect of Orthodox Republicanism that could help meet the challenges of today would be to allow for more local control over education, so that educational reformers have more flexibility to be more innovative.  The idea behind this is that doing so could help us improve our human capital.  The part of American society that has atomized could improve themselves through fundamental improvements in education, but that will not happen under a top-down approach from the Federal Government, where innovation is stifled through bureaucracy.

Granted, Cruz has his own problems, but they’re more about him than the ideology.  He managed to alienate just about everyone in the Senate in both parties since he was elected in 2012.  These are the same people with whom he must build coalitions if he wants to accomplish anything through Congress so he could sign it into law as President.  His rigid, immoderate tone could alienate too many moderate voters as well.  Goldwater was way too rigid as a candidate, and that is why he lost as badly as he did in 1964.  Reagan, conversely, was just as conservative as Goldwater, but he was much more moderate in his tone.  This in turn allowed for the Gipper to successfully position himself as a pragmatic problem-solver, allowing him to win over enough moderates, who joined the conservative voters in allowing him to win comfortably in 1980, and even more so four years later.

Cruz likes to think that he is Reagan’s ideological heir, but to truly find his inner Gipper, he too must moderate his tone.  It remains to be seen whether or not he can.  At least Brooks, to his credit, was on to something when he pointed out that both Marco Rubio and John Kasich are viable alternatives to the rigid (at the moment) Cruz and to the authoritarian Trump.  He even proceeds to hint at the potential of both Rubio and Kasich as potential candidates to successfully position the Republicans as a party of reform, which is desperately needed at the Federal Government level for America to continue to be a viable power both at home and abroad.  I personally would, at this time, favor either over Cruz, to say nothing of Trump, who, just to remind everyone, must be stopped at all costs, lest the efforts to roll back big government be set back for a generation.

Nevertheless, Brooks conveniently overlooks some important tenants of the conservative ideology, and how they would still work today.  If he meant to say that Cruz’s tone was out of date, he was partly right:  it never has been palatable to the national electorate.  But Orthodox Republican/conservative principles are timeless because they recognize that the nature of mankind is permanent.  No doubt these convenient dismissals on Brooks’ part are ongoing symptoms of his Stockholm Syndrome to which he has succumbed after all those years with the New York Times.

What Caused the Progressive Plague? February 14, 2016

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When we look back at the ravages of a plague that has swept through a region or even a continent, it is many a person’s impulse to, once the dust has settled, do a little detective work and ascertain its origin.   Where did it begin?  What was its root cause?  What was the impetus that caused it to spread across an area so relatively quickly, leaving havoc in its wake?

George Will succinctly observed that for there to be an epidemic, one needs two things; a microbe, and an enabling social context.  For example, the enabling social context for the infamous Black Plague of the 14th Century was increased international trade.  The bacteria causing the deadly disease were found in the saliva of fleas laced with rodent blood.  They hitchhiked on the rats (or, gerbils, as a recent scientific study suggests) as whole colonies of them moved westward through Asia along with merchants traveling along the Silk Road, eventually reaching the ports at Crimea.  The rats wasted no time climbing the mooring ropes of merchant ships bound for ports in Europe, and the rest, as they say was history.  If one were to view a map of the number of dead per square mile (or kilometer) in Europe, it becomes clear that Italy, with its bevy of Mediterranean ports, was the hardest-hit area of Europe during the time of the Black Death almost 700 years ago.

 While media hype may have overblown the occasional Ebola outbreak in west Africa, nothing like the Black Plague has ravaged society like it did Europe so long ago.

 That said, another infectious plague, this time of the ideological persuasion, has been ravaging America for the past century:  that of Progressivism.  But what caused its spread at the outset of the Twentieth Century?  Sure, the microbe of the authoritarian ideology had germinated amongst some of the intelligentsia during the last couple of decades of the 19th Century (e.g, John Dewey and his idea that we should be “free” from poverty).  At that same time, Woodrow Wilson found out how to rationalize his knowing what was best for his fellow man.   He did so while studying for his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University, a school that imported the collectivist, bureaucratic German thinking of the age in the attempt to infect the American-nurtured concept of a freeborn citizenry.

 But while the ideological microbe had grown into a potent colony of cells by the 1900s, what was the social context that unleashed its destruction?  Blame the progress of that time, indirectly.  Joel Mokyr of the Manhattan Institute explains the context.  The hallmark of the 20th Century, he says, in terms of human progress, was large-scale technology.  Some examples include:  massive shipping containers; manned spacecraft (or just communication satellites) launched into space on huge rockets; oil-drilling platforms; massive power stations; steel mills and car assembly plants that take up many acres, not to mention huge airplanes (from Howard Hughes’ Hercules to the recently-retired Boeing 747).

 While these are familiar sights today, a century ago, such large-scale things would be absolutely awe-inspiring.  At that time, titans of industry were opening up production facilities at scales undreamed of then.  For example, Henry Ford opened up his Highland Park plant in 1910, and implemented the first auto assembly line there four years later.  By 1917, Ford already started building his even-larger Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich.  The size of this plant is mind-boggling even by today’s standards, what with its covering 960 acres (that is one-and-a-half square miles), and had 100 miles of internal railroad track.  At its peak, 100,000 men earned their livings in that gargantuan facility.

 At the same time, giant steel mills sprang up along the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, and even more so along the Allegheny and Monongahela of Pittsburgh.  As political scientist Michael Barone speculated, these had to have been breathtaking to people in the 1910s, since most of those folks grew up on farms where the tallest structure they had ever seen was the steeple of their local town’s church.

 Also during this time, immigrants came to America through New York harbor.  They travelled on ocean liners that were the largest ever built, and once in the Big Apple, they witnessed skyscrapers continuing to arise, one higher than the other.  Some of them held offices for the titan industrialists and financiers, like that of John D. Rockefeller at 26 Broadway and J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street.  Behind them was the 60-story Woolworth Building, which was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1913, and would maintain that distinction until the Chrysler Building was built in 1930

All this was amazing progress by the standards of any age, before or after.  But it came with a major side effect.  “Large” technology had the tendency to encourage large bureaucracies and large government.  To be sure, you needed this sort of large, military-style bureaucracy and centralized control in the private sector to manage those 100,000 workers at Ford’s factory complex in Dearborn, and eventually, to manage the big unions that grew with it and other plants.

It thus became an easy sell to the voting public that that with so much wealth and such gigantic means of production concentrated in the hands of so relatively few, that both (a bigger) government and (growing) labor unions should be a counterweight of power in society, lest we somehow become a Plutocracy (or so the Progressive narrative went as part of their sales pitch to the people).

Of course, that was 100 years ago:  this is now.  And now, the potentially new American Century is defined by small-scale technology.  Television is a good example:  they used to take up whole consoles in a living room.  Now, you can watch network and cable TV shows alike on your portable, lightweight smartphone on demand.  Henry Ford’s plants were an icon of that industrial age, while the smartphone is an icon of ours.

Another contrast between the ages, technologically-speaking, is the military.  Large technology begat large armies, as is evident in both World Wars.  Historian Niall Ferguson estimates that total casualties of the First World War alone to be about 9.5 million deaths and 15 million wounded.  Almost three decades later, military tactics evolved along with the technology.  Gone were the Napoleonic approaches of trench warfare; in was General Patton’s mechanized warfare doctrine, which, according to military historian Robert Shales, culminated in the march to Baghdad in 2003.  But the enemies adapted, and the mass armies that were of Patton’s time have given way to special operations forces who are more adept at dealing with asymmetrical warfare.

The reason that large-scale technology became the breeding ground for Progressivism to infect the public like the Plagues of yore was that it required the standardization of masses of people; it required centralized command-and-control, along with conformity to social norms (the latter of which might ironically appeal to social conservatives today, contingent on the social benefit of said norms).

Yet it is “small” technology of the current day and age that enables more individuals to make individual choices, to fashion our world in our own dimensions, and to apply our talents and pursue interests in ways that we choose.  In short, what has happened over the past 100 years, at least in terms of options in the market, is that standardization has given way to customization.

The B. Hussein Obama Progressives of today do not understand this at all.  They – the President included – see history as a progress from minimal government to ever-larger, ever-growing government.  This is only logical, since government is the false god they worship.  Indeed, such religious zeal blinds Progressives to the fact that history does not proceed in a straight line.  One only needs to see the decline of Rome, and the technological and economic stagnation of the Dark Ages that succeeded it, to understand this fact.

More to the point, that fact is on display today.  The Progessives’ religious fixation on big government has thus led to a major disconnect in our society.  Sure, it was an easy sell to the public 100 years ago given the afore-explained context of large-scale technology.  But the “small” technology of today requires a different approach; that is, more adaptability and responsiveness to constituents.  One does not get that from the bloated bureaucracies of a big government that is a disastrous holdover from yesteryear.

Looking Forward, Not Backward, through Conservatism November 6, 2015

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Ronald_Reagan1The essence of conservatism, in general (i.e., not through any particular nationalist lens) is defending the existing order of things.  Thus, conservatism means different things in different countries, depending on what is, or was until recently, the status quo.  In Russia or China, for example, being conservative means that you are a communist, and have disdain for the new order brought on my free[er] markets in those respective countries.  Same goes for the countries in the Balkans, where some people still, oddly, long for the days of communist rule because it guaranteed them some sort of employment.  Perhaps when one has been a serf for more than a millennium, one tends to be quick to sell off one’s birthright for even the most meager messes of pottage.

But in any case, the American version of conservatism is to defend that which you already have, that being, individual liberty and a free market, both defended by a limited government.  Indeed, the citizens of the original Thirteen Colonies already had this in the 18th Century, and was not until after the French and Indian War concluded in 1763 did the British have the bright idea to arbitrarily mess with this good thing the colonists in North America already had going at that time.  For example, the standard of living in the American colonies was already higher in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.  Therein lies a key thing to remember, that the colonists did not separate from Great Britain and risk blood and treasure in so doing to create something radically new, but to defend that which they already had.

The same impulse in this shared ideology continues strongly today, as well it should.  After all, Thomas Jefferson famously reminded us in all times to come that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.  The only problem is, electorally, it can sometimes be a double-edge sword.

Two recent examples are the redefinition of marriage and Obamacare.  Those who care for long-held traditions that have been established over millennia, and established for good reasons born out of experience through the ages, have been understandably dismayed at the development of five Supreme Court judges arbitrarily changing that sacred definition.  To suggest that marriage should be redefined as being legitimate if it is between two men or two women instead of the traditional definition of one man, and one woman, shows incredible arrogance in that this generation is wiser than all the collective wisdom of all of our forbearers.  Such a thinking is reckless for the present and outright destructive for the future.

Moreover, Obamacare has caused far more problems than it solved.  Yes, it allowed previously uninsurable people access to health insurance, but it has come at considerable cost.  Everybody’s insurance premiums have skyrocketed on account of this Orwellian-named Affordable Care Act.  One family can pay as much as $20,000 a year, and if you do not buy the insurance, you pay a fine (albeit much less than the aforementioned gouging).  This Act, which is considered to be Obama’s greatest achievement, gives many people the perverse economic incentive to pay the fine.

For those of us who were happy with the insurance we already had, we ended up losing some of our doctors on account of sudden changes in insurance networks, but our premiums continue to go up and up, not only on account of having to insure the expensively uninsurable, but, more to the point, having to pay for “options” we do not even want.  Why should men, for example, be forced to pay for an insurance policy that offers birth control?  Why should all of us, man or woman, we force to pay for a policy that provides for acupuncture?

So what to do?  The impulse to defend can misguide us to often look back.  But to be electorally viable, we must look forward.  Young people especially are not concerned with some supposedly idyllic past.  Even the recent past of Clinton and (eventually) Obama in the White House is certainly no past destination to return.  Moreover, it has been almost 27 years since the late, great, Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Conservatism’s strength comes in two major dimensions:  its practicality, and its optimism.  For this piece, let us focus on the latter as a winning tool to win elections and to create a winning vision moving forward.

Start with marriage.  The institution of marriage has been the central unit of society since before recorded history (which started around 3500 BC, fyi).  It has proven, over the course of centuries and millennia, to be the cornerstone of solid, functioning families, which themselves are vital to a well-functioning society.  Within the institution of marriage, it has proven over the same immense span of time that the institution functions best when it is comprised of one man and one woman.  The reason is twofold:  for one, it takes a man and a woman to be able to get together so as to procreate.  For another, the partnership of a man and a woman is mutually beneficial to both sexes, as such a union helps both mates help curb the excesses sewn into the nature of both sexes.  Most importantly, the central reason for marriage is for the successful raising of children, so that society’s values and culture can be as successfully passed on through a married couple’s children. The different kinds of love that originates from father and mother respectively help put children in the best possible positions to be well-adjusted, productive members of society.  Family break-down hinders both the successful raising of children, and consequently it creates defective, instead of functional, cultures.  Just look at the high illegitimacy rates in the black-dominated inner city neighborhoods; such high out-of-wedlock birthrates, combined with an alarmingly high rate of absent fathers negatively affect those children’s lives.  Such family break-down those leads to the forming of bad-warped values that leads to high crime and poverty rates.

The solution?  As conservatives, we must not try to fight increasingly old battles about same-sex marriage, but rather work to strengthen traditional marriage, especially within the context of how it best benefits children in particular and families in general.  Fighting old battles is a losing proposition.  Looking forward is a winning one.

Concerning Obamacare, instead of fighting to repeal it, let us concentrate our energies to move forward by way of reforming it.  By doing so, we conservatives can seize an even greater macro opportunity by positioning ourselves as people who stand for reform in general.  Big government has proven not to work time and again, especially in an age where most companies are becoming less bureaucratic and more nimble, and technology gives us more options than ever before.  We are therefore perfectly positioned to fight to reform government by making it more streamlined, less bloated and rigid, and allow people more options.

Obamacare is a perfect place to start.  Its central problem?  In classic, big-government fashion, it is a one-size-fits-all model, and thus allows for no options.  We cannot decide what we want on our policy and what we do not want.  Government dictates what we must buy for our policies, even if it is too expensive for most discerning buyers.  If we do not like it?  Tough.  Why not allow for people to decide for themselves what they want to buy and what they do not want based on what they can afford and what they actually need?  Again, as conservatives, we are in the perfect position to offer reform policies in government that would thus allow for people to have these common sense options.  Doing so would be perfectly in line with government upholding liberty (a conservative tenet) by allowing for such common sense solutions-as-options.

Defending that which we have (our families and liberties) does not mean we must always look backward, either.  Being conservative does not, nor should it automatically equate to being reactionary.  Part of being a conservative is being practical:  that is to stay, understanding what works and what does not work, and to act accordingly.  The Constitution, for example, might not be a perfect document, but it certainly is a practical one, and has proven to be for more than two centuries and counting.  Moreover, the human being as an organism is goal-oriented in its very nature.  Such a nature was conveniently overlooked by Karl Marx, who, along with Friederich Engels, had his head in the clouds about an unattainable ideal of economic equality.  It never works because it ignores this central tenet to human nature.

But more to the point, being goal-oriented means that one instinctively looks to the future, since therein lies the goal that the individual wishes to attain.  Our Constitution was constructed on the idea to create the best possible system of government and economics within the confines of human nature.  Why not therefore use this conservative tendency constructively in the same way?

Therefore, look forward and sell the voting public on why conservative principles of a free market will create a better economic system now and in the future for people of all walks of life.  On the social side of the equation, we must, as cooperative individuals, work to strengthen traditional marriage.  Politically, we must dismantle policies that give perverse incentives for families to disintegrate so as to cut off what is in effect the funding of inter-generational social problems in the inner city and elsewhere.

Back to the free market side of things, we must look forward to a freer economy that creates better opportunities for people of all walks of life – including those in the inner city – by scaling back and streaming regulations so that people addicted to welfare who are otherwise able-bodied will have ample opportunity to act on another conservative tenet, that of self-reliance.  Looking at it another way, as a purely pragmatic way of looking at things, young people of today are becoming an increasingly large portion of the electorate, and their sole focus is looking forward, not looking back to try to recapture the past.

The genius to the central messages of Ronald Reagan was that conservatism works just as well in modern times as it did when America was founded in the late 18th Century.  Reagan was always optimistic about the future because he recognized that, as long as these same principles were headed now and in the future, things will continue to work well.

Though it was been more than three decades since Reagan was re-elected in an historic landslide, our best political solution as conservatives is to take the same approach and look forward with winning, practical policies that promise, and invariably deliver, a better future.

On Presidential Deaths and Economic Growth February 19, 2015

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William-Henry-HarrisonIn honor of the recent Presidents’ Day — which we used to correctly acknowledge as Washington’s Birthday before political correctness — let us play a little trivia game.  How many presidents died in office other than those who were assassinated?  Give up?  The correct number is four, five if you count James K. Polk (more on that later).

They are, in chronological order:  William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The latter two did not die of pathogen-caused disease, but rather of other maladies.  In Harding’s case, it was a heart attack.  In FDR’s case, it was a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by, well, being in office for three terms and change.

So what of the first two?  Harrison, for example holds two dubious distinctions as President:  the first to die while in office, and shortest length of time while in office, at about 30 days.  But why?  We have been conditioned to think it was on account of pneumonia.  Turns out that is not the case.  Yes, he did himself no favors by giving an 8,445-word Inaugural Address (still a record to this day for Inaugural Addresses, making the Hero of Tippecanoe a holder of three Presidential records!), which he did in the freezing rain without a hat, overcoat, or gloves.  Not the smartest of moves, and he actually did catch a cold from it.  But he recovered from the cold, and it never grew into pneumonia.  So what happened?

A fascinating article published in the New York Times last year sheds new light on Harrison’s untimely death.  It details the findings of a new medical investigation in that year, which followed the clues and concluded that the cause of death was typhoid, not pneumonia.  The latter was merely a guess from Harrison’s attending physician who, understandably, had comparatively limited medical knowledge.  Even then, the doctor acknowledged pneumonia to be a secondary diagnosis.

Typhoid actually makes all the sense in the world.  The disease is bacterially-based, and the pathogens in this case ravage the gastrointestinal tract, particularly the stomach, until they do their damage which allows them to enter the bloodstream, causing sepsis.  In the middle part of the 19th Century, not far from the White House was a man-made fetid swamp produced on account of daily deposits of, er, night soil — at government expense, of course.  This fetid, man-made marsh became a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause typhoid and paratyphoid fevers (both of which, interestingly, belong in the same genus of Salmonella).  It claimed two other presidents, too.  James K. Polk contracted severe gastroenteritis  (a variation on the exact same theme, practically tomayto-tomahto) while in the White House but he somehow recovered, only to die of cholera — the nature of the infection is practically the same, as they are often brought on my contaminated food and water — merely three months after leaving office in 1849.

Polk’s successor, Zachary Taylor, also died in office, having contracted Salmonella-caused gastroenteritis during the 4th of July celebration in 1850.  He died just five days later.

Frankly, it is a wonder that more of our presidents did not die of similar causes.  Antibiotics, which would have stopped these pathogens in their tracks, were not available until WWII, roughly a century’s span from this time.

So how come subsequent presidents in the remaining 19th Century avoided meeting such an untimely demise?  George Will’s insight provides an answer, and does so within the context of marking the 25th anniversary of AIDS in a 2006 article:

“AIDS arrived in America in the wake of the Salk vaccine, which, by swiftly defeating polio, gave Americans a misleading paradigm of how progress is made in public health. Pharmacology often is a small contributor. By the time the first anti-tuberculosis drugs became available in the 1950s, the annual death rate from TB had plummeted to 20 per 100,000 Americans, from 200 per 100,000 in 1900. Drugs may have accounted for just 3 percent of the reduction. The other 97 percent was the result of better nutrition and less urban crowding. Thanks to chlorination of water and better sanitation and personal hygiene, typhoid, too, became rare before effective drugs were available.”

“Which suggests,” he adds, “that the most powerful public health program is economic growth.  And the second most powerful is information.”

Indeed.  Economic growth provides the resources necessary to better dispose of human waste as well.  DC introduced its first sewer system in 1885, for example, thus greatly reducing the chance of Presidents Cleveland through [Franklin] Roosevelt contracting the same maladies that felled two, if not three, of their predecessors in the mid-19th Century.

That said, as an aside, there seemed not to be a universal utilization of Washington, D.C.’s sewer system as recently as 1941, as George Will points out in an article seven months prior to the aforecited one.

‘Sochi Da’? More Like ‘Sochi, Nyet!’! February 5, 2014

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sochi-russia-palmtrees

Does this look like a winter sports destination to you? Can one think of anything more antithetical to the Winter Olympics than palm trees? Yet this only scratches the surface regarding all the things wrong with Sochi, and it calls the collective judgment of the IOC into serious question.

As a life-long fan of the Olympics, I must concede that I am very excited for the Winter Games to commence this Friday evening.  But this time I am excited with reservations, namely on the very choice of the city and country to host these Games.  It is painfully clear to me that the judgement of the leadership of the International Olympic Committee (henceforth the IOC) was, to put it mildly, severely compromised.

What’s wrong with Sochi?  Let us count the ways.  Start with the fact that it is out-of-the-way.  For the previous three Winter Olympics in a row (Salt Lake City, Torino, and Vancouver), the IOC got it mostly right.  The United States and Canada are commerce-oriented, and have first-rate infrastructures, not to mention the population bases in the bookend cities dictate the size and quantity of hotel rooms to accommodate massive influxes of spectators for gigantic events, like, say, the Olympics.  Torino was not a terrible choice in that they had a solid population base to handle the Games and the many myriads of people.  It’s just that Italy is not exactly commerce-oriented, not when compared to the Anglosphere or even Germany, for that matter.

Another huge problem with Sochi is the geography itself, and in more ways than one.  The most obvious problem is that fact that Sochi is a subtropical resort, hardly the ideal spot for the designated hub of winter sports championship events.  At least the nearby mountains are snowy, though.  The size of the town is not quite up to what is needed for the Winter Games of this modern size.  Gone are the days when a tiny ski resort town like Lake Placid (population:  less than 4,000) could handle the Winter Olympics.  It was fine when you had only 19 countries competing, with a total of about 200 total athletes (as was the case in 1932), and they barely, just barely pulled it off in 1980.  Calgary turned out to be a great choice in 1988, but then small town problems persisted again with Albertville (whose 1992 population was only about 35,000), and also with Nagano (1998:  just too far out of the way), which brings us back to Sochi.  At only about 340,000, it’s not as big as metro Salt Lake City, let alone Calgary, Torino or Vancouver.

Isolation is another issue.  It is located on the eastern end of the Black Sea, way too out-of-the-way compared to major population centers of countries with a sufficient degree of commerce-orientation.  That isolation makes it unduly taxing on the kind of nations that will make the most substantial contributions athletically and in terms of medal counts.

This does not even take into consideration the issue of sticker shock for families trying to make it to Sochi to cheer on their sons or daughters in person as they compete.  Unlike commerce-oriented locales like Calgary, Salt Lake or Vancouver, which have plenty of hotel rooms all over their respective metro areas, Sochi has yet to build up the hotel space designed to handle the major crush of people about to descend on it.   Combine high demand for hotel rooms and low supply thereof, and out-of-the-way air travel, and you have a prohibitively expensive combination that will keep the vast majority of families away, period.

For those who do have hotel rooms, particularly those in the media, there are plenty of issues to contend with that are non-issues in more civilized parts of the world.  The Russian government has had seven, count ’em, seven years to prepare for these games, yet look at the laundry list of issues that members of the media have to contend with regarding their lodging while covering these Games.

There have been twitter-fed reports from journalists of having to climb out of their windows just to leave their hotels.  Also, there are reports of hotel lobbies have no floors; of having to contend with stray dogs in hotels — you know, the stray dogs that the Russian government is not murdering with typical Bolshevik brutality.  Then there is the glaring lack of water at some hotels, and where there is water, that people are advised not to drink it.

Seven years and 51 Billion (with a ‘B’) dollars later, and this is the best they could do?  Actually, why are we not surprised?  This is, after all, Russia, whose people had to make multiple botched attempts to bump off Rasputin.  Never underestimate the power of Russian incompetence — or corruption, for that matter.

Remember, folks, one thing that separates the developed First World from every place else is a more open, transparent government, and relatively minimized corruption.  It is clear that with $51 Billion wasted in Sochi, somebody got paid off.

Now let us consider the not-so-small issue of athlete and spectator safety.  Did the IOC consider Sochi’s close proximity to Chechnya and the fact that that spot of the world is a hotbed for Moslem terror?  Or did that just slip the IOC’s collective mind as they awarded the hosting of the 2014 Winter Games to Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy?

The term ‘kleptocrat’ is not used lightly, either.  During a formal reception, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft happened to bump into Putin.  The latter asked to see Kraft’s Super Bowl ring, and Kraft, ever the gentleman, obliged without hesitation in the interests of both classy conduct and international relations.  If only Putin were as much of a gentleman.  Instead of doing the right thing and returning the ring to Mr. Kraft, after the Pats’ owner so kindly handed over such a precious article of jewelry to the despot for his own close inspection and presumed admiration, Putin just put the ring in his suit pocket and immediately surrounded himself with three KGB agents before leaving the party without delay.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the leader of the nation that is about to host the Winter Olympics.

I ask yet again:  did the IOC consider that?  Did they consider anything?  If current hindsight is any indication, they did not.  They did not consider the relative lack of commerce-orientation and the necessary infrastructure that it inevitably entails.  They, apparently, did not consider basic geography, be it climate (remember, the whole subtropical resort deal), nor the human side of geography (Chechnya, Islamic terrorism, etc.) and its obvious security risks that imperil athletes and spectators alike.  Neither did the IOC consider geography in terms of fundamental location, and the fact that it is out-of-the-way compared to many other sites in more civilized locales.  Need we mention the IOC’s lack of consideration regarding the human rights violations and the increased authoritarianism of Putin’s regime?  This is to say nothing of the rampant corruption that has left everybody outside of the teams themselves lacking for basic living necessities in their lodging.

There are really only a small handful of countries that are capable of competently handling the Olympics, given the size to which the Games have grown.  And remember, the words ‘competence’ and ‘Russia’ hardly go together!  Again, the importance of the commerce-orientation in a country is that it has the infrastructure (transportation, hotel accommodations, sanitation/cleanliness, etc.) that can handle such an astronomically massive set of events.  But moreover, this same small handful of governments that are sufficiently free/democratic, and have a free press that can call wayward politicians and government officials into proper account (barring left-wing media malpractice, anyway).  Such openness is a symptom of the proper commitment towards first-world living standards and infrastructure in the first place.  The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Australia and Japan — to an extent — can all pull it off well.  Why roll the dice with some place so isolated, in a dangerous part of the world, with a non-winter sports climate, in a country with an increasingly dictatorial government?

Of course, one plausible explanation for this gross lack of judgment on the part of the IOC is that maybe part the $51 Billion spent on these Games in Russia was dangled in front of the faces of key IOC members to cast the vote in favor of Putin’s regime.  This is Europe, after all, where such corruption is more commonplace than in the Anglosphere, by and large.

The truth of the matter is, as mentioned before, the vast majority  of countries are not built to handle the Olympics.  Contrary to the feel-good, politically-correct mantra, not everybody deserves a chance to host something so huge.  Not all cultures are equal, hence not all countries are properly equipped to handle such a massive undertaking.  The wise approach would be to cycle the Games around in a handful of cities/countries that have proven that they can handle such events without a hitch.  Why not cycle it from Salt Lake to Munich to Vancouver (or Calgary) and repeat the cycle?  Don’t out-think the room, IOC.

The potentially existential problem at the University of Texas February 10, 2013

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UTcampus1On the surface, it seems there has never been a better time to be a part of a major university, particularly the state-funded type.  Education remains in high demand, after all, and those working as full-time academics (extra emphasis on “full-time”) make good money.  Individual states take pride in their flagship schools as being centers for world-class research, that some of the most cutting-edge, world-changing advances in technology, from electronics to engineering to chemistry to medicine, have come out of these sorts of universities.  Note that I said “some” research, for just as many cutting-edge discoveries have come out of R&D departments in General Electric, General Motors, DuPont, 3M, Magnum Research, Lockheed-Martin, and the like (note that they are all for-profit companies in the private sector!).

But that stipulation aside, these flagship schools are often viewed with some degree of prestige.  Pennsylvania, for example, rightly takes pride in the academic excellence at Penn State, as it is regarded as a “public Ivy.”  Ditto for the University of Michigan in the Great Lakes State, or for both Indiana and Purdue Universities in the neighboring Hoosier State.  The Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota are also known for quality, world-class research and are thus a source of pride for their respective states.  Same can be said for Cal-Berkeley and UCLA in the once-Golden State or for the University of Washington in the Evergreen State.  Even the SEC, not necessarily known for its academic prowess overall compared to the Big Ten or even the Pac-12, nevertheless has a good example of a big, state flagship school with good academics (though a recent development, to be sure) in the University of Florida.  And yes, the adjective “state” also means “public,” with college tuition being more affordable for in-state students than if said students were to attend private schools for their higher education instead.

So what is the problem?  Well, the issue has two large, important dimensions.  At the heart of said issue is an existential crisis that seems to be gripping the University of Texas, another great example of a state flagship school that has good academics both at the undergrad level as well as the graduate one.  This existential, if not outright identity, crisis is the result of something of a culture clash within the vaunted institution.  USA Today reports that opposing factions within the school have very different visions for the direction and purpose of the UT.  The conflict basically goes this way:  do we focus on the prestigious aspects of the school, or do we make it more accessible?  It’s basically a Cadillac vs. Chevy argument.  Cadillacs are much nicer and classier, but Chevys will still get you where you need to go without breaking the bank in the process.  Both arguments have merit, but which way should the university go?

The prestige/class argument certainly has its place, but has severe limitations.  Undergrads usually choose their school based on its academic reputation, yet said reputation comes from research done by faculty and doctoral students.  Just because a professor is a leading researcher in his field does not necessarily mean he will be effectively imparting that insight to the undergrads.  In fact, in all likelihood, he might farm out that teaching to his teacher’s assistants, themselves concentrating on establishing their own reputations in academia.  The only way an undergraduate student would have a course taught be one of these hypothetical leading professors is if they take an arcane course that is directly within the narrow scope of the professor’s arcane research, as Dr. Thomas Sowell points out.  Such is often the case at Harvard and the other Ivy League schools, but less so at certain places like Purdue.

This leads us even further into the problem with “prestige.”  While some research is very useful in the real world, other research, not so much.  If the cutting-edge research is within the fields of engineering, medicine, food science, agriculture, chemistry, computers/electronics, or even business management to an extent, then all those things can translate to useful applications to advance our standard of living in the real world.  But if a professor is a leading researcher in sociology, communication, “women’s studies,” or “critical theory” (i.e., Marxism), so what?  How does a degree in a field of that sort of related study translate into marketable skills, which, now more than ever, are key to getting a job in a tough economy?

Long gone are the days when just having any old degree will get you a decent-paying job.  Employers look for specific skills to make specific contributions to their companies’ productivity.  Therefore, if major universities wish to remain relevant, the other argument goes, then they must adapt their teaching curricula to meet these more basic student needs so that said students, once they graduate, can be productive elements of society, and thus truly get their money’s worth.

Specifically, employers are looking for – depending on your industry, and yes, I’m generalizing here – nurses, engineers, chemists (to an extent), I.T. professionals/computer engineers/programmers, and accountants, not to mention HVAC technicians, plumbers, the latter two do not even require a four-year degree insomuch as a vocational certification.  Getting a degree in sociology will not help fulfill employers’ needs.

I for one lean towards the latter camp, but coming from an academically-oriented family myself, I fully sympathize with the other side’s point of view.  Where I part company with the other side is the blind eye they turn to, if not outright abet, all the side-effects that come with the purely theoretical, no-real-world-application side of academia.  To put it bluntly, one does not hear a peep of Marxism, or any other permutation of Leftist philosophy from engineering or medical schools.  Perhaps many a chemistry professor might vote for all the local, state and national Democrat lefties du jour, but one hardly hears any of their ideology trickle down into the classroom.  Ditto for engineering professors, or even math professors, though one is likely to find some conservatives in those camps and others where part of their profession is making sure that the numbers actually, you know, add up.

That can hardly be said for many courses in communications, English, sociology, “critical theory/studies,” any ethnic study one cares to choose, or even many – though thankfully not all – history courses and pretty else everywhere else within the purview of liberal arts, sadly.

The irony in the existential debate surrounding the University of Texas is that it has the resources to do a mix of both.  It has the resources to offer trade-oriented education to the majority of its would-be undergrads, while at the same time offer English, History, Foreign Languages, Math and Science courses to the kids who want to teach in those disciplines at the secondary (i.e., high school level).  If kids within the latter category want to continue their studies as actual scholars in those fields, UT ought to have the resources to accommodate that to an extent, as well as continue in the world class research in which the former camp takes so much pride.

A potential problem with this approach is that, yes, it can muddle the brand, and would run the risk trying to make the University of Texas all things to all people, which hardly anybody outside of G.E. and Carrier/United Technologies are capable of doing. Muddying the brand is problematic enough.  Packard tried that in the 1930s in order to survive the Great Depression.  Rival Cadillac already had the luxury of having the low-priced Chevrolet brand within the larger General Motors conglomerate.  As an independent, though, Packard reasoned that it needed to make low-priced models just to survive, but in doing so, it compromised the prestige of the brand.  As any marketing professor worth his or her salt will tell you, though, the solution would have been for Packard to come with its own low-priced flanker brand so as to not compromise the brand equity of its famous luxury marque.

Sounds simple in theory, but for higher education, it is not.  If UT were to adopt this idea, how could the ‘man on the street’ differentiate the practical vocation-oriented training from the prestigious research that is normally associated with such an institution?  Ultimately, it should come down to individual employers’ ability to be able to see how employment candidates from that school can translate the practical knowledge they have learned into applied abilities to benefit the companies, without regard to prestigious research done elsewhere at such a huge school.

This brief exploration of the opposing issues by no means will settle this huge argument in Austin.  But approaching market forces might compel the university to adapt some version of this proposed hybrid model, prestige or no prestige.  This discussion is surely to be continued.