A Time for Healing

Front Page, Government and Politics, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

Image result for man scratching head + commons

     The longest presidential campaign in my memory has come to an end, and I am grateful. Pundits and pollsters are scratching their heads and wondering how it happened.  I would like to say to them that you are bunch of ignorant hicks who are out of touch with the good citizens of the United States of America, but I will not.  While it could be true, now is not the time for crowing.  Now is a time for healing.

     Over the last eight years, the division in our country has weakened the fabric of society.  Much like an old pair of Levis, the denim is frayed at the seams and the knees are soft, white and transparent.  It will take a delicate hand if they are to be mended.  But mended they must be.

     Over the last eight years, I have often thought about the slogan “hope and change.’  Like many Americans, in the early days, I remained hopeful that President Obama would unite the citizens of this great country, but that hope was soon ground beneath the heal of the community organizer.  Hope was quickly lost and the coming change was far worse than anything I had seen before.  At every opportunity, the presidential influence was used to divide the nation’s citizenry and to pit one group against the other.  Looking back it saddens me, but I am determined to look forward with newfound hope.

     It is easy in victory to look at the vanquished, and merely say “I won.” But, salting the wounds does not promote healing, and we must heal if our nation is to survive.  The election results clearly indicate that the citizens of our nation do not want to continue down the same stony path of division.  Therefore, it is incumbent on the victors to promote healing, to reach out, to lift up and to enlighten those bound to the path of division with truth rather than emotion.  It is not an easy task, but true enlightenment is the only way to unite a people and preserve the blessing that is freedom.

     The task is daunting, the path is long, but as my friend Bill Pruett often said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

 

Until next time…

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You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

Front Page, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

     I know very well that clichés are considered poor form and should be avoided like the Wicked Witch of Chappaqua, but is it necessarily so? Clichés are said to be overused, and I agree.  They are overused because they are economical, because they flow freely, and because they retain meaning.  Contrary to the opinion of my betters, it is not meaning that is lost in clichés, but rather the impact of the cliché is lost with overuse.  The words after all have not changed meanings.  However, I am not arguing for the greater use of clichés in writing.  I, like many others, find clichés to be trite and overused.  I am just suggesting that the prudent use of clichés is all right with me.  For example, consider the meaning of the expression, “Silence is golden.”

     Do you imagine that Hillary Clinton wishes she had remained silent in July, instead of saying, “Comey has exonerated me”?  Is she now speaking from the other side of her mouth when she says, “Comey is undermining our republic”?  Can she have her cake and eat it, too?  Can she take a swim and not get wet?  Can she keep the barrel full and still be drunk?

     It appears odd to me that somehow Hillary claims James Comey is undermining our republic.  It is a bold claim, but what is the truth?  It may be easier to understand the situation with an example.  Imagine that the local police received a tip on a drug dealer.  Acting on the tip, the police begin to investigate and find evidence supporting their case.  According to Hillary, the police should call a press conference and provide the public with the evidence.  What the police actually do is provide the evidence to the county attorney, who reviews the evidence, and decides if there is enough evidence to prosecute the case.  The public has no right to see the evidence before the trial.  Hillary has merely got the cart before the horse, and her claim is absurd.

     Now Hillary has expressed a concern that the FBI investigation is interfering with politics, and her concern has found footing with the Washington Post.  On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Comey poses a threat to the, “Long-standing and well-established traditions of limiting disclosure of ongoing investigations.”  It is feared that this might influence the election.  But Comey’s back is against the wall.  He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

     If Comey failed to report that he had reopened the investigation, wouldn’t his lack of reporting favor Hillary?  To be sure, Hillary would think his silence golden, but could Comey bask in the golden rays of silence knowing his inaction was influencing politics?

     It seems to me that Comey would have been better served if he had remained silent in July, and Hillary would not have been claiming, “Comey has exonerated me.”  Hindsight is always 20/20.  However, since he opened the can of worms in July, it was incumbent on him to report the change in his investigation.

     If Hillary actually wanted the transparency she now claims that she wants, she would not have set up a private server and deleted the emails in the first place.  Hillary you can’t have it both ways.

     With regards to clichés, perhaps William Safire was correct, “Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.”

Until next time…

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Ghosts, Ghouls and Goblins

Front Page, Government and Politics, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial
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BRANCO © 2016

     As Halloween quickly approaches, my thoughts often turn to the quaint days of my youth. A hobo costume was always popular, and candy was plentiful.  My favorite was always the popcorn balls that were made by Mrs. Motes.  I would go to her house more than once, and I would trade candy for popcorn balls from other children.  Although adults did not dress in costumes much in those days, one neighbor would dress as a witch and served candy with apple cider.  Unfortunately, times have changed; popcorn balls and apple cider would now be considered suspicious, and a hobo costume – well – it just wouldn’t be very popular.

     Halloween costumes have become a big business, not only for children, but for adults as well. Sure there are the usual ghost, ghouls and goblins, but through the years, movie themed costumes have greatly impacted the market.  Star Wars costumes are particularly popular this Halloween season, as they have been in the recent past.  Horror movies still have a great influence, and the Jason character is readily available for those wanting a darker character.  Also, politicians have become popular Halloween characters.  I am not sure why.  It could be that they are often horrible, scary people, or on the other hand, they are ridiculous to the point of being funny.  Either way, you can be Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump.  Obama has fallen out of favor, and some say that it is because of his big ears.  I do not think it is because of his ears myself.  I believe after nearly eight years of his policies, he is just too scary.  (Nobel Peace Prize winner, my arse.)

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     One surprising political costume this year is the Chairman Mao suit. Mao has been out of favor for many years.  You may recall the Beatles famous refrain, “If you go carrying picture of Chairman Mao, you’re not gonna’ make it with anyone anyhow.”  Even so, he is back this Halloween.  I guess some people have forgotten the 15 to 45 million people he killed, mostly through famine with his Great Leap Forward, while leading the Chinese Communist Party.  At any rate, he is once again center stage as a fashion icon.  Hillary Clinton is sporting the new Mao costume, and I have it on good authority that she secretly admired Chairman Mao and not only for his fashionable taste.

hillary-mao-costume

     I do not think the Mao look will greatly disguise Hillary or her ambition, but perhaps it is like Zig Ziglar said, “You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.”

Until next time…

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The Diversion Technique

Front Page, Government and Politics

 

 

     A child falls and screams as though he severed his left hand. A concerned parent runs to comfort the child.  After a great deal of consoling, the child quiets down, and the parent looks for an injury but finds none.  This cycle is repeated many time in the course of raising children.  Eventually the parent begins to discern variations in the screaming sound and soon recognizes a fake scream from a real one.  Also, the astute parent finds techniques other than consoling to quiet a screaming child.  My father always used the diversion technique to great effect.  When he wanted to divert a child’s attention, he would merely ask a question, such as: “Did you see that elephant sitting on a telephone pole?”  The question accomplished two things.  It diverted the child’s attention away from the perceived problem, and more importantly, it quieted the child without rewarding undesired behavior.  I have observed this technique being employed by other parents with great success, and on occasion, I have observed a clever child practicing the technique on unsuspecting parents.  As it turns out, the diversion technique works on unsuspecting children of all ages.

     Recently, WikiLeaks and others began reporting on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency. WikiLeaks obtained emails from an unknown source while others did investigative reporting.  The stench of corruption in the Hillary campaign was so great that it could not be ignored.  For example, it was reported that the Hillary campaign had hired stooges to infiltrate the Donald Trump rallies and incite violence.  Hillary also attempted to have classified documents declassified in order to avoid prosecution by the FBI.  Also of interest was Hillary’s arranging sales of uranium to Russia in exchange for contributions to her foundation.   And of course, access to Hillary’s State Department was easily obtained with a contribution to her foundation, and the list goes on and on in an ever widening circles.  So, what is Hillary to do?  No one has questioned the voracity of the stories.

     It seems the answer for the Hillary campaign is to employee the diversion technique. Blame the Russians for hacking the emails in the first place.  At the final presidential debate in Las Vegas, Hillary claimed, “We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election.” That of course is not true.

James Clapper

     The Director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who speaks on behalf of the 17 agencies actually said, “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities. Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government.” Notice he did not say they originated from the Kremlin, but did say in most cases they originate from servers operated by a Russian company. It is important to note that his opinion is based on scope and sensitivity and not on investigation.

     Where did the other cases originate?  He did not say.  Still others believe whistle blowers inside the organization are leaking the emails, and we may never know the truth.  But, on some level, Hillary’s diversion appears to be working because there is a lot of idle chatter in the news media about the Russians attempting to influence our election, and some are calling for an investigation.  It would seem to me that time could be better spent investigating Hillary’s corruption and criminal activities.  And why would the Russians want to hurt Hillary’s campaign?  After all, she helped the Russians buy 20% of the uranium in the United States, and the uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.  But remember that the diversion technique works well on unsuspecting children.

     Interestingly enough, the stench of the Hillary campaign has taken a new turn in Georgia. It is reported that a Democratic National Committee bus was photographed dumping human waste into a storm drain.  However, this should not come as a surprise.  The Democrats have been crapping on Georgia for more than a hundred years.  It could well be that Henry David Thoreau was correct in saying, “There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.”  But, I’m sure he meant to say, “Tainted politicians.”

Until next time…

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Oddz and Endz

Front Page

 

      If I were a disinterested observer living a safe distance from this country, I would find the current presidential campaign amusing. After all, who cannot look at corruption, deception, rejection and balderdash on such a grand scale, as anything other than a Monty Python skit?  However, it is not and I am not amused.

     The Democrats released a tape of Donald Trump talking about women in what Trump later characterized as, “locker room talk.” The Democrats and a few very liberal Republicans feigned outrage.  The hypocrisy is amusing on several levels.  Bill Clinton’s escapades come to mind, but disregarding Bill, how can a nation that bought more than 125 million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey pretend to be offended by any language?  Moreover, the tape was more than 11 years old and recorded at a time when Trump was a Democrat.  Isn’t that what we have come to expect from Democrats?  (OK, I made that up.)

      The content of Hillary Clinton’s secret speeches to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and others were released. In a speech to a Brazilian bank, Hillary said, My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, sometime in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.” Is Hillary just pandering here, or does she actually support an American Union? It is hard to judge because she also told a housing trade group in 2013 that on certain issues, she has “a public and a private position.” “If everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least, so, you need both a public and a private position.” (I did not make any of that up.)

      Earlier in the week, we were treated to an episode billed as the “Vice-Presidential Debate.” The Tim Kaine clown appeared as a heckler and said nothing worth repeating.  The moderator did not understand her role as a non-partisan presiding over the debate.  Mike Pence was poised and well spoken, but could not be heard over the heckler.  Monty Python could not have scripted it better.  All Kaine could say is Donald Trump lost money in the 1990s and did not pay taxes.  I hate to be the voice of reason, but it is the law.  If you do not make money, you do not pay taxes.  Sorry, Charlie!

Kaine and Pence debate

      After the first presidential debate, I got a serious lesson in fat-shaming. Not that I really needed one because I know how to shame fat people.  As a child, I learned a clever little poem that goes like this, “Fatty, fatty two by four can’t get through the bathroom door…”  For some reason, they did not quote the poem on the news, but they should have.  Instead, they paraded a bunch of fat people across the stage who are apparently ashamed of their weight, but prefer not to be told they are fat.  I would suggest they learn this other little rhyme from my childhood.  “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Anyway the whole fat-shaming episode was the result of Donald Trump calling Miss Universe fat back in the 1990s.

     Apparently the entire event was staged. The Democratic presidential team had been talking to the former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, prior to the debate.  Hillary Clinton planned to mention Machado during the debate and wanted Machado available for comment, specifically, to verify that she had been fat-shamed by Donald Trump.  As it turned out, in addition to being fat-shamed, Machado had driven the getaway car for a murder committed by her boyfriend.  She later threatened to kill the prosecutor involved in the murder case.  I guess being a baby momma to a Mexican drug lord is a tough assignment, and maybe being fat shamed 20 years ago isn’t so bad.  Machado has quit giving interviews about the incident since the truth came out.

    Speaking of staged events, I recall being introduced to Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention. Khan, a Muslim, whose son died in the military service, stood on stage and defended the open immigration of Muslims and accused Trump of not having read the U. S. Constitution.  Khan held a copy of the constitution in his hand and offered to loan it to Trump.  The crowd went wild, but as it turns out, Khan is a lawyer in the business of helping Muslims get into the United States for a fee, so Trump’s proposal to slow the flow of Muslim immigrants would affect Khan financially.  He was not a disinterested grieving parent as portrayed.  I did wonder if he could show me in the Constitution where it says we have to admit every Muslim in the world to the United States.  I think the Democrats got Khan-ed.

     I am curious. Did anyone see the investigative report on the Clinton Foundation that aired on “60 Minutes”?  No? Me either, but it would be interesting if they would only do an investigation.  Investigative reporting, like the old gray mare, ain’t what it used to be.

     One of the most amusing claims I have heard this election cycle came from Hillary Clinton when she said, “Donald Trump is unfit to serve as president.” It reminds me of the Spanish idiom roughly translated from Don Quixote, “Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.”

 

Until next time…

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First American Fried Chicken and More

Front Page, Government and Politics, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

   

     On September 19, 2016, there was another Islamic terrorist attack in New York , and the official response is bewildering. At first, it could not be admitted that there was a bomb, and Mayor de Blasio of New York could not admit it was a terrorist act.  Perhaps he thought it was work-place violence or a chemistry experiment gone wrong.  Who knows?  When there was absolute proof that it was an Islamic terrorist, then the claim was made that he was a lone wolf acting on his own.  And then of course, it was determined that he may not have been a lone wolf, so it was claimed that he was not ISIS-inspired.  And then it was admitted that he might have been ISIS-inspired, but he certainly was not funded or directed by ISIS.  That, of course, is a great relief to me because if anyone points a gun to my head, my first concern is who is paying him.  And, of course, the executive branch (think president) remains silent on the terrorist bombing, while the intelligence community is claiming that we are defeating ISIS, and as a result, they are calling on cells in Europe and the United States to commit terrorist acts.  Can it be both ways?  Does it matter?

     I think it is safest to conclude what most Americans concluded when they saw the aftermath of the bombing. It was an Islamic terrorist attack.  Whether he was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki or ISIS is academic.  By now, most Americans have seen enough terrorism in the United States to recognize it on its face.  It is only the news media and seemingly all branches of government that cannot recognize terrorism when they see it.  But, it does raise a serious question, who is going to vet the 550,000 Muslim refugees that Hillary Clinton plans to bring to the United States if elected president?

     It certainly cannot be the FBI (our nation’s top police force) because they now have a long history of investigating terrorists and then releasing them on an unsuspecting citizenry (Boston bombers and others). In this case, they had interviewed the bomber, Ahmad Kan Rahami, twice.  Both interviews followed his extended trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan where he was known to have visited areas of Taliban presence.  Further acting on a tip that Ahmad’s father was referring to Ahmad as a terrorist, they interviewed Ahmad’s father.  The father apparently changed his story in the FBI’s presence and convinced the FBI that his son was merely involved in domestic violence.  After all, Ahmad was in jail for stabbing a relative.

     One would guess that Ahmad’s father knew more than he would let on to the FBI since Ahmad lived at home, in an apartment above the family business, First American Fried Chicken. It would make sense that the father was protecting the son, but you would think the FBI might suspect as much.  Protecting a child is normal parental behavior, so it is hard to overlook the FBI’s lack of diligence in the investigation.  At the time, they did not interview Ahmad and certainly did not put him on a terrorist screening database.  Apparently, the FBI also overlooked Ahmad’s Pakistani wife who has since relocated to the United Arab Emirates.  She left the country just days before the bombings.  It tends to make one believe that she knew something.  As an interesting coincidence, where did the San Bernardino terrorist’s bride, Tashfeen Malik, come from?  If you guessed Pakistan, you would be correct.

     Maybe it is just me, but it seems odd that the FBI can track all of my emails and phone messages and harass the citizens of this country, but they cannot detect a terrorist when they are told who the terrorist is. Perhaps being led by James Comey, they believe violating the law without intent is not a crime.  That is what he said about Hillary Clinton isn’t it?

     Maybe we just expect too much of the FBI. Maybe they are just Washington bureaucrats like many others.  Remember it was Senator Orrin Hatch who said, “We cannot let our respect for the FBI blind us from the fact the FBI has sometimes come up short of our expectations.”

 

Until next time…

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Burgers, Fries and Please Supersize

Front Page, Government and Politics, Opinion/Editorial

     Unless you have been vacationing in outer space, it is all too likely that you have heard more than you wanted to hear about the first presidential debate. I know I have, but most of what I have heard has missed the point.  For example, the moderator was biased, each candidate won, each candidate lost, Hillary Clinton looks great in a red pant suit (I made that up), Hillary was presidential, Donald Trump was presidential, and more.  Well, you get the idea, but there were a few points of substance that are worthy of consideration.

     One candidate promised to raise taxes on the wealthy and make them pay their fair share and to redistribute the tax money gained to college students, green energy projects, and perhaps some other pet projects that I do not recall. Certainly, this appeals to college students and others ignorant of how taxes actually work.  Consider this: I recently reviewed a corporation’s annual financial statement and determined that they were paying a 40% effective tax rate.  What would happen if their tax rate was raised to 80%?

     I think a simple example would make it easier to understand, so let’s assume the business is a local burger joint. This burger joint sells super-duper deluxe burgers for five dollars.  At the current 40% tax rate, two dollars of every super-duper deluxe burger sold is paid in taxes.  The remaining three dollars pays for employee’s wages, meat, overhead, and a small profit.  So what happens when we raise taxes to 80%?  The tax on the five-dollar, super-duper deluxe burger gets raised to four dollars, and a dollar is left to pay for wages, meat, overhead and a small profit, but one dollar will not pay for all of that.  The business must make a decision; either it can fire its employees and go out of business, or it can raise the price of the super-duper deluxe burger.  Either choice has negative consequences.

     If the burger joint goes out of business, it must fire the college students that it employees, and certainly they will be worse off. If it raises prices, the super-duper deluxe burger will now cost seven dollars, and the college students buying the super-duper deluxe burger will be worse off.  There is also the chance that people will begin buying less super-duper deluxe burgers, and the business will close anyway.  The truth is businesses do not pay taxes.  Businesses merely pass tax increases on to the consumer, and all politicians know this.  When a politician tells you that they are going to make the rich pay their fair share and raise their taxes, they are only trying to deceive you.  Taxes are always paid by the consumer, which is, of course, you and me.

     The other candidate promised to lower taxes. I do not want to bore you with the tedium of another example, but I trust that it is sufficient to say that lowering taxes will have the opposite result of raising taxes.  As in our previous example, the burger joint would be able to lower the price of the super-duper deluxe burger, benefiting all consumers, or they could open another burger joint employing even more college students.  Regardless of how you view it, lowering taxes will benefit everyone.  There really is no downside except to politicians because they will have less money to squander on their pet projects.

     There are other ramifications to taxes on businesses that people too often do not consider. What if our burger joint wanted to export the super-duper deluxe burger to England, and the tax remained the same at 40%, but France also wanted to export their version of the super-duper deluxe burger to England, and they had a tax rate of 20%?  If everything else was the same, England would likely import the French version because it would sell for four dollars instead of five dollars because of the lower tax.  The truth is taxing businesses makes them less competitive.  If our burger joint relied solely on exports, they would either go out of business or move their business to France and pay the lower tax.  Either way their college student employees would be worse off.  Politicians are also aware of this, so when they pretend that they are helping you by raising taxes on business, do not believe them.  They are merely trying to feed you a load of horse apples.

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The “trickle-down” theory was introduced by William Jennings Bryan in his Cross of Gold speech given at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, in 1896.

     One candidate described trickle-down economics as a failed system, but that is not true. Trickle-down is achieved by lowering taxes, and as you can see from the burger joint example, lowering taxes provides for business expansion which results in increased tax revenue overall.  This method was tried and proved during the Reagan era, and the benefit carried over into the Bill Clinton era which accounts for part of his economic success.

    Despite our $20 trillion deficit, one candidate proposed additional spending as a way to get the economy going again. This is lunacy in a pant suit.  No country has ever spent itself into prosperity.  Spending more than you take in is the definition of bankruptcy.  It is a simple concept, yet politicians continue to make the claim, and apparently the poorly informed continue to believe.

     One candidate criticized the Federal Reserve for playing politics with interest rates. Interest rates have been held artificially low for about eight years.  This serves the purpose of keeping the stock market doing well, and it provides the illusion of a healthy economy.  However, every time the Federal Reserve hints at a rate increase, the stock market plummets.  Interest rates should have increased long ago, but it appears likely they will only increase after the November election.  At that time, we will get a real assessment of the strength of our economy.  In all likelihood, we will have economic problems, and the new president will get the blame for the economy, when the blame should fall on the Federal Reserve.  So, yes it is true that the Federal Reserve is playing politics with the interest rates and the economy.

     There were other minor points, but I have already allowed this to run longer than I would like, so to close I would say, one candidate wore a pant suit, and the other was right.

No wonder Mark Twain quipped, “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”

 

Until next time…

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A Toast from Lenin and Stalin

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial
Lenin and Stalin

     The Democratic National Convention (DNC) kicked off with the resignation of their chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Apparently she worked unethically, if not illegally, to undermine Bernie Sanders and support Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders supporters protested the rigged primary for good reason and were not quick to fall in line behind Hillary.  There was little new substance in the convention speeches.  They loved abortion, climate change, a $15 an hour minimum wage, gun control, and surely I’m forgetting something, but “At this point what difference does it make?”  I was surprised to learn that they did not entirely love free trade.  You may recall that President Obama negotiated the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement and demanded that congress fast track approval without reading it.  So why are Democrats signaling a lack of enthusiasm?  Could it be they are channeling their inner Donald?

     Donald Trump has been outspoken on trade agreements and has said they were poorly negotiated and should be renegotiated. Trump feels that Americans are being taken advantage of through free trade. Free trade supporters counter that the good outweighs the bad.  But, does it?  What is the truth of the matter?

     To be fair, it should be noted that there are two kinds of free trade.  There is free trade among individuals and businesses, and there is free trade among nations.  Free trade among individuals and businesses is a right that should not be interfered with through government action.  Individuals are capable of looking out for their own interests and the interests of their family, without oversight, and will negotiate for their interests accordingly.

     Free trade among nations is quite another matter.  Nations have other interests to consider, for example, the economy, the national defense, the environment, and natural resources to name a few.  When you take into consideration national issues, it easy to see that unrestricted free trade may not be in the best interest of the nation.  Would a free trade agreement that requires an adversarial nation to supply critical military equipment be in the best interest of the receiving nation?  Such may be the case with regards to China.  Shouldn’t nations put their strategic needs ahead of the needs for trade?

     It may surprise some to realize the United States has not been a free trade nation historically.  Our forefathers thought it wise to nurture and protect our national resources.  It is through this nurturing that our resources matured and developed into the strongest economic force on earth.  It has only been in recent years that free trade has been a consideration.  But it is already obvious that free trade has a weakening effect on the nation.  The loss of jobs, the lowering of wages, the disparity in wealth distribution, all provide an indication that free trade is not in our collective best interest.  However, nothing points to our weakness more poignantly than the requirement that our astronauts hitch a ride with the Russians to the space station.  It has not been that long since we were in a space race with the Russians – a race we won when we landed on the moon.  Now after these many years, we find our victory was traded away like some useless swap-meet bauble, and we are left begging outside the Kremlin, while a winking Lenin and Stalin are toasting a vodka to our health.

     Perhaps the quote credited by many to Vladimir Lenin says it best:  “The capitalist will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

Until next time…

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In Search of Unicorns

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

     Unicorns are among the most elusive creatures on earth, yet they are the stuff of legends. Evidence of their existence is found in cave paintings of prehistory.  A passage of Bruce Chatwin’s travel journal tells a story of a scientist he met in South America who believed that unicorns were hunted to death around 6,000 B.C.  He said there were two cave paintings at Lago Posadas that confirm their existence.

     For those interested, evidence exists in ancient Greece as well as Rome. Pliny the Elder’s Natural History provides an elaborate description. Later Marco Polo provides a description of what he believed to be a unicorn.  While the evidence is sketchy, their lineage can be traced to modern times, and they stand proudly alongside Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster.  Realizing my search for unicorns was not entirely successful, I turned my attention to another legendary creature, the moderate Muslim.

     That the moderate Muslim exists is a certainty, and examples can be found in the popular press, even our own President has said that 99% of Muslims are peaceful or moderate. Perhaps it is just me, but I think the 99% statistic is often cited by people who have no evidence of its truth.  A more scientific approach would be an actual survey that quantifies the results.  What follows are recent poll results of Muslims as presented by Matt Barber:

  • 1.5 Million British Muslims support the Islamic State, about half their total population. ICM (Mirror) Poll 2015.
  • Two-thirds of Palestinians support the stabbing of Israeli civilians. Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (2015).
  • 38.6 percent of Western Muslims believe 9/11 attacks were justified. Gallup (2011).
  •  45 percent of British Muslims agree that clerics preaching violence against the West represent “mainstream Islam.” BBC Radio (2015).
  • 38 percent of Muslim-Americans say Islamic State (ISIS) beliefs are Islamic or correct. (Forty-three percent disagree.) The Polling Company CSP Poll (2015).
  • One-third of British Muslim students support killing for Islam. Center for Social Cohesion (Wikileaks cable).
  • 80 percent of young Dutch Muslims see nothing wrong with holy war against non-believers. Most verbalized support for pro-Islamic State fighters. Motivaction Survey (2014).
  • Nearly one-third of Muslim-Americans agree that violence against those who insult Muhammad or the Quran is acceptable. The Polling Company CSP Poll (2015).
  • 51 percent of Muslim-Americans say that Muslims should have the choice of being judged by Shariah courts rather than courts of the United States (only 39 percent disagree).The Polling Company CSP Poll (2015).
  • 81 percent of Muslim respondents support the Islamic State (ISIS). Al-Jazeera poll (2015).

 

     Clearly, moderate Muslims do not comprise 99% of all Muslims. Based entirely on the survey results, moderate Muslims seldom represent 50% of the group. So, finding moderate Muslims is less difficult than finding a unicorn. Still one should consider the role of the moderate Muslim.

     Marco Polo, on p. 45 of The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian, writes:

“The Mahometan inhabitants are treacherous and unprincipled. According to their doctrine, whatever is stolen or plundered from others of a different faith, is properly taken, and the theft is no crime; whilst those who suffer death or injury by the hands of Christians, are considered martyrs. If, therefore, they were not prohibited and restrained by the powers who now govern them, they would commit many outrages. These principals are common to all the Saracens.”

     In Winston Churchill’s, The River War, he writes:

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensual-ism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.”

 

Until Next time…

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If it is Free…

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

     The advertising industry has long been aware of the magical qualities associated with the word free and has used the word widely in advertising. “Buy one get one free,” “Free with purchase,” “Free samples,” and Totally free” all serve to get the attention of the would-be customer.  In fact, with the exception of freeloader, there are few examples of the use of the word free that are not positive.  Free is so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that people are disarmed by its usage and are willing to stand in line, fight crowds and apparently spend money in order to get something for nothing.  Oddly, people have not yet figured out that nothing is free.  But beyond advertising, free speech, free press, and free enterprise, as used in our society, also serve to solidify the positive connotations of the word free.

 

     To cite just one example, free enterprise has proven to be a powerful positive influence on our republic. Free enterprise allows individuals to go into business for themselves and receive the profit or loss from their businesses.  A person may produce anything imaginable without restraint.  By releasing people’s imaginations, free enterprise has allowed the United States to develop and become a world power, unlike any other in history.  But is free truly magical?  Is everything free, good or even desirable?

     Consider free trade for example. Free trade in its simplest terms promises commercial trade without the fetters of borders, tariffs, regulation, and market manipulation.  In short, free trade promises a level playing field where supply and demand coupled with competition determine prices.  Consumer benefit from lower prices, and producers benefit from efficiency of scale, the proverbial win, win.  We have seen this play out in trade agreements such as, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Union.

 

     Considering just NAFTA for the moment, consumers have seen a reduction in the price of consumer products, but there is more to the story. NAFTA is the result of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in what is considered a bi-partisan agreement.  NAFTA was signed by Bill Clinton in December 1993 and became law in 1994.  The effects of the new agreement were not immediate, but by the time George W. Bush became president, the negative effects had become apparent in the form of job losses for the United States.  According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, in 2004, 2.8 million manufacturing jobs had been lost, and job losses were continuing at about the rate of 100,000 per year.  The irony of the situation could not help but be noticed, consumers got lower-priced products, but consumer income was less due to the loss of jobs, so they could not buy the new low-cost products.  I would be remiss if I did not point out that free trade proponents would claim that there is no net job losses, but rather the jobs were moved to a foreign country.  While this may be true, it provides little comfort to the unemployed in the United States if that is your concern.  It is apparently not the concern of free trade supporters.  But there is more to free trade than low prices and job losses.

 

     The European Union (EU) was established in 1999 and became fully functional in 2002. The EU is more than a free trade agreement; it is a hybrid political economic union with supranational powers and intergovernmental decision-making bodies.  The seven governing bodies are the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the European Court of Auditors.  While free trade might be an objective of the EU, clearly there is much more to the organization.  It is not within the scope of this article to dissect the seven governmental bodies of the EU, but it should be obvious to any reader that the governmental bodies add significant cost to the EU and could well offset the benefits of free trade, but there is more to it.  It is the supranational powers that have caused people from the member nations to question the EU.  As it turns out, the member nations gave up their sovereignty by joining the EU.  For example, France could through its legal system determine that a refugee is a terrorist risk and decide to deport the refugee.  Based on supranational powers, the EU could overrule France and require that the refugee remain in France.  This has become a sore spot for the citizens of the member nations, as we have seen from the recent vote in Great Britain.

 

     While some would argue, that the EU is a unique and not purely a free trade agreement, it is important to realize that all trade agreements have the capacity to undermine sovereignty. A provision of the NAFTA agreement required that Mexico cancel Article 27 of its constitution.  Article 27 protected communal Indian land holdings from sale or privatization, and a revolution had been fought to gain this provision.  However, it was seen as a barrier to investment and incompatible to NAFTA, so Article 27 was abolished.  Sovereignty be damned.

 

     Free traders argue that sovereignty is not all that important and refer to it as nationalism in an effort to demean its supporters. They remind us that we have a global economy and that we must go along in order to get along.  Such arguments are nonsense, of course.  Sovereignty is the very reason for nations to exist.  Lacking sovereignty all nations would cease to exist, but of course, that is what free traders actually want.  Free traders long for a global government, a new world order or a world without borders.  George Bush, Sr. referenced the ”New World Order” in 1991, and on the eve of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq said, “We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order – a world where the rule of law, not the rule of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations.”  Of course in the intervening years, “New World Order” has been replaced by the less offensive term “Globalism,” but the end game remains the same.  Free trade is but a stepping stone leading to that end.

 

     Oddly, I have heard people claim that free trade is a conservative issue.  That claim is false of course, perhaps they are dazzled by the use of the word free, or perhaps they are confusing it with free enterprise.  One thing is for certain, free trade is far from free.

 

     The power of the word free is best summed up by my friend, Stacie Kopecky, who is inclined to say, “If it is free, I’ll take three.”

 

     Until next time…

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