Letter to the (Albany) Times Union re: the Paris Accord

The following letter appeared (slightly edited) in the Albany Times Union Thursday, June 15.

The Times Union ignores reality in its response to President Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord (“Mr. Trump Defies Reality,” 6/2/2017).

Instead of accepting the president’s rationale as stated in his press conference, the TU makes up its own motive: climate denial. Instead of trying to refute the president’s arguments that the Paris Accord would be harmful to the American economy costing us tens of thousands of jobs and increasing energy costs to the average householder by thousands of dollars annually, the TU is worried that our withdrawal will hurt our image and “good name,” lead scientists to leave the country, and harm our economic competitiveness.

The TU ignores the reality that the U.S. is the world leader in environmental stewardship and that our businesses are committed to the best practices to reduce pollution and conserve energy and resources.

The President’s withdrawing from Paris was not accompanied by a plan to change any of that. To the contrary. What led Mr. Trump to withdraw was that Paris would be bad for the U.S. Not only does it fail to accomplish the goal of reducing green-house gases significantly but it allows polluters like China and India to keep polluting while forcing the U.S. to pay.

Like NATO, where the member nations assume the U.S.––like Daddy Warbucks––is ready to finance their every request, Paris was written on the assumption that the U.S. needs to be punished for being the world’s most prosperous and powerful nation. The reality is it’s time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate and show us their commitment to the environment. We’re already doing our share.

When motive not fact becomes the basis for discourse

People complain a lot these days about the divisions in our society. Some put stickers on their car bumpers in favor of civility and say the world needs more love in the face of terrorist attacks and political infighting.

What’s odd, however, is how so many of those who preach compassion refuse to debate the merits of an issue and dismiss others on the basis of their motives.

Take for example, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords. Rather than respond to his stated rationale, which was that the agreement was damaging to the U.S. economy without doing very much to improve the environment, people attributed his decision to his being a “climate denier.” In other words, they say we shouldn’t look at what Trump said about his decision, but conclude his remarks are a cover for his true motives.

This is not an isolated instance, but represents a pattern by people on the Left when they don’t like something someone who is a Republican, or worse a conservative, does or says. By labeling their opponents greedy, bigoted, misogynist, or racist, critics don’t have to deal with their opponents’ actual positions or behaviors.

The same tactic is used against those who defend the existence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank). Critics call those who defend the so-called settlements “colonialists” who engage in apartheid, but in doing so they refuse to take into account why they exist in those locations––their origins and history. To some, a Zionist––someone who supports the existence of a Jewish state in the land where Judaism was born––is a racist, end of story.

Attacking someone’s views by claiming their motives are impure is an attempt to avoid having to deal with the fact that all individuals are imperfect and that people can change. Those on the Left can’t accept the possibility that while Mr. Trump has faults, he might be giving us his honest beliefs about something like Paris. Isn’t dismissing his or anyone else’s every statement itself a form of bigotry?

A perfect example was the media’s attacking Trump for bumping into an official from Montenegro in Geneva. It was cited as evidence of his boorishness, when calmer reflection suggests it was the kind of incident that has probably happened to many of us in certain social situations. Attribution of motive replaced rational explanation.

The unwillingness of people to take others at their word suggests a defensiveness about their own positions. For example, why won’t those who support Paris respond to Mr. Trump’s assertion that the agreement would accomplish little at such a great cost? Could Mr. Trump be correct in claiming a better agreement is possible––i.e., one that would do more to reduce pollution without blackmailing the U.S. to pay for others to clean up their problems? His critics can avoid such a discussion by doubting his motive, which protects them from having to defend their own logic and their facts.

With regard to the Jewish communities in the West Bank, their existence only represents an impediment to peace if one ignores the fact that no Palestinian leader has been willing to concede the existence of a Jewish state where Israel currently exists much less one that includes traditional Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians won’t accept any boundaries that thwart their demographic majority. Instead they rely on the fact that they can create millions of Palestinians at a moment’s notice by recruiting residents of five or six Arab countries to overwhelm the Jewish population, create an Islamic caliphate, and kick any Jews who won’t convert into the sea. To object to such a scenario is not up for discussion if opponents can be dismissed for having “colonialist, racist” motives.

That so many people who know better––academics, journalists, and elected officials––engage in motive blaming or fail to challenge it, suggests our culture is infected with a form of ideological insanity. What people who claim to want peace and to save the planet really want is for those who hold views antagonistic to their own to give up their positions and go away. They need to believe in the purity of their own motives and therefore assume that when one is pure of motive the facts are on your side. It’s time to give up motive blaming and go back to traditional rules for resolving differences––focusing on evidence and demonstrable fact.

 

Sympathy for the Devils Within: A Review of Viet Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Forty plus years after the U.S. abandoned Vietnam to the Communists, Viet Thanh Nguyen captures the duplicity of all sides in the war and its aftermath in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer.

Reading Nguyen reinforces my belief that I was on the right side in the 1960s when I joined the anti-war movement before it imploded in the 1970s, exhibiting similar excesses to those perpetrated by the North Vietnamese (and Cambodian) on their own people.

The American anti-war movement morphed into an anti-American movement with groups like the post-SDS Weather Underground waging war on the American working class for failure to take up arms against the American government. In Vietnam, the victorious Communists subjugated anyone and everyone who had not been on their side during the war as well as those who had been on their side for the wrong reason.

It is easy to see in retrospect how the anti-American left could ally itself with the North Vietnamese ignoring their commitment to the same totalitarian ideology that had led to the deaths of millions of Russians and Chinese citizens under Stalin and Mao.

The victorious Vietnamese employed torture methods invented by the Russian and Chinese Communists including re-education techniques where confession is offered as the means to salvation. Smartly, Nguyen employs confession as the format for this novel having his protagonist be made to write a confession to rehabilitate himself for having succumbed to Western ways during his exile in the U.S. The entire novel is that confession.

Nguyen deserves praise for the lack of heroes in his story––especially not his bastard protagonist who is both a captain in the South Vietnamese army and an agent of the Viet Cong, and who commits multiple crimes, including murder, out of this divided loyalty. No one is clean perhaps with the exception of the protagonist’s mother who was forcibly impregnated by a French priest and then abandoned to a slow death of poverty and neglect.

Nguyen holds the French and United States responsible for their part in the war’s horrors, but doesn’t absolve the Vietnamese people on both sides, for each played a part in the war, victimizing their own as the price for the victory that one side failed to achieve and the other converted into a kind of defeat.

For Americans, The Sympathizer reminds us the ideals of our founding are not sufficient to protect us against the arrogance that led us to think no price was too high to prevent Vietnam from falling to the Communists. Unfortunately, we continue to pay that price, often misjudging where our national interest lies. There is no more evident an example of this failure than Barack Obama’s ignoring the Iranian government’s murderous ideology out of some misguided desire to make amends for America’s past sins.

Yes, Communism had to be opposed and American aid for people suffering under Communism or on the verge of falling under Communism’s iron yoke at times required a military response, but we misjudged Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese and drove them into the Communist camp, as we did in Cuba with Fidel Castro, both of whom admired America’s revolutionary commitment to individual freedom. The consequence of our arrogance was both became totalitarians who oppressed their own people, deciding their ideological goals justified any and all means of achieving those goals.

Americans should also read The Sympathizer because we have failed to recognize the price the boat people paid for their freedom, coming to the United States where they were expected to forget the U.S. role in the devastation of their country––the napalm bombings, wiping out villages suspected of harboring Viet Cong agents, the manipulation of the South Vietnam government and more, as Nguyen so skillfully portrays in this novel.

The Sympathizer is above all a brilliantly written story about a man we sympathize with while not absolving him of his crimes, but it can also be read as a form of national therapy. Nguyen offers a lens through which we can examine ourselves and perhaps recognize in ourselves a tendency to betray and murder our own, for who can say for certain they would not have acted like his main character in similar circumstances.

How Liberalism Divides America: A Review of Shelby Steele’s Shame

Shelby Steele, Shame, How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, Basic Books, 2015

Don’t be misled by this small book’s subtitle, or even the title for that matter. Neither reflects Shelby Steele’s thesis that post 1960s Liberalism is built on a house of lies that has relegated many blacks and other minorities to positions “of inferiors and dependents.” (179)

Shame reveals among other things why eight years after the election of the first African-American president, issues around race still divide our country. Steele also explains why Liberalism seems to be more about absolving whites and government from America’s past than helping minorities overcome that past and why conservative commentators are not taken at face value.

To understand Steele’s thesis one needs to start with slavery because slavery was not just an evil in and of itself, it was a black mark against the foundational principle of American exceptionalism––the core principle embodied in the Declaration and the Constitution that freedom of the individual is the ideal foundation of a just society. Although some did oppose slavery from the start, it took half a century before it was abolished. Unfortunately, slavery was replaced by another pernicious social institution––Jim Crow, which was based on theories of African-American inferiority. Segregation and its rational survived until the 1960s when the struggle for equality became the central issue of the day and the necessity of extending the promise of freedom to all brought about a massive social upheaval.

Shelby Steele’s contribution to what happened next reflects his experience growing up in an era where America sought to show the world it had broken with its past by instituting a variety of programs designed to remedy that past, including the War on Poverty, affirmative action, racial preferences in hiring, lowered welfare standards, et al. The short-term impact of these programs was to give blacks an opportunity to join the mainstream of American society, but there was an unintended longer-term consequence that both handcuffed blacks and gave rise to the distorted political culture we call Liberalism.

Steele illustrates how blacks have been hampered by these post-Civil Rights policies by citing the case of Clarence Thomas who found getting into Yale Law School undermined people’s willingness to give him credit for his accomplishments. People assumed Thomas only got into Yale because he was black and that his high grades at Yale were not deserved. This “catch 22” still hampers blacks today. One wonders if Barack Obama feared he was only elected president because of his race, and not his qualifications or platform? Does that explain the aloof manner by which he conducted himself as president?

The flip side of the post 1960s liberal equation is that many whites feel they must continually prove they are not racists by asserting that America is a racist society despite the fact blacks today are “far more likely to receive racial preferences than to suffer racial discrimination.” (17)

The 1960s gave rise to the notion that America was inherently evil as evidenced by its treatment of women, blacks and other minorities, by its disregard for the environment and by its willingness to interfere in third world liberation struggles––the war in Vietnam being the primary example. The remedy was affirmative action on all those issues and in the process discrediting of the notion that a commitment to the freedom of the individual was sufficient. In Steele’s terms, America embarked on a new mission “to establish ‘The Good’ . . . on par with freedom.” The Good requires equal results be guaranteed not just equal opportunity. The purpose of The Good, he writes, “became absolution for the American people and the government, and not actual reform for minorities.” (128)

The Good was a relativistic solution––a commitment to results over process and it required people to dissociate themselves from America’s past. Liberal public policies and programs were promoted as evidence of rejection of America’s evil past and refusal to endorse such programs was seen as lingering affiliation with that past. Belief in America as a city on a hill, as a beacon of freedom for the oppressed peoples of the world, as an exceptional nation was rejected. “American exceptionalism and white supremacy [became] virtually interchangeable.” (164)

Liberalism underscored its commitment to The Good attacking traditional American culture and invading the political arena. To post 1960 liberals the drive for political power was seen as “nothing less than a moral and cultural imperative.” (156)

In order to maintain their political and cultural dominance, liberals have become committed to what Steele calls the ‘poetic truth’ of American society, a false vision that is necessary to support their ideological position. The chickens of that falsity, embodied in academia, big government and groups such as black lives matter, came home to roost in November, 2016 when sixty plus million people rejected the liberal candidate.

Criticism of liberal programs by whites can be dismissed as evidence of a person’s association with pre-1960s America, but it’s harder to make that label stick when the critics are black. Labeling people like Clarence Thomas, Michelle Malkin, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Dr. Ben Carson, and Shelby Steele ‘uncle toms’ only demonstrates how unglued liberals become when confronted with facts that fly in the face of their make believe world.

Sadly books like Shame rarely get the visibility they deserve. I found no reviews in the New York Times or the Washington Post, despite the fact that Steele is a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution and author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning book The Content of Our Character (1990).
Shame has only 49 reviews on Amazon and a 4.3 rating while Ta-Hehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me has 3,157 reviews and a 4.6 rating. Coates has received numerous awards for his writing, including a MacArthur “genius grant,” but Coates’ thesis that racism survives because whites are attached to the benefits of being white is a perfect example of what Steele unclothes––a false narrative that is accepted because it re-inforces the story that America is as tainted today as it was in the time of slavery. Coates views “whiteness” as inevitable and permanent but fails to recognize that the price of conflating slavery and segregation, discrimination and unintended bias is that blacks will never be free! That’s where Steele parts company with Coates.

Steele gives us a window into his evolution from a sixties radical to a twenty-first century conservative. The turning point came in 1970 when he and his wife spent several weeks in Africa where he discovered that the revolution the Black Panthers and others were championing was a false and bankrupt dream. His experience reminds me of the degeneration of the civil rights movement in Albany, New York around the same time. I had been involved in the optimistic years before King’s assassination, which understandably caused many to become bitter and the rhetoric of revolution to gain currency. When the Black Panthers came to Albany, however, they sent a heroin dealer as their representative. Apparently at that point anyone willing to spout their revolutionary rhetoric was acceptable.

While post 1960s liberalism has been losing currency at the polls, it still dominates our culture, the entertainment industry, and the news media. Conservatives who reject the relativism of Liberalism, who stand behind the founders’ original insights, have an opportunity to turn the tide. Steele urges conservatives to be sensitive to the “psychological and cultural damage done to minorities by American hypocrisy,” by showing how the original dream of equality for all and a commitment to freedom, is still America’s essential truth. The time to win that war is now.

Hyprocrisy in Politics: Criticizing Trump

A friend wrote a Facebook post outlining every action Donald Trump has taken in his first days as president and at the bottom wrote, “dictator.” The problem with such a claim is that nothing Trump did was illegal or unconstitutional. So, my question is did that person or liberals in general who are now upset with President Trump’s policies protest when Barack Obama extended the use of executive orders to by-pass Congress and legislate policies? Did they call him a dictator? Answer, no they did not.

Hyprocrisy in politics is not new, but those who delight in attacking the sitting president for every act he takes should understand what they are doing has unintended consequences that undermine their objective. If criticism is meant to lessen support, then attacking a president for his every decision is a poor way to accomplish that goal. Why? First, people weary of the constant posts all with the same message and stop paying attention. Second, the constant negative drum beat makes no distinction between issues that are minor and of import only to a few and major issues where they might actually garner support. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. If you cry wolf every day, when a real wolf appears, no one will pay attention to you.

Executive orders are extra-constitutional, and arguments can be made on both sides of the issues––that they are needed for situations when there’s no time to get Congress to act and that they grant presidents too much leeway. But they have been in use for more than a century. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order. Congress and the courts can also interfere when presidents do go too far. For example, a federal judge a year ago rejected President Obama’s attempt to use executive privilege to deny to Congress access to documents relating to “Fast and Furious,” the policy that allowed the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug gangs and Congress blocked Obama’s executive order which sought to close Guantanamo.

Sitting presidents are fair game for criticism. My advice is know your facts and hold your ammo until you see the whites of his eyes. In other words, don’t shoot just for the sake of shooting. Make sure your target is real and your remarks have a chance to make a difference.

What’s wrong with Liberalism? The case against the FDA

If you want to understand the revolt against Liberalism as exemplified by the policies advocated by Obama/Clinton Democrat Party, look no further than the way in which the FDA is shutting down cigar manufacturing in the U.S. costing hundreds of people their jobs under the guise of protecting smokers from themselves.

The “FDA is in the business of reducing the harms associated with tobacco use,” according to Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, as quoted in the December 4th Washington Post. The FDA has introduced new regs that “require manufacturers to get approval for new products, pay increased fees and add prominent warning labels.” The result, however, will only succeed in putting American manufacturers out of business or forcing them to move their remaining plants overseas. Ironically, this is being done at the same time we have opened to door to Cuban cigars.

“On the one hand, the government is saying ‘smoking is bad’ and making us jump through all these hoops,” stated Eric Newman, co-owner of the last cigar manufacturer in Tampa Florida. “On the other, they’re welcoming Cuban cigars––which haven’t been tested, which aren’t taxed––into the country.”

Whether the new fees and regs will reduce cigar consumption is an unproven assumption on the government’s part. My guess is that it will not, as unlike cigarette smokers, cigar smokers are a much more independent breed. Further, it is highly doubtful the new regs will prevent underage use of cigars since young people don’t smoke cigars in the first place.

The core assumption that Americans want or need a government agency to protect them against tobacco use lacks grounding in reality. Everyone knows the “harms” associated with tobacco use. Since smoking remains legal, however, those who are over 18 ought to be treated like adults and allowed to make up their own minds. Further, government agencies should not be interfering with legal manufacturing by imposing fees and regulations to accomplish social ends.

If you don’t understand why manufacturers have been leaving the U.S., here’s a perfect illustration, and if you don’t understand why people rejected Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and voted for someone whose past behavior has clearly been offensive to traditional mores, here’s another case in point.

History Matters

If anyone needs evidence that what is taught in our schools impacts public behavior, look no further than the response to the results of the November 8 election. In the days after the election, when it became apparent more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, columnists, editorial writers, and social media posters trumpeted calls for the elimination of the Electoral College.

Learning that doing so would take a constitutional amendment and thus fail to impact the 2016 election, those who felt cheated turned to other panaceas, attempting to sway electors to betray their mandates and recount filings. That none of those has a chance of succeeding seems irrelevant.

Their efforts now focus on denying Trump’s victory legitimacy and undermining his ability to fulfill his campaign promises. The strength of the protest movement depends, however, on the lack of knowledge of its followers of the history of our country and how our political system works.

Every four years millions are shocked to learn that the person who wins the most votes is not automatically elected president. Every four years millions are dismayed to discover that America is not a direct democracy where the majority rules, but a representative republic. This can only be attributed to the failure of our educational system to teach those essentials or to have done so in a manner that sticks.

I can hear the protesters’ objections to my claim. What happened in the past doesn’t matter, they might say. We need a system for the present, they add, and of course, some will argue, as the man some Democrats have put forward to chair their organization once did, that the Constitution can be dismissed as a document of a rich, white, male elite, providing further evidence of the failure of our educational system.

If the past is irrelevant, there’s no need to teach about slavery or Jim Crow or women’s struggles for equality since those are all part of our past. Right? Either history is relevant or it is not, and I can’t imagine too many people coming down on the side of ignoring it altogether.

That said, what corrective can be offered in terms of our political system? Let’s start with a re-writing of the textbooks to go back to the core story––from the settling of the continent to the Revolution to the writing of the Constitution and the first ten amendments.

What a study of those events would disclose is that our system represents a compromise between competing interests. Let’s take the matter of slavery. Had those among the founders who objected to slavery been unwilling to compromise with the Southern states, there would have been no United States of America. Had the compromise failed, England would have found little resistance to re-conquering the continent since the colonies barely won the war and faced a future with depleted resources.

Further, had those in favor of a strong, centralized national government lessening the power of the states held out, the Constitution would not have passed, and once again the colonies would have been subject to conquest. The Electoral College is testimony to the compromise that established a central government for the protection of the country, but allowed states to retain a strong voice.

The notion that our system of government is the product of a compromise is something today’s protesters fail to appreciate. That it is the best political system mankind has yet created is something they don’t understand given how poorly history has been taught in our public schools and colleges, and by the willingness of some to ignore both the rationale for our present system and how well it has worked for 240 years.