100 Swan Song Editorials

The American newspaper industry has responded to an appeal for 100 newspapers to write editorials on the same day attacking President Trump for being critical of the news media. This act is an admission of the extent to which the national media has lost power and credibility. It may just be their swan song––a last minute attempt to regain status and authority. My bet is that it will fail. It will fail to sway any members of the public who aren’t already Trump haters and it will fail to restore the national media’s position as the arbiter of right and wrong in America. That horse left the stable years ago and is not coming back.

Why do I claim the media has lost its power? First, you need to concede that once upon a time everyone counted on newspapers for national and local news. Even with the emergence of radio and TV, newspapers held their own, funded by advertising, as the primary source of not only in-depth coverage, but by reporting on a greater number of stories each day than the broadcast media.

The handwriting signaling the end of their monopoly came with cable TV. Now people could hear about breaking news immediately and didn’t have to wait for the morning or afternoon paper to learn about it.

P.S.: Yes, there were afternoon newspapers. In my hometown––population 20,000 there were morning and afternoon newspapers until well into the 1960s.

But the largest nail in the newspaper’s coffin was the arrival of the Internet. The Internet is cable TV on steroids. It not only enables people to learn about breaking news within seconds, but it offers both scope and depth of coverage from a variety of official and unofficial sources.

The newspaper industry responded slowly and poorly. Why? Because of the huge capital investment required to produce a daily newspaper. That’s why newspapers have shut down and some dailies now publish twice or once a week, and why all but a few major newspapers print many fewer pages than they did just a generation ago. Union domination of newsrooms also made it difficult for newspapers to adapt.

Newspapers found they had to compete by offering web versions. Some have been able to charge subscriptions; many find they lose more money doing so than offering free access and selling ads on those pages. Either way, newspaper websites are not the only source of news. Millions rely on other sources. Some of those are poorly vetted and over time followers figure that out and abandon those outlets.

But that’s just the structural story. The rest of the story is that what was once an industry where views varied widely from conservative to liberal, has on the national level, pushed aside the conservative outlook, and united to become not just the reporter of news, but the maker of news created on behalf of a liberal-left ideology.

Consider how papers like the New York Times and Washington Post transformed their editorial outlook of the CIA and FBI. In the 1960s, both papers were highly critical of those agencies, seeing them as emblematic of a nascent police state––above the law and accountable to no one. Today, however, those papers love those agencies because they did exactly what they were accused of doing in the 1960s. They took sides in a national presidential election, acting outside the law on behalf of one candidate to the detriment of the other candidate. Further, their illegal and unethical behavior continued after the election to the extent they tried to subvert the Trump administration. They created false evidence, suborned perjury and leaked classified information to the news media.

I don’t think I’m being naïve in suggesting that the national media today is different than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Yes, some media organizations in those days had greater access to power than others and they used their power on behalf of certain parties and candidates. The difference is that there was competition in those days. The fact that 100 newspapers today (out of 1200+) are willing to act in unison is testimony to the lack of competition for viewpoints and scope of coverage, which is why subscription numbers are down and editorial pages are not read by the majority of subscribers.

One hundred editorial writers will be claiming they are defending freedom of the press. This self-indulgent, holier than thou, attitude doesn’t fly with me. Mr. Trump’s criticisms focus on the reality that some media are out to get him, and he has that right. It’s called free speech.

The President’s criticisms have not resulted in any reporters being personally attacked, or newspaper offices being bombed or burned down. (The incident in Annapolis had nothing to do with national politics.)

The national media is mad, but they are not telling the truth about why they’re mad¬––which is that millions of Americans agree with the President. Long before 2016, millions came to view newspaper coverage as biased against them. They read stories that made the average American out to be deplorable, racist, misogynist, bigoted, and a despoiler of the environment. How many of you like being attacked on a daily basis with the chance to defend yourself?

Newspapers have not learned the lesson that they don’t represent the majority of Americans. Acts like 100 editorials attacking the President make that clear and will likely hasten the day when the number of dailies sinks below 1,000.

Is the News Media above criticism?

The national news media has been engaged in a battle royal with Donald Trump that began the day he declared his candidacy. I doubt any major newspaper has failed to post an editorial attacking Trump for criticizing the news media, arguing their reporting is above criticism thanks to its Constitutional protection and that his attacks encourage or at least give permission to others to do so as well which threatens this vital institution.

There is a red line in all criticism that should not be crossed––namely advocating violence to people or property, but Donald Trump has not crossed that line nor have the people who are accountable to him. I’m not saying you might not be able to find some nut job who has advocated violence against the media, but according to my philosophy professor one example of anything does not make that thing representative. There was also the case of the man who killed journalists in Annapolis, but there’s no evidence he was motivated by national politics.

Those who feel the media has not just been unfair, but has engaged in a concerted campaign against Donald Trump and his administration, can feel somewhat justified at the announcement that the New York Times has added an avowedly racist Asian woman to its editorial board.

Sarah Jeong has posted on Twitter statements like “Dumba— f—ing white people marking up the Internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants” and “It’s sick how much joy I get from being cruel to old white men.”

How do you think the Times would react if it discovered a white male it had hired had said the same thing about Asian women while a teenager and now admits it was stupid and wrong? He would have been shown the door faster than Clark Kent changed into Superman. Yet Sarah Jeong is not recanting her racist comments and the Times and others defend its choice telling white people to stop being so sensitive.

What we have is a clear case of hypocrisy. It’s okay if I attack you for something even when I can’t prove it, but you are not allowed to attack me even when you have proof.

But it’s worse than that because the Times is saying it’s okay to be a racist as long as you attack white people. So, racism is only wrong when it’s practiced by white people. It’s okay if you’re a Black, Latino or Asian racist.

This country was built on a different set of principles––the notion of equality before the law. The New York Times may claim to still support that principle, but actions, as someone once said, speak louder than words.

Democratic Socialism Revisited

The recent primary victory of a “democratic socialist” candidate for Congress in New York City has added a new chapter to the flirtation of the Democrat Party with “socialism,” coming on the heels of the avowed socialist Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for President in 2016. This may seem a step forward to “progressives,” but to me it demonstrates how many people in America fail to appreciate the history of socialist societies.

One hundred fifty years ago, socialism sounded appealing because it promised the solution to multiple social problems. Further, according to Karl Marx’ “scientific” analysis, it’s arrival was inevitable. Well, it turned out Marx’s theory was not so scientific since socialism did not arrive. What eventually came instead were forms government called socialism and communism as justification for pseudo-socialist policies at best and dictatorships at worst.

Not True Socialism?

Some present-day socialists claim these were not true examples of socialism, and thus argue the real thing hasn’t been tried. In science, when all attempts to prove a theory fail, the theory is rightly rejected. So, let’s examine why socialism has failed in the past and why it will continue to fail every time it is tried.

Marx theorized that capitalism created the seeds of its own destruction––that the imbalance between the haves and the have-nots would become so extreme that the haves would be pulled down and the have-nots would inevitably take over. That theory justified the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and other revolutions––except what replaced the previous system was a form of government where a small group––ultimately one man––made all the key decisions and controlled everything. That’s what still prevails in China and Cuba today.

Contrast that outcome with what the theorists of representative democracy envisioned. John Locke, Adam Smith, James Madison, et al, understood the evil of one-man rule and postulated an alternative: democratically elected representative government. Concerned about the rights of the individual, the founders of our country divided power into three branches—legislative, executive and judicial.

Can Socialism Arrive Democratically?

Of course, parties advocating socialist policies have achieved power via elections, but then what happens each time? In order to implement their policies, however, socialists have to fulfill their promises to their supporters and that they cannot do . . . for many reasons.

Socialism promises equal outcomes. Taken to its logical conclusion that means students cannot be rewarded based on achievement and jobs cannot be allocated by merit. No society will accept such policies except by force. In Europe, that has meant hybrid solutions—where merit is not totally outlawed and the existence of large corporations is seen as necessary in the short run.

Socialism also promises an equal distribution of goods. The problem with that is scarcity is inherent in the human condition. The only way to achieve equal distribution of food, clothing, transportation, healthcare, housing, etc. is to lower the standard of living for everyone. To accomplish that requires the use of force because people naturally rebel against policies that punish effort while rewarding sloth (i.e., a disinclination to exert effort).

Why Do Some Favor Socialism?

By ignoring the history of attempts to overthrow capitalism and institute socialism in Russia, China, Israel (see my article on what happened in Israel), Argentina, Cuba and Europe, people focus on what socialism promises and ignore the problem of how to get there. It also sounds good (to some, but not all ears) because it allows its advocates to blame others for keeping them from having whatever goods they believe they deserve.

Here in the U.S.A., socialist candidates and policies may win short-term gains, but must fail in the long run. The American people have shown themselves too savvy to be swayed by pie-in-the-sky promises because we know first hand the benefits of free enterprise and we are culturally resistant to compulsion.

That said, it is actually not bad for avowed socialists to run for office whether as Democrats or under some other party because it provides the public an opportunity to learn about socialism’s failures. While the horrors of the Soviet Union are in the past, lessons are easily seen by studying present-day China, Cuba and Argentina. Information is readily available on all three for anyone who cares to examine it.

Socialism became popular150 years ago because it promised an end to an industrial system that exploited laborers, despoiled the environment, and corrupted the political system. That’s not the world we live in today. Instead, the free enterprise system has prolonged life and raised the standard of living of millions across the globe. One must conclude no matter how many theories arise that promise a socialist nirvana, it’s existence will remain a pipe dream.

The Reality of Life in Rural America: Why People Voted for Donald Trump

I recently overheard a woman who I know is otherwise a decent person speak about people who voted for Donald Trump in bigoted terms. I didn’t speak up because it wouldn’t have been polite for me to interrupt the conversation, but it’s been on my mind that I owe some insights to people who don’t understand Trump supporters.

Liberals rarely understand why rural America is burdened today with the opioid crisis, high unemployment, failed marriages, single parent families, and other social maladies. If you have the time, pick up a copy of J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. If not, here’s a summary based on my own experience.

I grew up in a small city in upstate New York where after World War II the industry that had supported the local economy began to decline largely due to overseas competition. That pattern was repeated all across America. Post-WWII, economic forces drew millions into large cities, which combined with short-sighted social policies, left rural America under-resourced and increasingly impoverished.

Today, my former home town is a contradiction given it still has streets of large, well-built single family homes as well as neighborhoods dominated by unemployment, poverty and drug use. My generation took advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing economy. Few stayed in the city where they grew up after getting an education or a head-start via a career in the military.

Why do I say social policies made matters worse? Vance documents several, including the conditions underlying opioid use, but here’s a NYS example. In upstate New York, the public sector sucks so much money out of the economy that it’s extremely difficult to keep or attract businesses. As a result, many people who have skills and/or resources move out of state leaving behind people with greater needs and fewer resources. Further, much of the tax burden goes to support a state bureaucracy that underserves rural upstate. Take for example, the NYS Public Service Commission.

There is little or no competition for electricity, telephone, Internet, or TV services in rural upstate New York. This results in poor quality, over-priced services. Making matters worse residents tax dollars pay for bureaucrats who seem more favorably disposed towards the utilities than the customers.

Last year, when I opened my summer home, I discovered I had no phone service. It took two weeks to get service restored, requiring me to drive five miles into a small village to make repeated phone calls appealing for help.

When I called the Public Service Commission to complain, they took the information but never got back to me. It was a waste of effort. This year the pattern repeated with Internet.

It took three phone calls to restart my Internet service because the nice people who work for Frontier Communications are not given the tools needed to do their jobs. In one instance a customer service person had to use chat to find another customer service person who she hoped could do what needed to be done. Lack of competition means Frontier doesn’t have to modernize or be responsive to consumers.

Public sector salaries and pension benefits strap localities to the point where many municipalities are unable to afford basic services. High taxation further allows the Democrat Party in New York to bribe union workers to keep them in office year after year. New York City with its larger population dominates the State Legislature, which as a result underserves upstate.

Politically, rural America is underrepresented in many state legislatures and in Congress, resulting in the election of people who either lack an understanding of the problems of rural America or lack the political muscle to do much about the problems.

Donald Trump represented a solution for rural and small town Americans and he has rewarded rural America’s support by lowering federal taxes, by taking on the opioid crisis, by advocating for the return of manufacturing jobs, by shrinking the federal bureaucracy, by helping veterans, and by supporting local first responders.

People in rural America rationally put their needs above the liberal media’s focus on Trump’s personal story. They are likely to do so again in 2018.

Socialism’s Biggest Failure: Israel

Unless you’re an Israel scholar, you may not know that most of the founders of the modern state of Israel were socialists. The system they put in place in 1948 was based on socialist principles, reflecting both the experience many had growing up on kibbutzim or activism in socialist organizations in Europe.

The founders created an economic system dominated by the public sector, which to a certain extent fit the needs of the nascent country at the time. By taxing private enterprise heavily, they sought to build a social infrastructure, including government buildings as well as roads and housing, hoping to handle the massive flow of immigrants into the country.

Labor unions were especially strong which meant Israel’s factories were inefficient in relation to competitors elsewhere. Food and public transportation were heavily subsidized. By the 1980s, Israel was crippled with run-away inflation, mounting national debt and a lack of foreign reserves. Socialism was a failure.

How did that society evolve into the economic miracle of today? In 1985, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, one of the heroes of the War of Independence, convinced the Labor Party to accept drastic measures including deep cuts in public spending, freezing public sector salaries, and cancelling automatic salary adjustments for unionized workers. Further, responsibility for setting interest rates was transferred from the Treasury, which used the printing press to win political support for the government to an apolitical Bank of Israel. Import duties designed to protect local businesses were slashed and Peres began to lower taxes.

In 2003, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added crucial components to the transition from the failed socialist system to free market capitalism, when he reduced social spending, cut taxes, raised the pension age, and sold state assets to the private sector, even the El Al airline.

The result? Today Israel is one of, if not the fastest growing economies in the developed world. Inflation is 0.4%, unemployment is 4%, and the shekel is one of the world’s strongest currencies. Although poverty has not been eliminated, it is less than it was in 1985 and per capita income is about to pass both Britain and Japan. Israel imports more than $100 billion annually and has a trade surplus––something the U.S. has been unable to achieve for decades.

Socialist policies nearly brought about the country’s ruin. They undermined incentive and ingenuity. Today, Israel is known for its technical ingenuity. That could not have taken place under the socialist model where all property belonged to the state and personal initiative was neither encouraged nor rewarded.

Those who argue socialism can’t be judged by its implementation in places like Russia, Cuba or Venezuela, have a hard case to make that it can work anywhere given its failure in Israel where the entire leadership of the country was fully committed to it and gave it nearly forty years to work before throwing in the towel.

The Most Mis-Used Word in the English Language: Racism

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I’m offering my thoughts on the most mis-used word in the English language.

What does racism mean? To some it’s a condition that all “white” people possess and exhibit even when they’re being nice to someone who’s “black.” To others it can be attributed to anyone who opposes certain policies, including reparation for slavery and freeing all black prisoners.

Ironically, people who pay attention to other people’s skin pigmentation don’t consider themselves racists while using that term to denigrate people who don’t pay any attention to pigmentation. Thus, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton don’t consider themselves racists although their views of other people are based on their “race,” while conservatives, who believe all people should be treated equally without regard to race, are considered racists because they won’t give minorities special treatment.

To label someone a racist is currently a convenient way of trying to shut that person up, to deny his or her right to an opinion. It’s a form of political blackmail. Either agree with me, the person who accuses others of being racists is saying, or I’ll call you a racist.

I worry for young people who don’t have the strength and knowledge to fight back against such tactics—high school and college students who are coerced into staying quiet or supporting policies that when exposed to the light of day are built on lies. Take for example the BDS movement.

Groups on college campuses that support a boycott of Israel, claiming it to be an apartheid state based on absolutely not one iota of truth, compel students, including some who are Jewish, to support their cause for fear of being called racists. These groups also threaten violence by implication. It takes great courage, especially when college administrators often keep their heads in the sand, to stand up to these tactics.

Another example is the charge that anyone who opposes granting citizenship to illegal immigrants is a racist. Why? Because most illegals are “minorities”––i.e., from non-European countries. The implication of the charge is that there could not be non-racist based reasons for opposing that policy. Of course, that’s absurd, but again, I worry that too many people cower in the face of such charges instead of standing their ground.

Dr. King’s words will be used today to justify a variety of contradictory positions. I won’t commit that form of larceny. Instead, I’m appealing to people to stop calling other people, including Donald Trump, racists, and when someone uses the term in an inappropriate manner—i.e., to deny others the right to speak—that you speak up––just as if someone used the ‘n’ word or some other slur. Speak up. Tell the speaker you’re not going to cave in to that charge, that racism won’t die until people stop calling each other by that term.

Happy MLK, Jr. Day to one and all.

Is Bibi Netanyahu a 21st Century Churchill?

You don’t have to be a student of history to learn the lesson of The Darkest Hour,” the story of Winston Churchill’s struggle to save the British Empire when Hitler’s armies threatened to overrun their entire army on the French side of the English Channel. The movie provides insight into a critical moment in world history––when decisive leadership by Winston Churchill and heroic sacrifices by the English people saved three hundred thousand soldiers and in the process prevented Hitler from invading Great Britain––a tragedy that could have irreparably altered the outcome of the Second World War.

Reflecting on critical moments in history, it’s easy to imagine that what needs to be done is obvious, but that’s rarely the case. Churchill had to overcome personal doubts as well as fierce opposition mainly from members of his own party to stick with a plan he knew would cost lives. Lesser considerations often assume great proportion in the minds of those who cannot fathom the seriousness of a situation. That indeed may be the case today with regard to Israel where so many Jews both in Israel and in the diaspora fail to recognize or give sufficient weight to the precariousness of Israel’s existence.

While critics attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one thing or another, it is remarkable that he is able to keep his eye on the ball––focusing on the Dunkirk level threat that Iran’s hegemony in the region represents for the state of Israel.

Britain and France were unprepared for the speed by which the German army plowed through Belgium and defeated the French, thereby endangering the entire British army. It is extremely rare for people to see existential threats before they materialize, which is why I argue the threat Iran poses to the state of Israel is not hypothetical or overblown, and why it must be Israel’s top priority.

The threat not only comes from Iran’s potential as a nuclear power––the result of the terrible deal President Obama negotiated, the threat to Israel’s survival exists on a second front in the form of Iran’s surrogate Hezbollah. The later organization, which now controls much of Lebanon, was allowed to finance the expansion of its military and political power in recent decades by money laundering and cocaine sales, practices that the Obama administration knew about and allowed to continue in order to assure Obama could deliver his signature billion dollar get out of jail nuclear card to Iran’s autocratic government.

While Netanyahu recognizes the Iran/Hezbollah threat, so many others in Israel and in the U.S. are focused on lesser matters, including the fact that Netanyahu has been forced to ally himself with the most conservative religious parties in Israel and as a result to concede to some of their demands.

One example of a lesser issue whose proponents seem willing to define as the most important matter facing Israel’s future is the issue of women praying at the Western Wall. Netanyahu backed down on an earlier agreement that would have resolved this issue in order to appease the ultra-orthodox members of his government. To put it bluntly those who are unhappy with the collapse of the prior agreement need to ask themselves how they would feel if their efforts resulted in a situation where no Jews—men or women—could pray at the Western Wall––a potential outcome if Israel is not led by someone who understands the Iranian/Hezbollah threat.

The same question must be asked of those who are attacking Netanyahu for minor personal indiscretions––an example of a common political disease––expecting one’s leaders to be godlike with no past indiscretions or mistakes. History shows us the danger of such thinking as those men and women who have the courage to act in moments of crises are always people who have learned from past mistakes. The perfect human would be unable to see the potential evil facing him having never been exposed to wrong-doing (or admitting such), which is why so few are capable of greatness. Most of us view ourselves as perfect, never suffering doubts or admitting to past failures. We cannot imagine evil’s winning and thus bring that very outcome into play.

Eventually Bibi Netanyahu will be replaced––as Churchill was after he successfully prevented Hitler from conquering his country. Will pressure from the diaspora over lesser issues and internal politics result in the election of a Neville Chamberlain like person or will the people once again ignore the media and their American cousins and vote for someone who can separate the existential wheat from petty concerns chaff? Time will tell.