Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's the matter with you Americans? 

More years ago than I�ll admit, I was a student in a class of the man who became my mentor, Tom Willett. The course was in economics and public policy, and the early part of the syllabus had us read on the nature of arguing about economics. One line that stuck out to me like nothing else was this: Saying �if you knew what I know you�d agree with me� is poor argumentation. I may know what you know, my professor argued, and yet find a flaw in your logic or add another piece of evidence that leads me to a different conclusion.

The notion that we know enough to know what is in someone else�s best interest is evidence of this fallacy, and I have found over the succeeding decades there are many academics that fall into it. Applied in the political sphere, it takes the form of �why does the public not understand what we are trying to do?� We heard it in President Obama�s State of the Union address last week in his claim that his failure on health care was "not explaining it more clearly to the American people." It characterizes the thoughts of Thomas Frank in "What�s the Matter With Kansas?, a book that I found alternately patronizing and pathetic, arguing that it must be false consciousness or hypnotizing demagoguery that leads the working class of Kansas, once home of agricultural Wobblies, to now vote consistently conservative.

That meme is now everywhere. David Brooks calls tea partiers anti-intellectual and Frank Rich calls them comatose. Responding to the election of Scott Brown, the BBC carries a column by David Runciman, a British academic political scientist of high birth (how else to describe someone whose Wikipedia entry notes his viscountcy?) that cannot understand why town halls are filled with people repulsed by Democrats health care reform. It�s to help them, dears!
But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform - the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state - are often the ones it seems designed to help.

In Texas, where barely two-thirds of the population have full health insurance and over a fifth of all children have no cover at all, opposition to the legislation is currently running at 87%.

Instead, to many of those who lose out under the existing system, reform still seems like the ultimate betrayal.

Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?
My friend Marty Andrade tweeted this link with the comment "But I stole this for you," says the plunderer. "Why do you not take it? Why do you not vote for me?" But it is not so much the politician but the wonk, the analyst who makes such pretty plans, that finds himself exasperated by the failure of the public to appreciate them. No place does this happen more than in academia, particularly in America, where as I�ve argued before the academic does not often travel in either the working class circles or in those the successful businesspeople.

The answer to Prof. Runciman�s question is inside America�s DNA. The founders, writes Prof. Carl Richard, were a deeply suspicious bunch.
The founders� immersion in ancient history had a profound effect upon their style of though. They developed from the classics a suspicious cast of mind. They learned from the Greeks and Romans to fear conspiracies against liberty. Steeped in a literature whose perpetual theme was the steady encroachment of tyranny on liberty, the founders because virtually obsessed with spotting its approach, so that they might avoid the fate of their classical heroes. It has been said of the American Revolution that never was there a revolution with so little cause. Whatever his faults, George III was hardly Caligula or Nero; however illegitimate, the moderate British taxes were hardly equivalent to the mass executions of the emperors. But since the founders believed that the central lesson of the classics was that every illegitimate power, however small, ended in slavery, they were determined to resist every such power. Even legitimate authority should be exercised sparingly, lest it grow into illegitimate powers. (pp. 118-19)
Doesn�t it seem the same today? When one points out the connection between parts of the Obama agenda and those of European socialists we are told �he�s certainly not one of those!� Of course not. But we called tyranny a level of taxation that many other places just accepted as their lot in life. Our common people believe they deserve explanations, and they are mistrustful most of those who say, �trust us.�

And this is a vital point -- a country that has the character to not use government power to plunder a minority for the sake of a majority (or vice versa, as in Saddam's Iraq) better resists the eventual trials of war, depression, famine, etc. Many Western countries took a sharp left turn after WW2. The US did only a little less so. In both the US and UK a swerve back came from Reagan and Thatcher. I still find the latter more remarkable than the former, but the common culture that ties them owes much to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Prof. Runciman cites facts and wonders why they fail before the stories that critics of Obamacare have told. Some no doubt do not understand the facts as presented. But presenting them better will not work well in the face of America�s preternatural wariness towards power. It may worry over unemployment but that is something that is ultimately under their control. Government debt, however, appears out of their control and is used towards things we are told to trust. Trust in government is exactly NOT what this country was founded on.

UPDATE: Along with some other posts, this was cross-posted to HotAir, and has been linked by Instapundit. Thanks to all my readers, and hope if you're new here you'll check out the rest of the premises.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"His life is not worth Obama's morals" 

This was the last sentence in a note from the wife of someone who had served in Iraq, who has decided against doing it again. The husband had planned on making the military his career.

Not just Obama's morals, but his instincts.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Thought of the day 

Commenting on a Newsweek story that says Britain is no longer Great, MEP Daniel Hannan writes:
I don�t deny that he�s got a point, particularly about the debt levels. This Labour Government, like the last, has left Britain diminished and dishonoured, its Treasury empty, its credit exhausted. Then again, see how quickly these things can be turned around.
Americans were saying much the same thing about Britain three decades ago. �Britain is a tragedy - it has sunk to borrowing, begging, stealing until North Sea oil comes in,� said Henry Kissinger in 1978. The Wall Street Journal was blunter: �Goodbye, Great Britain: it was nice knowing you�.
But look what happened next. This happened. It is one of our national tragedies that we tend to leave things until almost too late. But, when we rouse ourselves, we are capable of extraordinary resolve.
The timing is a bit off for us, as Britain will rid itself of its Labour Government sooner than we can. But 18 months passed between Thatcher and Reagan. I find myself both keenly interested in what is happening in Great Britain, and optimistic that the US has the same extraordinary resolve Mr. Hannan sees in the British.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

A happy Independence Day to you 

It's nice to be back in St. Cloud. I was expected to leave for another conference tomorrow overseas, and when I called to suggest I would not fly on the Fourth of July there was a momentary pause on the other side. "Oh, that's your Independence Day, isn't it?!?" Yes, and I'd like to have it with my family. (I'll have to skip fireworks, as I leave early Sunday.)

(UPDATE: Yes, this means NARN will be a replay tomorrow. However, if you really must hear me, David and Margaret will be live tomorrow and I'll check in with my monthly macroeconomic update, just after 10am.)

Let me second Janet's request that we fly the flag. Let's celebrate our heritage, and our families, and let's pray for the freedom that we celebrate that day extends to all men and women. I'm going to wear a flag pin while speaking overseas next week. Had I one with an Iranian flag and a green ribbon on it, I'd wear it instead. But an American flag will do, and it does well as long as we continue to recognize why oppressed people prefer to see our flag come over a hill than anyone else's.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Yankee Ingenuity - American "Can-Do" 

When teaching my class, I get torn between feeling sorry for students who don't learn the great-
ness of the US, its ability to create and think "outside the box" and frustration with them because there appears to be so little appreciation for all the advances we have made.

A great example is this article about the Mars Rovers sent to Mars in 2004 by NASA, the US' National Aeronautical and Space Administration - the agency that put men on the moon. The first rover landed on Mars five years ago. It was named "Sprint" and was expected to last three months. It is still going strong - well, sort of. Now it can only travel backwards because of a jammed wheel but it still sends data back to earth. Its buddy, "Opportunity," has a glitch in one of its arms because of an electrical short. Sometimes their power runs low because of dust covering their solar panels. Regardless, they're still operating - an amazing achievement.

Together, the rovers have driven more than 20km, and returned more than 36 gigabytes (36,000,000,000) of data. This has included a quarter of a million (250,000) images.

This project, along with other Mars robots, show what Americans are - the "can-do" people who do not need someone or some entity to tell them "no!" Our space programs provided so many benefits to all, from light weight metals for wheel chair racers to powdered beverages. Nothing is in isolation. If we regain this curiosity, asking "Why?" "How?" we can solve anything.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

A �Community Organizer� Job = Pay Me for Politicking 

pol�i�tick�ing (noun) activity undertaken for political reasons or ends, as campaigning for votes before an election, making speeches, etc., or otherwise promoting oneself or one's policies.
The Obama campaign is complaining that Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin attacked and insulted �ordinary people� last night by mocking Obama�s job as a �Community Organizer.�

Uh, no. Ordinary people volunteer. We see a need, join hands with others, and organize ourselves to get the work done. From PTAs to open source software, book clubs to care packages for soldiers, overseas tsunami aid to sports leagues, Americans collectively are the most generous volunteers of any country in the world. Tocqueville�s Democracy in America highlighted that volunteer spirit more than 150 years ago, and our volunteer spirit is still with us today.

Taking a paid job called �Community Organizer� is just another way to say �pay me for politicking.�


Community Organizers now have organized a website to demand an apology from Govenror Palin. But this is how the Community Organizers describe themselves:
Though many people are unfamiliar with community organizing, the job is both straightforward and vital: community organizers work with families who are struggling�because of low wages, poor health coverage, unaffordable housing, and other community problems�so that collectively, they can fix those problems and make government respond to their day-to-day concerns. Organizers knock on doors, attend community meetings, visit churches and synagogues and mosques, and work with unions and civic groups and block associations to help ordinary people build power and counter the influence of self-interested insiders and highly paid lobbyists at all levels of government.
Translation: "Pay me for politicking."

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Monday, August 25, 2008

On the Lighter Side - NASCAR, America 

The August 24th issue of Parade Magazine carried a delightful article by Janet Evanovich, A Day at the Races, NASCAR races. What is it about NASCAR that has attracted her interest? Two ideas stood out from the article.

First, it's a rush. "It's speed and spectacle and raw power and family and the flag. It's hard to explain what produces the rush, but it's deep inside me when I'm at the track. It's about the people and the cars and the competitive spirit of America." A second reason: "....we're all impatient for the race to start. The color guard takes to the track, and everyone stands for the national anthem - 96,000 people have their hats off and hands over their hearts. A roar toes up when the phrase "the land of the free" rings out, .."

She lists four things not known about NASCAR. One caught my interest: Racing is only a small part of a driver's job. ..the off-track duties - test sessions, interviews, and sponsor appearances - eat up more hours than racing, even on race days. "I have a lot of friends in major league baseball," says Jimmie Johnson."They can't believe everything I have to do before a race. Can you imagine Derek Jeter doing meet-and-greets right before a World Series game?"

No, I can't and maybe the patriotism and the connection between NASCAR drivers and their fans are the reasons NASCAR racing is a top spectator sport in America. Gotta love it! I may have to try it myself.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Luck, the boat, and prosperity 

Like many, I've tried to trace back my family history, particularly on my father's side. His parents are Armenians who came from Ottoman Turkey to live in America. My grandmother had two brothers and two sisters. One died, the other was spirited away to Egypt where he had children who eventually emigrated to America. My grandmother and one of her sisters married men bound for America; in my grandmother's case, her husband would be a man who had already emigrated and came to Cairo to find a bride. It's a long story not important here.

My grandmother's other sister Sara, the oldest child of the five, stayed behind to take care of their mother who had been widowed. She left Turkey and lived in the general area of Lebanon north of Beirut with a husband and a couple of children. One day after WW2 a ship comes to the area from the USSR, offering Armenians in the area an opportunity to help rebuild Soviet Armenia. Sara, her husband and son take the opportunity and move to a village about twenty miles outside of Yerevan. (Sara's daughter stayed behind because she was married to a local Arab -- at last report she lives in Syria but we have no contact.)

Once there contact with Sara's two sisters was infrequent, ending with a postcard written in 1980. More than twenty years later I took the postcard to Armenia -- no longer Soviet -- to see if I could find the descendants. Indeed the son, Movses, was still alive, at that point more than 80 years old. The house they lived in had two large rooms and was the house he had built in 1948 with his father. His parents were buried about a mile away. The family lived on a fairly meager income supplemented by kids remitting from abroad (both, by the way, also in construction. I got none of these genes.) This picture shows Movses and his wife outside their home.

I was reminded of this reading Russ Roberts' description of motivation for his new book, The Price of Everything.

The novel is the story of Ramon Fernandez, a Cuban-American tennis prodigy who finds himself in the middle of a campus protest at Stanford. ...

Ramon is the son of a legendary Cuban baseball star. After the death of his father, Ramon's mother comes with him to the United States, bringing the young boy to America.

And while the story is fiction, I was inspired by the Elian Gonzalez story. What would have happened to Elian if he had stayed in America. Would he have prospered? Would he have been torn between an allegiance to his new country and his father's Cuba?

A number of pundits at the time of Elian's return to Cuba talked about how he was lucky not to grow up in such a materialist society as America's. I try and explore this issue in the book as well.

Word comes from out of Cuba, that the real Elian Gonzalez has joined Cuba's Young Communist Union.
When I visited Movses, his oldest son's fondest wish was to travel to Moscow to see how it looked now after transition (I took it he had been there before, but I do not know this.) Of course that trip was cheap if you could get permission to travel while the Soviet Union existed. Now it was not cheap, and sometimes being Armenian in Moscow is a little difficult. In contrast I had been able to travel to many capitals around the world and lived a very different life. Not only because Nana got on that boat to Piraeus and eventually Ellis Island, but for the statue she saw when she got there and what it represented.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

June 14 - Flag Day 

A reminder - tomorrow is Flag Day. Fly our American flag proudly!

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation establishing a national Flag Day on June 14. Later, President Harry Truman signed Congressional legislation making June 14 National Flag Day.

For a history of our flag, go here. Regardless, fly it tomorrow.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Continual Improvements - #1 

One of the most unique characteristics about American environment is the ingenuity and desire to constantly improve products, processes, and procedures. I've had a number of examples of this in the past but have not blogged on them for whatever reason. It's time for this practice of mine to change.

Most of us know about CorningWare products since we use them all the time and they are incredibly durable, come in the right sizes, etc. A key feature of their cooking products are that they can go from freezer to microwave or regular oven with no hassle. Now they have invented a new line of baking products called SimplyLite.

This new line weighs up to 50% less than traditional ceramic bakeware. Reviews and descriptions from earlier purchases can be read here.

Many of you know I teach a number of foreign students in my MIS class. We discuss this constant improvement attitude. This mindset is a trait many societies do not have because of belief systems, social structure, homogeneity, etc. The US attracts people from around the world, people who want a chance to be free, to express themselves, to have the opportunity to try something from which they may be prohibited at home. This concept is rare. A key advantage of this way of thinking is the constant improvement available in all aspects of our lives. If you're a baker, give these products a try.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

John Bolton 

Tonight we attended the 2008 Annual Dinner sponsored by the Center of the American Experiment. The keynote speaker was former US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. His 35 minute talk, given without notes, was packed with information. What follows are highlights.

China - though the last 20 years have been commercially successful, from 1900-2000 China was a nation in constant upheaval. Mao's dictatorship resulted in 30,000,000 deaths in the 1950's along with the wanton destruction of 1000s of years of Chinese culture. Today China is trying to eradicate the Tibetan culture. It is investing substantial sums in military buildup. We don't know which China will be the China of the future and we need to be prepared for all options.

Russia - because of their oil reserves. Russia is again flexing its muscle and reverting to a Czarist mindset - central control of everything. In the last election, teachers told students their grades would suffer if their parents voted the wrong way (ie, against Putin's hand-picked successor). Russia does have a few problems, though - no treaties with anyone and it doesn't like the downside of Islam.

WMDs - these simply cannot fall into the hands of rogue nations. Many of these nations operate with different logic, they value death over life. Therefore, the usual mindset used in previous historical negotiations will not work.

Iran - probably is closer to nuclear capabilities than anyone wants to admit. Ignoring this problem in the hopes that a "just in time" (JIT) understanding will protect us is naive at best and possibly very destructive. Iran has different definitions for "proliferation," and other terms related to their nuclear arsenal. Hence, they can say "yes" to the west and continue to build their nuclear arsenal.

North Korea (NK) - in essence, a nuclear criminal state. The height of its people is 6" shorter than that of South Koreans - they were the same height in the 1950's. Famines have occurred multiple times over the last 60 years. They routinely counterfeit American currency and their diplomats are often using diplomatic pouches to run drugs.

What about negotiations, the panacea of the left. Six nations have been negotiating with NK for the last 15 years - nothing has stopped their nuclear program, nothing - it keeps moving forward. The Big 3 in Europe have been negotiating with Iran for the last five years - same result, nothing has stopped their nuclear program. These nations use negotiations to buy time to build what they wish, which in turn will be used to destroy us.

There are two options in relation to Iran: regime change; destroy nuclear assets. We have not encouraged regime change yet the Iranian mullahs are in a precarious position. Ethnic differences abound, unemployment is high, the youth see that their neighbors are better off but they have no means to topple the mullahs. As for destroying their nuclear assets - time is running short.

Finally, there are India and Pakistan both with nuclear power. Pakistan is unstable and with the wrong people at the top, they could easily sell their nuclear technology to the highest bidder.

Bottom line: Whom we elect this November will have major repercussions throughout the world. We've tried the negotiations; on May 15th, Bush discussed the futility of the negotiation mindset - it doesn't work when the other side uses talks as a mechanism to gain an edge in their nuclear development. Our objective should be to keep these powers from getting into the wrong hands.

One final point, mine: We have had nuclear power for over 60 years. We have not used it since WWII and only used it there after warning the Japanese we had an incredible power. The Japanese refused to surrender. After the 2nd hit, they did. As destructive as those two strikes were, had we had to resort to a land invasion the casualties would have been significantly higher.

We have not used this power - the rogue nations with this power will not hesitate to use it. As Mr. Bolton said, they have to be stopped or we all will pay (my paraphrase).


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Being #1 Carries Responsibilities 

Saturday in the Western Region of the NCAA Basketball playoffs, #7 West Virginia upset perennial NCAA basketball powerhouse #2 Duke University, . The victory for West Virginia came two days after Duke managed to squeak by #15 Belmont 71-70, the final Duke basket occurring with less than six seconds remaining on the clock. Everyone goes after Duke and many people, outside of Duke's enclave and alumni, root for the other team.

During my career at IBM we experienced similar reactions - for a non-IBM company to beat us in a bid, whether it be telecommunications, hardware, software, consulting, etc. people outside of IBM and without knowledge of the environment often rooted for the other company.

In the USA, world leadership - unrequested but thrust upon us, Americans often experience this knee-jerk reaction to go against the USA. If there is anyway to criticize us, it is done, internally and externally. We regularly print half-truths and teach our children that we are really a terrible nation.

Being #1 makes an entity a target - goes with the territory. In Duke's case, they will feel bad, analyze what went "wrong," identify the positive and come up with a new plan. They will be back with force next season. For IBM, we lost sometimes, we felt rotten, we analyzed what went "wrong," identified what worked and went after the next bid. In both environments, people adapted.

My concern for the USA is that far too many, including most of those on the left, only look for what goes "wrong" from their point of view. They spread their negativity anywhere they can. They refuse to look at what worked; they do not appreciate the efforts of those trying to protect us. They ignore the good - it doesn't exist in their world.

Did you ever notice, none of these critics want to leave. Most do not want to return to a home nation. Why? They don't answer - oh they always have some American to blame and imply that if "they are in charge" everything will be better but massive replacements of anything rarely produce success. Not one socialist system has worked, not one - but many have resulted in millions, tens of millions of deaths.

If Duke players and coaches spent their entire season each looking only at their mistakes, if IBMers only looked at sales failures, if Americans are told and taught only what the press doesn't like, if Americans refuse to teach and learn what we have done well, and if in any of these areas someone tried to instill an unwarranted guilt on the team, the salesmen, the nation, in every situation, the individual and group loses.

The US remains one of the most self-critical nations that has ever existed. Because of this freedom of expression, people feel they are free to take shots at us without any obligation to place things in context.

It is time to realize that though we have much, we have never been an imperialist nation. We fix our major problems. We have advanced the cause of freedom everywhere. My foreign students remind me every semester - they come here for freedom: religious, educational, job opportunity, etc.

Maybe it's time those who are so negative, for whatever reason, to try living somewhere else - six months would do it. Maybe then, they will realize what we have is a true gift; that what we have is what so many people desire and our constant self-critiquing is just wrong. We are a beacon - we must keep the light burning. We must be responsible to ourselves, our children and others.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Union-Sponsored Anti-war Demonstration Flops in St. Paul 

As noted here on Saturday, two key public unions (AFSCME and SEIU) along with other assorted unions and anti-war groups used members' dues to stage a rally (?) on the steps of the MN Capitol in St. Paul. Since some union members do not support these causes, is this a fair use of their dues?

A second point is interesting. This particular anti-war assemblage spent weeks weeks planning, contacting members, etc. However, it would take a very large imagination to call this rally a success - max, 300 people. How many thousands of members comprise AFSCME and SEIU, not counting the other organizations behind this event?

On the other hand, a stalwart band of military and mission supporters are beginning to appear at various anti-war functions. The base group, Families United, founded by MN's own Merilee Carlson who lost her son, Shrek in Iraq, organized a quick response. Though the group was small, it made an impact.

The anti-war crowd is not used to seeing any opposition but now supporters of our troops are pulling together. These people realize we are in a fight for freedom and civilization.

Everyone wants peace but once peace=pacifism, freedom for all, including the anti-war crowd, is at risk of disappearing. As long as there are those who wish to destroy us and suppress others' beliefs, someone will have to take a stand. Right now, it's the US.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stars of the North - Volunteers, American Style 

September 12, I had the privilege of attending a Star of the North awards ceremony for constituents of MN's Second Congressional District. As Representative John Kline said, there are all kinds of people who find a need and out of caring and love, volunteer and find a solution. Because of the selfless acts of so many, his office established a program to honor many of these doers.

Awards were given to 43 people who had done something out of the ordinary, reached out to others or saved a life because of their calm thinking. Honorees included:

A four-year-old boy who saved his mother's life after she had a diabetic attack; he called 911 and forced her to eat Reese Peanut Butter cups to stabilize her sugar.

An 11 year old whose mother collapsed; he called 911 and then got his younger brother and sister into another room, loaded a DVD, told them to stay there; returned to his mom until paramedics arrived. (Both moms are fine.)

A high school girl who launched a drive for prom dresses for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Lakeville police who raised $50,000 for Special Olympics by jumping into a frozen Lake in January.

Multiple small groups that had fairs, benefit dinners, and other fetes to help families defray large medical expenses.

One woman donated a kidney to a complete stranger. Another child offered her hair to Locks of Love.

Another child has collected pop tops for the Ronald McDonald House.

A senior citizen reads to school children weekly.

Yes, I got an award for my four plus years of shipments to American soldiers in Iraq.

This giving attitude followed with actions is rare, period. In too many places on the planet, the government is the main source of help, not individual citizens. In 2006, a friend of mine had a young adult nephew from Norway visit him. They went to the Science Museum in St. Paul, a place staffed with many volunteers. His nephew asked what a "volunteer" was. My friend explained. The nephew replied, "Oh, we don't do that in Norway, the government takes care of all this." If we let our government take over too much of our society, we too will lose contact with our neighbor; we will lose the incentive and eventually the ability to help friends and strangers in need.

We need to remember: Part of what makes America exceptional are people like these honored tonight. It's these big and little actions that count. Our kind of thinking, generosity, just "do it" attitude is NOT universal but it IS American.

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