Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Brexit and the Futility of Modern Elections

The people can only wield political power if they respond harshly to disobedience. In Britain and other faux democracies, where election results can be ignored without civil unrest, the people no longer rule.
Listen to this post: Twilight Patriot - 27 Feb 2019

Britain, you may recall, has voted to leave the European Union. The separation was scheduled for this coming March 29 – two years and nine months after the vote. But Theresa May’s government decided to delay it, again, or maybe hold another referendum in hopes of getting a better result the second time around.

Britain, for some reason, is classified by think tanks and NGOs as a “Democracy.” There is, I suppose, a little merit to this title. After all, the elected legislature did get to vote on things like abortion and same-sex marriage, unlike in the United States. Nevertheless, the situation with Brexit shows that the British people’s claim on self-government is pretty weak, too.

Why, then, are modern elections so futile?

And it isn’t just Brexit. Catalonian independence came to nothing, even though no lethal weapon was fired to suppress it. In America, Donald Trump pulled off the biggest electoral upset in my lifetime – but very little of his agenda has come to fruition. Americans overwhelmingly voted against same-sex marriage when it came up on the ballot, even in liberal California. But they rolled over when the judges told them their votes were worthless. Again, not a shot was fired.

We like to say that in America and other ‘Democracies,’ the people rule. Well, they don’t. Real rulers don’t tolerate their decrees being trampled upon. Actual political power requires a forceful response to disobedience.

Imagine if, two centuries ago, Britain had voted to leave an international organization, and that organization didn’t respond by removing its officers from British soil and vacating its British posts. The British people would have responded by rioting, setting fire to the organization's offices, and stamping out all residue of its authority.

When the Continental Congress voted, in 1776, to make America independent, they didn’t meekly wait for British courts to rule on the legality of what they had done. America’s home-grown representative houses had decided that they, not a distant Parliament, were the rightful rulers. Henceforth, rival authorities would be driven from the country by any means necessary.

            If, in 1815, Federal Marshals had arrived in a small town in Kentucky in order to arrest the county clerk for refusing to marry same-sex couples, the Marshals would have gotten tarred and feathered - in an optimistic scenario. Very optimistic.

            When the Supreme Court tried to settle the slavery issue in 1857 by a 7 to 2 vote, Americans refused to let the Justices have the last word. Abraham Lincoln was fairly straightforward in his thoughts on the matter: “If the policy of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court... the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”

            There was no similar resistance when the Supreme Court settled another issue by a 7 to 2 vote in 1973. It is clear that the people have ceased to be their own rulers.

            A ruler that allows itself to be disobeyed is not a real ruler. The people do not rule today in America, or in Britain, or in most of the Western world.

The only real check on government overreach is a willingness, among the common people, to revolt if the other checks and balances are ignored. That check has been missing for a very long time.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Blind Men and the Elephant

The decline of Western civilization is too large and multifaceted for any one man to comprehend. When we all reach out and feel different causes and consequences, we may all be in the right.
Listen to this post: Twilight Patriot - 25 Feb 2019

A lot of people believe that the Western world in general, and the United States in particular, are in a state of deep decline. But they have a lot of different opinions on what this decline actually looks like, and what started us on the path to ruin.

Was it the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913? The beginnings of American imperialism in the Philippines and World War I? The New Deal and the end of economic freedom? The Leftist overrun of the universities after World War II? The sexual revolution? Judicial despotism and legal abortion? The loss of manufacturing jobs? The fact that from Bush Jr. onward, nobody has cared about the deficit?

And those are just the usual suspects. There are dozens of more obscure events on which some thinkers pin the blame. I can even recall having an intellectually deep conversation with a man who believed that it all went downhill starting with the disappearance of good investigative journalists in the 1980s.

So is one of these perspectives right, and the others all wrong? I don’t think so. And I don’t think all the confusion means that the decline is imaginary. It’s real. Rather, I think our situation is very much like the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. Here is Saxe’s version in verse:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me!—but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: “Ho!—what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

The decline of Western civilization is too big to be described by a single man, or attributed to a single cause. But when we reach out and feel that something is horribly wrong with the status quo, we’re not mistaken, even though we notice different flaws. There is an elephant. It has a lot of different attributes. And we need to take all of them seriously.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Economy is Smaller than in 2000

The government cooks the books on inflation. If you compare economic output to actual commodity prices, you'll see that America's total GDP has decreased since the turn of the century.
Listen to this post: Twilight Patriot - 22 Feb 2019

According to President Trump, “we are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world,” and “our economy is thriving like never before.”

But he was going to say that no matter what. What nobody in the government will admit is that real per-capita GDP is down 25% since the turn of the millennium.

GDP is currently about $20.7 trillion, compared with $10.4 trillion in 2000. According to the Federal Reserve, a dollar today is worth 68¢ back then.

So the real growth is a factor of 20.7 / 10.4 × 0.68 = 1.35. Population also grew, but not by as much, so per-capita the economy expanded by a factor of 1.17.

Except that it isn’t true. The government understates inflation in order to pay out less social security, and avoid the embarrassing admission that our economy peaked in the 1990s and has been going downhill ever since. To see how much the dollar has really declined, just look at the price changes in some actual commodities.

Gold               $273 per oz. in 2000           $1326 today              × 4.86
Silver              $6.69 per troy ounce           $15.80 today             × 2.36
Copper            84¢ per pound                      $2.73 today               × 3.25
Corn               $2.32 per bushel                  $3.81 today               × 1.64
Soybeans       $5.08 per bushel                  $9.18 today               × 1.81
Crude Oil       $38.78 per barrel                 $53.79 today             × 1.39

If we are to believe the Federal Reserve’s line – that a dollar today is worth 68¢ in 2000 – then prices should only have gone up by a factor of 1.47. But except for oil, all the prices have gone up way more than that. The geometric mean of those six increase factors is 2.31. By that calculation, your dollar today is worth only 43¢ in 2000’s money.

So how does the Fed get its phony numbers? It uses something called the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a big list of prices of things that urban people buy. When buying habits change, so does the composition of the index. If, due to the bad economy, people start buying cheaper and inferior products, the CPI treats those new products as equivalent and doesn’t register a decline in real income.

Example: Plantains, a fruit which looks like a banana but taste like a cross-breed of potatoes and styrofoam, might be substituted for actual bananas during a recession. So the CPI regards them as equivalent, and the lower price (which was paid in exchange for a lower-quality good) tilts the measured inflation rate downward.

With the actual, 43-cent-on-the-dollar inflation rate, America’s GDP is only 86% of what it was in 2000. And per-capita GDP is 75% of what it was back then.

 Those are the facts. And remember, because of rising income inequality, median household income has done even worse. It went from $40,750 in 2000 to $61,370 today, a decline to 65% of what it once was, when you factor in actual inflation.

I started out this post by criticizing President Trump. I’m still going to vote for him next year, because Republicans are still the better of the two parties. But they’re not going to turn this country around – no one is – and people need to realize that.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Letter of December 2018

EDITOR:

Recent outrage in conservative media has focused on a nasty custody fight over a 6-year-old Texan called James by his father and Luna by his mother. The mother has charged the father with child abuse for not affirming the boy as transgender. With his father, the child answers to “James,” wears boys’ clothing and behaves normally for a boy; with his mother (but no one else), he answers to “Luna” and dresses like a girl. That a small child would adapt to each parent’s differing expectations should surprise nobody.

Nevertheless, the court has already required the father to provide James with girls’ clothes (which James refuses to wear), and the mother is trying to terminate the father’s parental rights and force him to pay for transgender therapy and medical alterations, which may include hormonal sterilization starting at age eight. It is noteworthy that Walt Heyer of The Federalist, who broke the story, became an activist after regretting the gender-reassignment surgery that ruined his own youth.

While I have all the best hopes for James’ father to prevail in this legal contest, I think he would be amiss to not prepare a bolt-hole in some place like Russia in case worse comes to worst. While conservatives have grown quite comfortable with being the more law-abiding party, our nation was founded on the idea that there are injustices which ought never to be submitted to. Acquiescing to the court-ordered castration of one’s child is not something that anybody should seriously consider.

Letter of September 2018

EDITOR:

It seems as though half the news in this country is about how Donald Trump and some Russians hacked the last election. But this media-frenzy will have no effect if enough voters see it for what it is — an attempt to delegitimize election results unfavorable to the Democratic Party.

Democrats want it to sound like Putin’s men stuffed ballot boxes, when what really happened is that Wikileaks revealed the Democrats’ internal scandals, including their rigged primary. Democrats think that the American people had no right to reject their candidate on account of her history of corruption, since that history should have remained unknown. In other words, they aren’t sorry that they did it, they’re sorry that they got caught.

For a Democrat, election meddling doesn’t mean tampering with anybody’s ballot. Rather, it means that the American people made a decision of which Democrats disapprove, and since Russia might have influenced those people (with Facebook ads, Wikileaks, etc.) that decision shouldn’t really count. But we hear nothing against Democrats’ attempts to influence another country’s elections — remember when President Obama went to London and spoke against Brexit in 2016?

American voters should write this blather off as yet another attack on the people’s right to choose their leaders. If we voted Hillary down after discovering some dirty secret that she didn’t want us to find, I say more power to us. So don’t give in now. If you voted for Trump in 2016, then vote Republican in 2018. Otherwise, the Democrats just might succeed in scrubbing away all that we won two years ago.

Letter of July 2017

EDITOR:

I think that everyone who watches our government has seen the goings-on in those two Eastern power-centers, New York and Washington, taking a distressing turn in the last two weeks. First came New York’s public performances of a play, ostensibly Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, but rewritten so that the title character, who is stabbed to death in Act III, is an obvious caricature of President Trump. The same sort of people who, the day after Mr. Trump’s election, held up signs captioned: “YOUR VOTE WAS A HATE CRIME” are now taking their disdain for the democratic process, when it doesn’t produce the results they want, to the next step.

Then, on June 14, a politically-involved man who had campaigned for Bernie Sanders, and accused the new President of destroying our country, tried to gun down several Republican congressmen, grievously wounding Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the Majority Whip.

Defenders of American liberalism can correctly point out that outbursts such as these are rare. But the big picture is not so rosy. Violence is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to liberal rejection of elections and self-government. Most high-ranking liberals realized long ago that it is more effective to simply rule without respect to election results or elected officials. Rather than gun them down and have their actions condemned by all, these sinister schemers have quietly rendered elected lawmakers increasingly irrelevant to the way our country is governed.

One should recall that most foreign countries which legalized abortion or same-sex marriage did so through a vote of the people or their representatives. Amazon’s new cutting edge drone technology is being deployed first in Britain, rather than the United States, because American bureaucrats, without any Congressional involvement, have outlawed most commercial drone flights. Democrats howled when elected county-clerk Kim Davis wouldn’t license same-sex marriages, but defended President Obama’s refusal to enforce immigration laws. In their eyes, then, it seems that an act of Congress, or any other elected body, is of little or no authority, while the dictates of bureaucrats and judges should command our absolute obedience.

Events like Wednesday’s rampage at the baseball diamond are indeed horrific. But Americans who really care about preserving our Republic will see that the threat posed by those who are content merely to shove our representatives aside, rather than massacring them, is also worthy of our concern.

Letter of March 2017

EDITOR:

I’ve seen a lot of ink spilled in an attempt to assert that fiscal conservatives who support President Trump’s wall are hypocrites. To put it bluntly, anyone who believes that is a fool. Enforcing our borders has never been inconsistent with fiscal conservatism. We conservatives believe in limited government, not anarchy.

Estimates for the cost of Mr. Trump’s wall are typically around $8 billion to $10 billion. To put that in perspective, the cost of the wall is about 0.2 percent of the annual federal budget, or 18 hours’ worth of expenditures. And it’s a one-time cost, unlike the constant loss of American lives and property due to the unsecured border.

America will always be a nation of immigrants. With the wall in place, the United States will continue to admit more legal immigrants than any other country. Liberals are correct to point out that people who come to this country to settle here are no more likely to get in trouble with the law than the rest of us. That doesn’t apply to the career criminals who cross the border over and over to ply their trade in drugs, sex, and captive human beings.

Letter of February 2017

EDITOR:

It’s been an eventful two weeks. But of all the things President Trump is doing in his first days in office, the one that will last the longest is his choice for Supreme Court. I write in support of the President’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch of Colorado.

When President Trump nominated Judge Gorsuch, the Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, dusted off their old arguments against a judge outside the so-called “legal mainstream.” This is an attack they use against every Republican nominee, and it’s fair to say that “in the mainstream” is nothing more than a euphemism for “agrees with Democrats.”. To really understand what Democrats want in a Justice, (and what Trump is refusing to give them), I think it’s good to compare the record of a so-called mainstream Justice with one whom the Democrats label as a conservative radical.

First, the mainstream judge. John Paul Stevens was nominated by a moderate Republican president, Gerald Ford, in 1975. Ford considered several candidates for the seat, but chose the one he knew wouldn’t provoke opposition in the Democratic Senate. Stevens was easily confirmed.

  • Justice Stevens sometimes sided with litigants who claimed their religious liberty had been violated, but only when that religion wasn’t Christianity or Judaism.
  • Stevens dissented from the Citizens United ruling. In his view, freedom of speech doesn’t apply to “electioneering communications” — in this case, a movie made by the nonprofit group Citizens United that criticized Hillary Clinton.
  • Justice Stevens never acknowledged Second or Tenth Amendment rights.
  • In 1980, Stevens’ side of the Court tried to force the federal government to fund abortions over the objections of Congress, but came one vote short of a majority.

In the minds of most Democrats, Antonin Scalia was a conservative radical, about as different from Stevens as a judge could be. One might ask what beliefs of his were so radical?

  • Antonin Scalia and the other conservative Justices have consistently upheld the religious liberty of all Americans, whether they were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, or Animist.
  • Scalia believed in freedom of speech for everyone — in his view, the First Amendment protects Citizens United’s criticism of Hillary Clinton, as well as protecting the rights of flag burners or funeral picketers.
  • Justice Scalia revived the Second and Tenth Amendments, insisting that they were as much a part of the Constitution in our day as when they were ratified.

Donald Trump chose Neil Gorsuch to succeed Scalia because he has consistently stood up for Scalia’s principles. Anyone concerned with fairness and impartiality on the Supreme Court should call their Senators and urge support for Judge Gorsuch.

Letter of September 2016

EDITOR:

When election season comes around, one can expect Republicans to emphasize their role as the party of fiscal responsibility, while the Democrats trot out their old argument to the contrary.

They say that since recent Democratic presidents, such as Clinton and Obama, have left office with a smaller budget deficit than they started with, while Republicans like Bush and Reagan have done the opposite, we should actually be looking to Democrats for leadership in taking on the national debt.

My desire is to refute this argument, and also to expose a fundamental flaw in the way Democrats think about our Republic. While it is true that Clinton and Obama have left (or will leave) office with the budget in good condition, we shouldn’t forget that they’re also leaving office with a Republican Congress.

Under our Constitution, it’s up to Congress, not the President, to write the budget, and the House of Representatives plays the dominant role. Not satisfied with what people in the media (who tend to give all the credit or blame to the President) had to say about the relationship between parties and debt, I decided to research the issue for myself.

From 1955-1995, a span of 40 years, the House was controlled by the Democrats without interruption. During the latter half of this period the average deficit was 3.5 percent of GDP.

From 1995-2007, America had a Republican House. The average deficit was 0.8 percent of GDP.

After the Democrats came back, in 2007-2011, the deficit reached an obscene 7.2 percent of GDP.

During the present period, with Republicans in the majority, the figure fell to 4.0 percent of GDP.

I think we tend to make a grave mistake by assigning all the praise or blame for these things to the President, especially on an issue like the budget, where he has little direct control. The Democrats’ lust for centralized power often leads them to regard our nation as a monarchy where the President is in charge and the Congress’ job is to advance his agenda. But Republicans and Independents can do better than to follow this line of reasoning.

So let’s rejoice in the fact that, in our system, decisions are in the hands of the many and not the one. We got rid of the monarchy for a reason. And if you’re concerned about the burden of debt we leave on future generations, then vote Republican. We are, after all, in a Republic.

Letter of August 2016

I have decided to start this blog by posting my previous published letters, beginning with this one. I did not believe, either now or then, that Trump or any Republican is a savior. But watching him trounce Hillary was a lot of fun, and I'll always have fond memories of helping bring home the victory in my first election as a young man.

EDITOR:

Donald Trump’s statement that the late 1940s and ’50s were a great era for America has come under unfair criticism from Democrats.

I wish to write in defense of this era, not because I believe in a perfect past, but because I realize much that was good about America has been lost.

While I can understand why Trump’s rhetoric would worry people who think only about the uglier aspects of our nation’s history, it seems ridiculous to assume every social change was a move in the right direction. I’d like to point out three specific ways in which our country has been backsliding.

I’ll begin with what Trump has said is “a big issue, a horrible issue, and a very important one. It’s called law and order.” According to the FBI, murder rates are now higher than in the mid-1950s, and rape is nearly three times more common than in 1960, the earliest year in the dataset. Robbery has risen 70 percent, and burglary is up by 260 percent. The inner cities, where Democrats have ruled for the last half century, are suffering the worst.

The second issue concerns employment. In 1950, 86 percent of men 16 and older worked. Now the figure is barely 69 percent. The fraction of men not working has more than doubled. Industrial workers have suffered the most, with mining and manufacturing jobs being outsourced. As the ability of men to support a family has declined, so have marriage rates. In 1960, 72 percent of American adults were married; that figure has now shrunk to 50 percent.

Hillary Clinton believes in abandoning blue-collar workers and instead focusing on high-tech and service sector jobs. But America can do better than building an economy that values only the most skilled laborers. When Benjamin Franklin wrote to Europeans considering immigration to America, he emphasized America’s favorable conditions for the working poor. Unfortunately, in recent decades these conditions have largely disappeared. Trump’s opponents have criticized him for getting so much support from voters without a college degree, but perhaps they neglect to consider he may be the only candidate who cares about these people’s future?

The third issue I wish to address is abortion. In the 1950s, this abhorrent practice was illegal in all 48 states. Now, it is legal nationwide, and many of the largest abortion providers are paid by the government. It can hardly be called progress when a nation decides that someone whose life once had legal protection now has none. Has there ever been a country that came to regret granting basic human rights to too many of its inhabitants?

It isn’t without reason Trump has promised to make America great again. “Every day I wake up determined to deliver for the people I have met all across this nation that have been ignored, neglected and abandoned,” Trump has said. “These are people who work hard but no longer have a voice. I am your voice.”

It’s time for their voice to be heard.

Author's Note: When this letter appeared in the online version of the Courier, it got a lot of very mean comments written under the false impression that I was much older than I actually am. Example: "I'm glad that people like you are gracing the obituary pages more and more frequently."

I certainly hope to disappoint whoever said that!