Thursday, September 29, 2005

We Don't Really Want Parents Involved In Education

We live in a world of progress. We constantly pat ourselves on the back over our society’s accomplishments and genuflect to the god of achievement. We do it in just about every facet of life and at every level in every kind of institution. Is there anything wrong with that?

But we all seem to be aware that there is an ugly side to progress. We don’t like to think about it, but we know it’s there. We know, for example that the marvel of the television regularly spews mental and moral sewage. We also know that our enlightened education system is fraught with excesses and lack of intrinsic substance.

So, in our worship of progress, perhaps we should occasionally question whether all progress is good. Steve Farrell’s insights here provide and opportunity for just such introspection.

Farrell shows how our “progress” over the last 7½ decades has fulfilled many of the aims outlined by founders of communism. He cites the following passage from the 1930 book Toward Soviet America:
“[S]tudies will be revolutionized, being cleansed of religious, patriotic and other features of the bourgeois ideology. The students will be taught on the basis of Marxian dialectical materialism, internationalism and the general ethics of the new Socialist society. Present obsolete methods of teaching will be superseded by a scientific pedagogy.”
Farrell then shows how each of these goals has been achieved, specifically through our education system. He notes that one of Marx’s main aims was to destroy the family, “Because the traditional family was the transmission belt of Christian and Capitalist values.” But how do you do this? Offer free education – sponsored by the government. No longer would families and neighborhoods set curriculum and manage the teachers. This would all be centralized so that parents would be left out of the loop. Teachers cry for parental involvement, but our system is actually designed to prevent it. The result?
“That’s where we are today. ‘Christians and Jews shut up! — All you atheists, agnostics, communists, humanists, adulterers, and abortionists — your speech is protected! Your take on religion and morality will be in the textbooks, and shouted from the house tops. Criticism of your perspective will be prosecuted as hate speech!’”
I can already sense some clamoring about the need to standardize education so that our kids can obtain the skills they need to operate in today’s competitive world. But, if our standardization is so good, why did kids 40 years ago perform better in most areas than kids do today, and at only a fraction of the real dollar cost?

Farrell points out that the NEA and Department of Education are major players in the centralization theme. He includes some interesting quotes from the NEA that illustrate the problems of the system. He contrasts this with Horace Mann’s 1941 speech to the NEA, where he said we needed “an order of teachers, wise, benevolent, [and] filled with Christian enthusiasm.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Will the Left Lose Control of Academia?

James Piereson, who directed the (now closed) conservative John M. Olin Foundation for many years, writes a very erudite (rather lengthy) article that explores the political and social dimensions of the left’s dominion of American higher education.

Piereson lays the groundwork for his conclusions by examining the history of the American university beginning with early parochial academies that based learning in ancient knowledge and truths. He describes how the university model went through a major change in the four decades following the Civil War to become what he terms “the liberal university,” which “was based on reason, science, free inquiry, and the pursuit of new knowledge.”

Piereson explains how the liberal university ended up somewhat at odds with traditional American thought. “The American Revolution and Constitution were grounded in the writings of Scottish and English thinkers of the 18th century, but the modern university was shaped more by continental ideas arising out of Germany and France.” Many academics “were sharp critics of the Scottish Enlightenment and the tradition of British empiricism.” They promoted a continual search for truth in all areas, including law, stating that the Constitution was not the ultimate voice in that arena.

The liberal university was originally nonpartisan, since no party espoused its ideals until the Democrats adopted them in the 30s and 40s. Being research based, universities began offering services to governments to allow more informed decision making. However, the anti-capitalist and anti-business intent of the universities soon became clear in the policies they espoused.

Liberal universities were very effective in establishing barriers to external private and public influence over their curricula. Following WWII record numbers enrolled and it eventually became clear that a university education was the ticket to a better lifestyle.

What the liberal university did not protect against was an attack from within. Academia had been comprehensively critical of capitalism, but had basically failed to effect any real change. This left them weak and prone to “revolt from within their own family.” That is what happened in the decade starting with the mid-60s when the left “generally used the tactics of street politics to take over the university.”

For more than a generation we have had what Piereson refers to as the “left university.” Academia has become an ideology closed to liberal thought outside of the left’s proscribed parameters. There has been a strong move away from hard-core studies to soft ones (i.e. multiculturalism) meant to promote leftist ideals. Piereson makes the case that the left university’s myopia has left it open to yet another revolt – this time a conservative one.

Piereson cites a long list of “important developments of the past generation that academics in thrall to left-wing doctrines did not foresee and do not understand.” He includes the fall of the cherished system of communism, the thorough discrediting of socialist programs, the emergence of the U.S. as the sole superpower, the global interest in expanding liberty, and the increasing takeover of meaningful research by private foundations. He says his list “is just the beginning of an extended catalog of errors, illusions, and misconceptions.”

Piereson cites “developments represent[ing] just the leading edge of a growing movement to challenge the practices of the left university.” The public wants an accounting. Businesses want graduates that are actually useful. In contemplating the change underway, Piereson’s conclusion is most insightful. “The left university should not be replaced by the right university. It should be replaced by the real university, dedicated to liberal education and higher learning.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sacramental Reverence

The other night my wife and I attended a(n LDS Church) meeting where the main topic of discussion was reverence (or the lack thereof) in our Sacrament meetings. In most of the wards I have attended over the last couple of decades, it essentially doesn’t exist prior to the opening prayer and after the closing prayer. It exists sporadically throughout the time in between depending on a number of variables.

The leaders who ran the meeting were looking for input from those in attendance as to how to address the problem. Some decent suggestions were made, but most of them only addressed symptoms rather than the root of the issue. I believe that it is important to understand the root of an issue when possible, in order to address it properly.

I perceive several roots to the problem of Sacramental reverence:
  • There has been a significant cultural shift over the last 3-4 decades (at least in North America) so that as a society we no longer hold many things in sacred respect. There has been a homogenization of values, so that every ideal is considered pretty much of equal value to all other ideals. No value or moral is superior to any other. Many people wonder why a chapel is more special than, say a library (until something like 9/11 happens). This philosophy is being institutionalized through multicultural education and policies. Members of the Church, as part of the larger society, accept and adopt this culturalization, even if they lag somewhat behind the main body in doing so.

  • We arrive at Sacrament meeting from disparate locations and at disparate times. People used to come to congregational meetings as families. This was particularly true in the days when Sacrament meeting was a separate meeting held later in the day. (Not that I advocate returning to that schedule). In my current ward, Sacrament meeting is the final meeting of the three-hour block (as mandated by stake leaders), so me, my wife, and each of our children bound into the chapel from varying entry points over a 10-minute period. Of course, leaders have also discovered that when Sacrament meeting is first, it starts with half the congregation present and with latecomers causing plenty of disruption.

  • We are a social people, but we have no place to socialize. We have reduced the footprint of our meetinghouses to make them more efficient and less costly. But in doing so we have minimized spaces where people can socialize outside of the chapel. In our building portions of the cultural hall are used as part of the chapel while remaining portions are used for classes or other meetings. As multitudes move through the narrow hallways, it is impossible to stop for a chat due to traffic flow. Foyers have been reduced so that they comfortably fit maybe 10 people at best. Sometimes the chapel is the only place you see some people in a setting where you can be stationary and hold a conversation.

  • Though we are a social people, we rarely meet in a setting where we can socialize with everyone in the ward. When I was a kid we constantly held ward gatherings. Church leaders have recognized that people are far busier today than they were three decades ago. We spend more overall time working (including the commute), attending school (including homework and activities), and engaged in sports and cultural activities (the options for these have exploded since I was a kid) than we did 3-4 decades ago. We also have a much broader variation in individual schedules. The Church no longer needs to provide activities to fulfill every aspect of life, nor do we have time for it. But the result is that Sacrament meeting is one of the few places we see everyone in the ward. Otherwise we rarely see some people since we are involved in various callings and are doing different things during the time we spend at church. When else would we talk with them?
Most of these are systemic problems that defy easy resolution. We’re not about to change the whole culture. We’re not going away from our compressed meeting schedule, nor are we going to increase activities substantially (if we did attendance would be poor). We’re not going to make our buildings larger. Not only would it cost more, it would require substantial reconstruction of existing facilities.

So what can we do?
  • Leaders (especially high level leaders) can repeatedly and bluntly emphasize the importance of Sacramental reverence. I’ve noticed that when leaders strongly and repeatedly emphasize something in an unambiguous manner the people generally get behind it and find ways to make it work.

  • Leaders (local) can demonstrate reverence themselves. Perhaps I and others that sit on the stand every week could make a point of entering reverently, getting in our seats early, and being personally reverent before, during and after the meeting. Perhaps we could set an example by socializing and taking care of church business outside of the chapel.
  • As an individual I can resolve to be personally reverent in my mind and heart when in the chapel, especially during Sacrament meeting.

  • As a parent I can host a family council (or perhaps a series of them over time) on reverence in the chapel. I can elicit help from my family members. We can teach each other about it in our family home evening lessons.
I’m sure that if we put our minds to it we can come up with some creative ways to deal with the issue given the parameters we are saddled with.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Welcome to U.S. Government Casualty and Life

As category V Hurricane Rita threatens the Gulf Coast, we need to engage in a national debate about the appropriate role of the federal government in disaster relief. We have already committed $62 billion to Hurricane Katrina relief and that figure could go as high as $200 billion. If spending for Katrina, a category IV hurricane, costs the federal government that much, how much will Rita cost?

This well researched article in the St. Petersburg Times (hat tip: A_Shadow) explains that, despite environmentalist carping that Katrina was caused by the god of global warming, the Atlantic hurricane system has gone in 60-70-year cycles for millennia.

The last violent cycle wrapped up in the 1930s after leaving a wake of devastation to life and property that left thousands dead and vast portions of infrastructure destroyed. We then entered a calm cycle that persisted until about a decade ago. We are now again in a violent cycle that could bring frequent storms like Katrina and Rita for decades to come.

A significant problem is that much of the infrastructure in the impacted coastal regions was designed and built to the standards of the last calm cycle. With trillions of dollars of investment at that standard, it’s neither simple nor easy to rapidly upgrade everything to the standards required by a violent cycle.

Unfortunately, this appears to be one of those “you can pay me now, or you can pay me later” kind of things. While we will be forced to rebuild infrastructure after storms ravage areas, we could be proactive and start upgrading infrastructure now, but even that will take years or even decades. In the meantime more violent storms will hit. Some areas will be spared and others will be decimated.

Some argue that the federal government has no constitutional role (or a very limited one) in providing disaster relief (see here). Indeed, state and local governments, businesses, and individuals shouldered the burden of restoration during the last violent hurricane cycle. But it seems that the citizenry has lately come to accept the federal government as the ultimate insurance company. If that is the case, we taxpayers had better be prepared to pay increased “premiums” as the destruction toll increases over the next five or six decades. If Katrina payouts are any indication, it could eventually end up consuming most of our national budget.

I propose that we have an honest, forthright national debate – sans the emotionalism of being callous and uncaring – about the proper role of the federal government in disaster relief, given the increased risk we appear to be facing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It Grows On Trees, Doesn't It? IV

Mallory Factor, chairman of the Free Enterprise Fund writes here about our federal government’s spending spree. He says that when a family experiences a crisis it restrains nonessential spending due to revenue limitations, while “Government, because of its ability to tax and borrow, seems constrained by nothing at all.”

Factor notes that “Real nondefense discretionary spending is already up more than 35 percent over Bush’s first 5 budget years, more than triple its total increase during all 8 years of Clinton.” Some of that 35% is related to security issues rising out of 9/11, but that represents a relatively small portion of the total.

Some of my friends have been quick to point out that it is Congress rather than the President that holds the purse strings. Yes, but the President wields the veto pen. There is continual give and take between the legislative and executive branches in developing a budget. It is a two-way street. Factor says that our spendthrift Congress has been “Emboldened by a president unfamiliar with the veto pen….”

Indeed, President Bush has rarely threatened to veto anything. His recent threat to veto the energy bill proved to be empty when push came to shove. The result is that these two branches of government have effectually conspired to go nuts spending the money of future taxpayers on everything from useless bridges to near-universal pharmaceutical coverage.

Some of my friends have also pointed out that deficit spending can actually be a good thing. Done wisely for the right reasons, deficits are OK, but we must live within our means. We can’t spend ourselves out of debt.

Most families and businesses do deficit spending by borrowing money. Indeed, when the family around the corner experienced a crisis, they took out a second mortgage on their house. But they also sold off their snowmobiles, off road vehicle and sports car, and eliminated all other debt. For many months they bought only absolutely essential groceries. Their clothes came from the thrift shop. Our government should do the same to finance crisis spending.

Factor says that our spending binge leaves us with only three options to cover the costs:

  1. Raise taxes. The President has already (thankfully) said no way.

  2. Roll back Bush’s productive tax cuts (promoted by Sen. Harry Reid D-NV). This is the same thing as raising taxes.

  3. Cut other discretionary spending.
Thankfully, options 1 and 2 appear politically unviable. Factor writes about members of the Republican Study Committee that are working on option 3 (report – PDF). He suggests, as did John Fund here, that a good “first step will be to repeal the record 6,000-plus pork-barrel projects in the recent transportation bill.”

Let’s hope the RSC has enough political moxie to pull it off.

(See previous posts on this issue here, here, and here)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

It Grows On Trees, Doesn't It? III

I am not alone in my desire for some federal fiscal responsibility (see previous posts here and here). Utah Rep. Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) who is also a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by perma-Hatch has a great post about Congress’ profligate spending. He notes that the analogy to drunken sailors is mistaken, because they spend only everything they have while Congress “is intent on spending everything we have in our pockets and then moving on to everything our kids and grandkids might someday have in theirs.”

Brendan Miniter makes a strong point in a Wall Street Journal opinion article that spendthrift Republicans risk serious losses in next year’s elections because they “don't know how to control spending and are at a loss as to why they even should.” Miniter says that Congressional Republicans have long abandoned the small government and conservatism themes, but that the Katrina relief affair has “has peeled back the lid on Republican rule and many Americans aren't happy with what they see.”

Miniter says that deficit spending of itself does not threaten Republican constituents. Indeed, my friend Lysis points out here that “the deficit spending of FDR together with the Marshal Plan and the rebuilding of Japan, at great expense to Americans; enunciated the second great economic boom of the twentieth century.” What threatens Republican constituencies is deficit spending that “endangers the broader conservative agenda.”

Miniter says that Katrina relief spending coupled with outrageous domestic spending has crossed that line. While there have been past successes, Miniter asks, “but what has the GOP done lately?” He also asks what many voters will undoubtedly be thinking next year, “But if Republicans no longer believe in smaller government, why not put the Democrats back in charge?” Miniter bolsters my argument that Republicans “are reducing their ability to differentiate themselves from the Democrats.”

Of course, the Republicans have a chance to turn this around and to work toward building President Bush’s “ownership society.” Miniter says some efforts already on tap such as the President’s plan to give away “federal land in the hard-hit areas” and $5000 job training accounts for Katrina evacuees are good starts. He also offers other suggestions.
“A bolder step would be to move forward with private Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security accounts. Federal policies that encourage and facilitate owning assets--especially a home--enable individuals to get off of public assistance and will be embraced by even moderate voters.”
Those things are nice, but they really amount to putting bandages over a festering wound without treating it. Fiscal discipline needs to become essential to Republicans. That will require national leadership on the issue. It’s obviously not coming from the President. That leaves a tremendous opportunity for other leaders to stand up and provide it. The ones who do will be battered by the D.C. spendocracy, but if they deliver this message Americans need to hear voters will choose them.

Monday, September 19, 2005

It Grows On Trees, Doesn't It? II

In a previous post I discussed what I feel is out of control federal spending. Economist Stephen Moore corroborates my concerns here.

The Bush Administration and Republican leaders in Congress have worked together to bring us levels of government spending that even Democrats would have blushed at a few years back. I was dumbfounded by comments made here by the Left’s favorite Congressional punching bag Tom DeLay (R-TX) about “Republicans hav[ing] done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.” A comedian could elicit all kinds of laughter simply by reading that statement to the audience.

Moore notes that the Katrina relief package is not only piled on top of our spending for Iraq, but “comes on the heels of a massive domestic spending build-up.” He adds that “Federal spending, not counting the war in Iraq, was growing by 7% this year, which came atop the 30% hike over Mr. Bush's first term.” Where is all that money coming from?

Is there anything wrong with spending money on Hurricane Katrina relief? Reasonable spending is to be expected. But is what we have done and are proposing reasonable? Moore calculates that it is so expansive “we could give every one of the 500,000 families displaced by Katrina a check for $400,000, and they could each build a beach front home virtually anywhere in America.”

A number of proposals would have cut other nonessential spending to help defray the cost of the relief package, but Republican leaders in Congress prevented these measures from even coming to a vote in their haste to appear compassionate by expediting the passage of the spending bills.

Politicians from across this great country are “elbowing their way to the orgy table for a slice of this $200-billion pie.” Even Utah can cash in because it declared a disaster when it took in Katrina evacuees. The message from Utah is, “We’re so glad to sacrifice for these unfortunate souls – as long as we get some booty out of it.”

Moore asks the question that seems to be taboo to utter in the halls of Congress: “What is the appropriate and constitutional role here for the federal government?”(italics original) At the risk of being branded uncompassionate, I suggest that the appropriate federal role is far more limited than the way it is being carried out.

Moore is right when he says that “Both political parties are now willing and eager to spend tax dollars as if they were passing out goody-bags to grabby four-year-olds at a birthday party.” Reagan Republicans once argued for limited government. They castigated the “tax and spend” Democrats. Today, Republicans are all over the spend portion of that equation. They are reducing their ability to differentiate themselves from the Democrats.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Should Utah Pursue Tort Reform? You Bet!

The causes of skyrocketing health care costs are admittedly complex. De Lamar Gibbons, a medical doctor in Blanding Utah, argues here that health insurance is a major culprit and that the resulting excesses in the system will drive us into the abyss of socialized medicine. Certainly, the decoupling of the consumer from the true cost of health care distorts the economics of the relationship and is part of the problem.

When the topic of rising health care costs comes up, the topic of judicial tort reform isn’t far behind. This always engenders a rather warm debate. One side contends that heartless ambulance chasing lawyers are forever driving up the cost of health care through excessive legal action. They frequently argue for caps on personal injury awards among other tort reforms. The other side argues that these measures will not reduce health care costs and will heartlessly punish those that have suffered from others’ negligence.

Representative of the two sides of the debate are the following two organizations. The American Tort Reform Association works to “bring greater fairness, predictability, and efficiency to the civil justice system.” The American Trial Lawyers Association (which some claim is the parent company of the Democratic Party) works to “promote justice and fairness for injured persons, safeguard victims' rights--particularly the right to trial by jury--and strengthen the civil justice system.”

Of course, each side maligns the other, or at least the positions of the other. I must admit some bias here. During the vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards I nearly threw up when Edwards, who made his fortune as a personal injury lawyer, talked smarmily about how proud he was of his work suing the heck out of “big” businesses. My wife, who has had a career as an insurance adjustor, looks at most ambulance chasing lawyers like they are the devil incarnate. She has seen these guys write a few letters and then charge their victims – oops – clients a third of the settlement they would have gotten anyway without the letters.

It seems like all sides agree that there are excesses and abuses in our civil justice system. Even John Edwards admitted such in the aforementioned debate. So the debate comes down to whether the measures sought by the tort reformers will actually achieve the desired results. Will they bring more sanity to our legal system? Will they reduce the cost of health care (or at least reduce the rate of cost increases)?

After four years of trying, the State of Mississippi (previously known as the “jackpot justice capital of America”) last year passed comprehensive tort reform. Charlie Ross, who is a state senator that championed the legislation writes here about the successes that are already apparent, providing evidence that tort reform works. The legislation included among other things “venue reform (so trial lawyers cannot shop around for favorable courts) and caps on subjective noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering).”

He notes that while long-term effects are yet unknown, insurance is becoming more available, insurance and legal costs are declining, new businesses are being attracted to the state, and faith is being restored in the legal system. He says that some of the success wouldn’t have happened without decisions by the state’s supreme court that “reinstated the traditional rules of joinder of plaintiffs.” He also says that all of the brouhaha during the four-year campaign “raised public awareness of the problem, which in turn affected judicial elections.”

The immediate impact? Mississippi’s mass-tort industry has virtually been eliminated. Ambulance chasing lawyers are having to find honest work.

Should we try similar legislation here in Utah? You bet! It would be worth it just to reduce those annoying ambulance chasers’ commercials. Just remember, a portion of every dollar you pay in insurance premiums goes to further enrich those slimeballs you see in those cheesy TV ads.

Monday, September 12, 2005

It Grows On Trees, Doesn't It?

One complaint that fiscal conservatives have about President Bush is that it seems like he’s never heard of a proposal for increased spending that he couldn’t sign. His leadership on this issue has led our Republican controlled Congress (that once held the line on spending during the Clinton years) to obscene levels of profligate spending. Nobody has ever looked to the Democrats to reign in spending, but even some of them are squawking that we’re overdoing it.

This attitude doesn’t stop at spending, but also carries over into policy. Economist Michael T. Darda says here that Congress members (including Republicans) are jumping all over themselves in an attempt to implement socialist economic policies to deal with temporary price jumps resulting from temporary supply hiccups following Katrina. He hopes that our robust economy will make their proposals moot before the legislative process can be completed on them.

President Bush has now had to deal with two major catastrophic events during his presidency, each of which is turning out to be a defining moment in our national history. In the wake of 9/11/01, we have spent like crazy to wage a war against terrorism. As the country reels from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, we suddenly find ourselves spending multiple billions of dollars once again, this time for disaster relief.

Some who consider themselves constitutionalists or libertarians will argue that federal spending on disaster relief is unconstitutional. They may have a point technically, but history is not on their side, and most Americans agree that the federal government must bear much of the burden of recovering from the most catastrophic weather event in the history of our nation.

The thing that is missing here is some restraint in other areas of spending. John Fund notes here that both FDR and Harry Truman substantially cut spending when faced with national catastrophes. They even cut their own pet projects – and just about anything else that was considered nonessential – because they were determined to work for the national good. Pining for that kind of restraint and focus on the national good, Fund says, “Both of them, for example, would have known exactly what to do with the nonessential parts of the $286 billion bloated highway bill that has just been signed into law.”

We knew when W was seeking the Republican nomination in 2000 that he was no friend to tight government spending, but the magnitude of the spending bills he has signed into law and the levels of pork included in them are truly mind boggling. Our Republican representatives in Congress seem to have completely abandoned the fiscal restraint and small government platforms they touted a decade ago.

If hit personally by an event that required unexpected additional spending, most of us would immediately cut back on nonessentials. In the face of national catastrophes, our President and Congress seem to feel that not only should we spend to address the crises, we should spend even more than usual on nonessentials. Is a little fiscal responsibility too much to ask?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Is Our Foreign Policy Strange?

I love Victor Davis Hanson’s article about “our strange foreign policy.” Looked at objectively, our current foreign policy defies categorization. It is so multifaceted that every ideological group can find elements it has long supported while simultaneously finding elements that it despises.

VDH says, “I don’t know what we should call all of this. But so far, no foreign-policy expert has come up with a non-partisan and intellectually honest diagnosis.” He suggests that the whole of it is designed to bring greater peace and security to the entire international community as well as here at home. He concludes with an interesting and strange metaphor.
Perhaps it is a Zen-like mood we are in, of gradually allowing others to come to the fore, albeit with a warning “Go ahead, make my day, and see if you can do any better on your own.”

With the smoke of gunfire yet in the air, the marshal is backing slowly out of the crowded and creepy saloon, but staring down outlaws and with six-guns still drawn.
It sounds like American Exceptionalism to me.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Iraq Like Vietnam? Yes and No

Dow Jones CEO Peter Kann, who spent many years as a Vietnam War correspondent in Asia says here that while the Iraq war has some valid parallels with Vietnam, “they just aren't the ones the critics cite.” What are the similarities?

  1. The American people by and large retain their common sense about the war while the elites call for us to cut and run. Kann notes that while the media focuses ever more intently on the noticeably increased anti-war rhetoric, “it is far from clear that antiwar sentiment actually has been spreading,” as 60% of Americans still support the war.

  2. The antiwar crowd aims to weaken the resolve of the American people even as we experience increasing success toward achieving our goals. For example, while the elite successfully painted the Tet Offensive in Vietnam as a stunning defeat for the U.S. and the South Vietnamese, historians now know that the opposite is true – the North Vietnamese forces were crushed. Kann admits to being duped into believing the propaganda of communist success at the time. Likewise, the obsessive attention paid to the steady deaths of two or three soldiers daily in Iraq while ignoring the tremendous successes we are enjoying there aims to pull the same magician’s trick today. The elites want us to focus on the bug on the tree instead of the tree itself and thus assume that the whole tree is a mass of bugs. We did not lose the Vietnam War on the battlefield, we lost it at home on the political front. The elite want us to repeat that grave error.

  3. Just as Vietnam wasn’t only about Vietnam but the future of the entire region, Iraq isn’t simply about Iraq but is about the future of the entire Middle East.
Kann suggests that we need to take the long view and envision what we aim to achieve over the space of several decades in the Middle East as the result of our efforts in Iraq today. He does this by painting a picture of what has happened in Asia.

With 30 years of hindsight, it seems unarguable that Asia in the wake of the Vietnam War turned out very well, above all for Asians, but also for the U.S. The dominos we once worried would collapse not only held, but have since held out the promise of free people and free markets to the rest of the Third World. From Korea and Taiwan down through the whole arc of Southeast Asia, the political and economic systems we advocated have triumphed. This transformation did not take place despite the Vietnam War but because of it. It happened precisely because America, for all the pain of those war years, had the patience and persistence to buy the time the rest of Asia needed to change. In that sense, while we lost the battle for Vietnam, we won the wider war for the future of Asia.
Kann’s final words are a call to persistence:
Whatever the hopes for larger transformative events across the region, they clearly depend on America. At the very least, we need to buy time. Alternatively, to lose heart and retreat--after less than two years and with fewer than 2,000 casualties--almost surely means losing not just the battle but also the war, a far worse outcome than those who cite Vietnam similarities can seem to comprehend.
I believe that much of the incongruence between the popular American and the elitist views on Iraq can adequately be understood by their respective views of American Exceptionalism (careful, this link feigns objectivity, but ends up painting a very dark view of this concept).

Like most Americans, I believe that the U.S. is a special place with special privileges and responsibilities. See this interesting Yale University article by Keith Urbahn that aptly describes my feelings. No, it’s more than feelings – it’s something that burns within me. I’m not blind to America’s “imperfect[ions] and its history replete with undignified moments,” but I “recognize that there is something truly remarkable about our country and its values.”

Elitists, on the other hand, spit the term American Exceptionalism off their tongues like swear words. To them it means “violence, brutality, hatred, cruelty” and extreme conceit. While they accuse patriotic people of ignoring our country’s problems and messy history, they focus almost wholly on these faults while ignoring the bigger picture and the values to which our country aspires (though we sometimes fail miserably). These critics have nothing better to offer. In fact, they really have nothing worthwhile to offer at all.

I agree with Keith Urbahn. “The flames of oppression, poverty and hopelessness that generate terrorist groups and enemies can only be extinguished by the values Americans founded our society upon four centuries ago. Given the opportunity to adopt democratic and individualist ideals, a nation always will.”

If we have this clearly in mind we will succeed in the Middle East.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

You Can't Eliminate Economic Inequality

Computer guru and dot-com tycoon Paul Graham has written an interesting essay that explains how modern economies really work. While various liberal causes have found a friend in Graham, his recent essays expose him as a raw capitalist. However, Graham admits that he only recently has come to this understanding by grasping the immutable laws of economics. We might wish economies worked differently, but they simply can’t violate basic economic laws.

Graham says that there are a lot of people that want to eliminate economic inequality and economic classes. While this may sound like a laudable goal, Graham asserts that it actually has very nasty side effects. He then takes the reader on a journey of baby steps to demonstrate his conclusion. Why? He says, “I'm heading for a conclusion to which many readers will have to be dragged kicking and screaming, so I've tried to make each link unbreakable.”

Graham effectively demonstrates that there is no viable way to successfully eliminate economic inequality without impoverishing everyone. He shows how the poor can be made wealthier, but the result will be that the wealthy will become even wealthier, so that inequality persists. Furthermore, he shows that while large stable businesses are necessary, almost all economic growth and new jobs come from small startups.

Startups require massive risk. Willingness to take risk exists in direct proportion to the potential payoff from the risk. When we minimize potential payoffs through excessive regulation and/or taxation, we also minimize the willingness to take risks. That means reducing job growth and innovation while moving toward economic stagnation. He then explains why this is bad.

Well, one reason it's bad in practice is that other countries might not agree to slow down with us. If you're content to develop new technologies at a slower rate than the rest of the world, what happens is that you don't invent anything at all. Anything you might discover has already been invented elsewhere. And the only thing you can offer in return is raw materials and cheap labor. Once you sink that low, other countries can do whatever they like with you: install puppet governments, siphon off your best workers, use your women as prostitutes, dump their toxic waste on your territory-- all the things we do to poor countries now. The only defense is to isolate yourself, as communist countries did in the twentieth century. But the problem then is, you have to become a police state to enforce it.
Graham surmises that the real problem people have with economic inequality is that wealth tends to equal power, which leads to corruption. He suggests that we have already made progress in reducing ways in which wealth can corrupt and that we’d be better off focusing on eliminating corruption than on eliminating wealth.

While Graham has a point, I disagree that corruption is the real issue in the minds of those that want to eliminate economic inequality. I believe it comes down to simple jealousy. It simply sticks in the craw of some folks to see anyone have more of something than someone else, regardless of the degree of need involved.

LDS scripture makes it clear that it is sin for anyone “to possess that which is above another” (D&C 49:20) and that wastefulness is sin (D&C 49:21), but it also says that the Lord wants to bless his children with abundance (D&C 49:19). It does not say that it is sin to possess more of something that someone else. The sin occurs when someone feels superior due to having more of something than someone else -- possessing "above" others. You don’t need to be rich to fall into this trap.

While a community of devoted religionists might be able to successfully achieve some semblance of economic equality, Graham is correct in stating that it will not work in a modern pluralistic society. That does not mean that we give up on helping those that are less fortunate, but it means that our efforts need to occur in light of the immutable laws of economics.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Darwinism Undressed

Physician David Cook (who also has a degree in biology) takes on the entrenched scientific establishment in an op-ed piece entitled Evidence for human evolution scant. Cook’s article comes in light of the current debate over teaching the theory of Intelligent Design (ID) in schools.

Incidentally, recent polls show (see here) that most Americans, even staunch secularists, favor the teaching of creationism in the classroom. Although this is maddening to the science and education establishments, it seems to be the old fashioned American ethic of allowing competition. Let the ideas compete for themselves. Trust the students to sort it out.

Here are some interesting links related to the debate about teaching ID in schools: John Derbyshire – don’t teach ID in science classes, David Klinghoffer – Smithsonian harasses scientist over ID, National Review Editors – Supreme Court errors brought us the ID debate, Peter Wood – the ID debate is a power struggle over the left’s monopoly on education, Isaac Constantine – why is Darwinism tied to atheism and why can’t we discuss it critically in schools?, Deseret News – schools don’t want to teach ID, President Bush Endorses Teaching ID, ACLU opposes freedom to teach ID, Intelligent Design Network resources, Paul McHugh – the problem with laws regulating the teaching of science.

While Cook does not advocate the teaching ID in schools, he articulately pokes holes in the “science” behind the theories of human evolution that are presented as fact in our classrooms. He essentially undresses the theory and points out that the emperor has no clothes. Any time someone does this there are angry cries from those reciting the catechisms of Darwinism. I suspect we will see such replies to Cook’s article.

Cook notes that Nature’s chief scientist Henry Gee, who is a staunch evolutionist, “admits that the whole picture of human evolution presented so convincingly in textbooks is ‘a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices.’”

Cook points out that the theory predates any fossil finds that are thought to corroborate it. The result is that “Any time a fossil is discovered, it's plugged into the existing framework…. This is tautological interpretation, or circular reasoning; fossils are found and immediately placed where the finders "know" they go. Then they're pointed to as primary evidence of the finder's presuppositions.”

Some of Cook’s barbs are quite pointed.
There is no unified, scientific, universally agreed-on model or theory of human evolution. Only the concept that humans must have evolved from lower forms. Take away this concept and all you have for actual evidence is a small collection of fossil bones from ape-like creatures. The pictures and movies you see of pre-historic humans or human-like creatures wandering the plains are just that: pictures drawn from someone's imagination.
Cook concludes that the theories of human evolution taught in schools today fail to rise to Governor Huntsman’s standard of being “based on thorough and rigorous empirical research.”

Again, Cook does not advocate teaching ID in the classroom. Rather, he calls for objective teaching of any theory being taught. “Teaching in school should at least include presentation and discussion of the actual evidence -- and legitimate criticisms of the theory.” Is that too much to ask?