CHOOSING OUR FUTURE LEADERS The Case for Tough Vetting

4-14-14

CHOOSING OUR FUTURE LEADERS

The Case for Tough Vetting

A Brief for the Next Perilous 30 Years

By Jay B Gaskill

Facing Reality about Political Leaders

 

In the 2008 campaign for president, candidate Hillary Clinton, Senator from New York, complained that candidate Barack Obama, Senator from Illinois, had not been vetted. In the famous campaign television ad for Senator Clinton, the audience was asked in effect – When an emergency phone call for the President comes in at 3 AM, do you really want Barack Obama at the receiving end?

After a full first term and partway into the president’s second term, most democratic politicians facing reelection contests fervently wish that their POTUS nominee had been vetted. For that matter, a majority of Americans now wish that Governor Romney had been elected in 2012.  Hillary’s question is timely.

In this article, I address three related questions:

[1]   Where did all the vetting go? 

[2]   If a vetting procedure were put in place now, would candidate Hillary still want to be vetted?

[3]   What can we do about it now?

Several decades ago, the two major parties conducted vetting in private, picking their nominees in the smoke filled room.  The smoke is gone, and the primary system seems to have eliminated any real vetting, smoke or no smoke.

This now appears to be a serious mistake.

The next thirty years will be rough going for our nation and the world at large. As an optimist, I would much prefer three decades of peace and prosperity, starting with 2014.  But we cannot resign from the world and be forever immune from its troubles and disruptions lest that fate puts us in Hamlet’s place, facing that ultimate question: to be or not to be. This 21st century of the question asks us whether we will be true to our legacy as the world’s best hope, or not. …In the Danish prince’s words, are we, as a nation, to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or [are we] to take arms against a sea of troubles. In either scenario, troubles will find us, whether we are prepared or unprepared.

Even optimists like me must admit that this country will face harrowing perils and challenges in the next three decades. We will need extraordinary leadership. Whether we thrive or submerge will be up to us and to the leaders we select.

We have been living for decades with retail politics, the arrangement where favors from the governing class are bartered for support.

This now appears to be a serious mistake.

Retail politics generates a new gaggle of unexceptional, underwhelming leader-wannabes in every election cycle. Whether another Churchill or FDR lurks among them is impossible for an ordinary voter to discern. In this article I name names, describe three neglected or discounted vital policy issues that inadequate or misguided leadership will fail to address in time. And without proactive, forward-looking leadership in all three of these problem areas, reality will bite us…hard.

I then describe some of the important characteristics of the kinds of leaders we should be looking for; and make the case for a leader vetting process.

After several decades, retail politics has left us with a legacy of squandered resources, bestowed on insatiable interest groups while starving the essential functions we depend on government to perform. You don’t have to be a conservative to realize that government is overextended and that, among the pernicious consequences, government is not performing its core functions very well at all.

Why? Retail politics is mostly about two things, both of which are designed to perpetuate a political catering class:

  1. Identification with trends, ideas, ideologies or interest groups that will draw support in the coming election cycle;
  2. The avoidance of accountability for failures in the last election cycle.

Retail politics is almost never about proactively implementing the common sense, practical solutions for our really fundamental problems (like preventing drought) because these problems require heavy lifting over several election cycles. To a typical retail politician, the task of really addressing the mundane, but essential tasks on which our actual day-to-day life as a country depends is perpetually postponable. Boutique issues will crowd out the really important ones; coalitions of hot micro-concerns will trump complacent majorities. A tendency to scandalous waste on the small issues at the expense of the large, long term ones is baked into the interest group-political class relationship that retail politics has evolved to perpetuate. We will need leaders who are willing and able to balance this tendency.

The tendency to squander immense resources on really big causes did not begin with the single-term presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, but it reached a certain dizzy level of excess when LBJ squandered a vast fortune, several former administrations worth, on two wars – one, on poverty and one, against the Vietnamese communists; and lost them both.

Flash forward to the current administration.  When our new president threw another fortune at green energy projects, leaving a trail of bankrupt energy companies in its wake, and the US energy supply was not measurably better than before. This was LBJ Lite on the energy side. But when the same administration’s total cause-driven spending (saving Detroit, the crippled auto industry, re-inflating the housing bubble, bailing out favored banks and financial institutions) are taken into account, the dollar cost of WWII (which saved Western Civilization) almost looks like a bargain.

Typical retail politics nurtures pretend leadership- sharply focused on posturing, positioning and patronage. Real leadership can be dangerous to one’s career path.

But without long-term focus on core issues, and the timely breakthrough of authentic leadership willing to take on real problems with practical solutions, our fragile lifeline to survival is unnecessarily placed at risk. Neglected long term problems have a way of becoming fatal crises, taking front stage only when it is too late to head them off.

Why doesn’t retail politics produce better leaders?

The answer should be evident from a thought experiment:  List the well-known leaders who are capable of generating and sustaining support for the common sense, practical solutions that can solve the really fundamental problems on which our actual day-to-day life as a country depends. Having trouble with that list? Thinking of drafting someone?

Real leaders are never drafted. They draft themselves. 

Among the serious challenges that the USA will face a number over the next three decades, I have identified three core problem areas that cannot be neglected without severe penalties.  And if history is any guide, there will be other major additional challenges to catch us unprepared.

A second thought experiment: Assume that X, a leader-in-waiting, discovers that a large meteor will strike the Midwest US in 2021 with sufficient destructive force to kill a million people and destroy agricultural production in five key states for a decade. That disaster would trump all the other pending issues in the USA between now and then. Many of the solutions, like an orderly evacuation and major reinvestments in agricultural production outside the destruction zone, are common sense. But would we really prepare? How often do we heed our prophets?  An all too likely outcome: X is discredited for apocalyptic panic-mongering. In a follow-up account, “Rogue meteor destroys Midwest,” X is never mentioned.

After decades of apocalyptic rhetoric about global warming (now amended to climate change), and similar rhetoric about public indebtedness, (now amended to looming public debt default), why has little or no effective action has taken place? The “cry wolf” syndrome and the accumulation of false prophets has made reasonable people wary of being prematurely herded into unpleasant actions. If the immediate cost of avoiding a predicted disaster is relatively minor, then reasonable people can agree to a prevention program – not necessarily because they are convinced of the dark prophetic warnings, but because they are hedging their bets.

Consider two examples:

[1. ] Churchill’s pre-World War II warnings about the menace of Hitler’s Germany (before he became Prime Minister) were ignored. His leadership was accepted only when the threat became radically real.

[ 2.]  FDR’s second campaign in 1936 was as a peace-loving leader: “I hate war, and I know that the Nation hates war” and Today there is war and rumor of war. We want none of it. But while we guard our shores against threats of war, we will continue to remove the causes of unrest and antagonism at home which might make our people easier victims to those for whom foreign war is profitable. You know well that those who stand to profit by war are not on our side in this campaign.” This pre-election election speech in Madison Square Garden was made during the very year when Hitler’s intent to ravage Europe was blatantly apparent.  FDR’s national security leadership emerged only when the threat to the USA became radically real.

Roosevelt proved that he had the chops as a wartime leader; he was adaptable. We easily could have had a political hack.

THE TAKEAWAY LESSONS

It is unreasonable to expect our elected leaders to be prophets. But we can expect them to demonstrate a future-oriented perspective, and to have a track record of character, adaptability and effective leadership before we trust them with key positions of power.

In the long term, reality has a vote, too, and there always comes a day when some things are suddenly more important than charm, glibness and rock-star charisma:  Things like morally-anchored realism, like distaste for ideologues, and the capacity to rise to a new challenge and adapt.

Firm, morally-grounded principles (rooted in the ethos of the American founding) always trump ideology. Character always trumps moralistic pronouncements.  Nothing less than the sum of moral and personal virtues we call character will do for those we are to trust with our really critical leadership positions, like POTUS. But a character assessment has not been a distinct part of the POTUS selection/election process in the memory of anyone now alive.

Character is not the sum of one’s declared positions. Character’s presence or absence is revealed in the quality of one’s actions and decisions under pressure. We can know someone as a friend for years, but it’s only when we are in crisis that friendship is tested.  Character is the same. It can be initially “installed” during our upbringing, but whether character has truly been instilled remains to be tested by life.

The parent’s lament, “we brought him/her up to be better than that,” reminds us that the lessons on which character is founded can be only taught, as by parents, mentors & teachers.  But character, itself, is forged by life’s challenges.  This is why a leader’s character should have been tested before he or she assumes power.  Cleverness and charisma tend to show up before character is formed and tested.

Voters who just assume a candidate is a person of character place the country at great risk.

 

 

THE NEVER AGAIN! VETTING PROJECT

Starting now, we need to form a coalition of reasonable, practical women and men that will stand together, demanding that credible private institutions be tasked to vet our key potential leaders before they get a grip on power. This is the NEVER AGAIN! VETTING PROJECT.

The vetting process is not just for negatives like potential scandal. Vetting is for the essential positives: character, reasonableness, principled realism, attention to the essential, long term issues on which survival depends, and the capacity for adaptability.

Vetting is the means to impartially and truthfully inform the rest of us before some charismatic fool (lacking in character, reasonableness, principled realism, attention to the essential, long term issues on which survival depends, and without the capacity for adaptability), gets a firm hold on power.

In the vetting process, fervent ideologues of the left and right may need to be placated, but must never be allowed to govern the selection process of our most critically important leaders. Ideologues tend to be blind about character, reasonableness, the capacity for adaptability, principled realism, as long as the candidate is “one of us”. Even if a candidate say he or she will pay attention to the long term issues on which our very survival depends, good intentions will not matter if a leader lacks the character to do the hard thing.

The vetting process should be tough, objective but confidential at the front end, so that potential leaders can participate without the risk of unnecessary embarrassment.  The much criticized smoke filled room process quietly weeded out problem candidates without publically destroying them. But the vetting process must be fully transparent at the release end, exposing the flaws, lapses or inadequacies of wannabe leaders who choose to charge forward without regard to the vetting process.

Ideally, the vetting would be done within each major political party in a more principled version of the “smoke filled room”.  But history teaches that in the overheated primary process our much-weakened party hierarchies are not capable of aggressive vetting (except possibly for the absence of scandals that would endanger electability).

In an important Op Ed in the New York Times, David Brooks praises the latest campaign contribution limitation case by the Supreme Court (eliminating limits for wealthy donors who want to contribute to political parties).   In my opinion, this may strengthen the candidate vetting power of the two parties (a point not addressed the Brooks’ piece). Here are some pull quotes:

“Over the last several decades, the United States has adopted a series of campaign finance reform laws. If these laws were designed to reduce the power of money in politics, they have failed. Spending on political campaigns has exploded. Washington booms with masses of lobbyists and consultants.

“But campaign finance laws weren’t merely designed to take money out of politics; they were designed to protect incumbents from political defeat. In this regard, the laws have been fantastically successful.”

“The McCutcheon decision is a rare win for the parties. It enables party establishments to claw back some of the power that has flowed to donors and “super PACs.” It effectively raises the limits on what party establishments can solicit. It gives party leaders the chance to form joint fund-raising committees they can use to marshal large pools of cash and influence. McCutcheon is a small step back toward a party-centric system.

“In their book ‘Better Parties, Better Government,’ Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora propose the best way to reform campaign finance: eliminate the restrictions on political parties to finance the campaigns of their candidates; loosen the limitations on giving to parties; keep the limits on giving to PACs.

“Parties are not perfect, Lord knows. But they have broad national outlooks. They foster coalition thinking. They are relatively transparent. They are accountable to voters. They ally with special interests, but they transcend the influence of any one.”

{LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/04/opinion/brooks-party-all-the-time.html?ref=davidbrooks&_r=0 }

However the vetting evaluation processes of potential leaders are structured, the ultimate election process requires a critical mass of informed voters. And this means that the vetting results need to be credible and widely circulated.

This is why we must develop bipartisan vetting entities whose principal power lies in their investigative credibility, access to the media and the ultimate trustworthiness of their recommendations and cautions.   Our very survival may well depend on public education and electoral accountability.  I recognize that this is a culture change. It will not spontaneously appear like the spring flowers. It will start with coalitions of reasonable minds who are willing to set aside partisan differences and tune down the ideological rhetoric. 

It will start with us.

I have referred to turbulent decades ahead. Most of the conflicts and solutions will revolve around three problem categories (see the discussion Re Energy, National Security and Water below). It is critical that the vetting discussions go beyond the immediate politics of the moment. All leaders assume elected office in the context of the short term issues de jure but also in the looming shadow of the vital, long-term public policy issues. Both categories need to be given equal weight in assessing a leader’s readiness and suitability.  The following section identifies the three principal long-term problem areas that, in my personal opinion, will require strong, realistic political and policy leadership over the next three challenging decades.

 

The Big Three Problem Categories for 2014 – 2044:

ENERGY, NATIONAL SECURITY & WATER

ENERGY

Why is not global warming on this short list? …Because the decisive issue will not be climate change as such, but our capacity to quickly adapt to climate change together with a host of related problems, all of which take us back to one critical inflection point: Whatever happens with world climate, the USA will need a robust, secure, dependable and abundant energy supply to cope with it.

I am a climate realist. To describe oneself as a “climate change believer” is social code for someone who has gone all-in on the conventional wisdom that the planet is warming up at a dangerous rate, and that modern human activity, almost certainly our production of CO2, is the driving cause. Every contrary view is dismissed as “climate change denial”, a mindset that is seen as equivalent to the flat earth fringe.  There is an underlying – and unexamined – premise lurking here: that climate control is a proper subject of public policy. A caution flag: If/when we humans really do attain the ability to control climate on a large scale, the resulting political disputes are very likely to ignite world war.

Many of us in both political parties find ourselves in the climate realism camp. This implies robust skepticism about climate control measures. Large scale climate change is – thankfully – well outside the power of ordinary human political institutions to alter or control…for now.

Were it otherwise, we will be living in the shadow of world war, because there can be no worldwide consensus about which region gets to take the short end of the climate stick.

Climate realists also acknowledge both: the 70 year trend of warming; and the recent multi- year warming pause. Realists tend to place the last century’s overall record of warming (the fine grained accuracy of aggregate world temperatures decreases with time) in the reasonably suggestive, but not in the conclusive, discussion is over category.

 

SOME REASONS FOR QUALIFIED SKEPTICISM

 

[1]   The Ruddiman Hypothesis: Most readers will not have heard of it. Dr. William F. Ruddiman is a respected paleoclimatologist with unquestioned credentials and experience. He has posed the “early anthropocene” hypothesis, the theory that greenhouse gasses from human activity that started about 8,000 years ago from land use changes like deforestation and farming activities of our early ancestors that have changed the natural pattern of periodic climate change. Absent human activity, in Ruddiman’s analysis, we would have otherwise been in an incipient ice age.  Ruddiman and many other scientists believe that global cooling periods and ice ages are mostly caused by sunlight heating reductions due to natural variations in the Earth’s orbit known as Milankovitch cycles. Ruddiman’s overdue-glaciation hypothesis holds that that an incipient ice age would normally have started thousands of years ago, but  was forestalled by the activities of early farmers, and only more recently by industrial activity. Professor Ruddiman’s theory  may prove correct, in full or part, or not at all. But there is about as much evidence to support Ruddiman’s view (that global warming is saving us from an ice age) as the conventional climate wisdom (i.e., that human industrial development, especially the CO2 emissions, have caused the warming observed from1900 through 1990).

 

[2]   The new warming pause: Many readers have not heard about the still-unexplained current warming “pause.”  But the data are real and difficult to explain because CO2 emissions have continued to increase substantially during the same period. See the March 8th 2014 Economist article, “Who pressed the pause button? The slowdown in rising temperatures over the past 15 years goes from being unexplained to overexplained”, at http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21598610-slowdown-rising-temperatures-over-past-15-years-goes-being . Also see the January 14th 2014 NATURE article, Climate change: The case of the missing heatSixteen years into the mysterious ‘global-warming hiatus’, scientists are piecing together an explanation, at http://www.nature.com/news/climate-change-the-case-of-the-missing-heat-1.14525 .

 

There are other recent reports. Explanations proliferate. The conventional wisdom continues to command front stage. And the pause may be continuing…or possibly not.  NASA has reported that 2013 may be a warming blip (See http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/january/nasa-finds-2013-sustained-long-term-climate-warming-trend/#.UziCL_ldWSo  ). Is the resumption of warming after a decade and a half? The same report cautions to not put too much stock in year-on-year changes, suggesting that decade-on-decade changes are more significant.

 

AMERICA’S PRIME CANDIDATE FOR SECURE, ABUNDANT ENERGY—

THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT

Prudent policy emphasizes adaptation, for the simple reason that: (a) if the conventional wisdom holds, the Chinese greenhouse gas output alone guarantees that the effects of warming will need to be addressed for the foreseeable future; or (b) if we really are in for a major cooling period, the even more dangerous effects, especially on agriculture (as in mass starvation) will need to be quickly addressed.

In other words, we obviously will need to put more time, thought and resources into adaptation to changing conditions on earth, whatever the cause

It seems obvious that prudent policy would have us invest in a primary energy source that works well whether we are headed into a super-tropical period or an ice age, or a mix of the two.  But that primary energy source is not easily found among the current “green” energy sources, particularly solar and wind. The two most popular “green” energy sources, wind and solar, cannot reliably fulfill our cooling, heating and transportation needs for 365 days, 24 hours even if they were quantitatively sufficient, because they are seasonal and sporadic. Until or unless battery/energy storage achieves a so-far elusive breakthrough, both sources run out at moments of critical need.  And in any case they are not even close to filling more than a fraction of the total energy demand.

Few respectable green energy advocate care to argue that the “green” energy sources in their current stages of development can be much more than supplementary during the next thirty years. So, purists insist that the energy gap is to be filled by reduced consumption. The prospect that we must stop relying on the traditional combustion sources like oil, bio diesel and natural gas, invites the American public to elect to endure chronic energy insufficiency for the “greater good”. But accepting energy starvation as the “new normal” will be unacceptable now and for the future for the vast majority of Americans.

Dinner invitation from a leper

America’s energy needs demand that we rapidly exploit our cleanest carbon-based fuels in the near-term (natural gas sources, extracted with as little environmental damage as practicable), while using that revenue and time to develop the nuclear-electric option in the mid-term.  Miracles are for the long term. Meantime we already had working atomic power technologies. But nuclear power is the rich leper of our time whose invitation to dinner will be rejected until the prospective quests are among the starving. The irony here is that the leprosy has been cured, at least among the developed countries using the latest technologies.  The second irony is that atomic power is an American invention that is now aggressively being pursued by the Chinese.

Few Americans are aware that generation three nuclear reactors are designed for passive safe shutdowns. Few have been made aware that the negative health and accident impacts of up-to-date nuclear technology are far less than the effects of coal, oil and natural gas based energy sources. Few have considered that the US nuclear arsenal could be converted to an energy supply system that would provide for all our foreseeable energy needs for the next thousand years.

We talk about swords into plowshares.  This conversion is real.

Very few Americans know that the nuclear waste disposal problem can be – and has been – solved by using a combination of three technological developments, coupled with military level security:

  1. Vitrification technology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste#Vitrification ) is the process in which encasing mid and low level waste is in a form of glass, effectively removes the leakage issues and allows for lower cost, low impact storage, much as we already safely manage medical radiological waste now.
  2. The active recycling of spent fissile fuels through reprocessing of fuel rods is a form of active storage-in-use. (See  http://www.whatisnuclear.com/articles/recycling.html )
  3. Technologies that employ low level atomic waste to generate useful heat, without initiating a full-on nuclear reaction are being actively explored, tested and promoted by public minded entrepreneurs like Bill Gates.

No energy source is risk free, but so far few of us are willing to weigh comparative risks. For example, the peacetime use of nuclear energy to generate power has killed fewer people than oil production related mishaps, and “traditional’ air pollution has reportedly killed seven million people in one year. {See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/26/world/pollution-killed-7-million-people-worldwide-in-2012-report-finds.html?_r=0 }

In spite of the prevalent anti-nuclear propaganda, an increasing number of Americans have been made aware that nuclear energy can be green.  Among the original founders of Greenpeace, environmentalist Patrick Moore, a Canadian ecologist, supports nuclear energy as our primary, rational green option. The peaceful uses of nuclear power are immensely promising and do not require any new technological breakthroughs, just the application of traditional economic strategies, like standardization and mass production with the kind of tight safety and security measures that are used for medical radiation and for U. S. Naval reactors at sea.

In addition to the overhyped “leprosy” issue, there are very legitimate security issues: The use of fissile materials for routine energy use raises security concerns over theft or misappropriation for weapons’ use.  While lower enrichment grades of uranium are useful for power generation, higher grades are also useful for making bombs. Routine civilian security measures will probably not be enough to reassure an nervous electorate. And this frames the political paralysis problem that any constructive energy leader will have to face in the next 30 years.

The US Navy (with its nuclear powered fleet of vessels) has solved the security issue, by using proven technology combined with old-fashioned discipline.

{See – http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2013/ph241/tekant1/ and http://www.cbo.gov/publication/41454  and http://nnsa.energy.gov/ourmission/poweringnavy  }

The security of nuclear fuel under the control of the US military suggests an obvious solution: Adopt a system in which all fissile material reasonably capable of weaponization as nuclear explosives can only be utilized by the US civilian sector conditionally; that such materials will be owned, leased, secured and controlled by the military while licensed for civilian use under direct military security.[1]

The nuclear energy problem illustrates the nature of a leadership challenge: This is the kind political conflict typical of the type that eventually yields to enlightened and skilled leadership.

But timing is everything.  The safe, standardized nuclear technology is tested and ready, but not manufactured.  One model, being pursued by Toshiba is a modular design – a small, mass-produced reactor, the kind that can be buried, then power a mid-sized city, needing little attention for a decade at a time.

While developing a safe and reliable nuclear-electric power infrastructure, the country’s energy needs (and major revenue source) will be met by domestic natural gas, using state of the art extraction and conversion technologies.  This is a bridge solution, pending the time when 90% of the US energy consumption starts and ends with reliable, secure, clean nuclear power centers.  As the transition to nuclear proceeds, more and more of the US natural gas production is exported.

THE ENERGY LEADERSHIP TIPPING POINT

When the desirability and necessity of “green nuclear” programs becomes more apparent, and the non-nuclear solutions, like windmills, appear insufficient, it will come down to a stark choice between even more combustion-based sources, as in fracking, drilling and digging; energy deprivation, vs. energy abundance through a robust nuclear power economy which will allow the combustion-based sources tp be phased out.

How will astute leaders find the zone of compromise? A super-majority of contemporary liberals can be expected to object to the proposed level of military involvement, while a smaller majority will remain too nervous about the “nuclear thing”. Conservatives, who typically support the military, can be expected to object to the socialist nature of a government owned and controlled energy source, no matter how cheap and safe it might turn out to be.

But the long term merits of nuclear energy, clean, safe and reliable, will prevail. While the threshold monetary investment may be higher than fracking for additional natural gas, the ultimate energy costs will drop with mass production and standardization of the reactors, utilization of existing fuels, creative power generating centers, the productive lifetime of which will be measured in decades, allowing the costs to be amortized.

The task of real leadership is to move at the appropriate time, with the necessary courage to bring about reasonable, practical solutions by bridging the kinds of political impasses just described. It will be done because it must be done.

 

NATIONAL SECURITY

This country will not survive the next thirty years as a beacon of constitutional liberty if it continues to attempt to operate with a gutted military capability that, on a time-adjusted scale, is reminiscent of the antiquated and anemic forces of pre-WW II USA. Given the accelerated pace of modern conflicts, a belated buildup in the manner of post-Pearl Harbor America will eventually be too little, too late, a case of fatal tardiness.  A more stable defense baseline, aggressively modernized, will require a secure funding mechanism and a highly professional military.

 

The recent aggressive moves by Russia in the former Soviet-ruled Eastern European countries; China’s intimidation excursions in the Pacific region; and Iran’s duplicitous boldness as it gets closer to nuclear bomb capability, are just the early warning signs: This is a preview of  how much more dangerous the world will be like if America’s military remains in a weakened state.

It was no coincidence that the last major wars were preceded by the perceived military weakness of key players.

It is – or should be – axiomatic that power vacuums are opportunistically filled by bullies.

The European reliance on “soft power” belongs to the “use a gun, go to your room” school of child rearing. For at least the next thirty years, America will need an adult foreign policy backed by armed forces sufficient to deter and intimidate the world’s bullies.

Again the solution is readily explained, but its implementation will require leadership.  During the recent budget deficit disputes in the Beltway, Social Security was essentially off the table.  While Social Security reform is inevitable, its dramatic hollowing out, of the kind that the sequester limitations have visited on the US military, is not going to take place for the SSI program.  Why not? Because there is a well-established funding mechanism in the form of a stable payroll tax that generated a stable revenue stream for Social Security.  …But not for defense.

The Defense underfunding problem can be solved in a similar fashion, by utilizing a stable taxing mechanism resulting in a stable, sufficient revenue stream.  For example (the numbers are used for illustration purposes only), the US military budget baseline could be met with a single flat tax on all adjusted gross income, say, of 3.5%. By contrast, the Social Security tax is visibly levied at 6.2% on an individual payroll, and invisibly levied at the same rate, 6.2% on employers (12.4% for self-employed).  But because the Social Security program promises a defined benefit at a defined age, the 12.4% tax is more readily accepted than a “peacetime, war-prevention” tax would be. Even though most taxpayers are already paying for military protection via different – and less stable taxing mechanisms, a military-related tax presents political obstacles.

Any leader who tackles this must address the mistrust of government institutions problem, and the popular tendency to ignore or deny threats until they are painfully close at hand. Again, the task of real leadership is to move at the appropriate time, with the necessary courage to bring about reasonable, practical solutions by bridging the political impasses of the moment.

WATER, WATER & MORE WATER

 

FOOD might have been chosen as the critical issue, but the main discussion would still have been about the supply of water, both potable water and water suitable for crop irrigation. Water is and will remain one of the vitally important public policy issues of the century.

 

Regional drought is in the news again.  Yes, there are subtext issues – about the great Southwest population migrations, the Arizona and Nevada golf courses and swimming pools, the diversion of the water supplies from sources further west and so on.  But the core issues remain the same: water for agricultural production and pure water immediate personal uses, like drinking and bathing. Any rational water policy puts these two uses first; and any rational public policy puts affordable water access as a top priority.

Perspective:

[1]   There will always be droughts…somewhere.

[2]   All water shortages are local in the sense that there always is surplus water, often in the form of flooding, somewhere else.

[3]   Most water issues – other than those concerned with purity and potability – are about the water capture and storage infrastructure.

[4]   With planning and appropriate allocation of resources, water shortages can and should be prevented – because the alternative may be mass migration.

Snow capture is a very important piece for large regions of the USA because there is no robust runoff capture infrastructure for ordinary rain that is currently in place in most of the USA.  California is a a case in point. That state still has ample rainfall, overall, to serve its agricultural needs, but the reservoir and flow capture system is mostly keyed to the localized snow runoff. The dry coastal region, now overpopulated with water users, is another matter, and the water insufficiency problem is beginning to resemble come Middle East coastal desert regions where oil money pays for expensive desalinization.

This essay is not the place for a detailed discussion of all the complex water infrastructure issues. But the takeaway point is clear:

Few if any of the current drought problems in the USA are insoluble, given the application of energy-intensive technology. In a hypothetical, high-tech future where safe nuclear (or source X) energy is widely available, abundant and reasonably inexpensive, massive desalinization and interstate projects suddenly will become feasible.

Again, the task of real leadership is to move at the appropriate time, with the necessary courage to bring about reasonable, practical solutions by bridging the political impasses of the moment. At the retail politics level, water policy is about regional and functional allocation priorities. But at the long term leadership policy level it is about the technologies and infrastructure investments that will dramatically reduce the political conflicts by producing overall abundance.

This is why the question of core policy leadership comes full circle to the question of energy, which in turn may depend on the intelligent use of security resources. But the problem of identifying the right leader for the time depends on intangibles that include the character of the times in question, and the characters of the prospective leaders.

LEADER PROFILES

 

Promising leaders get elected on the basis of promises, but authentic leaders are selected from those who first self-identify as leaders-in-fact, having credible track records of accomplishments.

Character, the sine qua non of a trustworthy leader, is not established by mere pronouncements, no matter how eloquent.  Character is demonstrated by real world decisions and actions under duress.

Retail politicians tend to issue promising platitudes, as in “We need a better energy policy”; “I favor national security”; and “We should not neglect the water issue”.  But credible policies from credible leaders begin with detailed, practical measures, competent staff work and realistic plans for implementation.

The political leaders that the USA will need over the next three decades will come with a declared vision, developed policies, competent staff and track records from government and the private sector that clearly demonstrate that they are serious players. They will be real world, and real time adaptive leaders. They may be strong conservatives or strong liberals, but they will not be ideologues.

The leaders we will need over the next three decades may vary in their approaches on a number of issues and policies, but they will have one perspective in common: They will be champions of:

  • abundance over privation;
  • security over surrender;
  • human lives over non-human lives or faux-living machines;
  • personal dignity over bureaucracies;
  • Human judgment over algorithms.

The single most revealing arena for a prospective American president to have demonstrated the relevant leadership skills is the governorship of a large state that includes at least one major urban center and contains enough ex-urban and rural territory to expose its leaders to the agricultural and other problems and emergencies that demand hands-on attention.[2]

The most significant lapse in otherwise qualified leaders who seek the highest executive office is the absence of loyal, competent staff support.

The higher the position, the larger the staff required. Dwight Eisenhower, having accumulated competent, staff and staff contacts from coordinating the vast Allied military forces of WW II, and Ronald Reagan, coming from a two term governorship of a major state, each arrived with presidential caliber staff support by swearing-in day.  Bill Clinton, a politically talented governor from a small state, had a difficult time in his first term in part because too many key staff positions went unfilled for too long.

The staff demands – and by extension the executive leadership demands on each succeeding presidency are increasing. The current president, a first term junior senator from a mid-sized state, arrived with a small clique of community activists with ideological connections to other activists.

There are several reasons to reject leaders with too ideological an approach to governance, among them the inability to engage in fruitful dialogue with the opposition, and that ideology unnecessarily limits the universe of competent, patriotic staffers to a smaller clique of true believers.

Moreover, the really big issues, like food, water, security, energy can only be addressed by leaders who are comfortable and capable of working past ideological blinders to get agreements and cooperation on the available practical solutions.

At present – March 25, 2014, there are at a number of potentially viable candidates for President of the United States. Of these there are six governors with name recognition outside their respective states and two of them who haven’t yet advanced past the hesitant debutant stage.

VETTING THE UNWILLING, UNDERQUALIFIED

 

We are living through a period in which much better vetting of POTUS candidates (assuming any vetting took place at all) could well have saved the country from some very bad leadership decisions and damaging policy lapses.  The fact that internal vetting is not taking place (or is overcome by ideological blindness) is a grave problem, one that needs to be quickly addressed, whether publically or privately.

What would a POTUS vetting process look like?

The notion of MQ analysis (minimum job qualifications) is relatively straightforward. For example, a hypothetical vetting group might rule out all the senators (who did not otherwise serve in an executive role anywhere) on grounds of “insufficient executive experience” (leaving them open for the second position on the ticket).

Established public figures present a special vetting problem because of an assumption that he or she has already been vetted.  But this is often not the case. For example, most vetting groups would likely give a pass to Mrs. Clinton, unless her results were to be deeply confidential and directed only to party leaders.  For an established public figure like Hillary Clinton, only something really problematic, like participating in a cover up of the Benghazi matter, or some highly embarrassing personal scandal, would likely see the light of day.

Yet this is exactly the situation in which such a vetting process is crucial because something as proven executive ability is a crucial MQ for the top executive position in US government. 

I use Hillary Clinton’s situation to call attention to the problems inherent in any private vetting body that depends for its credibility on a reputation for integrity. Cases like hers – figures that most voters know fairly well, among them a core group of passionate supporters – can distort the vetting process.  In our hypothetical Hillary Clinton example, a vetting entity that discovers real problems might elect to avoid any endorsement, while also declining to make any outright disqualification.

For this and other reasons, we will probably need a two-tiered vetting process, one private, directed at the movers and shakers in each party that pulls no punches, and another one, a more a measured report for the public, something on the order of a consumer rating score.[3] Especially where sensitive character issues are involved, a preliminary report, hard hitting and candid, must go confidentially to the respective party leaders (and to the candidate for rebuttal) before any nomination.

When significant scandal and/or serious character flaws are uncovered and the party leaders insist on ignoring them, the vetting entity might choose to release a public version with the relevant reports summarized, assigned a provisional credibility rating, and leave the rest to the press.

Many political leaders I know, some of whom have spoken candidly off the record in recent years, are well acquainted with the vetting problem; and are equally aware of the needed solution, much as it is outlined here.  This is not a problem in rocket science, but one in political courage. The mice are in danger and no one wants to bell the cat.

 

THE 2016 POTUS RACE

 

Not everyone is in the field yet, but here is the list of the credible declared and undeclared candidates, as it appears in April 2014:

Jerry Brown**, governor of California (1075-1983 and 2011-present)

Jeb Bush*, former governor of Florida (1999-2007)

Andrew Cuomo, current governor of New York State (2011-present)

Chris Christie, New Jersey governor (2009-present)

Bobby Jindal*, Louisiana governor (2008-present)

Rick Perry*, former governor of Texas (2000-2013)

Mitt Romney#, former governor of Massachusetts (2002-2006)

Scott Walker*, governor of Wisconsin (2011- present)

…………………………….and the non-governors………………………………………………………

Former New York Senator and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton*

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky*

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida*

Vice President Joe Biden#

[* not yet in // ** really not in // # in, but a second tier nominee]

Are there any current candidates who might not survive a tough vetting process? Yes. On the democratic side, I have omitted fringe candidates for whom vetting in this cycle is probably unnecessary.

But we must not ignore that Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy has thrown up some red flags. Note the stories about her temperament and certain potential “character” issues, especially those in the cover-up and denial category.

Granted, a new, untried vetting entity striving to maintain a reputation for impartiality would be understandably reluctant to “DQ” Mrs. Clinton. On the republican side, Senator Rand Paul would rate low in any vetting, at least in my opinion, because the Senator has little significant executive experience, and presents a too-narrow ideological stance.

Both parties now seem to be relying exclusively on the primary system and the campaign process to sort out the unqualified and inappropriate potential leaders. Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives, for example, fed negative information about Mr. Obama to GOP operatives and friends at Fox who then refused to use the information. It seems that one cannot safely leave the vetting process even to one’s campaign opponents. Any vetting process will be criticized by the fans of those it disfavors.  This is why the character of those investigating and analyzing sensitive candidate vetting information must be above approach.

The investigative phase of the vetting process might be arranged to resemble the “devil’s advocate” role in pre-beatification investigations conducted by the Vatican.

PROFILES OF SOME INTERESTING LEADERS

 

A Tale of Two Governors:

Chris Christie (NJ) and Bobby Jindal (LA): One is an Indian American with degrees in biology, public policy and a masters’ degree in political science, a social conservative, popular republican in a traditionally democratic state; one is a lawyer who served as a US attorney, a social liberal republican in a traditionally democratic state. On the merits, both are well qualified executives, but only one has been taken seriously.  What is strange about this picture?

Christie is an improbable rock star and Jindal is not.  Any USDA who is a local New Jersey boy with the physique of a Sumo wrestler (or a Howard Taft), and has the chutzpa to take on organized crime in his own state, has the makings of a leader.  Flash forward: Christie is elected governor, takes on the vested interests and moves the state into a more responsible fiscal position; then he attracts significant GOP backing for a presidential run.  Then some of his staff members are caught out misusing state authority to impede rush hour traffic on a bridge in order to punish an uncooperative elected official from the other party.  Shades of tricky Dick Nixon…or high school level pranks? Neither scenario sounds very “presidential.” The staff members were summarily sacked. Governor Christie denies being part of the scheme, and so far no evidence has surfaced to the contrary.

Meantime, Jindal is considered a marginal candidate for POTUS. His state is considered less important, his national standing is thin. Governor Christie is naturally aggressive and charming and New Jersey is in the Eastern seaboard media market.  Jindal is a very plausible policy-directed candidate, but for the “money people” it’s all about perceived electability.

In my opinion, both governors would benefit from a forma vetting process: Jindal’s visibility would increase; Christie’s “scandal” would be downgraded; and any lingering health concerns about Governor Christie’s obesity problem would be allayed…or not.

Story pending…

Jerry Brown is former Governor of California, and the current comeback Governor of California, the two terms of service separated by a generation. In the 1970’s Brown governed as a parsimonious liberal who, in his second term advocated spending the very large state surplus to launch an earth satellite, thus earning the New Age sobriquet, “Governor Moonbeam.” I met with former governor Brown when he was the mayor of the City of Oakland to discuss the crime problem. I then found him to be a recovering leftist who had seen the light where law and order issues were concerned. His service as mayor was budget conscious, business development centered and pro-law enforcement. When he ran for governor – his current position – it was as a fiscal conservative with liberal street cred.  He defeated Meg Whitman; and then did a more effective job convincing his fellow democrats to take many of the fiscal measures that Whitman advocated and former governor Schwarzenegger failed to accomplish. Much of Brown’s transformation is simply due to maturity, but the sea change began with connection to Anne Gust (they married in 2005 after many years together). Gust is a tough minded, level headed corporate lawyer and business woman.

[Personal note: I would love to see Jerry Brown enter the democratic race for POTUS and deny Hillary Clinton the nomination. Of course, I have no inside knowledge about this whatsoever.]

Andrew Cuomo has a solid record as Governor of New York. As a democrat who inherited a large deficit, he has demonstrated the ability to work with republicans; and has managed to get and keep the state’s fiscal status in the black, irritating public employee unions in the process.  Then Cuomo seemed to gratuitously rile up gun owners with some Second Amendment overreaching in New York’s recent “assault weapons” legislation. In general, Cuomo’s liberalism has manifested in relatively low cost measures aimed at specific constituencies and needs. Cuomo is the democratic alternative to Hillary.

Rick Perry, the longest serving Texas governor, has promoted a business friendly climate, reaping rewards in employment and growth, while impressing liberal analysts with his approach to higher education reform.  At his relaxed best, Perry projects a Reaganesque charm, but – as in the 2012 campaign – he can stumble and misspeak when tired.  In his 2013 incarnation, appearing on the Letterman show in Austin, he charmed everyone and looked plausibly presidential.  Like Cuomo and Perry’s predecessor, Governor George W Bush, this Texas governor has the knack of getting things done by working with the opposite party. Perry is the man to watch if and when Governor Christie’s presidential bid loses steam.

Mitt Romney may be most decent man to mount a serious campaign for president in the last 65 years; and has the advantage of visibility and the growing public realization that he was more right than wrong last time. His management skills, business acumen, solid staff support and bipartisan style are particularly important assets for a leader-in-office, but less valuable as a primary candidate. Governor Romney’s very competence, caution and decency were liabilities when facing the democratic attack machine.  If he has it in him to summon fighting spirit during the campaign, that revelation will go a long way towards demonstrating the ability to govern the country well through the coming rough patches.

Hillary Clinton, the best known of the candidates, is a canny, tough-minded, strongly partisan liberal, who endured most of her political life in her husband’s shadow, emerging only to be denied the presidential nomination that she may have felt was hers by right of inheritance in 2008.  Hillary
Clinton’s reputation for payback, bordering on ruthlessness, was such that the rumors that Mr. Obama refused to put her on the ticket as Vice President because he couldn’t find a trusted food taster…were only partly in jest. She accepted the Secretary of State position as a consolation prize then practically ruined her health with incessant – and mostly ineffectual – global travel for the next four years. She contemplates running one more race at age 70, with rumors of having suffered some neurological “issue” when she fell sick toward the end of her tenure. Lingering health concerns and worries about damaging scandal might cause her to reconsider a run, but this is a woman consumed with ambition. …Which is why these are also proper subjects for a vetting process. Did she peak as a candidate in 2008? With Governor Cuomo as her leading opponent, most observers believe that the democratic nomination is hers for the taking.  Are there legitimate doubts about her performance as a leader? Even the friendly observers do not see Hillary Clinton as a promising bipartisan healer or a coalition builder. As the politician who dismissed the GOP as part of the “Great Right Wing Conspiracy”, Hillary Clinton has earned her reputation as an ardent “my road or the highway” player.  But our next president will probably face a legislative chamber controlled by the GOP, and a population expecting someone untainted by association with Mr. Obama’s errors and lapses.

Jeb Bush, the 41st president’s son and the 43rd president’s brother, is a very well-liked former Florida governor who tends to elicit comments from those close to his career path like, “He will make a fine president” with the implication that Jeb Bush has every prospect of making a better president than his brother (at least a more articulate one). His serious attention to policy issues, the theme of republican inclusion and his track record of responsible, across-the-aisle governance, are positive attributes that one would expect of an able leader.

 

All my observations are based on a small list of the personalities who may well enter and possibly win the race for POTUS 2016.  One or more great potential leaders may yet show up as strong candidates with a surge of support. That could change everything.

[Personally, I would love to see Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Governor Jerry Brown and General David Petraeus jump in, and run strong, policy-focused campaigns.]

But all my comments about personalities are both personal and fallible. The need for effective, early vetting rests on an assessment of human nature generally, not any individual named here. We the people need searching, investigation-based evaluation of all the candidates.  And the vetting processes must necessarily address the criteria and associated problems I have mentioned here.  The process has to begin sometime.

I say that now would be the right time

Richard Nixon: A Thought Experiment.

President Eisenhower did not have access to a character assessment of Nixon when the California senator was put on the ticket as Vice President “for balance”. Yet the stories about the darker sides to Nixon’s personality, the insecurities, lying and paranoid thinking were quietly discussed.

Eisenhower, a strong personality who could tolerate and sometimes employ an “attack dog”, was not thinking about Nixon as a candidate for future president. That would be a problem for others, later.

What would a thorough vetting of Senator Nixon’s suitability to assume the presidency have accomplished?

We’ll never know.

JBG

 Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law Links, forwards and pull quotes with attribution are welcome and encouraged. For all comments and other permissions, contact the author at: law@jaygaskill.com

Jay B Gaskill is the California attorney who served as the 7th Chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, headquartered in Oakland.

Having left his “life of crime” for writing and policy analysis, Mr. Gaskill’s non-fiction articles are archived on The Policy Think Site { www.jaygaskill.com }.

His fiction is published by Central Avenue Publishing in British Columbia.

Gaskill’s forthcoming novel, Gabriel’s Stand, is a thriller about fanatical environmentalists (think extreme negative population growth here) whose clueless supporters precipitate a constitutional crisis so that life-saving medical technologies can be outlawed to “save the earth.” Publication pending:  Gabriel’s Stand will be available in hard copy and as an e-book from all major outlets. The thriller is scheduled for release in late May 2014.


[1] Background: Plutonium is an ideal fuel source, much better than uranium. President Jimmy Carter banned the use of plutonium by civilian reactors to avoid possible theft for weapons use, particularly from civilian utilities.  Navy reactors use a much higher concentration of highly reactive uranium than civilian ones – a percentage of refinement that we might object to in, say, an Iranian reactor because it could be more easily upgraded further for use in a bomb. Ironically, the highly enriched US Navy reactors produce less plutonium than do the civilian reactors. The highly enriched uranium used in reactors that power US Navy Carriers will provide power for the life of the vessels themselves. [I note that the latest lunar rover is running on a plutonium-based battery (really a mini-reactor) that potentially will provide power as long as the equipment that it powers does.]  Recycled uranium fuel rods (a process done in what is called a “breeder reactor”) end up with levels of plutonium that can be used or extracted. Reactor safety issues overlap with the security ones. This is why a robust, recycling, swords-into-plowshares nuclear electric economy (promising abundant energy for 1,000 years) needs to keep the fissile (energy producing metals like uranium and plutonium) under military control. As a bonus, the safety and security track record of the military reactors should help public concerns about safety and security.

[2] We might add the experience of mayor a huge city like New York – the scale of which exceeds that of many states.

[3] …As in executive experience: sound / more than sufficient / barely sufficient/ requires substantial assistance

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Long-Term Risks to Freedom: A Survey, an Assessment

WHY WORRY NOW?

The Long-Term Risks to Freedom:

A Survey, an Assessment, a Request for Your Comments

 

 

Jay B Gaskill

Jay B Gaskill

By Jay B Gaskill

 

 

ONCE UPON A TIME, A NEW NATION APPEARED ON THE STAGE OF HISTORY.

 

It was a nation-state uniquely founded as an oasis for individual freedom. It was a brave experiment in nation-making, a rebellious sovereign born from a radically universal principle – that all individual humans are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights were not created by or allowed or permitted by government fiat. Rights such as these can never legitimately be abrogated by any government without the due processes of law.

 

One thing was unmistakably clear from the founding context of the American republic: The inalienable rights enjoyed by citizens are individual in character, rather than collective. The founders lived in the context of the post-tribal Enlightenment philosophy of 18th century Europe, particularly the English branch thereof. In this philosophical universe, individual people have rights, not collectives. Governments have no rights at all, just powers, the legitimate exercise of which is contingent on how these powers are to be used.  Rights are as unlimited as individuals are unique; and they as legitimate as individuals choose to exercise them with due deference to the rights of others. But the powers of government are only provisionally legitimate – to be exercised only as they are necessary to serve and protect the workings of a free society.

 

In the immediate aftermath of the Allied victory in WW II (an epochal event that could not have ended as well as it did without the intervention by massive US forces), the American experiment was working well enough to fuel a decades-long surge of optimism. But flash forward to the early 21st century USA: You detect the stench of pessimism, defeatism and anxiety; it is floating over the American intelligentsia like the dense smog hovering over Bejing.

 

Most of us spend far too much time being overstimulated by the massively invasive info-blizzard – carried like some medieval plague by a host of vectors – phones, tablets, pads, posts, screens. Bit-fragments of our attention are intensely sought-after as commodities. We have become fragmented as a result. As we are dragged from tweet to text, from micro-moment to moment, we are being distracted from a set of looming threats to our freedoms – even to our very survival as a semi-free people. This is why we need to pause for this assessment.  At the end of this exercise, you are invited to add your comments, insights and new risks to the Threat List. I will be posting the results over the course of 2014

 

FREEDOM’S GROWING THREAT LIST

1.      Politicization of the US judicial system -ongoing

 

The US constitution is a magnificent statement of principles captured in somewhat malleable words.  The essential protections of the constitution crucially depend on an independent judiciary that is trained in, fully understands, and is actually committed to its core principles. For reasons that will be evident, only a judiciary that remains dedicated to the intelligent and courageous preservation of constitutional principles can preserve our remaining freedoms. Retail politics always generates pressures favoring result-oriented jurisprudence.  Paraphrasing Ben Franklin, it’s a constitution “if we can keep it”.  Eternal vigilance will always be needed. There is no trivial or throwaway federal judicial appointment.

2.      Critical mass of new politically-controlled government- dependent classes – in play

 

You already know this, but know, also, the postmodern rationale of the enemy.  The term, “postmodern”, is code for “post-Enlightenment”. The entire political/social system of “victim” classes, based loosely on race, gender, disability or other presumptively disadvantaged categories, is a retreat from the ideal of individuated justice. Without paying sufficient attention, we have entered the brave new world of “collective justice” or “social justice”. These terms are code for neo-tribalism.  Politically dependent “classes” can be nurtured and exploited through government appropriations or by regulatory favors.  In either instance, a favor-granted, political payback loop is established that becomes very difficult to break. There is much work to do to stem this tide, starting with tough, intelligent discourse.

3.      Power consolidation by entrenched, ungovernable regulatory agencies – well in play

 

We are dangerously close to a tipping point here. Scores of federal agencies have now been created and empowered by the Congress and the Presidency to act with virtual autonomy within the loose scope of their respective charters. These agencies are very, very powerful, having in the bargain acquired the authority to proclaim new regulations with the force of law (without getting the consent of Congress or the President), to enforce these new regulations with penalties and sanctions often as severe as criminal punishments, and even to adjudicate violations outside the regular judicial system, denying, for example, the right to confront one’s accusers and a trial by jury[i]. We face a major, dangerous power shift, one that started decades ago when an overburdened Congress and a complicit executive offloaded a body of “technical” regulatory work to “experts” embedded in the new bureaucracies. At present, the Congress lacks the time, energy, expertise and political will to restrain the new “regulatory branch” of government, even when – to pick an interesting recent example – one agency declared that the very gas we exhale and our plants inhale is now an official pollutant. We stop this soon or we lose the capacity to change course.

4.      Fatal erosion of US sovereignty via the international system – just beginning in earnest

 

The USA is under increasing pressure to conform its practices to “international standards” which means in effect to subject its citizens to rules and adjudication procedures that violate protective provisions of the constitution. The recent international gun control treaty was just one of a dozen or more challenges that were more dangerous to the constitution’s delicate bulwark against erosion of freedom than most members of the political class realized.  In former times, national sovereignty was lost only by defeat in war.  Now, it is to be voluntarily surrendered piecemeal, for “the greater good.” This can happen to us, because the treaty clause of our constitution provides a potential legal loophole that can override the bill of rights. Here is the language: “[All] Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding”. (U. S. Constitution Article Six).

 

There are internationalists who want to bypass the US Bill of Rights “obstacle” in service of “the greater good”. They will rely on a clever textual (mis)interpretation. Here is their argument: If the original text of the Treaty Clause had said “the Constitution(s) or Laws of any State”, a reviewing court would likely conclude that a treaty and enabling legislation could only override the various state constitutions. But the Article Six refers to “the Constitution” (in the singular), meaning (under the internationalist interpretation) that a ratified treaty really is the supreme law of the land.

 

Article Six contains a dangerous ambiguity, and the US Supreme court has yet not touched the issue. Have no doubt that some future Supreme Court (one in which one or two of the current conservatives are replaced with more internationalist ones) could easily resolve the ambiguity in favor of an expansive reading of the treaty power. As constitutional scholars remind us, the US Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.  Such a “progressive” court could hold that conflicting provisions in the U. S. Constitution must give way to effectuate a given ratified treaty’s implementation. So… just how Many Votes would it take to override part of the Bill of Rights? The answer: “Only 73, consisting in the “vote” of the president, that of 67 senators and 5 Supreme Court members. This is because a treaty is ratified by the US Senate by a two third’s majority.  So the number is 72 (67 plus 5) and one for POTUS. Is eternal vigilance warranted?  Nothing less than fierce eternal vigilance will do where the US Supreme Court is concerned. This is why te politicization of the US judicial system poses an extreme risk to the future of all our freedoms.

5.      Aftermath of losing a war, or partially surrendering to avoid one – a growing possibility

 

History warns the heedless, weak and naively isolationists who live in the illusion of a cost-free, under-defended state of peace and freedom that reality bites. A truly robust and credible military and national defense policy is an absolutely necessary bulwark against the loss of all domestic freedoms. Either the USA remains a proactive force for freedom in the world, by example at home, and by prudent, intelligent and firm action abroad, or the reverse happens: the world’s pathetic freedom record gradually resets ours.  This is a recipe for tyranny administered in small doses.

6.      Aftermath of a large scale US economic collapse – a pending possibility

 

This is hardly a novel idea. Consider: The German Weimar Republic; the South American banana republics of the last century; post WWI Russia; the damage done in the great depression of the 1930’s.

 

Authoritarian ideologies and their human hosts are like opportunistic pathogens waiting for the breakdown of the social immune system.  Because of the prevalent postmodern moral confusion in the culture, we are more vulnerable than ever to a wholesale surrender to one of the virulent ideologies should the US economy get into a truly scary tailspin.

7.      Rise of dangerous ideologies with a strong domestic following – metastasizing

 

Militant Islam will probably never get sufficient traction in the current USA culture to constitute a domestic threat. Political liberalism (as distinguished from old fashioned liberalism) has acquired the style of religion, mostly benign, but all too often resistant to reasonable dialogue with conservatives. Yet it is not a true ideology.

 

But within the precincts and closed doors of political liberalism a darker variant has gestated.  It is a form of hard-progressivism, a blend of Marxism Lite with a vaguely anti-human environmentalist model (the kind that equates “speciesism” with racism).  The radical progressive agenda includes (and is defined by) a persistent attempt to improve (read remake) human nature itself. In combination with emerging drugs, neuro-technologies and the classic techniques of social manipulation, the temptation to make a more compliant human being presents a genuine threat to freedom. Creativity and compliance are arch enemies.  The friends of freedom need to be on the side of creativity in this struggle.

 

The hard-progressive acolytes know each other, but remain loosely organized. They blend in well with the regular liberals.  But this version of progressivism has acquired an entrenched position within the American intelligentsia and represents an authentic threat.

 

Doubtless there are other unnamed and unidentified ideologies waiting in the wings.  The problem for any formal ideological movement in the USA is that mere penetration of the intellectual elites is never quite enough.  A populist link is needed.

 

When an economic crisis is deep enough and scary enough, a small cadre of leaders will cobble together a coalition of the moment in order to achieve power.  If unchecked, they will consolidate power and the game is virtually over.

 

Make no mistake: No refuge for liberty will remain safe if the USA ever fails to be the historic exemplar and beacon of freedom in the world. If the friends and allies of liberty must ever actually go the barricades, even their victory cannot guarantee the return of the constitution as we know it.

8.      Loss of constitutional checks and balances though the neglect of core values – pending

 

Values matter.  Ideas matter.  Principles matter. The constitution matters. Yes, this is a cultural struggle, already partly lost, one in which friends and adversaries both need to be apprised of the strakes, and patiently – but urgently educated.

 

When Ben Franklin famously said that “It is a republic if you can keep it” he meant that a wide spectrum of opinion, differing in many policies and particulars, needs to come together, over and over again, to sustain this unique constitutional republic against an ever new set of threats and challenges. Franklin had the advantage of living in a culture in which the core values themselves were secure.  We do not.

 

 

Any list of the serious long-term risks to our freedoms is necessarily incomplete.  If any part of this essay has struck home or sparked a thought, please take the time to amplify, comment, add and expand on the topic.  Send an email to the author at law@jaygaskill.com . Your comments will be acknowledged, credited and most of them will be added – with attribution, unless you wish otherwise.

 

Why worry now

 

As that First Century sage, Hillel the Elder, counseled, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

 

If it is not your freedom at risk or the freedom of someone you care about, then whose is it?

 

It is our freedom, if we can keep it.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

 

Forwards, links and pull quotes with attribution are welcome and encouraged.  For everything else, please contact the author at the email provided above.

 

 

 

Jay B Gaskill, a California lawyer, served as the 7th Public Defender for the county of Alameda, CA. Many of his articles are available on the Policy Think Site (www.jaygaskill.com) . His latest book, the political thriller, Gabriel’s Stand,[ii] is to be released by Central Avenue Publishing of British Columbia in May, 2014.

 

Endnotes

 



[i] There is a creeping administrative control network that extends over American commerce and daily life. It represents the collective handiwork of several mega-agencies of the federal government, overlapping control regimes, like the EPA, the EEOC, the FDA, the FCC, the ICC, the OSHA, the HHS and others too numerous to list.  The pattern, well documented by the attorney/commentator Mark Levin, in his book, Liberty and Tyranny (Simon & Schuster 2009), is the same for each of these regulation-generating behemoths. Congress has given away the store and ignored (for the most part) the consequences.  Each of these and many other agencies have been granted the power to make laws (called regulations), to enforce them by imposing sanctions (law enforcement is supposed to be an executive function), and to adjudicate cases outside the court system (a judicial function).  The congress, the sole entity body that is empowered to make new laws, did not make CO2, the naturally gas released by animals and absorbed by plants, into a pollutant; the EPA did that.  Under the radar, the web of regulations, some well-intended, others misguided, many never actually authorized, cumulatively are suffocating new business startups, weighing down struggling businesses and impairing economic growth. But that is merely the preamble to the trouble ahead.  There are international bureaucracies seeking regulatory authority wherever on the globe an individual sovereign is willing to cede it to them. This closely related risk is addressed in the next session, immediately below and is dramatized in a soon-to-be release book by Jay Gaskill – see the next endnote for details.

 

[ii] Jay B Gaskill’s latest, book, GABRIEL’S STAND is a novel in the tradition of Orwell and Huxley, in which the dark prospect of a tyranny is balanced by an American sense of heroic optimism. It is also a father-daughter story, a saga of family, friendship, loyalty and betrayal. It will be available in both paper and electronic editions throughout the USA via Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other vendors. The story unfolds in a plausible, near-future USA where the old polity has been fractured by a series of ecological calamities. Anxiety has stoked popular panic. Technology is alternately embraced and feared, loved and hated. In this turbulent setting, an opportunistic, malevolent ideology has gained traction. Its followers present themselves as well-meaning “greens,” but beneath their public veneer a toxic mindset has metastasized.  These are true eco-fanatics, cultists to the core, who harbor the chilling vision that the earth (Gaia) is a living organism, on which humanity is a plague, an ecophage. Their agenda (ruthlessly concealed), is that the Gaia’s final cure will require human extermination. The political path to the agenda’s implementation is a loophole in the US Constitution through which a ratified treaty can create a super-agency with power to control “dangerous” technologies. Gaia must be cured of the ecophage. “Disarm the humanity’s medical defenses and the plagues will do Gaia’s work.” It is to be the final holocaust.

 

 

 

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The Emerging Coalition of the Creative, Not-Left

Jay B Gaskill

Jay B Gaskill

Links:

http://jaygaskill.com/ANewDay.htm

http://jaygaskill.com/ANewDay.pdf

Jay B. Gaskill, on…

 The Emerging Coalition of the Creative, Not-Left

After his summer recess, David Brooks wrote that–

 

…if you hang around the conservative policy wonks, and read certain conservative magazines, [you will find] the dominant style of conservatism of the coming years. This is the conservatism of skeptical reform. This conservatism is oriented, first, around social problems, not government …by looking at concrete problems: how to help the unemployed move to where they can find jobs; how to help gifted students from poor families reach their potential. If you start by looking at these specific matters, then even conservatives conclude that, in properly limited ways, government can be a useful tool. Government is not the only solution, but it is also not the only problem.

Second, this conservatism is populist about ends but not means. Over the past decade, many Republican politicians have spread the message that the country’s problems would be easily solved if only the nefarious elites would get out of the way and allow the common people to take over. Members of this conservatism are more likely to conclude that, in fact, problems are complex and there are no easy answers, but there is room for policy expertisebut these experts should focus on specific needs and desires of working-class Americans, not gripes and obsessions of the Republican donor community.

Third, this conservatism supports effective government, not technocratic government. Like all proper conservatism, it begins … a sense that the world is too complicated to be centrally planned. Therefore, it opposes the style of government embodied in Obamacare, where officials in the center define insurance products and then compel people to buy them.

This conservatism knows that central decision-makers, even conservative ones, are no match for complex reality. Therefore, they favor market mechanisms, which take advantage of dispersed knowledge. They prefer simple programs to complex ones. …

Fourth, this conservatism is skeptical in temper, especially about itself. … [T]he founders constructed a constitutional order that left room for different policy approaches; that was humble before the evolving needs of the future; and that required compromise and coalition building. The founders did not believe in concentrating power in the hands of any group of highly fallible individuals.

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, January 9, 2014

Link- http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/10/opinion/brooks-movement-on-the-right.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0

 

About Principles …AND… Results

 

The Great Opportunity of the Century or a Cautious Tweak?

 

David Brooks is talking about a thread among conservative intellectual discourse, while trying to make the case for a humble conservative reentry into the liberal conversation.  This was based on his assessment that liberalism has finally strayed so far from the practical center that the-liberals-in-charge will allow conservatives to engineer a gentle course correction.

 

But the progressives have seriously overplayed their hand; they have done real damage this time, and the liberal brand itself has been tainted.

 

The world is now witnessing the collapse of the progressive experiment in cost-free, Marxism Lite. Progressive political liberals, with the complicity of comatose conservatives and rootless moderates, have brought the modern Western economic system to the edge of total credit and monetary collapse.  This represents a failure cascade so huge that it is forcing policy changes that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.  Yes, some correction was inevitable, but these failures are unusual in scale, duration and depth.

 

Traditionally, liberals have been about challenging boundaries; and conservatives were about defending them.  But both liberalism and conservatism occasionally crash through the overreach barrier. The progressive liberals have driven over that line and the cliff is now visible.

 

This leaves the task of restoring balance to the conservatives. But are conservatives ready?

 

In the post-conservative era, the main premise of progressivism was completely dominant: the unquestioned premise that government exists (to be legitimate, must exist) to make our lives better by eliminating all the inequalities of the human condition through top-down governance, exploiting the bottom-up support of the government-benefitted classes. The GOP (in the USA) and the Conservative Party (in the UK) were locked into a cyclical pattern of populist rejection, followed by a temporary ascendance in which conservatives returned from exile as an occasional corrective. The progressive juggernaut that captured the Democratic Party and the Fabian socialists who captured the British Labour Party was never repudiated. It began to seem that government aimed to supplement, even replace our parents, our religious guides, and though curriculum reform, aimed to remake us through its control of education. The conservatives were allowed to stick around just long enough to stop the occasional excesses – and to repair some, but not all of the damage.

 

This is fire truck conservatism: People are grateful for their rescue but they don’t invite their rescuers to stay for dinner.

 

Conservative leadership seems to take hold for the long haul only when a particular leader (Think Eisenhower or Reagan in the USA; Churchill and Thatcher in the UK) has traction in the culture and on Pennsylvania Avenue or Downing Street. The key ingredients of such major leadership shifts are the breakdown of trust between the to-be-evicted governing political class, and the emergence of a new, potent trust-chemistry between the new conservative leadership cohort and the people at large, coupled with a new policy course that actually makes things better in the real world.

 

The core conservative ethos (a commitment to individual freedom, dignity and accountability, to government restraint, and a robust approach to security, law and order) endures for the ages, too often as an archaic ideal. But the conservative ideal will have sudden new life in the 21st century only to the extent that its most visible advocates are seen as dedicated to a great political, cultural and economic creative-renaissance agenda, and that they are offering a new course of action with the real prospect of recovering America’s reduced, damaged and beleaguered middle class.

 

A glance at the current crop of politicians suggests that heavy lifting will be required. The new crop of conservative leaders must be very well prepared to promote and explain a practical agenda for America’s restoration, and to anchor each part of the project in conservative principles that are clear and consistent with common sense. That agenda can be nothing short of restoring America by restoring freedom and widely shared prosperity.  It must be founded on forward-leaning conservation principles that must be sincerely, articulately and persuasively connected to policy proposals, and to the real world aspirations of all Americans.

 

But actual principles rarely intrude in politics.  This is probably because few people are able to think in principles.  Note that core principles differ from ideology or lists of “values” because they require actual thinking instead of a rote catechisms.   The process of discerning and applying core principles allows for creative adaptation, while enabling conservatives to protect that which is truly essential.

 

Intellectually lazy conservatives fall into using shorthand expressions, like “no big government” that fail on both counts by obscuring what is conserved and why, and they suggest a reliance on rote catechism instead of actual thinking.  Recovering liberals, like former liberal democrat, Ronald Reagan, understood this perfectly.  Bill Clinton’s second term claim, “the era of big government is over” was not only false, it was a temporarily successful ‘trademark misappropriation’ that succeeded because almost no one asked “What are you conserving and why?”

 

President Reagan was gifted in reframing conservative ideas in a charming, folksy discourse, partly because he had years of experience among liberal democrats, partly because he was a skilled actor who believed his material. Our communication task is the essentially the same, but the problems of the 21st century are new and the communication modalities have fragmented to the point where a thoughtful essay, say, like this one will be read and absorbed by a small number of people.

 

But a small number of gifted leaders, animated by core beliefs and a keen sense of the practical, will change the course of history.  And certain principles, when explained and connected, have the power to inaugurate a sea change in the political dialogue.

 

Once they are absorbed into the DNA of the new generation of conservatives they can ignite a movement that will alter the course of history. These principles (framed as “musts”) include -

 

  1. We must conserve individual human dignity against all the bureaucratic minds and structures, both government and private. New conservatives are willing to take on the corporate bureaucracies, often in bed with the new, amoral political class, fired by the same passionate intelligence and trenchant criticism that we address the government versions.
  2. We must conserve the conditions in which productive human creativity can flourish by providing a bulwark against the arbitrary controls, constraints, repression, excessive taxation and perversion-of-purpose that creative communities are typically subject to.
  3. We must conserve the core moral infrastructure from which individual human dignity and productive human creativity derive their legitimacy.
  4. We must conserve the value of work, of earning and of a middle class supported by these values.
  5. We must conserve all the aspiration pathways, the upward mobility of every productive or creative person, without political interference or bureaucratic blindness.

Libertarians advance freedom as a primary good, without further elaboration or explanation.  But conservatives hold that freedom cannot be understood as more than indulgence without a larger moral framework that contains it. The justification for freedom as a necessary value is that creation and human creativity are primary human values when they are linked to a life affirming moral order. Creativity requires freedom in the context of the larger moral framework. Without creativity, the human species dies.  Without robust creativity linked to the moral order, the human species becomes innovatively suicidal. The moral foundations of a free society are deeply tied to the spiritual traditions that connect creative communities with life-affirmation and the enhancement of the human condition as seen through the lens of awakened moral intelligence.

 

Note that creativity, by its very nature engenders transient, but important inequalities.

 

Note that without creativity the human project will fail,

 

Modern American conservatism seems to be experiencing a crisis of incoherence.  Consider the following examples:

 

Social conservatives are located in both parties where they represent a durable constituency for law and order, family values, patriotism, and – for the most part – a spirited defense of traditional family arrangements against their redefinition by “social progressives”, and opposition to abortion-on-demand (with significant variations on side issues, like birth control and adherence to Roe vs. Wade).

 

Libertarians enjoy the virtue and the vulnerability of thematic consistency – an authentically free-market, laissez faire capitalism, linked with drug legalization and an isolationist foreign policy bordering on pacifism.

 

Community conservatism is founded in the early American vision of nested communities, family, neighborhood, town and state, with a policy of the upward delegation of limited powers, leaving the federal level with only those things that absolutely must be handled by government at the national level.

 

Neo-conservatives are the former leftists who rebelled against the authoritarian excesses of communism and the naïve apologetics of the domestic left, especially for the murderous excesses of Stalin and Mao, among others.   This branch of conservatism represents a fierce rejection of leftist politics and of the new authoritarian challenges that have sprung up after the collapse of Marxism.  Their focus on national security leaves room for a great deal of variation on social issues.

 

Business-centered conservatism represents the substitution of one question – “What is good for existing businesses?” for an overall governing philosophy, and has opened up the GOP for the paybacks of “crony capitalism.”  Again, social issues are less critical to this subset.

 

Fiscal-conservatism is making a comeback among centrists, conservatives and even realistic liberals.  It upholds “quaint” and “old fashioned” notions about repaying loans, not borrowing more than one can pay back, and opposing financial gimmicks that promote such unwise policies to creep into ongoing political arrangements.  Social issues and even taxation issues (within the context of “fiscal” responsibility) are secondary concerns.

 

National-greatness conservatism is perhaps the least philosophically consistent on the list, but the most easily explained and understood.  A great nation is prosperous, is faithful to great values, and accomplishes great things.  The Hoover Dam, the railroads, the Moon Program and victory in WWII are hallmarks of national-greatness conservatism.

 

Beneath these mostly situational differences there is a shared ethos and common underlying principles.

 

ABOUT TWO RIVER CURRENTS:

UNDERTOW & RISING TIDE

 

Something else is afoot in the culture, something deeper still. Moving underneath the superficial crust of the popular culture, underlying all the arguments between and among the liberals and conservatives, two emotional currents are running in opposite directions.

 

Running downhill is an unspoken attitude, a mindset, a pessimistic sense of life that can be capsulized in the following statement:

 

Joy, usually undeserved, is to be compartmentalized, hidden, even denied; but pain is to be shared, put on display for everyone to see and feel guilty about.

 

At the risk of oversimplification, the downhill current powers the envy / guilt syndrome. It lurks in the heart of every politically correct nag.

 

 

 

Coursing uphill is a more uplifting mindset, attitude, an optimistic sense of life that is captured in the following:

 

Pain is a natural feature of the human condition, a byproduct of the creative process, something to be compartmentalized, not advertised, never allowed to define or cripple  life, but joy is to be shared and promoted.

 

I am reminded of the blessing from the Vulcan character in the iconic Star Trek series: “Live long and prosper”. The progressives, driven by the first view, say “Don’t live too long or prosper too much.”

 

We can see these views competing in their day-to-day versions. Writ large, the down-current, the undertow, drives the guilt-propelled left. The up-current, the rising tide, animates the creative center, and is shared by most conservatives and many morally anchored liberals.

This split defines the real divide among us; and it will frame our next struggle. In this context, the arch political right is the tiniest part of potential opposition to the repressive, puritanical left.

Sympathetic liberals take note: America’s recovery will begin with the conservative recovery but it will liberate old fashioned liberalism from the repressive progressives who have taken over. A successful conservative recovery in the current left-leaning environment is necessarily organized around the real life concerns that transcend popular ideological stereotypes.

 

America’s recovery begins with a clear-eyed look at reality: The grand social experiments of the last century are failures. The later 19th and early 20th socialist experiments in centralized planning have failed or are failing. This was the Grand Project to remake the human condition by using the power of government. The inevitable results were, are and always will be toxic to non-compliant businesses and sustained economic growth. The fully centralized economies of the old-line communist countries have cratered.

 

The “mixed-economy” utopian compromise model is next in line to fail because the egalitarian expectations of the left that a mixed economy can be tweaked deliver all the socialist benefits to everyone are unattainable in the real world. But the attempt to do the undoable inevitably drives the compliant political class to make expensive compromises.  This in turn generates pressure for punitive tax rates and irresponsible public borrowing; and, in the bargain, it elevates an elite regulatory class to power (in the illusion the mere regulations are cost free). The members of the new regulatory class are self-tasked to impose puritanical political correctness on the rest of us.

 

Rarely has the left been so out of touch with the “common people”.

 

My strong sense is that here in the USA and elsewhere, there is a growing populist backlash, one propelled by members of the threatened and former middle class. In my opinion, the members of the hard left actually fear a responsible aroused population. Only by scaring people sufficiently with a real catastrophe, can the resulting chaos be exploited by the utopian authoritarians – or others even worse.

 

America’s recovery will start with a conservative recovery if for no other reason than most and moderate liberals have been cowed into silence. But any conservative surge in the current left-leaning environment must necessarily be organized around the real life concerns that transcend popular ideological stereotypes. 

 

Conservatives cannot save the day alone.  They/we all need the support of the old fashioned, constitutionally grounded liberals, the sane, freedom-living moderates, and the struggling working people who are or aspire to be part of the American middle class.

 

Only a grand coalition of the “not-left” can prevent the collapse of the Grand Progressive Project from being the pretext for the arrival of something far more authoritarian.

 

The Fabian socialists of England took the better part of 40 years to tip that country into a sclerotic, failing, quasi-socialist basket case. It took Dame Margaret Thatcher, daughter of a grocer, the better part of two decades just to begin the turnaround.

 

Ultimate political success depends on policy success.  This prospect in turn rests on the ability of conservatives at every level to find, sell and implement the solutions the very efficacy of which will serve to expose the dysfunctional approaches of the current crop of illiberal-liberals…and, in the bargain, to make thing better.

 

At their best, conservatives exist to conserve the core values on which civilization depends. When conservatives stray from these core values, they cease to exist.

 

There really is a tide in human affairs and the tide is changing. Civilization depends on ordered freedom, the preservation of the institutions that support ordered freedom, and the ongoing creativity that fuels innovation and adaptivity. Neither conservatives nor liberals have – nor can they have – a perfect grasp of this eternal dynamic under shifting real world conditions.

 

A healthy civilization needs liberals to challenge arbitrary boundaries and conservatives to protect essential boundaries. A civilization without boundaries is a contradiction, like a multicellular organism in which the cells begin to lose their membranes, and the organism sickens and dies.  The cooperation of liberalism and conservatism requires dialogue, which in turn requires shared principles, and an attitude of humility that the ideologues will never share.

 

Long term human survival will depend on our ability to nurture and protect major centers of constructive creative activity everywhere feasible.  This will require the conservation of the life-affirming moral order, because creative innovation, when it is un-tethered from all morality, can and will be misappropriated by the next generation of tyrants.  This project will also require the conservation of the institutions that protect and foster general conditions of freedom.  All creative enterprises require this, whether they are artistic or technological. Creativity is an equal-opportunity disrupter of things as they are.  Yes, it produces inequalities; but without these inequalities, human progress stalls.

 

Many current partisans of left and right each have a blind spot where creative activities are concerned: The paleo-left, in its infatuation with artistic creativity, tends to marginalize or ignore the technological innovation side, while the paleo-right is almost a mirror image.  But life-affirming creativity resists compartmentalization, and the liberties that sustain it are indivisible.

 

The American experiment was and is the single most important exemplar and model of a creative civilization that has emerged to date. The temporary bankruptcy of modern progressive American liberalism provides an opening to a renewed, forward-aimed conservatism, one animated and informed by the vision of a creative civilization and the USA as the world’s single, viable exemplar.

 

There is a potential genius awakening among conservatives and thoughtful, morally grounded liberals who are willing to recognize and embrace this view.

 

To incorporate this insight into the conservative canon is to teach that creation, unmoored from the life-affirming moral order, will turn against itself, and that all those authoritarian civilizations that throttle creative endeavors will self-destruct. It is to teach that conservatism is the most reliable ally of American creativity. I believe that this creative form of conservatism will be to reactive, fire truck conservatism as a 3d color movie is to a 19th century daguerreotype.

 

When it arises, this will not to be the conservatism of your grandparents.  It will be the conservatism of the generations who will colonize other worlds. It will be the form of conservatism that saves liberalism from its own excesses and inaugurates a healthy two party system, in a healthy country buoyed and strengthened by a strong middle class supported and sustained by conservative values.

 

How will we know when the new conservatives have succeeded?  …When core conservative values are no longer seen as just conservative talking points, but as the essential values of any healthy, freedom-respecting, creative civilization.

 

JBG

 

 

First published on The Policy Think Site and linked Blogs.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

 

Links, forwards and fully attributed pull-quotes are authorized and encouraged.  For everything else, contact the author via email at law@jaygaskill.com .

 

 

Jay B Gaskill is an attorney, author & consultant, the former Public Defender for Alameda County, CA.

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Trust the Dollar?

WARNING SIGNS

– Forget not that Trust Thing–

THIS IS OUR NAKED EMPEROR MOMENT

What the Virtual Money trend can tell us about our “Real Money”

 

 

A CAUTION by

Jay B Gaskill

In the beginning, there was barter.  Before Europeans arrived in American, the aboriginal peoples used an informal trading system the scope of which was later detected when anthropologists discovered that crafts and other valuable goods had migrated through exchange trades for hundreds, even thousands of miles across the continent.  When a small tribe of Indians sold Manhattan Island to settlers for beads and trinkets, it was one of the earliest recorded currency frauds, just one in a series of “trust abuses” that would plague Western finance to the present day.

All civilizations depend ultimately on transactional trust.  Without that trust, our basic trading and other exchange relationships quickly fragment; and the general social order devolves into a turbulent stew of thievery, chaos and decline.

Early banking evolved from trusted trade brokers who kept careful books and maintained a reputation for honesty.  Governments followed in their wake, creating currencies anchored (at first) in concrete items of well-established value.

ENTER FIAT MONEY

Fiat – an authoritative or arbitrary order.

Fiat Money – Money that a government has declared that must be accepted as legal payment for any debt, the value of which is not backed up by any actual commodity. Fiat is Latin “it shall be”. Fiat money is faith money as in “full faith and credit”

 

U. S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8:The Congress shall have power to lay and collect Taxes…To coin money, regulate the Value thereof

 

 

 ENTER THE WORLD ECONOMY

 

When the USA was very new on the world stage, our international borrowing was a delicate matter with potentially dire consequences.  The money actually had to be paid back, principally from our export trade-earnings.  For debtor nations like the early post-colonial US, the books had to be kept in rough balance. A deadbeat former colony could quickly find itself crushed by repayment taxes, frozen out of international transactions or both.

Flash forward to the 21st century.  International transactions are so commonplace that they affect every American purchase from beer to hybrid cars.

Decades of irresponsible public borrowing have flourished because there is no large-scale, truly-local economy left in the international system.  Every major nation-state is both producer and customer and is dependent of other producer and consumer nations. Neither the production nor the consumption sectors can long exist without the other.  As a result, improvident borrowing –as subsidized by the device of making more fiat money, is more tolerated and accountability for sovereign debt seems ambiguous.  The specter of governments suffering immediate consequences for large unpaid loans is less common; the repayment issues are handled via adjustments in interest rates, changes over time in the trade balance, debt load and so on.

But the piper must be paid. Eventually there are painful consequences, as the Greek debacle has reminded us.

Many experts still tell us that the USA’s position in the world economy is “safe” because the dollar is still the world’s “reserve currency”.  But they are saying only that US currency has so far remained the most desirable currency in a mix where almost every player is overextended.

This is a weak reassurance, much like saying that, yes the American emperor actually has no clothes, but he is preening in a bath house where all the attendees are stark naked as well.

 

What is missing from this naïve, “no-worries” narrative?  The understanding that the US system is safe only because everyone who now loves the dollar is ignoring the fact that the entire economic system crucially depends on transactional trust.  Whenever that trust collapses, entire economies can go south.  So far, a few bubbles (dot com and real estate mortgages) have collapsed. Among our elites, that damage was considered manageable”.  If that reassurance was true, why are we being told that the current pattern of chronic, low wage underemployment may be the “new normal”?

ENTER BITCOIN AND THE VIRTUAL CURRENCIES

 

“ALL currencies involve some measure of consensual hallucination, but Bitcoin, a virtual monetary system, involves more than most. It is a peer-to-peer currency with no central bank, based on digital tokens with no intrinsic value. Rather than relying on confidence in a central authority, it depends instead on a distributed system of trust, based on a transaction ledger which is cryptographically verified and jointly maintained by the currency’s users.”

From The Economist

http://www.economist.com/news/technology-quarterly/21590766-virtual-currency-it-mathematically-elegant-increasingly-popular-and-highly

In other words, virtual money is a form of barter secured by an electronic bookkeeping system that is inter-convertible into various traditional currencies, as needed, or none of the above if the users end up bartering, say, oil for eggs. Thus, at least potentially, virtual money could become the gold standard of international commerce, provided its system retains sufficient credibility to warrant general trust.  The surge of virtual currencies early in the 21st century is less a measure of how much this “cool”, computer money can be trusted, as much as it is a sign of the declining trust in the various traditional sovereign currencies. 

Other virtual currencies based on the Bitcoin model are proliferating – among them are Litecoin, Namecoin and Peercoin.

Bitcoin is the major crypto currency. The term refers to a peer to peer, decentralized exchange model where cryptology validates the transactions and protects against counterfeiting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin is an economic pebble compared to the currencies of major governments. But it is a fast growing player.  Recently, a man accidently disposed of his laptop, forgetting that the hard drive contained a Bitcoin “wallet” worth $9 million.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2013/11/30/from-treasure-to-trash-man-tosses-out-bitcoin-wallet-on-hard-drive-worth-9-million/

All governments get in debt, and all government debt affects the value of the government’s currency vis a vis other currencies.  One all-too-easy solution to excessive government debt is chronic deficit spending, eventually leading to rampant inflation, currency devaluation and worse.  Examples include the failed 20th century “Banana” Republics of Latin America, and the pre-Hitler Weimar Republic in Germany.  In spite of these cautionary tales, major governments, notably ours, continue to press the limits of prudence.

At his writing, the US sovereign debt was 17.2 trillion dollars, about $150,000 per person. The overall public debt is running close to 72% of the annual gross domestic product. The annual interest expense for that debt, the service charge, is the one annually appropriated item in every federal budget that must be paid. Currently, the cost of our debt service is about $240 billion dollars, roughly equal to the entire cost of the U. S, Army. After the overall military budget (DOD appropriations, including Army, Air Force, Navy), the federal debt service is the second largest appropriation in the budget. …And just under half of US federal government debt is owed to foreign entities, principally the government of mainland China.

 

THE COMING INVASION OF REALISM

 

Realism is dependable. It always arrives to pierce our fantasy bubbles, whether it rides on the back of a disaster or as a storm-warning that drives a sudden course-correction.  Whether realism will arrive in time to head off a pending monetary/fiscal collapse remains an open question.

The international economic system is based on currency transactions among countries that, for the most part, are pressing the limits of acceptable borrowing and fiat money expansion policies. 

There are consequences: Entrepreneurs must live with the ongoing risk that circumstances in the world economic system can trigger disastrous currency devaluation at any moment.  This fact colors every international transaction.  That risk causes major business players to hesitate to enter into long term projects without securing political guarantees from local governments.

But political guarantees, like hostage negotiations, inevitably lead to the irrational allocation of precious resources. Two features of the entanglement of politics with long term private investments have conspired to hinder the emergence of a truly healthy American economy:   (1) Private investors are discouraged from investing in long term projects at all; (2) … those who do “play ball” with the politicians  more often than not end up seriously compromising otherwise sound business models.

Worries about currency instability result in an overemphasis on short term, quick revenue projects. The few long-term ones inevitably seek political cover, which leads to ill-conceived, and poorly executed business models.  In this way, the potential instability of the world economic system caused by over-reliance on fiat money is primary among the root causes of the “new normal” – chronically underpaid, underemployment.

A case in point: Silicon Valley is a rapid-result oriented economic test bed that produces more one-off millionaires than long term, well-paying jobs. The great majority of Google employees, for example, do not earn enough to own homes in Silicon Valley.

Granted, businesses around the world still prefer to be paid in dollars, but that enthusiasm is dwindling. The trend away from the dollar-as-favored- reserve is bound to accelerate if the US continues to play the “trust us” game to the very edge of incredibility.  At the current rate of dwindling confidence, the dollar’s role as the world’s “reserve currency” has a sell-by date.

This, then, is the main attraction of Bitcoin and the other virtual currencies[1]. Virtual currencies are a rapidly growing finance-model because the world economy’s Emperors are naked – and almost everybody knows it.  The virtual currency pitch is compellingly simple: Why not deal with a smaller, more manageable, “naked” (but well secured by encryption) currency regime, one that is inherently free from excessive political meddling, one where values are tied to the traded commodities themselves.

I have just described something that either looks like a very attractive alternative to the increasingly unreliable world currency system, OR as the single greatest threat to its continuation.

If present trends continue, virtual currencies will inevitably be recognized as a threat to the entire international system. Why?  Because these currencies are the first leaks in a large unstable dam, the edifice of international trade relationships.  At the moment, the aggregate size of virtual currencies is not enough to crack the dam.  But, as anyone who has studied the economic bubble phenomenon knows, that can change on a proverbial dime.

This possible threat leaves the USA and the other world currency players with essentially two choices: [1] Return to more conservative borrowing and monetary policy before one’s national transactional credibility is irrevocably damaged; [2] suppress the virtual currency alternatives.

Fictional Armageddon scenarios portray the survivors turning to barter. Don’t assume that major businesses have not thought this through. Here is the question that some savvy business analysts are already secretly asking themselves: If there is a currency collapse affecting our enterprise, how can a Bitcoin Wallet (or other virtual currency) allow is to continue to function?

To the extent that the question just posed is taken seriously by more and more businesses; and to the extent that the USA and other players fail to reverse the practices that are undermining trust in their own currencies, the political response is easy to predict:  We may see serious government attempts to “regulate” and ultimately suppress the emerging virtual currencies before the USA or the EU (assuming it even survives as an economic player) can recover a sufficient measure of fiscal and monetary sanity to put out the fire.

I do not profess to know the future, but the wise investor keeps one principle in mind: When complacency and reality collide, reality wins.

JBG

 

COPYRIGHT © 2013 BY JAY B GASKILL

FIRST PUBLISHED ON THE POLICY THINK SITE

Readers are invited to forward this article and/or to use pull quotes with full attribution.

For all other permissions and your comments, contact the author via email law@jaygaskill.com .



[1] I know that the crypto currencies are also useful for money laundering. This is an obvious rationale for government regulation (read political management) of virtual money, if not its outright illegalization.

 

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MAD AS HELL

HEADLINE: SHUTDOWN AND DEFAULT AVERTED!

REALITY:  NOT

Commentary by Jay B Gaskill

“I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore!”

 

If you are among angry at this point (& who isn’t?), you are probably in sharp disagreement with millions of other Americans who are equally angry at the same events.  This is a clue:

Read the entire post at this link –

http://jaygaskill.com/MadAsHell.htm

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THE ALEXANDER ALEXIS RAMPAGE

THE ALEXANDER ALEXIS RAMPAGE:

LET’S TRACE HIS Inputs

A Post-incident Analysis

Also on The Policy Think Site at – http://jaygaskill.com/AlexanderIncident.htm

By Jay B Gaskill

Yesterday, Alexander Alexis, a 34 year old male with a spotty history of anger outbursts, entered a secure naval facility (the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters) in Washington, DC.  He murdered thirteen people before he was himself killed.

Leaving aside the obvious security questions (Alexis passed “a background check and …received a secret clearance from the Defense Department”), there are at least four key elements of a deeper investigation into the “How could this happen and why?” questions. So…I propose the following starting point:

  1. The Alexis incident will be another example of the “malogenic” infection process (see my discussion below) of an unstable, vulnerable personality.
  2. This incident reveals a “moral firewall” failure, all too typical of the postmodern culture, exposing the limits of the therapeutic, mediation models.
  3. Investigators, having presumably eliminated the terrorist associations and influences, now need to follow the mental inputs, looking for malogenic ‘tells’.
  4. Expect to find a toxic “noetic” trail in the Alexander’s three computers.

“Mr. Alexis, according to a Seattle police report, had been arrested for shooting the right and left rear tires of another man’s vehicle with a .45-caliber pistol before firing a shot into the air. Mr. Alexis described the incident to detectives as an anger-fueled “blackout,” according to the report.

“Mr. Alexis had also been arrested in Fort Worth in 2010 for discharging a firearm after an upstairs neighbor said he had confronted her in the parking lot about making too much noise, according to a Fort Worth police report.

“In 2008, he had been arrested outside Atlanta for disorderly conduct related to a dispute inside a nightclub, according to a police report from Dekalb County. No weapon was involved in that incident, according to the police.”

Predictably (in my view), an “official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said that the gunman, Aaron Alexis, had been exhibiting symptoms of mental illness since at least his early 20s, before he joined the naval reserve and then went on to be a military contractor. The official said Mr. Alexis has been described by people who knew him as paranoid and delusional.

“He had complained of hearing voices and ringing of the ears,” the law enforcement official said about Mr. Alexis, although it is not clear whether Mr. Alexis had sought medical treatment.”

Credit all of the foregoing quotes to today’s (September 17, 2013) New York Times piece –http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/us/washington-navy-yard-shootings.html?Pagewanted=1&_r=0&hp

MALOGENS – Our Dangerous Cultural Toxins

 

The term, malogens (malevolent moral/mental pathogens) originated from an article of mine, Malogens – A Case Study: Evil Influence & Evil Outcome. It was an analysis of a satanic murder in the Bay Area during which I discovered several insights, among them that -

“Children and young ‘adults’ are subjected to a seductive torrent of bizarre, unfiltered material, both emotionally and morally disturbing; it seethes through the culture and the adolescent sub-cultures like a computer virus. This toxic material is relatively harmless to those who are well rooted in the deep ethical traditions that have upheld humanity, but it is highly contagious to New Age addled juvenile minds.  These are the malogens, the information-carried toxins (really they are moral pathogens); they saturate the internet; they are carried by computers, cell phones and personal contact wherever “modern” juveniles congregate.

“Why are these toxins able to propagate so freely? There is no effective resistance. The New Age fog has disabled the faculty of critical intelligence among thousands of Northern Californians. These are the putative adults for whom the traditions of integrity and courage that animated the ‘Greatest Generation’ have long been forgotten.

“We inhabit a culture that is paralyzed by moral ambivalence and remains apparently unable – like the characters in Harry Potter who couldn’t utter the name of Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort – to actually recognize and name evil, even when it makes one of its blatant appearances.”

In that Satanic killing case, I noted that the killer “was effectively disconnected from the great moral/ethical traditions that have sustained civil society, yet was strongly connected to an amoral and anti-moral subculture.”

{Reference – http://jaygaskill.com/Malogens.htm}

In a later article, addressing the Aurora, Colorado killings, I added these observations:

“Grave wickedness, especially when it takes the form of real Evil is a deep puzzle for all the sophisticated modern and postmodern minds among us because it exposes the naked vulnerability of a weakened moral immune system.  When the ‘can’t we all get along?’” models just don’t cut it; when ‘that nice young man’ executes a bloodbath; when that ancient most ancient enemy of humanity surfaces – the bland face of intelligent malevolence – our modern sensibilities prompt us to seek refuge in the medical, therapeutic models.  We tend to do this because we are clinging to a monumental lie: that all human-on-human ‘badness’ is psychosis, or a cry for help, the result of oppressive social conditions, or of neurological wiring issues.

“None of these social, physiological or psychological conditions belong to the moral category.  That category is Evil, which is a topic about which I have often been asked to share my insights. As a criminal defense attorney, a careful observer of the human condition, my experiences in New York City near ground zero on 9-11-01 led to some reflection, then to a panel discussion in the Bar Area.  As a result, I arrived at some fresh (and old fashioned) insights. The elevator version: Evil with a capital “E” is real; it is an overused and underappreciated term; in my moral universe it a narrow and very dangerous moral category.  When encountered in the real world, Evil is that which entails a robust, intelligent – even ruthless – moral response among the morally aware. But Evil presents difficulties for modern minds, because for many of these misguided souls, Evil does not even exist.” From “The Futility of ‘Shrinking’ Evil -And Other Lessons from the Aurora ‘Dark Knight’ Massacre

{Reference – http://jaygaskill.com/ShrinkingEvil.htm}

Not all “troubled youth”, not all schizophrenics, not all (in my former clients’ eloquent epithet) sick f***s, end up as bloody minded nihilists who leave a trail of dead bodies before they are apprehended or killed.  The therapeutic model has its merits but cases like this one expose its severe limits.

 

THE MISSING FIREWALL

 

The moral order, the essential foundational social architecture on which any civilization worthy of the name depends, is formed of the union of reason, moral intelligence, real world experience and valuable tradition.  It is our only firewall against the evil and nihilistic influences that inhabit the postmodern culture and (thinking of the three electricity hungry computers that occupied Mr. Alexis for countless hours) have deeply infiltrated the information swamp that saturates modern life.

The moral order is not ultimatelysustainable by mere feelings of good will or by some vague, oceanic compassion. As valuable as those attitudes and orientations can be, they do not of themselves stay the evil minds who acquire deadly weapons, nor do they prevent the malogenic infections of the vulnerable personalities among us.

Our vitally necessary moral firewall requires moral principles, implementing rules and the underlying confidence in their ultimate truth that only comes from deep tradition and the abiding belief that there is much more to human life than mere “stuff.”

there are more like this one

 

This is no idle, academic matter.  Terrorist ideologies readily attach themselves to the vulnerable minds that have been compromised by the malogenic influences that seethe through the culture. But if it’s not the work of jihad or Satan, it can just be nihilistic violence.

The moral order does not automatically perpetuate itself. There is nothing wrong with traditional morality, especially with its essential components, the biblical injunctions against mendacity, theft and murder, except its seeming rejection by over-sophisticated intellectuals who have promoted over-reliance on the therapeutic model.

I’ve addressed this on the philosophical level (http://jaygaskill.com/CoreHumanDiscovery.pdf ), but for most of us that is an unnecessary exercise.

We simply need to wake up to the fact that principle and rule-based moral teaching, grounded in faith and / or philosophy / and honored tradition, is no longer favored or taught as widely or with the conviction as it once was.

Alexis and others are providing us with more than horrific news stories.  They are the early warning signs of a decaying moral culture.

Watch closely over the next few weeks.

Will anyone seriously attempt to identify and unpack the moral toxins embedded is Mr. Alexis’s hard drives?

Will it matter?

Will we learn from it?

 

JBG

Copyright 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Contact for all permissions and comments: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com .

Jay B Gaskill is a California attorney who served as the 7th chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, California.

 

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ENTER STAGE RIGHT: V. PUTUN, THE CUDDLY HUMANITARIAN

THE WOLF SPEAKS TO THE SHEEP

ENTER STAGE RIGHT:

V. PUTUN, THE CUDDLY HUMANITARIAN

{Published on the Policy Think Site at <http://jaygaskill.com/PutinAsCuddlesTheWolf.htm>.}

By Jay B Gaskill

For The Policy Think Site www.jaygaskill.com

Vlad, the (former) KGB ruler of Russia, has come to President Obama’s aid bearing an olive branch … through clenched teeth.

Today, the New York Times ran Putin’s Op Ed.  {In fairness, I have reproduced it in full below – without advance clearance from the KGB or the NYT.)

Mr. Putin’s Op Ed is skillfully constructed. It is full of humanitarian buzz words and phrases – I call them “gushlets”. – No doubt they were cynically inserted by a Russian expert in “liberal-speak”.  I begin with an early response from key Israeli figures whose beleaguered country has by far the most to lose in this deadly game.

 

PART ONE: THE NOT FOOLED

New York Times 9-11-13

U.S. Backing of Russian Plan Leaves a Wary Israel Focusing on Self-Reliance

By JODI RUDOREN

“JERUSALEM — In tallying winners and losers from the unexpected turn toward a potential diplomatic resolution of the crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons, Israel lands squarely in the question-mark column.

“….many analysts worried that Mr. Assad, his Iranian patrons and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah would emerge strengthened, and that the main upshot of the episode would be a sense of American wavering on involvement in the Middle East.

“When the Iranians see this, they don’t fear a military threat,” Tzachi Hanegbi, an Israeli lawmaker with security expertise who is close to the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel Radio. “To the contrary, they feel the international coalition is weak and stuttering and not enough of a reason to give up their nuclear program.”

Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said the message to Iran was that “America’s allies cannot rely on it, that its enemies can do what they want and nothing will happen to them.” Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s former foreign minister and Mr. Netanyahu’s political partner, reacted to the developments with what has become practically a mantra here, “We rely only on ourselves.”

 

PART TWO: FAWNS RUNNING WITH WOLVES

 

EXCERPTS

…from Mr. Putin’s Op Ed with JBG’s {running commentary}.

September 11, 2013

A Plea for Caution From Russia

By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN

“MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

‘The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims …”

{Omitted in this discussion was any mention of the “innocent” victims killed in Russia’s brutal response to Muslim rebels in Chechnya, or of the potential immolation of Israel via an Iranian nuclear attack. JBG}

“From the outset, Russia  has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future.’

{Somehow I missed that stunning Russian contribution to peace and freedom in Syria.  Was I asleep, or was Putin just making a joke? JBG}

“But force has proved ineffective and pointless. … In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day.’

{Oh dear.  Saddam, the brutal and dangerous dictator was deposed, Iraq has a functioning civil democracy, slightly impaired because Obama has withdrawn support, and “dozens” are killed each day.  Has the Russian President checked Chicago, LA and Oakland lately? JBG}

“…civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.”

“We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”

“We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.”

“If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.”

{No one in the Russian security establishment gives a crap about “civilian casualties”, not “using the language of force”, “keeping hope alive” or “improving the atmosphere.” JBG}

“My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust”

{Translation:I have never trusted this guy, but now I think I can play him’.}

[Putin opposes] “American exceptionalism, [Mr. Obama] stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

{Translation: ‘I, Vlad Putin, believe in Russian exceptionalism and there is no room for the American version. JBG}

“There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

{I can hear the snickers in the Kremlin from thousands of miles away.}

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

 

CONCLUSION

We are dealing with international thugs.  The rules for this never change.  Do not show weaknessNever bluff.

An open-ended diplomacy initiative to Assad amounts to permission to dither and game us while continuing to fight a civil war to the death.  It is tantamount to an invitation to ignore us.

And it amounts to a message to the Mullahs-in-Charge who run Iran: Go ahead with your nuclear program, “make your day”.

A tough leader would give Assad a firm deadline then hit him hard when (not if) he fails to meet it.  A really tough leader with strategic vision would use this whole mess as a distraction while we prepare – in secret – to rain down the hounds of hell on Iran, taking out naval, military and suspect nuclear assets as a “got your attention yet?” warning for worse to come.

But if there is such a leader, he is absent from White House.

JBG

 

This piece follows three short articles by Mr. Gaskill posted at –

http://www.jaygaskill.com/OBAMATWAR.htm

http://www.jaygaskill.com/POTUSinTRAINING.htm

http://www.jaygaskill.com/HauntedObama.htm

 

Except for the quoted material, this is Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Author contact – law@jaygaskill.com

 

FULL TEXT – WHAT PRESIDENT OBAMA SAID

My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria, why it matters and where we go from here. Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition and to shape a political settlement.

But I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening, men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.

This was not always the case. In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust. Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 government that represent 98 percent of humanity.

On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.

No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cellphone pictures and social media accounts from the attack. And humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.

Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area they where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.

Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack. And the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.

When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other day until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied.

The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.

As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.

If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.

This is not a world we should accept. This is what’s at stake. And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. That’s my judgment as commander in chief.

But I’m also the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possessed the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress, and I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.

This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.

Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular. After all, I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq, our troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and I know Americans want all of us in Washington, especially me, to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home, putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class. It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.

First, many of you have asked: Won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.

My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.

Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.

Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation. We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other — any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.

Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights? It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But al-Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death. The majority of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition we work with just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.

Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force?

And several people wrote to me, we should not be the world’s policeman. I agree. And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations. But chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

However, over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.

It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.

I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to met his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closet allies, France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

We’ll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st. And we will continue to rally support from allies, from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East who agree on the need for action.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. And tonight I give thanks again to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.

And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask: What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way? Franklin Roosevelt once said our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.

Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.

With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

 

 

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Mr. Obama’s Haunting Moment

Firetruck

SEPTEMBER 11, 2012

Mr. Obama’s Haunting Moment

A Message from

Jay B Gaskill

 

I am haunted by memories today.

On this date in 2001, my wife and I were in Manhattan, smelling the dust, seeing the grief and tears at close range, walking the emptying streets of Mid-town, seeing a ravaged fire truck, crumpled like a run-over toy, people huddled on street corners, jets flying over skyscrapers….

But great evil generates an outpouring of great good. By September 12th, we sensed a surge of greatness and generosity among the people who remained in Manhattan, and who gathered in a nearby park. In the following days, all Americans hoped that President Bush would emerge as the strong leader that history demanded.

Then there he was, standing in the rubble at ground zero three days later, inspired by the rough men around him [You could tell he was comfortable with them – alter all, he ran an oil rig company and a baseball team.] Bob Beckwith, a firefighter was standing next to Mr. Bush in the rubble. As he later told Time Magazine:

“I got home and I told my wife, ‘I’m going down,’ ” he said, referring to the smoldering remains of the Twin Towers.

“At first, his family dissuaded him from going to Ground Zero, but after Beckwith discovered that one of his colleague’s sons was one of the hundreds of firefighters missing, he put on his old uniform, strapped on his helmet and went to join the rescue efforts.

“Beckwith had to finagle his way into Ground Zero when he approached the heavily guarded perimeter.

“I said, ‘Come on, guys. You know I got to get in there.’ I showed them my identification card from the fire department and so a couple of guys let me through,” Beckwith said.

“Once inside the perimeter, Beckwith got a firsthand look at the charred remains of the World Trade Center and immediately began working to find survivors.”

“And the president came and he is shaking hands with all the ironworkers and all the cops and all the firemen that were down there … and I figure he’s going over to the microphones, but he makes a quick right, and he puts his arm up and I said, ‘Oh my God!’ “

After helping the president onto the truck, Beckwith begins to crawl down, but Bush stops him.

“He says, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘Uh, I was told to get down.’ He said, ‘No, no, you stay right here.’ “

A voice called out “We can’t hear you Mr. President!” President George Bush picks up a bull horn:

President Bush: Thank you all. I want you all to know — it [the bullhorn] can’t go any louder –  I want you all to know that American today, American today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. The nation stands with the good people of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens

Rescue Worker: I can’t hear you!

President Bush: I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!

Rescue Workers: [Chanting] U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

President Bush: The nation — The nation sends its love and compassion –

Rescue Worker: God bless America!

President Bush: — to everybody who is here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for makin’ the nation proud, and may God bless America.

Rescue Workers: [Chanting] U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

-

Such images and thoughts still haunt me as I watch our latest president wrestle with the consequences of his irresolution and reluctance in the face of America’s enemies.

OUR LEADER IN 2013

[]

Peggy Noonan on her blog in the Wall Street Journal

“The president has backed away from a military strike in Syria. But he can’t acknowledge this or act as if it is true. He is acting and talking as if he’s coolly, analytically, even warily contemplating the Russian proposal and the Syrian response. The proposal, he must know, is absurd. Bashar Assad isn’t going to give up all his hidden weapons in wartime, in the middle of a conflict so bitter and severe that his forces this morning reportedly bombed parts of Damascus, the city in which he lives. In such conditions his weapons could not be fully accounted for, packed up, transported or relinquished, even if he wanted to. But it will take time—weeks, months—for the absurdity to become obvious. And it is time the president wants. Because with time, with a series of statements, negotiations, ultimatums, promises and proposals, the Syria crisis can pass. It can dissipate into the air, like gas.”

[]

Mr. Obama, speaking to the American people last night, while backing down….

“Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons.”

…over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.

It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed

“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.”

-

Frederick W. Kagan, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, former professor of military history at the West Point Military Academy, writing in The Weekly Standard

“American interests in Syria are clear: preventing terrorists from acquiring chemical weapons; depriving Iran of its most important ally and staging-base in the Middle East; and preventing al Qaeda from establishing an uncontested safe haven in the Levant.

-

“Syria’s use of chemical weapons by itself dramatically increases the risk of those weapons falling into al Qaeda’s hands. Any action the United States and its allies could take to dissuade Assad from continuing that use—thereby persuading him to keep the weapons locked up as securely as he can—is a step toward reducing that risk.

“The best solution, of course, would be to destroy the weapons or remove them from Syria. Simply bombing them from the air poses unacceptable risks, unless they are about to be seized by terrorists. There is a risk of releasing clouds of toxic gas that could kill scores or hundreds of innocent civilians, even when using advanced bombs designed to incinerate chemical weapons. Using such advanced munitions, moreover, would require putting manned aircraft over Syrian airspace, which in turn means attacking the Syrian air defense system in advance. Bombing secured bunkers also makes it impossible to determine with certainty whether all of the weapons were destroyed, while simultaneously exposing the storage facility to plunder by scattering (at the very least) its guard force.”

My PERSONAL take:

CONTEXT:

If you haven’t yet read them, I invite you to take a look at two brief pieces I posted earlier on The Policy Think Site (www.jaygaskill.com),

Obama at War: Bully like a Flea – Sting like a Butterfly

Our President’s Teaching Moment

 

My most recent article concluded with the observation that “many of Mr. Obama’s missteps have been less damaging than they could have been because he has been remarkably lucky. We should all wish President Obama good luck this time.

The President’s good luck, on this occasion, came in the form of a “rescue” by Russia’s Thug-In-Chief, V. Putin, who has proposed to “help” us persuade the embattled Assad regime to transfer its nerve gas weapons (some of which may represent the remnants of Saddam’s WMD cache) to the UN.

Peace is at hand? Don’t hold your breath.

Our President was spared the embarrassment of a full back-down or the ignominy of a botched attempt to punish a brutal dictator. He was spared by an authoritarian Russian leader with an agenda.

Over the last 4 years and 8 months, our president has demonstrated only one clear leadership skill.  It is his talent to do smooth, chameleon-like mutations of positions calibrated to advance his personal political advantage in the moment.

It is an act.  The act is wearing thin. 

 

So I am haunted by memories today – and by the “what ifs?” they inspire.

A thought experiment: Setting aside all your political / ideological leanings, ask yourself this-

 Given this President’ bundle of character traits, predispositions and decision-making disabilities, as we now see them revealed, would he be up to the challenge of a 9-11 attack?

JBG

Except for the quoted material from other sources,

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Please forward this as you see fit.

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Bully Like a Flea – Sting Like a Butterfly

 

OBAMA AT WAR:

Bully Like a Flea – Sting Like a Butterfly[1]

 

A Brutally Honest Analysis by Jay B Gaskill

This needs to be put bluntly: For Mr. Obama, national security is theater.  

Mr. Obama is playing a game.  In this game, the President of the United States gets to use the giant defense arsenal of the US security and military apparatus as a prop for the “grand gesture” on the world stage.  Mr. Obama seems to lack the insight to realize that he is playing that game. Nor does he appear to realize that his national security posture is a self-serving story, a tale being made up as he goes along, part of the book about himself he is writing in his head (“Dreams of my Exploits”).

Our president is clueless about his own decision processes. Our president is addicted to the politics of gesture.  His foreign policy is gesture politics, writ large.

Consider is how the Middle East looked before the disastrous Arab “Spring.”

The long-standing peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (negotiated with Anwar Sadat, who was later assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood) was secure.  For the first time in memory, Iraq was enjoying a stable democratic government at peace with its neighbors. The Turkish government was still secular and tolerant, enjoying the legacy of Ataturk, the father of the Turkish Republic. Of course, Iran was engaged in a duplicitous jihad strategy, building an atomic bomb capability, lying about it, supporting terror through its client state, Syria, and the jihadi Hezbollah forces supported there, and lying about that.  Syria was run by Assad, a terrorist-supporting dictator operating under the false colors of a moderate dictator.

All that was before the Arab “Springtime for Jihad” emerged, full blown, a bitter parody of hope and change. Now consider the present moment.

  • The fragile optimism of the Arab Spring has evaporated.
  • The liberal-secular elements in the Syrian rebel forces have lost control of the revolution there.  Now the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist elements are in charge.
  • In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood swamped the first national election and installed one of its own as president of Egypt. In an Emperor’s New Clothes moment, Morsi was evicted. Of course, the Brotherhood is rioting; and our president is wringing his (metaphorical) hands.
  • The Iranian nuclear bomb program is approaching the point of no return (amid more presidential hand-wringing).
  • Hezbollah is now a renewed regional threat.

Let’s leave all the gestures, the spin and the blame game-aside: We face a grave threat. Wishful thinking has failed.

The US national interest does not change just because the security situation deteriorates or because POTUS chooses to ignore the facts on the ground. Consider:

  • The USA, the region and the world, still need a Middle East that is no longer a terrorist incubator.
  • This requires a stable and peaceful Iraq and a secure, productive Israel, at peace with the US and its neighbors.
  • The bloody-minded jihadists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, remain an existential threat to our security interests, and must be marginalized.
  • Iran must not be allowed to destabilize the region, and cannot be allowed to become a nuclear power.
  • Syria’s role as the terror-client-of-Iran must be ended, and Hezbollah needs to be crushed.
  • The pre-911 isolationism prevalent in the US is just as toxic now as it ever was.

None of our major security objectives can be attained, nor can our security situation be improved, by a few, pre-announced missile strikes on selected targets in Syria.  Hezbollah will not be crushed.  The Jihad will not be tamed.

The time to fruitfully intervene in the Syrian rebellion was before the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the rebels. That opportunity was squandered months ago while Mr. Obama so was absorbed in his “analytic calculations” that he failed to lead.

Either Assad will win or the radicalized rebels will.  There will be hell to pay in either scenario. But going forward, we cannot allow the hostile, terror-supporting regime poised to emerge in Syria to acquire the resources to support and export terror. 

History’s authentic leaders are remembered because they led.  History’s temporizers and appeasers are remembered because they did not. The good leaders took the stage when the moment was ripe, and boldly implemented the measures needed to protect their country’s vital interests in a time of peril. The non-leaders punted.

Leading from behind is not leadership at all.  It is a pretense.

There is one secret to coping successfully with the thuggish regimes that populate world politics.  Be tougher than they are, and never bluff. Thugs can tell the difference between the feather display of an angry peacock and the warning growl of an angry lion.

Is it too late to salvage this mess? …Not at all.

No other country in history has enjoyed the ability to project massive destructive power at the distances and to the extent that US forces still can.  Even in our weakened circumstances, America still has the raw military capability to bring down the regimes in Iran and Syria without deploying massive ground troops.  By using air power relentlessly and without concern for the opinions of others, American military assets can readily destroy the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, most of Hezbollah’s forces, the navy and air defenses of Iran, and its major economic assets.  Syria can be dealt with at the same time.  The USA is still that powerful.

When American military and national security resources are credibly unleashed, ready and willing to do real damage, they are far less likely to be used.

But is it too late for this president to salvage something from this mess?  That poses a question of character, judgment and courage.  Can you imagine this American president seizing the moment and saving the day?

I can’t.  Our president is handicapped by his own prior decisions and non-decisions, and by some innate character flaws.  In a word, Mr. Obama is decision-challenged.  Our adversaries – and they are legion – have Figured This Out.

No one is afraid of the United States under this president; Mr. Obama’s threats are likely to be dismissed as political posturing.  Perhaps they should not be, but perceptions govern actions; and thugs are goaded on by the perception of weakness.  This is one reason that the Russians did not hesitate to deploy major naval assets into the Middle East conflict region.

And it is the chief reason that weak presidents are more dangerous to the peace than strong ones.

JBG

First Published on the Policy Think Site, Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Permission to forward this article is granted by the author.

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[1] Apologies to the legendary American boxer, Mohammed Ali (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., January 17, 1942-), who famously said, “I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

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CONSERVATISM’s MISSING COMPASS

Without its moral code, conservatism will fade away;

BUT WITH IT,

Conservatism can lead a 21st century American renaissance

 

Political Analysis

By

Jay B Gaskill

 

 

The alcohol prohibition era of the last century was a failed experiment in liberal social engineering. Political correctness is the new puritanism; this overreach by progressive liberalism is an opening for the resurgence of a practical, reasonable, morally anchored conservatism, presented with clarity and humor.                

Any long-term conservative recovery must grow from a well-understood and easily explained moral core.  Otherwise, conservatives will be pissing into the progressive headwinds, mouths open, eyes unprotected and compasses gone wild.

CAUTION: The conservative moral core is not centered on the feel-good therapeutic values of the left – nor is it one more version of the harsh, overly judgmental values attributed the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

By necessary implication, the conservative moral code contains the core features of our common morality, the principles and precepts that undergird any healthy civilization (as in no stealing, cheating, lying, raping, pillaging, assaulting or trespassing on/against innocent men, women and children).

People still assume that these common moral precepts are equally shared by modern liberals, but that is not always the case.  If you doubt this, study the positions of t progressive left activists on law and criminal justice, on terrorism and national security.

A robust adherence to traditional moral values among the loudest voices of the progressive left? Not so much. The Democratic Party attempts to compensate for this embarrassment by going for the images we associate with America’s moral comfort zone. Think of the liberal in Southern or Midwestern clothing, like candidates Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The current leader of the Democratic Party, our president, is an outlier.  This is true both in policy terms and style. Most Americans, and a large plurality of Democrats, are disenchanted, but criticism is muted because Mr. Obama is protected by a politically-correct force field.  That free pass is revoked in 2016.

CORE ELEMENTS OF THE CONSERVATIVE MORAL CODE

The conservative moral code inspires and drives five distinctly conservative projects:

Protect all innocent American men, women and children, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, conventional or unconventional, from criminals, terrorists, invaders and other predators, including government itself.

Protect all law-abiding productive, creative and striving Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional, from the cadres of invasive, bureaucratic, puritanical officials bent on punishing success, hindering accomplishment and achievement, and meddling with creative initiative and freedom, in all its manifold forms.

v  Promote upward mobility for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional.

v  Ensure individual personal accountability for failures and misdeeds, while protecting the fruits of success for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, conventional or unconventional.

v  Commit to practical, commonsense policies that work in the real world; and relentlessly expose the opposite ones promoted by the progressive left.

These are the five touchstones of big-picture, morally-anchored, forward-aimed conservatism.  All the rest – the bickering, the honest the policy differences, the rhetoric, all of it – is small change.

Why are these five goals both conservative and morally grounded? How can this be explained in simple, commonsense terms?

Nineteenth and twentieth century conservatives like Edmund Burke and Winston Churchill in the UK, and eighteenth and nineteenth century conservatives like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln in the USA were considered liberals in an entirely different context and sense than in the present usage.  They, like the shopkeepers, artisans and professionals who rose up in the 18th and 19th centuries against royal privilege and control, were not levelers, driven by resentment of the hard-won achievements of others. They were achievers and aspiring achievers in their own right, those who opposed the dead hand of the titled classes, challenging the ersatz achievement of inherited status of the complacent royals who would suppress the aspirations of the real achievers.  This was classical liberalism, and it is part of the modern conservative heritage.  It is rooted in two morally anchored ideas, a belief in the innate dignity-status of every human being, and in the concomitant right to earn and own property, including land.

There once was a rock solid moral consensus among Americans, both liberal and conservative, that went something like this:

We believe in the dignity of the individual, in her or his absolute right to earn and keep property, to defend self, family and home against predators; and we believe in a country that takes as its first responsibility the duty to protect its individual citizens from such invasions; and undertakes to refrain, itself, from becoming another invader. 

And, by virtue of our country’s essential legitimacy as a guarantor of the personal dignity of its citizens, we believe that the USA is and should remain a mighty nation worthy of defense from all enemies domestic and foreign, a defense to which we, as Americans, are firmly bound.

Somehow in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, progressive liberals “evolved”.  Now they are no longer “comfortable” with this consensus. And they have quietly discarded the classic liberalism of the Founders.

Instead, modern, movement-progressives tend to misappropriate the common language, twisting and obfuscating the old terms – for example – subordinating individual rights to collective “claims” that are deliberately mislabeled “rights”.

In manifold, subtle ways, over the better part of a century, through curriculum changes in schools and academy, through conversions of a critical mass of the chattering classes, a takeover of the media, progressives have been busy with the “mind-change project”: to overwrite the older (read outmoded) moral code with a vaguely therapeutic morality.

In place of criminal justice they propose “treatment”.  In place of individual, restorative justice, they propose collective “social justice”.  In place of the right to own property they propose “social responsibility”.  But without the right to property, we become the de facto property of the governing elites.

The key principle conservatives need to fiercely defend here is that justice and morality are part of one in the same determination: An individual accounting based on individual responsibility.

Because (to paraphrase Acton) politics corrupts, and absolute politics corrupts absolutely, the power of the “people” (read the power of political classes) to control how and where we individuals live, work, earn, keep and spend – and with whom, for whom, presents a grave moral issue.  Conservatives need to respond to all this in a way that incorporates common sense morality at every turn. Human freedom, as a value, springs from the respect for individual human dignity in the context of the moral obligation to respect the individual human dignity of those who do the same.

Beware the utilitarian argument.  Allowing a free market may be more “efficient” and may over time generate more “income”, but those very terms invite the end of freedom when its exercise is less “efficient”.  Substitute the phrase “allowing me to live my own life” for “allowing a free market”. Now spend a minute reflecting how, in an interest-group-driven political regime, being “allowed to live my own life” might become inconvenient to the political classes.

There are utilitarian arguments for protecting the “productive, creative and striving” among us from petty officials.  And there are utilitarian arguments for assessing accountability for “failures and misdeeds, while protecting the fruits of success”. But suppose these are restated as a moral principle, applicable to all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional. Do you sense the change?  The utilitarian arguments are suddenly ennobled and acquire potency – when the arguments are explained and added – words have the power to stop the progressive juggernaut in its tracks.

And the practice of soft-balling values in favor of utilitarian arguments can lose elections. In an astute analysis of the GOP defeat in 2008, Values Voters Prevail Again by Christopher Caldwell[1], pointed out that the republicans allowed the democrats to dominate the values debate “Where two candidates argue over values, the public may prefer one to the other. But where only one candidate has values, he wins, whatever those values happen to be.”

You may notice that I included, as a specifically conservative principle, the obligation to “promote upward mobility for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional.”

America is the product of upward mobility; it is in our DNA.  The ideal of upward mobility is a statement of moral principle for Americans.

Conservatives support this ideal without using therapeutic language or proposing an open ended entitlement model.  This is a statement of conservative principle, of the core moral belief in human dignity, and of conservative support for the American Dream as a primary moral value.

Conservatives are about practical, commonsense policies that work in the real world. Upward mobility does not apply to invaders.  Nor does it entail downward mobility through welfare addiction.  But it does apply to all those “huddled masses, yearning to be free” once they are legitimately and legally present as our neighbors. It is a sign of deep respect.

As an illustration, only (this is not about personalities), I suggest that Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator, has not placed himself outside the intra-conservative dialogue by leading out on “immigration reform.”

Conservatives will disagree on aspects of the policy merits. But while doing so, every conservative in the conversation needs to explain the core moral commitment to upward mobility, and to outline workable conservative policies that are consistent with that principle.

THE OBLIGATION TO EXPLAIN AND PERSUADE

“Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
Ronald Reagan, White House Conference on Small Business (August 15, 1986)

President Reagan was particularly good at this because of the confluence of unique circumstances in his life. He lived and worked among Hollywood liberals; he spent years as a patriotic spokesman for General Electric; he honed his policy and rhetorical skills as a two term California governor; he was continually underestimated by his opponents; and he achieved moral clarity in part because he was a privately religious man, and in part because the Cold War demanded and facilitated moral clarity.

Almost all Beltway politicians – and most others, tend to repeat rote phrases as a shorthand for arguments never made; or when pressed, they repeat standard arguments with little explanation and less conviction.  This leaves us with the conservative cause in the less-than-capable hands of men and women content to piss into the progressive headwinds, unaware that their mouths are open, eyes unprotected and compasses gone wild. These are the would-be leaders who are content only to “stir up the base” while persuading almost no one among the un-persuaded.

For all the reasons indicated, and more, the forward-aiming conservative case will be a compelling reason for a majority of voters in 2016 to actually elect the conservative alternative over a liberal-progressive, the virtually inevitable Democratic candidate.

But that case cannot be made just then; and only belatedly incorporated into the run up to the coming presidential election. The case needs to be made now and by hundreds of different public voices.

To paraphrase Mr. Reagan, a conservative should not speak ill of another conservative in times like these.

Every single public figure, every woman or man in the public square with a legitimate place in the conservative dialogue, everyone who begins to personify the resurgence of a practical, reasonable, morally anchored conservatism presented with clarity and humor, is hereby deemed an ally of the conservative movement and, by extension, an ally of the American Renaissance.

 

Government is like a baby – an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.

►Ronald Reagan

 

In times like these, all allies are to be cultivated and respected. We might as well be living in the Cold War, because the stakes for the survival of this remarkable, beloved country of ours could not be higher.

The hope of hundreds of millions of people around the globe, looking at us from a remove, are captured in the phrase, “God save America”.

But, we are the Americans. And as the Bard wrote[2], our fate is not in our stars, but ourselves….

JBG

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwards are welcome & encouraged. For other permissions & comments: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com.

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