Monday, December 31, 2018

Our Exhausted American Mediocracy

December 30, 2018

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The unlikely 2016 election of Donald Trump—the first president without either prior political or military office—was a repudiation of the American “aristocracy.” By “rule of the best” I mean the ancien régime was no longer understood to suggest wealth and birth (alone), but instead envisioned itself as a supposed national meritocracy of those with proper degrees, and long service in the top hierarchies of government, media, blue-chip law firms, Wall Street, high tech, and academia.
The 2016 election and refutation of the ruling class did not signal that those without such educations and qualifications were de facto better suited to direct the country. Instead, the lesson was that the past record of governance and the current stature of our assumed best and brightest certainly did not justify their reputations or authority, much less their outsized self-regard. In short, instead of being a meritocracy, they amount to a mediocracy, neither great nor awful, but mostly mediocre.
This mediocracy is akin to late 4th-century B.C. Athenian politicians, the last generation of the Roman Republic, the late 18th-century French aristocracy, or the British bipartisan elite of the mid-1930s—their reputations relying on the greater wisdom and accomplishment of an earlier generation, while they remain convinced that their own credentials and titles are synonymous with achievement, and clueless about radical political, economic, military, and social upheavals right under their noses.
Remember the “new normal”? Our economic czars had simply decided anemic economic growth was the best Americans could expect and that 3 percent annualized GDP growth was out of the realm of possibility. Big government incompetence combined with Wall Street buccaneerism had almost melted down the economy in 2008. Recent presidents had doubled the debt—twice.
Few could explain how recent agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord or Iran deal could ever have achieved their stated aims, much less were in America’s interest. War planners had not translated interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya into strategic advantage—much less lasting victory—and never offered reasons to be in such places that appealed to half the country.
Most elites had assumed the deindustrialized red-state interior was doomed to a sort of preordained and irreversible decline, much of it supposedly self-induced. In more candid moments, elites jested that red-state losers might be better replaced by new immigrants, both legal and illegal.
Our ruling classes either could not or would not defend American traditions and civilization in our colleges, in our government, and in our popular culture—and they were increasingly accepting of the globalist consensus that America had a flawed past requiring some sort of reparatory future.
Our leadership accepted a world in which America’s misdemeanors were the source of global outrage, while China’s felonies were largely exempt from criticism. China’s global hegemony was seen as assumed and fated. Efforts to derail it were near inane or retrograde.
Most Americans figured that those who lectured them on television, in op-eds, and throughout popular culture about guns, open borders, green mandates, fossil fuels, and the public schools, had the money, desire, and clout to live in desirable neighborhoods, sometimes behind walls, with ample taste for fine cars, jet trips, and private academies for their children.
Earned Hypocrisies?
The charge of hypocrisy against the elite was considered juvenile—given that exemptions were needed for the ruling class to serve us all the better.
How could Al Gore save us from our carbon emissions without his private jet? How could Nancy Pelosi craft drastic climate change legislation without flying to a Kona resort over the holidays?
How could Eric Holder stop prejudice without a jet junket to the Belmont Stakes with his kids? How could our Malibu elite nobly sermonize about their loyal gardeners and dutiful maids without walled estates?
How could Silicon Valley wizards pontificate about the evils of charter schools and the need for teacher unions, without private academies for their own? And how exactly could the heads of our intelligence agencies and justice department officials track down the crimes of Donald Trump without committing greater ones themselves?
Much of the Trump agenda, although nominally embraced by the Republican Party after the July 2016 convention, was largely crafted in antithesis to the bipartisan status quo that either could not or would not end illegal immigration, secure the border, call China out on warping world trade, seek greater reciprocity with allies, curtail optional military interventions, massively deregulate, expand fossil fuel production, and return the federal judiciary to a constitutional and constructionist framework.
If such a nontraditional agenda had been advanced by an “acceptable” outsider or billionaire such as Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or Michael Bloomberg, it would have been seen as eccentric but nevertheless not blasphemous. However, Donald Trump advertised himself as a renegade whose own notorious apostasy was inseparable from his message, and who felt no allegiance to the political protocols and customs that had prepped past presidents. Trump’s often crude demeanor at times seemed to suggest that he was not just interested in revoking the results of status quo policymaking, but the very premises of the status quo itself.
It is easy to suggest that much of the unprecedented hatred shown Trump is the poisoned fruit of his alleged toxic persona. And yet it is hard to calibrate whether any president has faced, from the moment of his election, the level of venom shown Trump by both political parties, and by the elite media, and the centers of progressivism on Wall Street, in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington, and New York.
A country that once banned for life a clown from a state fair for wearing in puerile fashion a Barack Obama mask now ritually talks of impeaching, committing to an institution, overthrowing, or beating, burning, decapitating, blowing up, and shooting the elected president.
Certainly, we have never seen anything like the constant anti-Trump media hatred, the efforts since the election to remove Trump, in slow-motion coup style, by seeking to warp the Electoral College, to invoke the 25th Amendment and the Emoluments Clause, to unleash special counsel Robert Mueller with an unlimited budget, a toadyish media, a team of partisan lawyers and investigators, and prior help from the top echelons at the Obama Department of Justice, the FBI, the National Security Council, and the CIA.
The argument of these elites and their institutions has been not just that Trump is incompetent or inexperienced, but that he is corrupt, perverse, treasonous, criminally minded, and to such a degree that the results of the 2016 should be overturned before the 2020 election. And such an end to Trump’s elected governance is justified not merely by his toxic person, but also by the racist, sexist, nativist, xenophobic Americans—the counterfeit half of the country—who elected him.
A Case Against Trump?
If these arguments of the American aristocracy were valid, we would have to accept three arguments of the best and brightest:
1) There is a clear moral, legal and popular prerogative to remove Trump.
Yet for all the efforts of the professional politicians, the lockstep media, and the elite academic, legal, and financial communities, there is neither a rational nor legal basis to remove Trump. Instead, he enjoys about the general level of support as did many past presidents at this juncture in their administrations. He has survived his first midterm in better fashion than did either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama who were both later easily reelected.
No one has yet argued that the tenures of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, or Bill Clinton—still enshrined in the progressive pantheon—were marked by less crudity. The record of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, IRS, CIA, and FBI between January 2009 and January 2017 does not qualify as “scandal free.”
It’s unlikely Trump will be convicted of any crimes as outlined by the Mueller collusion investigation. It is more likely he will prove to be the most investigated, probed, and audited president in history. And even more likely, top officials at the Justice Department, CIA, and FBI will be facing eventual legal exposure for unethical and illegal efforts to damage the Trump candidacy, transition, and presidency.
2) Trump has failed.
For all the perceived chaos and disorder in the Trump Administration, it certainly has so far achieved a stronger economic record than did his predecessors, whether adjudicated by GDP growth, unemployment, energy production, or deregulation.
Even a shaky stock market is still much higher than it was when Trump took office. Likewise, abroad, for all Trump’s supposed unpopularity, privately most Americans and many so-called experts agree that the Iran Deal was fatally flawed, the Paris Accord was a charade, the “Palestinian” problem was ossified, a radically new policy toward China was overdue, the Pentagon needed to be recalibrated, and old American partnerships were in dire need of recalibration from NATO to NAFTA.
3) There is a logical and systematic antithesis to Trumpism.
If so, will either primary or general election candidates run on open borders being preferable to secure ones? Eliminating ICE is better than maintaining it? Defense cuts are necessary? Far more gun control? Medicare for all?
There is too much American natural gas and oil production? The economy would be better off with higher unemployment and slower growth? Food stamps need to be increased not reduced by over 3 million recipients?
We are too harsh on Iran and too accommodating of Israel? Taxes are too low, government too small, and entitlements too few? Did Trump appoint too many unqualified strict constructionist judges? Were John Bolton and Mike Pompeo incompetent?
Whom Are We To Trust?
As we look to our celebrities, billionaires, intellectuals and senior statesmen, a sort of American pantheon, do we to find sources of reassurance in Hollywood, perhaps in the statements and behavior of the last two years of Cher, Barbra Streisand, Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp, or Madonna? Do the Oscars, Tonys, and Emmys showcase the expertise, competence, and professionalism of our entertainers?
Do the recent statements of the elite marginalized—a LeBron James, Alice Walker, or Tamika Mallory—remind us to reset our ethical bearings, or do they instead suggest that intersectionality can at times exempt, rather than serve as an impediment to, anti-Semitism? Has Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shown how superior erudition and common sense?
Perhaps Harvard, now facing allegations that it systematically discriminated on the basis of race, can reassure us of progressive values in these tough times? Can its first Native American professor Elizabeth Warren help us endure Trump? Or maybe Google, Facebook and Twitter can show us the way to protect our civil liberties, free expression, and non-partisanship?
Do the heads of our major entertainment and news organizations, a Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves, offer sources of refuge in these supposedly dark Trump years? Have trusted journals like The New Republic or Der Spiegel been reliable beacons of truth?
Perhaps we can look to the elite of the media, to the careers of Dan Rather, Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, or Mark Halperin, or stellar writers such as Leon Wieseltier, Glenn Thrush, or Garrison Keillor to help us recover our moral bearings. Could a wide array of our best intellectuals, politicians, and activists help find our way home in in the age of Trump, perhaps truth tellers such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Al Franken, or Dianne Feinstein?
Could not Joe Biden weigh in on the evils of plagiarism, Cory Booker cite the dangers of fabulism, Harry Reid warn of racial stereotyping, or Kamala Harris on the perils of religious bigotry?
Maybe the elites of government will be our touchstones. Trump critic, James Comey, the director of the FBI, has told Congress on 245 occasions during a single appearance that he does not know or cannot remember the answers when asked questions.
The cable television critic and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had lied under oath to Congress and fabulously claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was largely secular.
John Brennan, another cable television consultant and the former CIA head, has trumped Clapper by lying twice to Congress. Brennan also claimed that jihad was little more than a personal introspective religious journey.  Are these our watchtowers of sobriety in these dark times?
Both Hillary and Bill Clinton, by education, careers, and service, are advertisements of the ruling class. Yet, she was the godmother of the disastrous Libyan incursion, knee-deep in scandal from cattlegate to Benghazi to Uranium One, and hired a foreign national during the 2016 election to find dirt on her political opponent through the paid services of foreign sources. Bill was impeached and somehow ended up worth well over $100 million largely by selling influence on the premise he and his spouse would one day be back in the White House. The Clinton Foundation is synonymous with corruption.
So do the most acerbic critics of Trump and iconic members of our aristocracy inspire confidence?
Former National Security advisor Susan Rice, to take just one recent example of a prominent critic in the news, lied repeatedly about the Benghazi attacks, about the Bowe Bergdahl swap (the Army deserter  served, she said, “with honor and distinction”), about the sordid details of buying back hostages central to the Iran deal (“And we were very specific about the need not to link their fate to that of the negotiations”), about the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Syria (“We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical-weapons stockpile,”) and about the unmasking of names surveilled through FISA court warrants (“I know nothing about this”).
The point of this tour of our elite is not to excuse Trump’s often retaliatory crassness or bombast, but to remind us that our self-righteous anti- and pre-Trump aristocracy was so often a mediocracy. It had assumed status and privilege largely on suspect criteria. Its record abroad and at home inspired little confidence. Doing mostly the opposite of what elite conventional wisdom advocated since January 2017 has made the nation stronger, not weaker.
Strangest of all, the elite’s furious venom directed at Trump, couched in ethical pretense, has had the odd effect to remind the American people how unethical and incompetent these people were, are, and likely will continue to be.

Peter Jackson’s new masterpiece shows the human side of WWI

By Rich Lowry
December 30, 2018

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The filmmaker Peter Jackson deserves more than an Oscar; he deserves a medal.
What the director of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies has done with his World War I documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” is more than restore archival film; he has restored the humanity of men caught up in one of history’s great cataclysms. This is an aesthetic achievement of the highest order, and great service to history.
World War I has always had more than it’s share of historiography, novels, poems, and feature films. Until now what it lacked was video (at least watchable video), the single most powerful medium of the modern era.
It took Jackson and his team five years to make They Shall Never Grow Old. They had to painstakingly remove scratches and other damage from old film belonging to the Imperial War Museum, and slow down the primitive footage. Then it was colorized, with loving accuracy. Forensic lip-readers recovered what soldiers were saying on the film, and actors provided the voices. Finally, it was made 3-D.
The effect is to transform the men originally caught on choppy black-and-white film to relatable, individual human beings, just like anyone else we watch on a screen today.
World War I was such an industrial-scale event that it tends to become impersonal, the men who fought it reduced in our minds to cannon fodder.
Jackson’s artistic choices open up a new vista. He focuses only on British soldiers on the Western front and doesn’t retell the events of the war. There is no narrator and no historians. Instead, the voices of vets interviewed by the BBC in the 1960s and ’70s constitute the narration. They tell the story of their personal experiences from enlistment to the end of the war.
This lends an astonishing cinematic intimacy to life on the front. We hear about soldiers’ preferences in cigarettes, how they fried bacon on the front line, their method of warming up water for tea via machines guns, how they went to the bathroom (the less you know, the better), and their astonishment at the prostitutes in French villages.
There are plenty of hellish details. The constant smell of death. The lice that, after their eggs are meticulously burned off uniforms, return the next morning. The rats, fat from eating corpses, that infest the trenches. The sucking mud of winter that is potentially fatal with the wrong step.
Yet, what is most striking about “They Shall Not Grow Old” is how many grins there are. The vets, who were just kids at the time, say that they joked constantly. Really, what else were they going to do, except try to make the best of it? One vet compares the times of relative quiet to an outdoors trip among friends with just enough danger to make it interesting. That Jackson recovers this neglected part of their story is a key part of his contribution.
Not that there is any stinting on the horrors. The descriptions of battle are unadorned and hauntingly specific — the mind-numbing artillery barrages, the fearful waiting before going over the top, the walking (yes, walking) across no man’s land, the battle plans gone terribly awry, the shattered bodies all around, hand-to-hand combat with the Germans.
Still, amid the carnage, the humanity of the soldiers is undimmed. When they capture Germans, they tend to get along. German prisoners spontaneously take up stretcher duty, carrying the British wounded to make themselves useful. The underlying attitude is that they are all boys, thrown into this maelstrom by forces beyond their control.

When the war ends, the soldiers return to a civilian society that doesn’t know what they experienced. The vets talk of it only among themselves, believing that no one else will understand. A hundred years later, Peter Jackson has set to prove them wrong with a masterly act of filmmaking and historical memory.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Jonah Goldberg and Cardinal Newman

December 29, 2018

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Cardinal Newman

My friend Jonah Goldberg has prompted me to think a bit about the issue of character as it relates to public service. Jonah thinks that Donald Trump is a man of bad character. He’s written this several times, most recently, I believe, at National Review where he puts it negatively: it is an “obvious truth,” he says, that “President Trump is not a man of good character.”

In August, on Twitter, Jonah issued a challenge that, he noted, he had been pressing for three years: “Please come up with a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear.”
I’ll take a crack at that in a moment. First, I want to agree, at least provisionally, with Jonah’s observation in his column that “Character is one of those topics, like culture or morality, that everyone strongly supports yet also argues about.” I say “provisionally” because although I agree that character, culture, and morality are typically matters that interest us deeply and, hence, are things that we endlessly discuss and often argue about, I am not quite sure what he means when he says that “everyone strongly supports” them. Thinking it over, I am not sure I have ever heard anyone say “I support character.” Have you?
Jonah is fond of quoting Heraclitus’s aphorism ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων against the president. He says that it is “most often” translated as “man’s character is his fate.” It has indeed been translated thus, but it is perhaps more accurately translated as “Man’s character is his daimon.” The usual Greek word for fate is μοῖρα. “Daimon,” which was that inner admonitory voice that Socrates said guided him, is something else.
While I am at it, I should perhaps also say I am not sure that ēthos means quite what Jonah’s weaponization of the aphorism implies. As I understand it, ēthos means one’s settled disposition; the Liddell and Scott lexicon mentions the Latin word ingenium among its definitions. Someone in the early modern era might have described it as a man’s “humor.” Jonah begins his most recent column by noting:
For a very long time now, I have been predicting that the Trump presidency will end poorly because character is destiny.
The logic is: Trump’s character is bad. Character is destiny. Ergo Trump’s administration will come a cropper. The aphorism by Heraclitus is offered as confirmation of this syllogism.
It is, I’ll admit, amusing to speculate about what Heraclitus would have made of Donald Trump. But for my money, a more pertinent saying of the old Ephesian is φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ: the true nature of things likes to conceal itself.
In any event, Jonah goes on to say, notwithstanding the “obvious truth” that Donald Trump is “not a man of good character,” some people disagree and, mirabile dictu, “seem to have convinced themselves that Trump is a man of good character.” Some of these people, moreover, “take personal offense at the insult, even though I usually offer it as little more than an observation.” The contention that Trump is “not a man of good character,” you see, although it is “an insult,” is also an “obvious truth.” Which is to say, like the proposition “All men are mortal,” one is not free to disagree with it. You might dislike it. You might wish it were not true. But there is something coercive about “an obvious truth.” It is simply beyond debate.
That, I believe, is Jonah’s contention, which makes his irritation at those who persist in disagreeing with him about this understandable. “They rush to rebut the claim,” he says “citing banal or debatable propositions: He loves his children! He’s loyal to a fault! He’s authentic! Never mind that many bad men love their children, that loyalty to people or causes unworthy of loyalty is not admirable, and that authentic caddishness is not admirable. Moreover, he is not remotely loyal to his wives or the people who work for him.”
There is a lot that one might say about those observations, which, speaking of banal propositions, seem to me to mix the banal (“many bad men love their children”) with the highly debatable: is it, for example, unarguable that the president’s fundamental loyalties are to “unworthy” people or causes, as Jonah implies?
One frequent objection to Donald Trump’s behavior—and one that is made by friends as well as opponents—revolves around his sometimes intemperate rhetoric. The president’s friends lament this but exonerate, or half-exonerate, him with the contention that the tweets and the insults are merely a matter of style whereas his achievements are a matter of substance. Jonah anticipates and dismisses this gambit. “[H]is insults are not simply an act,” he says; “they are the product of astonishing levels of narcissism, insecurity, and intellectual incuriosity. Trump’s Twitter account is simply a window into his id.”
Jonah concludes his indictment with this inventory:
Trump’s refusal to listen to advisers, his inability to bite his tongue, his demonization and belittling of senators who vote for his agenda but refuse to keep quiet when he does or says things they disagree with, his rants against the First Amendment, his praise for dictators and insults for allies, his need to create new controversies to eclipse old ones, and his inexhaustible capacity to lie and fabricate history: All of this springs from his character.
Again, I’d say there was a lot that was debatable in this list. For example, there are many instances, as the public record shows, where Trump not only listened to but also heeded the counsel of his advisers. I cannot myself recall any “rants against the First Amendment,” per se. And I’d say that his “praise for dictators” was really praise for their possible good behavior or acquiescence to policies that the president thought were in our national interest. One might agree or disagree in this or that case, thinking the president ought to have said or done this instead of that. But that is my point: the issues are debatable, not settled.
As for coming up with “a definition of good character” that the president can clear, let me begin by backing into it and offering a negative definition a friend of mine offered: “Maybe not having sex in the Oval Office with an intern, weaponizing the IRS, DOJ, CIA, and FBI, being impeached for lying under oath or wiping clean thousands of text messages and emails under subpoena…”. The concluding ellipsis, it should go without saying, looks forward to a much longer list.
My question is this: what is the character that Jonah wants us to champion and that he stipulates Donald Trump lacks? Let us grant that the president is an imperfect man. What betokens worse character: tweeting rude things or having sex with your intern in the Oval Office? What’s worse, insulting Bob Corker or using the Department of Justice and the IRS to harass and persecute your political opponents?
I remember being taken aback when Bret Stephens this time last year took stock of Donald Trump’s accomplishments and concluded, “I still wish Hillary Clinton were president.” The list that Stephens mustered was long and impressive. It began with tax cuts, the effective obliteration of ISIS, and the decertification of the Iran deal and ended with the robust economy and the ascension of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. (Brett Kavanaugh was yet to come.) “What, for a conservative,” Stephens asked, “is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump administration rounds out its first year in office?”
I thought that was a very good question. But Stephens’ answer was the same as Jonah’s: Donald Trump’s character, his “personality,” was defective. He suffers, said Stephens, from a virtue deficit. “Character does count,” Stephens insisted, and Trump does not have it. On the contrary, the president, he said, “has imported a style of politics reminiscent of the cults of Juan Perón and Hugo Chávez.”
This is where Cardinal Newman comes in. In his book The Grammar of Assent, Newman devotes some interesting pages to Aristotle’s concept of φρόνησις, “prudence.” “Properly speaking,” Newman says, “there are as many kinds of phronesis as there are virtues: for the judgment, good sense, or tact which is conspicuous in a man’s conduct in one subject-matter, is not necessarily traceable in another.”
[H]e may be great in one aspect of his character, and little-minded in another. He may be exemplary in his family, yet commit a fraud on the revenue; he may be just and cruel, brave and sensual, imprudent and patient. And if this be true of the moral virtues, it holds good still more fully when we compare what is called his private character with his public. A good man may make a bad king; profligates have been great statesmen, or magnanimous political leaders.
I don’t know anyone who voted for Donald Trump, or who later came to support him, because he thought the president was a candidate for sainthood.
On the contrary, people supported him, first, because of what he promised to do and, second, because of what, over the past two years, he has accomplished. These accomplishments, from rolling back the regulatory state and scores of conservative judicial appointments, from moving our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem to resuscitating our military, working to end Obamacare, and fighting to keep our borders secure, are not morally neutral data points. They are evidences of a political vision and of promises made and kept. They are, in short, evidences of what sort of character Donald Trump is.
Add them up and I think they go a long way towards a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear.
Voltaire, writing against Rousseau and his self-intoxicated paeans to “virtue,” occupied a similar semantic neighborhood: “What is virtue, my friend?” Voltaire asked. “It is to do good: let us do it, and that’s enough. We won’t look into your motives.”

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Gothenburg 2016 third night (Complete show)

Friday, December 28, 2018

Hijab in the House

December 27, 2018

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Rashida Tlaib draped in a Palestinian flag is embracing her mother on the night of her Primary Election win.(Photo by Anthony Lanzilote via The New York Times)

One of the notable results of the November 6 midterm elections was that the U.S. House of Representatives went from two Muslim members -- Indiana’s André Carson and Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, who on the same day was elected his state’s attorney general -- to three Muslims, Carson plus two new female members from Michigan and Minnesota. With few if any exceptions, the mainstream media rooted for these ladies throughout the campaign season and lustily cheered their victories, not because of their skills or experience or political views but because they represented “diversity.”

The same media also did their best to cover up unpleasant details about them. For example, Rashida Tlaib, the soon-to-be-installed member from Michigan, has a record of outspoken anti-Semitic comments (at her victory party, she wrapped herself in a Palestinian flag). As David Steinberg demonstrated in a bravura series of investigative articles for PJ MediaIlhan Omar, the hijab-wearing future Gentlewoman from Minnesota (on her account, Democrats plan to lift a 181-year-old ban on head coverings in Congress), not only hates Jews but committed perjury and married her brother, likely as part of an immigration and student-loan scam. Nonetheless she is already being hailed as a “star” and has been elected to a leadership role in the House progressive caucus.

Granted, these are just two House members out of 435. And Ellison, who won election in Minnesota despite his chummy relations with Louis Farrakhan and highly plausible accusations of domestic abuse, is, so far, the country’s only Muslim state AG. But it’s a start -- a foot in the door. At what point are we permitted to begin worrying out loud?

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Ilhan Omar

Click on the link below to read the rest of the article:

Glow of Gloom

By Charles F. McElwee
December 26, 2018

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(Getty Images)

Earlier this month, 60 Minutes reported on the effects of “screen time” on American children. The unsettling segment concerned a groundbreaking study by the National Institutes of Health that confirms how screens affect brain development. The study’s initial data, involving 4,500 participants, detected significant differences in the brains of children using screens, like tablets or smartphones, for more than seven hours a day. Early findings cannot determine if these differences indicate harmful or beneficial effects, but the NIH study does show a link between children’s screen time and lower scores on cognitive tests. The report raises troubling questions about immersive use of technology devices in the young. As Jean Twenge, a prominent psychologist, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, smartphones “should be a tool that you use. Not a tool that uses you.”

No tool epitomizes screen technology’s impact like the iPhone. Since its release in 2007, the device has distorted reality and disrupted daily routines for adults; for children, it is becoming a cognitive appendage. According to nonprofit Common Sense Media, 98 percent of homes with children have mobile devices, and 42 percent of young children now have their own tablets (up from 1 percent in 2011).

Rather than resisting this influence, school systems are welcoming it.  For young students, and even preschoolers, screens have become a portal for understanding the world. Educators embrace technology’s supremacy, believing that screen time will prepare their students for the working world., a nonprofit backed by companies like Google and Facebook, spreads the tech gospel. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the organization has enjoyed “remarkable success in advancing its agenda by offering free programs for schools and through a social-media-savvy marketing campaign and lobbying.” The efforts have paid off; as the Inquirer reported, 25 percent of all U.S. students have accounts; 800,000 teachers use the site for class lessons.

Is the fusion of education and technology helping children? In The Atlantic, Rob Waters explored the effect of classroom technology on academic outcomes. Waters cites an Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development report, released in 2015, that found technology “is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students.” He visited the learning lab of a charter school that serves low-income students in San Jose, California, where one concerned teacher told him, “I’m not anti-technology but I’m definitely for minimizing it. . . . Is the tech in my classroom going to preserve or enhance human connection?”

This question lies at the heart of an ironic new class division: between Silicon Valley parents, who understand all too well the dangers of gadgets for young children, and the heartland’s middle- and working-class families, whose children are increasingly saturated in screen time. In October, the New York Times profiled how “play-based preschools” now thrive in prosperous neighborhoods, ensuring that children play with traditional toys, develop interaction skills, and avoid the glow of tablet screens. But screen-based preschools continue to expand, too, often with federal grant funding, in states like Idaho and Wyoming. As the Times reported, a state-funded preschool, offered exclusively online, now serves approximately 10,000 children in Utah. Despite intensifying concerns about technology’s effect on childhood development, “Apple and Google compete ferociously to get products into schools and target students at an early age, when brand loyalty begins to form.”

As the NIH study progresses, Americans will learn more about how screens harm children’s brains, but we already know that tablet screens compromise attentiveness, induce agitation, distort perspective, and hinder interaction. Speaking on 60 Minutes, pediatrician Dimitri Christakis confirmed screens’ effect on babies, noting that skills learned on iPads, such as “stacking” virtual blocks, don’t translate into physical skills. “They don’t transfer the knowledge from two dimensions to three,” Christakis told Cooper.

Can parents insulate children, at their most malleable stages of development, from Big Tech? Students increasingly require technology for academic work and long-term advancement (Pew Research Center reported in October that many teenagers cannot finish their homework because of limited broadband access). But by embracing tablets as learning tools, parents are ceding their children’s intellectual growth to technology. Armed with smartphones, lost in apps, distracted by games, children join their parents in becoming ravenous digital consumers.

Throughout 2018, Big Tech’s privacy breaches—from Facebook’s data exploitation to social media’s ecosystem for foreign-funded misinformation—made news. Perhaps the most overlooked story, though, addressed on 60 Minutes, is how Silicon Valley, through educational marketing, has hooked a new generation on its products. As Athena Chavarria, who works for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, told the Times: “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”  As a result, more and more children face futures deprived of natural wonder—a high enough price to pay, but one likely to rise as we learn more about technology’s cognitive effects on young brains.

Charles F. McElwee is a writer based in northeastern Pennsylvania. He’s written for The American ConservativeThe AtlanticNational Review, and The Weekly Standard, among others.

Sweet Shutdown, Roll On

December 26, 2018

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It never seems to occur to the Democrats, currently bellyaching about the largely phantom “government shutdown,” that the last people Donald Trump cares about offending are the army of Democrat-voting bureaucrats who will be the only folks inconvenienced by Senator Charles Schumer’s latest temper tantrum.

As far as the rest of America is concerned, the shutdown of “nonessential” government services can bloody well continue indefinitely, as the president has promised, in order to get funding for his wall along the Mexican border. It’s the best Christmas present ever.
The furloughed federal employees in question are the Beltway parasites who feed off the taxpayers in real America, and provide next to nothing in exchange for their three square meals a day and fancy digs in what has become, for all practical purposes, a one-party deep state that now consists of eastern Maryland, the District of Columbia, and northern Virginia—and thus the rest of America. Bureaucrats are happy to munch on the hands that feed them, with slovenly, indifferent “service” in useless, invented sinecures, but would never think of barking at the guys who actually throw them the bones, and thus keep them ensconced in petty power over their fellow citizens.
Which is why Trump has brought the nation to this happy pass: not simply for the wall, or to punish some of his most dedicated political enemies, but also for real Americans to see how thoroughly corrupted by the Left the Democrat Party has become.
The president has forced Schumer and his House sidekick, Maerose Prizzi, to make a choice between protecting their bureaucrat-class base or protecting the American people from the often feral and predatory consequences of the failed state just to our south. The collapse of Spanish-introduced Christianity in Mexico, it seems, has released the inner Native American spirit of much of the population, with the horrific results we see daily in MexicoAztlan. That similar levels of savage violence should cross the border with some of the “migrants” should surprise no one.
The Democrats, of course, no longer care about the current American population—they have their eyes on the replacements, which is why they will fight to their political end in order to keep the border open; in order for their mouthpiece media to hype every sick child and kiddie deathwhile in neo-Nazi American “custody” and thus further their longstanding Marxist narrative that the United States is fundamentally illegitimate; and in order eventually to wear down the larger culture until, out of sheer exhaustion, it capitulates and commits cultural suicide to atone for its imagined sins.
On the Left, the unattainably perfect (which is what Marxism is, in both its economic and cultural manifestations) must always be the mortal enemy of the good, and especially the good enough. The Left makes no allowances for human fallibility or imperfections; it attributes every failure to willful malfeasance, animated by “racism” or some other malevolence. Via Critical Theory, and implemented according to Alinsky’s Rule No. 4 courtesy of the Cloward-Piven strategy, it seeks in the guise of beneficence to destroy human institutions and, by way of abortion and birth control, humanity itself. Note this recent discussion of the relative value of humanity in the New York Times:
There are stirrings of discussion these days in philosophical circles about the prospect of human extinction. This should not be surprising, given the increasingly threatening predations of climate change. In reflecting on this question, I want to suggest an answer to a single question, one that hardly covers the whole philosophical territory but is an important aspect of it. Would human extinction be a tragedy?
To get a bead on this question, let me distinguish it from a couple of other related questions. I’m not asking whether the experience of humans coming to an end would be a bad thing. (In these pages, Samuel Scheffler has given us an important reason to think that it would be.) I am also not asking whether human beings as a species deserve to die out. That is an important question, but would involve different considerations. Those questions, and others like them, need to be addressed if we are to come to a full moral assessment of the prospect of our demise. Yet what I am asking here is simply whether it would be a tragedy if the planet no longer contained human beings. And the answer I am going to give might seem puzzling at first. I want to suggest, at least tentatively, both that it would be a tragedy and that it might just be a good thing.
A good thing for thee, maybe, but not for me—and not for Western Civilization, which is the only thing standing between us and barbarism. Which brings us back to the “shutdown.”
The greatest enemy of American democracy is not Donald Trump, nor even Chuck Schumer, who is as ideal a cartoon villain as it possible to imagine. Neither is it the Democrat Party, although its disappearance is a thing devoutly to be wished; the criminal organization masquerading as a political party (Aaron Burr, come on down) should have been outlawed and disbanded in April 1865, but something happened that month . . . oh yes, the first Republican president was assassinated by a Southern Democrat and was succeeded in office by . . . a Southern Democrat, who essentially served out Lincoln’s entire second term and set back the cause of civil rights for African-Americans for a full century.
No, the greatest threats to the republic are the bureaucrats who, with the dispassion of any National Socialist Beamter, calmly carry out the duties of their offices long past the time those offices should have been abolished. For them, no mission is ever accomplished until it has achieved 100 percent effectiveness, and if that means the abolition of man, so much the better. The only morality they can adhere to in an increasingly secular—which is to say, militant atheist—country is one that cripples, punishes, and eliminates their enemies—and they will achieve perfection if it kills you.
So let the shutdown roll on, indefinitely—all the way to 2020 if need be. Trump has nothing to lose, certainly not a single vote, from keeping the pencil-pushers confined to quarters in Arlington and Silver Spring. Instead, he can turn it into a series of object lessons that even the media won’t be able to ignore: that bogus moralism will not be allowed to supersede the president’s duty to keep the nation intact and secure from illegal invasion, by any means necessary; that the Democrats, whose previous sham opposition to illegal “immigration” is visible on YouTube for all to see, now stand fully revealed as the party of radical socialism, their longstanding cultural Marxism now morphing back inexorably to economic Marxism under the media-fueled “leadership” of their latter-day Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom they are grooming as the female Barack Obama for 2024.
Most important, is that in an era of record tax revenue; we still have ever-greater record deficits and debt. Trump is unlikely to go anywhere near Social Security and Medicare, but he’ll be damned if he buys the Bernie Sanders head fake to turn Medicaid (a welfare program for the indigent) into Obamacare on steroids as “Medicare for all,” which would bankrupt the country.
Then again, bankruptcy is the entire point of the Cloward-Piven strategy, the Marxist Last Trump before the Second Coming, and in more ways than one. So let the first Trump put a stake through its heart. He’ll never have a better chance to get his wall, right the economy, break the bureaucracy, and pants the Democrats. What’s not to like?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Murder in Morocco

Just don't call it Jihad
December 25, 2018
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Maren Ueland & Louisa Jespersen
It was only last July 29 that Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, a young American couple who had spent the previous year bicycling across much of Africa, Europe, and southern Asia, were murdered by ISIS members in Tajikistan. The story made international headlines. What added to the widespread interest in their fate was the fact that they had kept a blog of their journey, complete with photos and philosophical reflections. Repeatedly they denied the reality of evil and expressed the view that people are basically good. Reader comments on a New York Times article about the couple that appeared after their deaths celebrated them as “heroic,” “authentic,” “idealistic,” “inspiring,” “a Beautiful example of Purity and Light,” and so on. I disagreed. “Their naivete,” I noted in a piece I wrote about them, “is nothing less than breathtaking.”
Now comes the story of Maren Ueland and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, which captured the interest of people in Norway and Denmark all last week. Ueland (28) was Norwegian; Jespersen (24) was Danish. They were students together at the campus of the University of South-Eastern Norway in Bø, a small Telemark mountain town (pop. 6,000) that happens to be in my own neck of the woods. Both Ueland and Jespersen were majoring in something calledfriluftsliv og kultur- og naturveiledning, a combination of words that defines precise translation; suffice it to say that the subject is designed for students who want to work in the outdoors, to lead guided tours in the woods, and to point out items of cultural interest to hikers – that sort of thing.
No field of study could be more archetypically Norwegian. Until recently, the official state religion of Norway was Lutheranism, but the country’s real religion is nature – specifically, going for a walk in the mountains: fresh air, quiet, serenity, a sense of being in touch with the eternal and divine. This activity even has its own standard set of rituals, among them the practice of taking along a couple of oranges, a Kvikk Lunsj (that’s a brand name) chocolate bar, a Thermos of hot chocolate and another Thermos containing boiled hot dogs. A common expression here is “Ut på tur, aldri sur” – take a walk in the wood and you’ll always feel good!
Given their choice of majors, it seems a safe bet that the hills filled Ueland’s and Jespersen’s hearts with the sound of music. No, Jespersen wasn’t Norwegian, but for three summers in a row, according to an article in Dagbladet, the “adventuresome” girl worked for a firm that offers holidays involving extreme sports, such as white-water rafting. One imagines that both young women did a good deal of walking in the steep, wild countryside around Bø. And a Norwegian-style reverence for the mountains would certainly explain the trip they planned for their Christmas vacation this year: namely, a hiking tour of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Alas, the tour did not go as planned. On Monday morning, December 17, Ueland and Jespersen were found dead in an “isolated area” in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Specifically, they were found “near Imlil, on the way to Toubkal, north Africa’s highest peak and a popular hiking destination.”
As the week wore on, the news media offered updates on the case. Although neither Ueland nor Jespersen had ever been in Morocco and were not familiar with the territory, they had been backpacking alone. On the last evening of their life, they pitched a tent in which to spend the night. The next morning, a French couple, also tourists, found them dead – one of them in the tent, the other just outside. Both had been subjected to “brutal rape” and then “hacked to death.” One or both of them (sources differ) had been beheaded. The killings have been described as “slaughter” and as having been performed “ISIS style.”
An ID card found in the tent led local police to track down and arrest one suspect in Marrakesh. By late Tuesday, three others had been apprehended in that city. Soon authorities in Morocco and Denmark were suggesting that the culprits were connected to ISIS; by the end of the week their membership in that organization had been established. On Friday afternoon came news that nine more alleged members of the same ISIS cell had been arrested in Marrakesh, Tangier, and other cities. The murders are being treated, at least by Morocco and Denmark, as an act of terrorism – a conclusion supported by a videotape of the atrocity that has been circulating on Moroccan social media and that has been certified as authentic by Danish intelligence. In the video, a man says in French: “This is for Syria, here are the heads of your gods.”
One of our local Telemark newspapers, Varden, reported that Jespersen’s parents hadn’t approved of her vacation plans. “We advised her not to go,” said Jespersen’s mother, Helle. Ueland’s mother, Irene, appears to have been less worried: in the quote from her that has appeared in several newspapers, she expresses surprise at the young women’s fate because, after all, they had “taken all precautions” before going. Of course, the best precaution would have been not going. Another article quoted Thor Arne Hauer, an athletic-looking Norwegian who has worked as a guide in the Atlas Mountains. He said that even after 35 years of experience in Morocco, he always arranges to be accompanied by an authorized native guide when he ventures into the Atlas Mountains. Nobody, he emphasized, should head out into that terrain alone.  
This information doesn’t seem terribly surprising. Why, then, were those two young women so unaware of the dangers they were courting? They seem to have set out on their adventure thinking that the mountains of Morocco were no less menacing than the mountains of Telemark. How can this be? They were in their mid to late twenties, no longer children. They had lived through 9/11 and all the major jihadist acts that have occurred in Western Europe in the years since then. Surely they had heard of ISIS. Surely they knew that Morocco is an Islamic country (although  a supposedly “moderate” one). And yet they both decided that it was a good idea for them to spend their Christmas holiday hiking, unescorted, in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and sleeping, just the two of them, unarmed, in a tent, in the middle of nowhere.
To say that these poor young women were ignorant is not to criticize them but to point a finger at the people who shaped their image of the Muslim world. Both of them grew up in countries where, in the wake of every deadly act of jihadist terrorism, news reporters and politicians were quick to avoid, or deny, the connection of those atrocities to Islam. Throughout their formative years, the TV channels available to them were full of upbeat programs, and the newspapers and popular magazines on sale at their grocery-story checkouts full of cheery profiles, celebrating the wonderful contributions made to their societies by Muslim immigrants.
All that brainwashing plainly had an impact. In 2015, Ueland posted on her Facebook page a video showing a bearded, Arabic-looking man walking along a city sidewalk and carrying a large, suspicious-looking bag. Nearby, a police car screeches to a halt and a bunch of cops race toward him. But they run right by him and nab a clean-cut young white guy in a business suit, in whose briefcase they find a stash of narcotics. Meanwhile the Arab has met up with his wife and two small children, and pulled from his bag a folding kick scooter, which he presents to his smiling little girl. He then picks up his little boy to carry him on his shoulders, and the family continues on its way. All of this is observed by a bystander, a white woman, who, accompanied by her own little girl, has been worryingly eyeing the Arab and his bag only to realize, in the end, that her suspicions were entirely misplaced and rooted in ugly bigotry. “Think for yourself,” reads the concluding message on the screen, the point being that fear of Islam is based on unfounded Islamophobic propaganda. Of course, the video itself is sheer propaganda, dishonestly suggesting that there is no good reason for concern about Islam. Clearly, this sort of agitprop helped shape Ueland's thinking – and thereby contributed to her violent death.
It is also worth noting that neither of the young women grew up in or near a major city where they might have been exposed more fully than they apparently were to the harsh reality of Islam: Ueland lived in Bryne (pop. 11,000) on Norway’s rugged west coast; Jespersen hailed from Ikast (pop. 15,000) on the mostly rural peninsula of Jutland. No, these were two young women who grew up seeing relatively little of Islam in real life and being regularly fed the soothing reassurances of politicians such as Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who, in her official comments on the double murder, called it “meaningless.” No, it wasn’t meaningless: it was an act of war by Muslims dedicated to the conquest and eradication of infidels.
As it happens, on December 20, the same day Solberg made her statement, the Italian Senate observed a minute of silence in the memory of  Ueland and Jespersen, who were described explicitly as victims of “Islamic terrorism.” But Solberg avoided such language. Even though, by the time of her statement about the murders, a video of the four perpetrators pledging loyalty to ISIS had surfaced online, and Moroccan and Danish authorities had declared the killings an act of terror, Solberg, whose priority in such circumstances is invariably to protect the good name of Islam, refused to do so. Meanwhile, as of Christmas Eve, none of the six major Norwegian party leaders with active Twitter or Facebook accounts had so much as mentioned the murders on their feeds, even though several of them had taken the time to congratulate Norwegian soccer player Ole Gunnar Solskjær for being named manager of Manchester United. Evidently, they're determined to ride this one out in silence. Let that reprehensible fact sink in for a moment.
Bruce Bawer is the author of “While Europe Slept,” “Surrender,” and "The Victims' Revolution." His novel "The Alhambra" has just been published.