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Monday, October 28, 2013

"Conservatives" and Education: Why is local control such a radical idea?

The State of Indiana is meddling again. We have a solid Republican legislature, a Republican governor, and a Conservative state supreme court. Nevertheless, the state thinks it's perfectly alright to mandate exactly how local school boards do their business. They feel the need to reach into every classroom and have people who've never taught a single lesson in school decide what form of pedagogy works best. They have seized property taxes from local municipalities and used it to enforce their pet theories with an iron fist. All of this has been done, ostensibly, in the name of Conservatism.

Even talk radio hosts have jumped on this bandwagon. Both Limbaugh and Hannity tend to paint the lack of positive outcomes for certain students as a problem of the local schools, something changeable by legislative (i.e. state-level) means. Yet, in all other areas, they extol the virtues of governance at the most local level possible. They cite the overspending caused by unnecessary bureaucracy. They cite the unresponsiveness of a distant and cumbersome centralized government. They cite the wastefulness of collecting funds from local areas and then redistributing a fraction of that money back to the same places it was taken from. In all of this they are absolutely right. For some reason, there is a disconnect between the principles of true Conservatism and so-called Conservatives' opinions on public education.

Can it be said that state control of local school policies has improved our educational standing compared to the rest of the world? Certainly not, and these selfsame pundits are constantly citing the widening gulf in achievement between the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. They have bought wholesale into the Progressive idea that equalizing funding via state redistribution schemes will equalize achievement, yet we can all see that this notion has completely failed. The same people who deny that funding makes a difference in achievement are perfectly fine with norming funding so that all schools within a state spend the same amount per pupil.

I suppose that makes me either an extreme right-winger or a liberal, depending upon whether you consider public education to be exempt from the principles that govern the rest of Conservative thought. I, for one, don't think so. Let's keep the state's paws out of local schools. They've done enough harm already.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Shutdown and the Debt Clock

Listening to the radio the other day, I noted that Glenn Beck was ranting about the debt clock being unrealistically slow, as if to say that it's being slowed down to make Obama look good. Normally, the debt clock is running so fast that the numbers on the end are just an unreadable blur. To see what the debt is at any point in time, go to this site. Hit refresh every second or two and you can see our national debt go up by a few tens of thousands of dollars. It's great fun!

It then occurred to me that America was in the midst of a government "shutdown," meaning that only the essential functions of government were in operation -- the military, national security, etc. Because of this, our rate of expenditure was drastically lower than normal, so our debt was increasing very slowly. (Sadly, though, it was still increasing.)

I also noted that Wall Street was on the rise through most of the shutdown. Could it be that a less-intrusive government is actually good for the economy? Could it be that supply-side, free-market economics actually works? Though analysts were constantly reporting on Wall Street, none of them even brought up this question. Even FOX analysts reported on the numbers as if Wall Street was hoping the shutdown would end; no one got the real lesson: Less government = good business.

I realize that the Republicans lost the war of words over the shutdown. Well, it's hard to win a war when you're only fighting defensively. As usual, the Republican Party chose to respond to criticism rather than level any. They chose to allow President Obama to set the tone and framework of the argument. I should have seen every Republican leader in Washington angrily wagging a finger at the president, laying the blame for the shutdown squarely on his shoulders. He refused to even discuss the issue, holding the nation hostage over a pet program he himself admits needs to be improved. He refused to fund individual programs, sent one-by-one, in a tantrum of epic proportions. He failed to respect the Constitutional framework which grants the power of the purse to the House of Representatives. He ignored the will of the people, the vast majority of whom are dead-set against his ironically-named Affordable Health Care Act.

The Republican Party should have been spending wads of money on a barrage of attack ads on radio, television, and the Internet. Instead, they allowed themselves to be whipped into submission. Why do the spineless ones always get control of our party? How do they do it? You would think the assertive would be the logical winners in a power struggle. It makes no sense to me.

The debt clock will soon be a giant digital blur in the sky. It saddens me. For a brief time, we almost had our spending under control. It makes me wonder, why does the government even hire workers who are nonessential in the first place? Perhaps that is the most important issue, again ignored by the media, to come out of this whole debacle.

Monday, October 7, 2013

1 - 800 - F*** - YOU, America!

When I saw the Facebook post about Obamacare's 1-800 number, I thought to myself, "This must be a joke. It's too good to be true!"

So I dialed the number. However, I read the number wrong on the Facebook post and dialed out the complete phrase: 1-800-F***-YOU. To my surprise, I got through. It was an Obamacare hotline to connect you to the state agency responsible for exchanges. I decided to go through the phone menu to see if it was legit or just a prank.

I kept pressing the indicated buttons, and I kept getting further in the automated voice menu. I was soon instructed, "Para hablar en espaƱol, marque el uno." I was directed to press or say a number in order to get to the right option. I was instructed to say the name of my state to get to the correct agency. I was then presented with the option of speaking to a live representative. I'd heard enough. 1-800-F***-YOU will get you to the Obamacare exchanges hotline.

Can this be a coincidence? I doubt it. Either someone at the phone company is one hell of a social commentator, or someone in the Obama camp was trying to slip his true feelings in under the radar. Either way, to expect that nobody would discover something so outright hilarious, especially in the modern, online world, was unreasonable. It must have been a practical joker at the phone company.

This is resonating all over the Internet for obvious reasons. Considering that a majority of Americans opposes the law and even Democrats have stated it is a train wreck waiting to happen, people get it. The bill was passed by a narrow partisan vote using parliamentary process tricks to avoid even having a debate about it. We were told that Congress would have to pass it in order to see what was in it.

That's a lot like being asked to sign a contract before you can read it.

I was giddy when I got the news about the phone number. I had a grin about a mile wide. I'm smiling as I write this even now. Despite all the crap going on in Washington DC, at least there is some good news to report. Thank you, phone company guy! You made America's day!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Obama the Chicken-Hawk

Syria... Isn't there a Biblical prophecy about trouble coming from Damascus? (See Isaiah 17.) Well, let's look at all of the factors. First, neither group in Syria likes us; neither Assad nor his rivals (largely led by known terrorist groups) have any love for the United States. Assad and his party are Ba'athists, the same as Saddam Hussein was. In fact, according to Georges Sada, one of Saddam's military commanders, all of Iraq's WMDs were sent to Syria as the US was entering Iraq, which is why no significant caches were found.

Now, Russia and Iran are lining up in support of Assad. Russia claims he is the lesser of two evils, noting that the opposition engages in outright barbarism, including cannibalism captured on video. Iran and Syria have been longtime allies. Iran promises to attack Israel should the US intervene. This may be the occasion on which they debut their nuclear capabilities, which we have graciously allowed them to explore. (Thank you, Mr. President.)

What have we to gain from an attack on Syria? Nothing, so far as anyone can tell. Obama has promised that no ground troops will be deployed, so occupation is out of the question. If Assad is toppled, the country and its weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are turned over to the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda. However, if the two sides keep fighting our enemies are engaged in killing each other. Why in the world would we want to put a stop to that? Over 100,000 potential terrorists have killed each other. Thanks, Syria!

What this is really about is Obama saving face. He promised that chemical weapons would constitute a "red line" that Syria had better not cross. So? It isn't like anyone really expected Obama to actually do anything except drop a bomb or two and take credit if things went well. The vast majority of Americans wisely want us to stay out of Syria. We have no self-interest in the country--any step we take will be bad for us.

It's painful to see John Kerry making the case for action in Syria. At least in Iraq we were toppling a known enemy who was aiding and abetting terrorism. Yet Kerry vehemently opposed that (after it became politically beneficial to do so), and is gung-ho on war with Syria. The rhetorical contortions he is making fill me with the greatest of pity for the man.

 Let Obama look like a wimp. Who cares? Who would we be fooling to pretend otherwise? Perhaps the president is just concerned that too many Islamists are dying. He seems to sympathize with them a great deal.


Friday, August 23, 2013

On Fruit and Fallacies

I remember, when taking a course on logic in college, that we learned the names and problems with several logical fallacies. We learned to avoid over-generalization and false causality. We learned how to detect a straw man argument, ad hominem name-calling, and circular reasoning. There was one fallacy that, though I could understand that at times it might be misused, I had qualms about. That was the slippery slope argument.

I would like to relabel this argument and, in turn, argue for the revocation of its fallacy status. I would like to divide the argument into two parts: a fallacy of the "Inevitable Conclusion" and a valid argument of "Contributing to a Trend."

It is certainly illogical to assume that because A leads to B, and B can sometimes lead to C, and C usually leads to D and etcetera, doing A leads to Z. That is something I would put into the Inevitable Conclusion category -- taking one step east doesn't lead me from San Francisco to Boston. The idea on its face is laughable and obviously illogical to anyone with a scintilla of reason.

However, it is equally irrational to deny that sociological change occurs in short, halting steps that lead to, over time, vast upheavals in the fabric of society. One step won't get me from San Francisco to Boston, but if I'm heading toward a cliff it would be quite foolish to argue that each step is inconsequential. The slow and steady march in our society away from stable and responsible two-parent homes has been going on for a long time, and with each step we have heard that we are illogical to assume that the next step we are asked to take will lead any further. We went from no-fault divorce to sexual libertinism, which led to us asking Uncle Sam to support the offspring of the behaviors we allowed. This led to a marked destabilization of the biological family. We were asked to tolerate, then liberate, and now practically to venerate homosexuality. This led to media saturation of the behavior, which has caused a misperception among the general public, which now believes that homosexuality is so common that gays have become a statistically significant minority. (Most presidential polls have a margin of error larger than the percentage of homosexuals among the population.)

This has led to the call to label marriage a legal bond between any two people, of either the same or different genders. Yet, as our opposition calls us irrational for opposing the idea and casts us as primitives, they fail utterly in making a clear and logical case, in unemotional terms, for the benefits to society as a whole that such a redefinition of marriage would bring. Words like "fairness," "equality," "dignity," and etc. are amorphous labels that can be applied to anything if stretched far enough. They are not the components of a logical argument. "Why not?" is actually a known logical fallacy -- an argumentum ad ignorantium, or "appeal to ignorance." The lack of evidence against something does not count as evidence for it.

Opponents of "garriage" are able to make an argument from definition. Marriage is and always has been a male/female phenomenon. When media figures try to use polygamy as a wedge against us, we can simply thank them for making our point for us; polygamy is, after all, simply a phenomenon in which one male has simultaneous marriages with multiple females. Thus, even in cultures with different marriage practices, those practices have always been between a male and female pair. Thanks Mr. Liberal; you've made my argument for me.

Let us not fall for the same trick again and again. The only logically valid argument being made is ours. We argue that since the legal definition of marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, same-sex marriage is simply a contradiction in terms. If gays want to invent for themselves some other formal relationship structure, they may -- this is a free country. Few of us care if they can own property together, have hospital visitation rights and/or inheritance rights. (Actually, all of these things can be done via a legal contract without any additional laws being passed.) What we object to is being forced to include apples in the citrus category because those apples would really like to be equal to oranges.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Islamists Again... Sigh!

I have to admit that I, like the vast majority of Americans, assumed that the Boston bombings were done by Muslim extremists. I wanted to be wrong. I really, really hoped to be mistaken. And, like most Americans, I heard an internal "told ya' so" when the facts came out.

Now, I didn't care what the perps looked like. I always feel bad for immigrants, especially the Sikhs, whenever it's a guy in a robe and turban. I was in Yuba City, California when 9/11 hit and it was shameful the way a few of the redder-necked individuals harassed the Sikhs, a group of people who often dress in long shirts and turbans and speak a language related to Urdu (which is spoken in Afghanistan). However, they are non-Muslims and generally quite peaceful--I've never heard of a Sikh terrorist of any sort.

I also have a number of Muslim students, most of whom look, act, and think like mainstream American teenagers. They often show, in very subtle ways, self-consciousness and shame whenever an attack occurs, sinking in their seats and acting quiet and subdued. I know how they feel; I get the same way whenever anyone mentions Warren Jeffs, who isn't even a member of my church but whom everyone refers to as a Mormon nonetheless.

We all know what needs to be done. We need to have a moratorium on immigration, even student visas, from areas in which radical Islam is preached. We need not apply a specific label to it; we can refer to it as "theologically-inspired anti-Americanism." This list of nations would include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, the Palestinian Authority (within Israel), and now certain provinces of Russia. It's a matter of national security, and our Constitutional protections only apply to citizens. We can use common sense when it comes to immigration; there is no binding legal impediment.

I know that this idea will upset many. I know that it is wrong to stereotype any group, but it would be idiotic and contrary to the national interest to refrain from making intelligent policy decisions based on statistical realities.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Boston Blasts: Whodunit?

I find it interesting that even middle-schoolers today were discussing theories about who was responsible for yesterday's attacks. The most popular theory was that North Korea had attacked anonymously out of sheer evil, though what it would stand to gain by such an attack is indiscernible. It seems kids are mixing up the various threats facing the country into one, amorphous blob of danger. I guess that describes Kim Jong Un to a tee.

The other prevalent theory was that it was the act of militant Islamists, or as most students put it, "terrorists." It's sad that the word terrorist has come to be synonymous with Islam in the public lexicon, but it has. I am sure that time and investigation will tell. What I find interesting is the way that these adult concerns have filtered down to children. I simply overheard them conversing between classes.

I'm also quite sure that every political hack worth his or her salt will be blaming this on political opponents. Liberals will say that it was probably an extreme Right-winger hopped up on rhetoric from Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Conservatives might blame it on Obama's lack of military acumen and resolve, granting America the appearance of weakness. This useless blame game brings to mind the Unabomber case from years past, in which college professors were having body parts blown off by mail bombs. Liberals uniformly attributed the acts of terror to a Right-wing nut job; after all, everyone knows that Conservatives detest college professors, right? As it turns out, these Liberals were being attacked by an even bigger Liberal, someone whose environmental perspective uncannily resembles that of Al Gore.

The point is that we, the public, should ignore the hype and rhetoric until the facts are all out. Using tragedy as a political wedge is both tacky and despicable, unless the case can be clearly made that the issue in question contributed to the tragedy. For example, if it turns out that a lack of immigration enforcement led to the attack, such a discussion might be merited. Arguing that the Sandy Hook shootings would have been preventable by limiting the Second Amendment is beyond the pale, however, given the facts of the case. None of the proposed gun control measures would have made any difference in the tragedy.

We will eventually find out the culprit in this bombing. What then? If it is a terrorist organization funded or abetted by a nation-state, we ought to ignore questions of sovereignty and simply blow that nation's capitol and military forces to dust, as well as any known terrorist camps in the country. Then we ought to make a blanket statement: So it will be for any who attack America, and for any who help them.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Whatever happened to George Zimmerman?

I have noticed that, for the longest time, there has been no national news regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. In an earlier post, I noted that the media's spin on the story was wildly off, both in factuality and tone. It serves as a classic case of the news media making news rather than reporting it.

However, when national coverage left off, the last we heard was that Shellie Zimmerman had been indicted for perjury regarding her financial assetts. Apparently, a Paypal account had been set up to help defray legal costs for the Zimmerman case. This amounted to well over $100,000 in cash, although the full extent of those funds may not have been known to Shellie Zimmerman at the time she testified. She was asked if she had any assets she could liquidate to make bail, and she replied that she was not aware of any. To liquidate means to sell for available cash, so her response is technically true. She was also asked if she had any bank accounts with significant funds, and she replied in the negative. Now, she had a few thousand in the bank at the time, which is why the charges were not dropped. However, it all hinges on how one defines the term "significant." In a capital murder case, even a five-figure bank account may not qualify as being significant towards making bail depending upon the whims of the judge.

Since that time, the Zimmerman's have remained in hiding. This is because the New Black Panther Party openly and unabashedly offered a cash reward for George Zimmerman's capture, dead or alive. Such an offer amounts to conspiracy to aid and abet kidnapping and/or murder. Were criminal charges filed? Of course not.

Since then, the prosecution has found a material witness who alleges to have been speaking on the phone with Trayvon Martin just prior to the attack. Her version of the story has been heralded as incriminating for George Zimmerman, although she admits that her phone conversation ended before the incident began. All she has to add to the story is that Martin had noticed the presence of Zimmerman and was nervous about it, which was already well-known.

The only thing significant about the witness is that she lied about both her age (she was eighteen rather than sixteen) and her location when the phone conversation occurred. While these details aren't material to the case, they serve as reasonable doubts about her overall veracity as a witness.

Finally, it has been discovered that Trayvon Martin had traces of THC in his blood and urine. Many pundits focus on the urine traces, called metabolites, that can linger for weeks after marijuana use. This would indicate that Martin's use of the drug happened too far in advance to the attack to have been a factor. However, THC in the bloodstream disappears after only a few hours. The presence of both blood and urine traces indicates that Trayvon Martin was a regular drug user and had smoked marijuana shortly before his run-in with George Zimmerman.

This information contrasts sharply with the media narrative of a racist White man mercilessly gunning down a beatific Black youth. It also vindicates George Zimmerman's observation that Martin appeared to be impaired, as if "on drugs." As it turns out, Trayvon Martin was on drugs, making Zimmerman not a racist but simply observant.

My contention in all of this is not that Trayvon Martin deserved to die because he was a pot smoker with a bad attitude (judging by his Twitter photos). It is that it is more than likely that Zimmerman's narrative is accurate. He confronted Martin, who attacked him. As he was being beaten around, Zimmerman panicked and used his firearm to defend his life.

The incident was avoidable, as are most tragedies, but nobody could have known what would have happened. Had Zimmerman not confronted Martin, the incident might never have occurred. It is also undeniable that if Trayvon Martin had not attacked George Zimmerman, he would still be alive.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stirring the Waters of Racism

As a middle school teacher in an urban/suburban school (half our kids are bused in from downtown), I see a lot of racial interaction by young people. Much of the time, this is encouraging. I can report with confidence that the vast majority of middle schoolers in Fort Wayne, Indiana know that it's wrong to be racist. I have yet to meet a teenager who would assert that one race is inferior to another. This is great as far as it goes, but there's more to the story.

There exists a great degree of ethnic animus, though race itself has little to do with it. Race is coincidentally attached to the animus, but is not its cause. What has occurred in our society is that we have used racial labels to distinguish between cultures. This has led to completely normal differences in personality preference gaining racial overtones.

Let me explain via example. A Caucasian student of mine, after class let out, quietly approached me and asked for her seat to be changed. I asked why, and she replied, "Well, I'm sitting in the middle of a lot of black kids and I don't like it."

"What do you mean?" I asked, hoping she would say something less appalling.

"I just don't like black kids. They're loud and annoying," was her response.

I thought for a moment. I had to admit that the specific students she sat near were indeed loud and annoying. I was constantly correcting their behavior in class, and phone calls home had zero effect. No matter how engaging the lesson might be, even during activities they really seemed to enjoy, they would be loud and unruly. I then thought of another African-American student in the same class.

"What about Alexia?" I asked. "You two work really well together."

"That's different, Mr. Palmer. She's not that kind of black person. She's normal," was the reply.

That student's opinion is quite similar to the confusion many young people have about what it means to be black, white, Hispanic, or whatever. Certain personality and behavioral traits have become associated, at least in common parlance, with certain races. If you find certain behaviors aggravating, there is a danger of assuming you dislike the race people mistakenly associate with that behavior.

What is worse, young people all too often typecast themselves in the same negative modes. To be "authentically" black, some people believe they have to be dismissive of authority, loud, and inappropriate in public. To behave calmly and in a civilized fashion is seen as acting "white." The use of standard English is seen as inauthentic as well by many. The year I began teaching in Oakland, California was the year after the Ebonics program was abandoned. It not only failed to raise achievement, but it also came from an assumption that urban black youth were so out of the mainstream that their slang qualified as a foreign language. From the mouth of a conservative radio host, this would have engendered a righteous fury from the halls of academia. Coming from an African-American administrator, it was heralded as the dawn of a new day by the Left.

America still suffers from some massive racism. This is not hate-related, however. It is not even conscious most of the time. It has nevertheless permeated nearly all aspects of society. It is the soft, subtle racism of low expectations, and it's deadly.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I shoot skeets all the time! They're delicious!

Super Action Obama!!! Shoots skeet! Spends money!

Actually, the above photo's aim is quite a bit more realistic than the PR photo put out by the White House. At least the doll is shooting upwards, the logical position for shooting at a clay pigeon. The president's aim looks more like he's shooting at a target on a rifle range. Behold:

Unless the president is shooting off a hilltop, his aim is absolutely terrible. Either that, or he's firing as he tracks downward, which is quite dangerous as the shot travels a decent distance when fired horizontally. Then again, he is related to Dick Cheney, who shot a buddy straight in the face while bird hunting. Maybe he gets his aim from that side of the family. However, since birds generally fly upwards out of a bush, Cheney's shot makes more sense.

I'm not suggesting that this photo is altered in any way. I'm saying that it serves as evidence that the president is definitely not a regular shooter. Moreover, the argument that the president is pro-2nd Amendment because he occasionally fires a gun is ridiculous on its face. The 2nd Amendment was not added to protect our right to shoot clay pigeons, or even real ones. It was added by men who had just overthrown one abusive and corrupt government and anticipated that such might need to occur in the future at some point. The 2nd Amendment grants the People power to guarantee themselves the rest of their rights. Anyone who has read The Federalist knows better than to believe that the Framers simply intended to preserve the right to bag the occasional deer.

I wonder how many times President Obama washed his hands to get the feel of "evil gun" off them?

Now, if the White House PR machine can nab a photo of the president skeet surfing, I'll really be impressed!


Friday, January 25, 2013

Surviving Obama: Why We Need a New Newt

America has to make a tough stand for four years. We need a Newt Gingrich to lead our forces in Congress, someone who will make the tough choices without wimping out. Newt was able to do what so few of our politicians have been--he was able to ignore the hype and hysteria. George W. Bush was able to do this as well to a certain extent, though he was less of a uniform conservative. Still, I seriously doubt that John Boehner has the same cajones Newt did.

Sure, Boehner has made some encouraging signs. He's almost stood his ground on raising the debt ceiling. He's said that future raising of the ceiling, a few months from now, will require budget cuts. He's passed into law the idea that Senators will not be paid unless a real (?) budget is passed. All of this reminds me a bit of Sir Robin the Brave from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I wonder if he personally wet himself at the Battle of Baden Hill.

Democrats' worst fear is that Republicans may one day grow a collective spine. If Republicans stand up to Obama the way Hillary Clinton stood up to Congress, America might be saved. All we need are four years of testicular fortitude. Can we make it? Can the pols in Washington tune out the nightly news? Are they capable of blocking CNN and MSNBC on their cable boxes? Will they go on strike against NPR by simply not listening? (Actually, if politicians didn't tune in, who would be left in the audience?)

Congress, read the New York Post and the Washington Times. You may have gotten the wrong set of Times and Post; it's an easy mistake, and one easily rectified. The smartest thing Bush ever did was to avoid the liberal news networks. They can't Palin you if you don't go on their programs. As their market share continues to diminish, their power will fade along with it. They're a bit like vampires that way; they can't hurt you if you don't let them in.

Let's hope for some serious Congressional obstructionism. Otherwise, welcome to the brand new USSA!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How is that conservative? Part Two - Free Trade

I am now preparing to butcher the sacred cow of many conservatives. To many, free trade is synonymous with capitalism, freedom of opportunity, and economic progress. To criticize free trade is the equivalent of embracing communism.


It is just as foolish to practice unilateral free trade as it is to practice unilateral pacifism. Both are good ways to get your butt kicked. Moreover, the traditional (and ergo conservative) policy of the United States has been to protect native industry from dumping and other predatory trade practices. George Washington was the first president to sign legislation, known as the Tariff Act of 1789, to protect incipient native industries from heavily-subsidized companies in other countries, particularly England. This was quickly followed by the Tariff Act of 1816, which was more detailed and addressed the issue of foreign companies pricing their goods below the profit margin to force American businesses out of the market. Countervailing duties were added in the 1890s, another means of dealing with the subsidy practices of foreign powers.

Interestingly enough, one of the early and more ardent supporters of international free trade was President Woodrow Wilson, a staunch progressive. His view was that tariffs were an example of "eeeeevil" corporations using the government to promote their own ends. However, by 1934 a more practical solution was enacted, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act. This policy allowed for ongoing adaptations in tariff policies as the result of negotiation with other economies. In essence, this legislation allowed for the United States to decide on a case-by-case basis how to deal with trade imbalances. Those nations which engaged in fair trade with us were rewarded with free access to our markets. Those nations that practiced unfair trade policies (corporate subsidies, high tariffs on U.S. goods) were prevented from doing so any longer. The net result was twenty-eight agreements to mutually reduce tariffs by 1940.

It is worth noting that the purpose of all of these laws was to keep native manufacturing strong. It has traditionally been seen as very important that America be as self-sufficient as possible. We do not want to be the Spain of the 21st century, transferring our acquired wealth to those nations who produce goods we import. Nor do we want to be used in the same way England once used its colonies, selling our raw materials to a nation that manufactures, only to buy those same materials back as finished goods. It doesn't take a degree in economics to see that selling low and buying high is not a recipe for economic success.

Neo-conservatism is the domain of reformed communists who replaced their former passion for a command economy with a rabid, albeit senseless, devotion to laissez faire economics. This school of thought mirrors the ideas of Woodrow Wilson, namely that any interference in trade by our government is bad for our economy. Certainly, laissez faire economics might be a viable system, providing all involved governments did indeed keep from interfering with free trade. However, such is not the case. Engaging in laissez faire economics while our trading partners enact tariffs and subsidies is economic suicide.

Unilateral free trade has turned Detroit from a beacon of capitalist success to a half-barren wasteland. It has led to the formation of an economy fueled by consumption rather than production. Those who insist that free trade will always benefit American interests are failing to think long term. We must be making money to keep spending it, after all.

Let us remember with whom we are competing. To produce goods for the same prices as our foreign competitors, we will have to recompense our workers as they do. Labor, after all, is where most of the cost of production is incurred. If  laissez faire proponents do not mind this idea, then I am sure they will find this a perfectly acceptable standard of living for the average American:

This is how people live in the countries from which we are importing. To compete with their prices, this is how Americans would have to live. This is what George Washington was trying to avoid. We do not want to be a nation of paupers; we are already a pauper nation.

Monday, January 7, 2013

How is that conservative? Part One - School Vouchers

I am starting a new series of articles to analyze the content and tone of what passes for modern-day conservatism. I would contend that many of the issues pundits espouse have no basis in the actual definition of conservatism.

I suppose that if I am to argue about what is conservative and what is not, I should define the term itself. The Bing dictionary does a good job in its definition, which includes:

1. reluctance to accept change: unwillingness or slowness to accept change or new ideas

2. right-wing political viewpoint: a right-of-center political philosophy based on a tendency to support gradual rather than abrupt change and to preserve the status quo

3. desire to preserve current societal structure: an ideology that views the existing form of society as worthy of preservation

Now, I realize that the first part of this definition may irk some who call themselves conservative, but caution in enacting change is a positive characteristic and is (or ought to be) central to the conservative approach. We conservatives like to weigh our options carefully before jumping on any bandwagon. We tend to feel that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." When problems arise, we spend time analyzing all of the potential pros and cons of our approach, discover as many options as possible, and try our best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We see public policy as a game of chess with very high stakes, and try to think as many moves ahead as possible. This is the legitimate conservative mindset.

However, many who claim to carry the mantle of conservatism act in a very unconservative way. They embrace sudden and wholesale disruptions in our social institutions. They worship at the altar of privatization to such a degree that it never occurs to them to weigh the benefits of having some public functions performed by public entities. To this end, we have outsourced even the uniforms of our military to foreign nations. Certainly conservatism includes the idea that the individual is responsible for his own outcomes, and thus a large, bloated government is undesirable. However, certain functions have been traditionally government-run for good reasons, and these traditions ought not be simply abandoned on a whim.

Public schooling is another area in which so-called conservatives seem to have abandoned conservatism in their approach. In seeking to use vouchers to replace public schools with private entities, pundits and politicians have failed to consider the benefits of common schools. To understand why common schools exists in the first place, a little history lesson is in order.

The first major advocate for common (public) schools was Thomas Jefferson, who wisely understood that a democracy populated by the uninformed would not last very long. Jefferson saw the common schools as a means to enhance patriotism and civic participation. Lessons would include basic math and literacy, but would focus most on the political and historical heritage that spawned the United States. Students would be taught to appreciate the freedoms they enjoy, to be responsible for their own welfare as well as that of the nation, and to cherish the values of hard work, religious liberty, and rugged individualism.

For Jefferson and the nation he led, common schools would promulgate common values and a common culture. Equality of opportunity was a given; all (male) children would have the opportunity to obtain at least a rudimentary academic education. However, those students who displayed more potential would be selected for greater opportunities.

The original concept of the high school was what we now see as the purpose of college. Select students would be sponsored and sent to high schools, perhaps three or four students out of each township. The most excellent high school students would be sponsored for the university (only a few of which existed in Jefferson's time, most of which specialized in theology or legal studies). This select group of citizens would become the future leaders of the nation.

Jefferson's model was followed fairly consistently during the 19th century. Beginning in the early 20th century, the level of educational opportunity was expanded for most students, culminating with the Civil Rights Acts. However, the primary role of common schools did not change. Schools were vehicles for mathematics, literacy, and citizenship, with other skills being taught as extras. For most of the 20th century, common schools were viewed as a central facet of community building. Immigrants learned to become Americans as they went to school with their native-born peers. The melting-pot ideal became reality in the nation's classrooms. Schools did not exist to create a class of future corporate employees, but to prepare future American citizens.

This is the heritage that so-called conservatives would throw away. Private school vouchers would segregate students into like-minded institutions that deny them the opportunity to engage in cultural dialogue, to meld into a common American culture. Muslim students would attend Muslim schools. Burmese students would eventually sort themselves into Burmese schools. Instead of learning how to be Americans, and what America really means, they would remain isolated both physically and culturally. Such an outcome would be dire for the nation's future. It would lead to an inevitable Balkanization, the loss of a united national culture.

Those who mindlessly insist that vouchers are the panacea for American education have failed to engage in the essential function of conservatism, which is to respect traditional ways of doing things enough to at least consider their benefits. The cult of school privatization is not conservative but radical in nature and tone. The fact that some who call themselves conservatives vehemently espouse an idea does not make the idea itself any more conservative.

A true conservative would consider the issue long enough to know that.