As so often we are in agreement over an important issue with Daniel Greenfield, who writes at Front Page on the international order – or disorder:
The international community looked into Putin’s eyes and blinked. Multilateralism has failed as badly as it did in the days of the League of Nations, but then again it never actually worked.
The international order that everyone pretends is a real force in world affairs is really the United States and a few partners doing all the work and letting the diplomats and bureaucrats of the world pretend that they matter.
Without America, the United Nations would be just as useless as the League of Nations. With America, the United Nations is only a deterrent when the United States puts its foot down and the rest of the world doesn’t get in the way.
It has become fashionable to denounce the United States as a rogue state. A military intervention, even with the backing of its Western allies, but outside the framework of the organizations of the international order, was deemed unilateralism and cowboy diplomacy. …
The multilateral system is helpless in the face of aggression. That is as true today as it was eighty years ago. International agreements are worthless without steel and lead behind them. The United Nations is incapable of acting when one of its more powerful members is the aggressor, the foreign policy experts of the left crank out editorials explaining why we can’t do anything and the Secretary of State explains that our weakness is really a strength.
Truth is, there is no such thing as “international law” in the sense that there are laws within nations; because no “international law” can be enforced – unless it is in the interest of the mightiest power to enforce it.
International law couldn’t stop Hitler. It couldn’t stop Japan. It took the United States to do that. The foreign policy experts will deny it, the editorials will decry it and the Common Core textbooks will refuse to print it; but it takes a rogue nation to stop a rogue state. …
The issue isn’t whether the United States should intervene in Ukraine, but whether it should have the option to do something more meaningful than draw faint red lines and threaten worthless sanctions. Every mob throwing things at soldiers and police isn’t necessarily composed of the good guys just because they have photogenic protesters and colorful flags.
Our instinct to automatically support the underdog is just another dangerous figment of the multilateral mindset.
The United States has unselectively adopted the human rights agenda of the internationalists and allowed our foreign affairs priorities to be curated by the diplomats of the left who know exactly whom to denounce and what not to do about it.
UN Ambassador Samantha Power, wearing a bitter frown, agonizing over the woes of the world, is the face of our senseless and useless diplomacy that forces us to play the moral scold without being able to back it up.
American foreign policy has become indistinguishable from the United Nations agenda and just as impotent, fixated on the recommendations of human rights committees instead of national interests, incapable of addressing historical alliances, and unable to build its responses around anything except the same Powerian empty shriek of self-righteous human rights outrage.
Obama’s America has turned a cold impartial face to its allies, aspiring instead to become the vessel of international organizations while assigning its morality to an international committee. American foreign policy is under international management and that transfers its decision process from D.C. to an international network of committees incapable of doing anything except generating worthless reports and denouncing Israel.
The United States was the ghost in the machine of the United Nations, but now that the United States is the United Nations, the United States has become the puppet of a puppet. …
The United States should have a strong military, not so that it can use it, but so that it won’t need to use it. Military budget cuts send the message that we won’t intervene in international conflicts which makes it more likely that our enemies will start conflicts and that some of those conflicts will drag us in anyway …
The United States should have clear commitments and agreements that it keeps, rather than randomly butting into every single conflict and human rights violation on the planet. Its leaders should decide whether they really are serious about Syria or Ukraine or any other place on earth that they issue press releases about and keep quiet about them if they are not. …
History isn’t made by nations defending international law, but acting on their own imperatives. Only a rogue nation that isn’t bound by the chains of multilateralism can take the unilateral action necessary to stop a rogue state.
American cowboy diplomacy is the only defense the world has against commissar diplomacy, cossack diplomacy and caliphate diplomacy.
We are in principle against intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. But we are not for isolationism or pacifism – we regard either philosophy as a formula for national suicide. If other countries become belligerent, build up their armed strength, send their warships towards our shores, establish bases in countries on our borders, and declare their aggressive intentions towards us, the politics of those countries become our business. That is happening now. We are under threat – because Obama is deliberately weakening America. And his reaction to the result is to weaken America even more.
The conditions for major war develop much more easily when the U.S. is too weak. They are developing as we speak.
To a meaningful extent, the significant increase we’ve seen in unrest around the globe since 2010 has been made possible, and inevitable, by the retraction of American power. Even where we still have power in place, it has become increasingly obvious that we aren’t going to use it.
We quote from a website interestingly named Liberty Unyielding. The article on the extreme folly of the Obama administration’s moves to weaken America is by Commander Jennifer Dyer, now retired from the US navy. (Her own blog is at Theoptimisticconservative.wordpress.com):
The collapse of order in the Arab nations in 2011 was the first significant stage of the process. The perception that the United States would do nothing about a Hezbollah coup in Lebanon was tested in January of that year. The perception proved to be true, and when protests erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, for causes both natural and manufactured, a set of radical Islamist actors – the “establishment” Muslim Brotherhood, Sunni jihadists, Iran – saw an opportunity. The establishment Muslim Brotherhood has largely won out in Tunisia, but the battle still rages among these radical actors for Egypt, Syria, and now Iraq. Lebanon is being incrementally sucked into the maelstrom as well.
In multiple venues, Russia has watched the U.S. and the West effectively back Islamists in Russia’s “near abroad”: in Turkey (with support for the now struggling Erdogan government); in the Balkans, especially Bosnia and Kosovo; and in Syria. …
There was a time when the implicit determination of the U.S. to enforce the “Pax Americana” order – the post-World War II alignments of the region – held Russia in check. The Russians still derived some security benefit from that order, after all … It appears to me, however, that 2014 will be the year in which it becomes clear that, according to Russians’ perception, they no longer benefit from the old order. If we’re not going to enforce it, Russia will do what she thinks she has to.
In fact, Moscow’s pushback against the plan for Ukraine to affiliate with the EU constitutes just such a blow for perceived Russian interests. It is of supreme importance for Westerners to not misread the recent developments. The EU and the U.S. did back down when Russia pushed hard last fall. The only ones who didn’t back down were the Ukrainian opposition. I predict Vladimir Putin will try to handle the opposition factions cleverly, as much as he can, and avoid a pitched battle with them if possible. He respects what they are willing to do. But he has no reason to respect Brussels or Washington.
And that means he has more latitude, not less, for going after the regional props to the old order, one by one. As always, Russia’s inevitable competition with China is a major driver, along with Russia’s concern about Islamism on her southern border. The whole Great Crossroads – Southwest Asia, Southeast Europe, Northeast Africa, the waterways that snake through the region – is, if not up for grabs, at least in ferment. Look wherever you like: there are almost no nations where there is not a very present menace from radicalism, or where governments and even borders are not gravely imperiled by internal dissent.
Israel is the chief standout for politically sustainable stability and continuity. Romania and Turkey seem likely to at least retain their constitutional order in the foreseeable future, but Turkey’s geopolitical orientation, in particular, is less certain. Greece and Kosovo – even Bosnia – have serious internal problems. Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia all remain in crisis at various levels. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are relatively stable, and the Arab Persian Gulf states relatively so as well. But their neighborhood is going downhill fast. Iran is riding a wave of radical confidence, and the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan.
In this tumultuous region, it’s actually a little funny that Pakistan looks stable and staid compared to Iran, Afghanistan, and neighbors west. We can hope that Islamabad’s perceived need to maintain a symmetrical stance against India will keep Pakistan’s loose federation of intransigents federated, and the nukes under central control. But as we move across South Asia, we near another boiling pot. Thailand – long an American ally and pillar of stability in the region – has been rocked in recent months by national unrest of a kind not seen in Southeast Asia for decades. Islamist radicalism is a growing threat in Indonesia, and an unpacified one in the Philippines, after more than a decade of U.S.-Philippines collaboration in fighting it.
And, of course, China is making real, transformative moves against regional security with her proclamations about air space and maritime rights off her southeast coast.
This disruptive process, like the battles for many of the Arab nations, is already underway. We’re not waiting for something to happen; it’s started.
China assumes, quite correctly, that there will be no effective pushback from the United States. But two other nations with power and means will regard it as intolerable for China to dictate conditions in Southeast Asia: Japan and Russia. The dance of realignment among these nations has implications for everyone in Central Asia and the Far East. The day may be on the horizon sooner than we think when maintaining a divided Korea no longer makes sense to at least one of the major players. The day is already here when Chinese activities in Central Asia are alarming the whole neighborhood, just as Chinese actions are in the South China Sea. …
Russia and Iran are advancing on the US through Central America:
It’s no accident that as radical leftism creeps across Central America (falsely laying claim to a noble “Bolivarian” political mantle), the maritime dispute between Nicaragua and American ally Colombia heats up – and Russia shows up to back Nicaragua and Venezuela – and so does Iran – and unrest turns into shooting and government brutality and violence in Venezuela – and Hezbollah shows up there to openly support the radical, repressive Maduro government.
Now Iran has a naval supply ship headed for Central America, very possibly with a cargo of arms that are not only prohibited by UN sanction, but capable of reaching the United States if launched from a Central American nation or Cuba.
We’re not still waiting for the shocks to start to the old order. They’ve already started. I haven’t surveyed even the half of what there is to talk about …
She looks at the latest defense cuts with dismay and considers what the consequences will be:
This is the world in which the United States plans to reduce our army to its lowest level since before World War II, and eliminate or put in storage much of its capabilities for heavy operations abroad (e.g., getting rid of the A-10 Warthogs, moving Blackhawk helicopters into the National Guard). It’s in this world that DOD proposes to cease operating half of our Navy cruisers, while delaying delivery of the carrier-based F-35 strike-fighter to the Navy and Marine Corps. These cutbacks come on top of cuts already made to training and maintenance expenditures in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force that will affect unit readiness for years to come. …
Then comes what should be a shocking observation:
By cutting back on defense so drastically, America is deciding, in essence, to “fight fair”: to give whatever opponents emerge more of a chance to kill our soldiers, damage our interests, and drag out conflicts. …
That would be hard to believe of any American leadership – until now. It is ludicrous. Worse, it is lunatic. But Obama has never concealed or disguised his wish to weaken America’s military capacity.
The decision “to further limit our capabilities to use power in politically relevant ways” will result in “even more global unrest: more conflict, more shooting, more blood, more extortion and political thuggery menacing civil life in the world’s poorer and more vulnerable nations”, and that cannot be good for America. The point is that -
These unpleasant trends will spill over into civil life in the wealthier nations soon enough …
As it has, she points out, in Ukraine, Thailand, and Venezuela, “whether directly or through second-order consequences”.
Peace and freedom have to be tended constantly; they are not the natural state of geopolitical indiscipline, but its antithesis. …
We’re extraordinarily unprepared for the world that is shaping up around us. …
[And] a world that doesn’t want quiescent trade conditions, tolerance of dissent, the open flow of ideas, and mutual agreements, peacefully arrived at, will not have them.
That’s the world we are sentencing ourselves, for now, to live in. Perhaps we will learn from the consequences how to think again: about what it takes to guard freedom, and indeed, about what freedom actually is.
It is Obama who needs to think again, but there is no reason to hope that he will. It could hardly be more obvious that he does not care for freedom.
These are extracts from a Washington Times report of an interview it had in Moscow with Edward Snowden, the man who “betrayed” the secrets of the National Security Agency (NSA):
Snowden is an orderly thinker, with an engineer’s approach to problem-solving. He had come to believe that a dangerous machine of mass surveillance was growing unchecked. Closed-door oversight by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was a “graveyard of judgment” he said, manipulated by the agency it was supposed to keep in check. Classification rules erected walls to prevent public debate.
Toppling those walls would be a spectacular act of transgression against the norms that prevailed inside them. Someone would have to bypass security, extract the secrets, make undetected contact with journalists and provide them with enough proof to tell the stories.
The NSA’s business is “information dominance”, the use of other people’s secrets to shape events. … Snowden upended the agency on its own turf. …[and] succeeded beyond plausible ambition. The NSA, accustomed to watching without being watched, faces scrutiny it has not endured since the 1970s, or perhaps ever.
The cascading effects have made themselves felt in Congress, the courts, popular culture, Silicon Valley and world capitals.
The basic structure of the Internet itself is now in question, as Brazil and members of the European Union consider measures to keep their data away from U.S. territory and U.S. technology giants including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo take extraordinary steps to block the collection of data by their government.
For months, Obama administration officials attacked Snowden’s motives and said the work of the NSA was distorted by selective leaks and misinterpretations.
On Dec. 16, in a lawsuit that could not have gone forward without the disclosures made possible by Snowden, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon described the NSA’s capabilities as “almost Orwellian” and said its bulk collection of U.S. domestic telephone records was probably unconstitutional.
The next day, in the Roosevelt Room [at the White house], an unusual delegation of executives from old telephone companies and young Internet firms told President Obama that the NSA’s intrusion into their networks was a threat to the U.S. information economy. The following day, an advisory panel appointed by Obama recommended substantial new restrictions on the NSA, including an end to the domestic call-records program. …
In the intelligence and national security establishments, Snowden is widely viewed as a reckless saboteur, and journalists abetting him little less so. …
It is commonly said of Snowden that he broke an oath of secrecy, a turn of phrase that captures a sense of betrayal. NSA Director Keith B. Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., among many others, have used that formula. …
Snowden noted matter-of-factly that Standard Form 312, the classified-information nondisclosure agreement, is a civil contract. He signed it, but he pledged his fealty elsewhere.
“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy,” he said. “That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not.” …
Beginning in October 2012, he said, he brought his misgivings to two superiors in the NSA’s Technology Directorate and two more in the NSA Threat Operations Center’s regional base in Hawaii. For each of them, and 15 other co-workers, Snowden said he opened a data query tool called BOUNDLESSINFORMANT, which used color-coded “heat maps” to depict the volume of data ingested by NSA taps.
His colleagues were often “astonished to learn we are collecting more in the United States on Americans than we are on Russians in Russia,” he said. Many of them were troubled, he said, and several said they did not want to know any more.
“I asked these people, ‘What do you think the public would do if this was on the front page?’ ” he said. He noted that critics have accused him of bypassing internal channels of dissent. “How is that not reporting it? How is that not raising it?” …
By last December, Snowden was contacting reporters, although he had not yet passed along any classified information. He continued to give his colleagues the “front-page test”, he said, until April. …
Just before releasing the documents this spring, Snowden made a final review of the risks. He had overcome what he described at the time as a “selfish fear” of the consequences for himself.
“I said to you the only fear [left] is apathy — that people won’t care, that they won’t want change.” …
The documents leaked by Snowden compelled attention because they revealed to Americans a history they did not know they had. …
With assistance from private communications firms, the NSA had learned to capture enormous flows of data at the speed of light from fiber-optic cables that carried Internet and telephone traffic over continents and under seas. According to one document in Snowden’s cache, the agency’s Special Source Operations group, which as early as 2006 was said to be ingesting “one Library of Congress every 14.4 seconds”, had an official seal that might have been parody: an eagle with all the world’s cables in its grasp.
Each year, NSA systems collected hundreds of millions of e-mail address books, hundreds of billions of cellphone location records and trillions of domestic call logs.
Most of that data, by definition and intent, belonged to ordinary people suspected of nothing. But vast new storage capacity and processing tools enabled the NSA to use the information to map human relationships on a planetary scale. Only this way, its leadership believed, could the NSA reach beyond its universe of known intelligence targets.
In the view of the NSA, signals intelligence, or electronic eavesdropping, was a matter of life and death, “without which America would cease to exist as we know it”, according to an internal presentation in the first week of October 2001, as the agency ramped up its response to the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
With stakes such as those, there was no capability the NSA believed it should leave on the table. The agency followed orders from President George W. Bush to begin domestic collection without authority from Congress and the courts. When the NSA won those authorities later, some of them under secret interpretations of laws passed by Congress between 2007 and 2012, the Obama administration went further still. …
In the Moscow interview, Snowden said, “What the government wants is something they never had before,” adding: “They want total awareness. The question is, is that something we should be allowing?”
Snowden likened the NSA’s powers to those used by British authorities in Colonial America, when “general warrants” allowed for anyone to be searched. The FISA court, Snowden said, “is authorizing general warrants for the entire country’s metadata.”
“The last time that happened, we fought a war over it,” he said.
Technology, of course, has enabled a great deal of consumer surveillance by private companies, as well. The difference with the NSA’s possession of the data, Snowden said, is that government has the power to take away life or freedom.
At the NSA, he said, “there are people in the office who joke about, ‘We put warheads on foreheads.’ Twitter doesn’t put warheads on foreheads.”
Privacy, as Snowden sees it, is a universal right, applicable to American and foreign surveillance alike.
“I don’t care whether you’re the pope or Osama bin Laden,” he said. “As long as there’s an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that’s fine. I don’t think it’s imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. …
When it comes to spying on allies, by Snowden’s lights, the news is not always about the target.
“It’s the deception of the government that’s revealed,” Snowden said, noting that the Obama administration offered false public assurances after the initial reports about NSA surveillance in Germany. “The U.S. government said: ‘We follow German laws in Germany. We never target German citizens.’ And then the story comes out and it’s: ‘What are you talking about? You’re spying on the chancellor.’ You just lied to the entire country, in front of Congress.” …
In hope of keeping focus on the NSA, Snowden has ignored attacks on himself.
“Let them say what they want,” he said. “It’s not about me.”
Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden predicted that Snowden will waste away in Moscow as an alcoholic, like other “defectors.” To this, Snowden shrugged. He does not drink at all. Never has.
But Snowden knows his presence here is easy ammunition for critics. He did not choose refuge in Moscow as a final destination. He said that once the U.S. government voided his passport as he tried to change planes en route to Latin America, he had no other choice. … “I have no relationship with the Russian government. I have not entered into any agreements with them.”
“If I defected at all,” Snowden said, “I defected from the government to the public.”
We don’t think it likely that the NSA will stop its surveillance of the whole earth and your and our emails. It’s a power beyond the wildest dreams of all governments ever to be able to know everything about everyone, and now that it has become possible, and is being used, it will never be given up. No court judgment will stop it. No act of Congress. Preventing terrorist attacks is the excuse. Power is the reason.
At least we know about it now. For that we have to thank Edward Snowden.
There is much that we like about libertarianism, but have points of strong disagreement with most of the libertarians we listen to and read. The one we find ourselves most often in agreement with is John Stossel.
Here is his reminder of what we ought to be thankful for on Thanksgiving day: private property. The history of the Pilgrims bears a powerful message that private property is a way to life, liberty, and happiness, while communism is the road to starvation:
Had today’s politicians and opinion-makers been in power four centuries ago, Americans might celebrate “Starvation Day” this week, not Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims started out with communal property rules. When they first settled at Plymouth, they were told: “Share everything, share the work, and we’ll share the harvest.”
The colony’s contract said their new settlement was to be a “common.” Everyone was to receive necessities out of the common stock. There was to be little individual property.
That wasn’t the only thing about the Plymouth Colony that sounds like it was from Karl Marx: Its labor was to be organized according to the different capabilities of the settlers. People would produce according to their abilities and consume according to their needs. That sure sounds fair.
They nearly starved and created what economists call the “tragedy of the commons.”
If people can access the same stuff by working less, they will. Plymouth settlers faked illness instead of working the common property. The harvest was meager, and for two years, there was famine. But then, after the colony’s governor, William Bradford, wrote that they should “set corn every man for his own particular,” they dropped the commons idea. He assigned to every family a parcel of land to treat as its own.
The results were dramatic. Much more corn was planted. Instead of famine, there was plenty. Thanks to private property, they got food — and thanks to it, we have food today.
This doesn’t mean Pilgrims themselves saw the broader economic implications of what they’d been through. “I don’t think they were celebrating Thanksgiving because they’d realized that capitalism works and communal property is a failure,” says economist Russ Roberts. “I think there were just happy to be alive.”
I wish people understood. This idea that happiness and equality lie in banding together and doing things as a commune is appealing. It’s the principle behind the Soviet Union, Medicare, the Vietnam War, Obamacare and so on. …
The Pilgrims weren’t the first settlers on the East Coast of the New World to make this mistake.
Just a few years before, the colony of Jamestown was almost wiped out by the same idea.
Historian Edmund S. Morgan, in “American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,” describes what happened in 1609-1610: “There are 500 people in the colony now. And they are starving. They scour the woods listlessly for nuts, roots and berries. And they offer the only authentic examples of cannibalism witnessed in Virginia. One provident man chops up his wife and salts down the pieces. Others dig up graves to eat the corpses. By spring only sixty are left alive.”
After that season, the colony was abandoned for years.
The lesson that a commons is often undesirable is all around us. What image comes to mind if I write “public toilet”? Consider traffic congestion and poor upkeep of many publicly owned roads. But most people don’t understand that the solution is private property.
When natural resources, such as fish and trees, dwindle, the first impulse is to say, “Stop capitalism. Make those things public property.” But they already are public — that’s the problem.
If no one owns the fishing rights to a given part of the ocean – or the exclusive, long-term logging rights to part of the forest – people have an incentive to get there first and take all they can before the next guy does. Resources are overused instead of conserved. We don’t maintain others’ property the way we maintain our own. …
No one starves when ranchers are allowed to own land and cattle. Or turkeys.
Private ownership does good things.
Every day one can find reports that dozens, on some days hundreds, of men women and children have been slaughtered, in hideous ways, as they were going about their daily business. Strangers throw bombs into their homes, mow them down with automatic fire, blow them up in buses and schools and shopping-malls, at street markets and on the roads. The killers are Muslims, the majority of the victims are also Muslims though many are Christians. Why? Had the victims committed a crime? Had they harmed their killers, or threatened them? No. The killers killed because they were instructed to do so by a warlord who reputedly lived some fourteen hundred years ago. His sole grounds for giving the order to murder was that his god desired it. (He discouraged the killing of fellow Muslims, but that part of his inspiring doctrine is not obeyed.)
The Religion of Peace collects the reports and provides links to them. It keeps count of the killings. Today’s tally of lethal attacks carried out by Islamic terrorists since the massacres of 9/11/2001, is 21,800. (The figures are displayed daily in our margin.)
Where is the outrage? Where is the moral condemnation? That’s much harder to find.
Sam Harris wrote about the violent protests that were whipped up throughout the Muslim world when cartoons of Muhammad (the warlord) were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005:
Let us take stock of the moral intuitions now on display in the House of Islam: On Aug. 17, 2005, an Iraqi insurgent helped collect the injured survivors of a car bombing, rushed them to a hospital and then detonated his own bomb, murdering those who were already mortally wounded as well as the doctors and nurses struggling to save their lives. Where were the cries of outrage from the Muslim world? Religious sociopaths kill innocents by the hundreds in the capitols of Europe, blow up the offices of the U.N. and the Red Cross, purposefully annihilate crowds of children gathered to collect candy from U.S. soldiers on the streets of Baghdad, kidnap journalists, behead them, and the videos of their butchery become the most popular form of pornography in the Muslim world, and no one utters a word of protest because these atrocities have been perpetrated “in defense of Islam.” But draw a picture of the Prophet, and pious mobs convulse with pious rage. One could hardly ask for a better example of religious dogmatism and its pseudo-morality eclipsing basic, human goodness. …
Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe. The demographic trends are ominous: Given current birthrates, France could be a majority Muslim country in 25 years, and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow. Throughout Western Europe, Muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet exploit these values to the utmost — demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques.
Political correctness and fears of [being accused of] racism have rendered many secular Europeans incapable of opposing the terrifying religious commitments of the extremists in their midst. In an effort to appease the lunatic furor arising in the Muslim world in response to the publication of the Danish cartoons, many Western leaders have offered apologies for exercising the very freedoms that are constitutive of civil society in the 21st century. The U.S. and British governments have chastised Denmark and the other countries that published the cartoons for privileging freedom of speech over religious sensitivity. It is not often that one sees the most powerful countries on Earth achieve new depths of weakness, moral exhaustion and geopolitical stupidity with a single gesture. This was appeasement at its most abject. …
Our press should report on the terrifying state of discourse in the Arab press, exposing the degree to which it is a tissue of lies, conspiracy theories and exhortations to recapture the glories of the seventh century. All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the Earth. … Otherwise, we will have to win some very terrible wars in the future.
Or lose them, which looks more probable in the light of the moral failure that Harris rightly diagnoses.
It is time we realized that the endgame for civilization is not political correctness.
It is not respect for the abject religious certainties of the mob.
It is reason.
It should be. But those of us who fight or stand for reason one way or another, have lost all the important battles of the last twenty years – almost all since the end of the Cold War. The Communist ideology we thought had been defeated with the collapse of the Soviet Union reigns in Western schools and universities, drives most of the political parties of Europe, and is in power in America. Islam continues to advance steadily as Sam Harris foresaw it would. We have lost many battles. Have we already lost the war?
We hold personal liberty to be the highest value, which is why we are sympathetic to libertarianism.
One of our favorite libertarians is John Stossel, who writes today at Townhall:
When Congress and President Obama agreed on a deal last week to raise the debt ceiling and resume government spending, people reacted as if a disaster was averted — instead of reacting as if a disaster had resumed. It has. And it continues.
Congratulating ourselves for raising the debt ceiling once again, the way we do every time this drama plays out, is like congratulating an alcoholic for talking the bartender out of cutting him off.
As with alcoholics, there’s a deeper problem here. It’s not just that America is addicted to debt. Everyone agrees we should pay our bills, just not when or how. The deeper addiction is to government.
For most of the history of America, federal spending never took up more than 5 percent of the economy. Spending increased during wars, but after World Wars I and II, spending dropped back to prewar levels.
Then came Presidents Johnson and Nixon and the “great society.” From then on, spending rose even in peacetime. Now, if you include local government, government spending makes up more than 40 percent of the economy. …
When Obama campaigned for the presidency, he … complained, “The way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the bank of China. … We now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back. … That is irresponsible.”
I agree! $9 trillion in debt is totally irresponsible. That makes it all the more remarkable that just a few years later, under President Obama, debt increased to $17 trillion. But now, suddenly, this vast debt is no longer irresponsible. Today the president says what is irresponsible is for Congress not to constantly raise the debt ceiling. …
Let me make some suggestions: Eliminate NPR and PBS funding. Cut foreign aid. End the war on drugs. Kill Fannie and Freddie, which financed America’s mortgages and helped cause the financial crisis. Eliminate cabinet departments like Commerce, Energy, Agriculture and Education, all activities that happen without any need for the federal government. (Education is a local function, and the department spending $100 billion a year hasn’t raised test scores one bit.)
Oh yes, all those should go.
Reform Social Security by raising the retirement age.
Or phase it out altogether, we would suggest.
And instead of increasing government involvement in health care, turn Medicare into a self-sustaining insurance program.
But with his next suggestion we do not entirely agree. It is a point on which we diverge from our libertarian friends:
Shrink the military by reducing our overseas commitments. …
We do not want to see a shrunken military (although we do think many of the soldiers stationed abroad – in Western Europe for instance – should be brought home*). We think much more should be spent on defense – and preparation for wars abroad that may very well become necessary. (Why not robot armies?)
We are emphatically against the “Responsibility to Protect” resolution of the UN (for which Samantha Power, the present US ambassador to that corrupt and ridiculous institution, was the inspiring muse). America has no responsibility to be the world’s policeman. But aggression against us – by the mullahs of Iran, for instance – should be met with overwhelming counter-force. No absurd notions of “proportionality” should ever be entertained.
But to return to domestic woes – John Stossel makes another suggestion:
To save America from bankruptcy … we could grow our way out of debt if Congress simply froze spending. They won’t do that either, but if they limited spending growth to 2 percent per year, we could balance the budget in just three years.
And he ends on a dramatic note with words that ought to be read not as a mere rhetorical flourish but as a real warning:
Limiting government growth is politically difficult, but if we don’t do it, America is doomed.
*Footnote: From Wikipedia: “The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with 172,966 of its 1,372,522 active-duty personnel serving outside the United States and its territories.” See the list.
The US is at war. Not with “terror”, which is absurd. Not even with “terrorism”, which is almost as absurd. But with Islam. Which doesn’t mean that we regard every Muslim in the world as an enemy. We are under attack by Muslims who are fighting the jihad, directly or indirectly, as the ideology of Islam requires every Muslim to do.
We need to recognize this, and declare it to be the case. And we need also to recognize our enemy in Islam’s ally – the Left.
We call it World War IV. (World War III was the “Cold War”.)
Michael Ledeen is of much the same opinion. Though he defines the enemy more narrowly as “radical Islamists” and “radical leftists”.
He writes at PJ Media:
It’s hard to get our minds around the dimensions of the slaughter underway in the Middle East and Africa, and harder still to see that the battlefields of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and Mali are pieces in a global war in which we are targeted. For the most part, the deep thinkers zero in on the single battlefields. What if anything should we do about the big fight in Egypt? Should we assist the Syrian opposition? What to do in Lebanon or Jordan? Should we respond positively to the Iraqi government’s request for security assistance? Is anyone thinking hard about Tunisia, likely to be the scene of the next explosions?
It could not be otherwise, since our government, our universities, our news organizations and our think tanks are all primarily organized to deal with countries, and our analysts, policy makers and military strategists inevitably think inside those boxes.
We don’t have an assistant secretary of defense for global strategy. (Actually we do, his name is Andrew Marshall, he’s a sprightly genius of 92 years, and he runs a largely ignored corner of the Pentagon called “Net Assessment”). But we do have one for the Near East and South Asia. And there’s hardly a professor in America who is talking about the fundamental change in the nature of global affairs in which we are enmeshed, the paradigm shift from the post-World War II world dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union, to … we know not what.
So there’s a global war, we’re the main target of the aggressors, and our leaders don’t see it and therefore have no idea how to win it.
Any serious attempt to understand what’s going on has to begin by banning the word “stability”, much beloved of diplomats and self-proclaimed strategists.
Yes. What is the point of wanting stability in or between tyrannies? How long should we want them to last?
If anything is fairly certain about our world, it’s that there is no stability, and there isn’t going to be any. Right now, the driving forces are those aimed at destroying the old order, and their targets (the old regimes, very much including the United States) have until recently showed little taste to engage as if their survival depended on it. But things are changing, as always.
The war is easily described: there is a global alliance of radical leftists and radical Islamists, supported by a group of countries that includes Russia, at least some Chinese leaders, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The radicals include the Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist organizations and leftist groups …
Their objective is the destruction of the West, above all, of the United States.
The alliance of Islam and the Left is very strange. The Left champions women, sexual and ethnic minorities, condemned criminals, thin people, the planet, and promiscuous copulation. Islam is an ideology concerned centrally with the subjugation of women. It hangs homosexuals; massacres blacks in Africa even if they’re Muslims; tortures prisoners; and has issued no fatwa against the fat. Its only aim for the planet is to put it under a caliphate. It punishes non-virgin brides and stones adulterers to death.
If the alliance is victorious and overcomes liberty, which of the allies will have its way?
What if they win? Some of them want to create a (Sunni or Shi’ite) caliphate, others want Castro- or Kim-style communist dictatorships. …
For the present, Islam is pre-occupied with internecine wars.
War is foggy, and alliances are often very unstable, especially at moments when the whole world is up for grabs. Look at Egypt, for example. At one level, it’s a sectarian fight: the “secular” military vs. the “Islamist” Muslim Brotherhood. So nobody should be surprised when the Brothers burn churches and murder Christians. But the top military dog, General Sisi, has some pretty impressive Islamist credentials. Indeed, his elevation at the time of the Brothers’ purge of Mubarak’s generals was frequently attributed to his close ties to the Brotherhood.
I don’t think anyone nowadays would call him a friend of the Brothers. So what happened? Did he go secular all of a sudden? Was his “Islamism” a trick from the get-go? Or is “Islamism” less monolithic than some suppose? A Saudi of my acquaintance showed up in Cairo a few days ago with a bunch of checks, some currently cashable, others postdated over the next twelve months, all hand-delivered to Sisi and his guys. Their advice to the Egyptian military is to mercilessly crush the Brothers, and their advice will likely be adopted, both because the junta knows that death awaits them if they lose (2 Egyptian major generals and 2 brigadier generals, along with many colonels, have been assassinated by the Brothers in the current spasm), and because only the Saudis can foot the huge bill facing Egypt just to provide the basics for the people. Most of whom, to the evident surprise of Western leaders and journalists, seem inclined to support the junta. (Neighborhood militias have taken on the Brothers throughout the country, for example).
So we’ve got an indubitably Islamist regime – the Saudi Wahhabis – supporting a military junta whose leader is famously Islamist against the infamously Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Yes, they may well all yearn for the destruction of the infidel West (although the junta impiously pockets our dollars), but for the moment the struggle for power trumps the power of the faith.
In Egypt the internecine war is not even between Sunnis and Shiites, but between Sunnis and Sunnis. (Christian casualties are collateral damage.)
Notice that this bloody confrontation [in Egypt] has nothing to do with the celebrated Sunni-Shi’ite war that is so often invoked to “explain” current events. It’s all happening within Sunni Egypt (although the Shi’ite Iranians are certainly meddling – surprise! – on behalf of the very Sunni Brothers). And there are plenty of “foreign fighters”, just as there were in Iraq, just as there are in Afghanistan: in the last 8 days, according to usually reliable sources in Cairo, 253 Uzbeks, 21 Yemenis, 40 Afghans and 11 Turkmens have been arrested, along with 126 Hamas operatives, who bring weapons and train pro-Brotherhood Egyptians. …
Maybe the Middle East is now the scene of a war between Islamists and ex-Islamists, or between pious Muslims and not-so-pious ones, or even between Muslims and ex-Muslims. In this context, we should ban the use of the word “moderate” along with “stability”…
We’re all for that.
Move on to Syria.
You’ve got Bashar Assad on top in a neighborhood of Damascus, supported by Iran and Russia, fighting against a variety of insurgents including al-Qaeda units, Salafists, former members of Assad’s military, and the usual mob of adventurous souls, including Americans and Europeans, who believe they are waging jihad in the name of Allah.
Assad is actually a figurehead; the real capital of Syria is in an office of the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. A leader of the Syrian opposition made this clear, saying that Hezbollah and Iran were the real powers in Syria, and there’s plenty of evidence for his assertion, including dead Hezbollahis and Quds Forcers.
So al-Qaeda’s fighting Iran in Syria, right? That fits nicely into the Sunni vs. Shi’ite meme … But wait: our very own Treasury Department, which is as good as we’ve got when it comes to deciphering the crazy quilt network of global terrorism, told us in no uncertain terms a couple of years ago that there was a secret deal between AQ and the mullahs. Moreover, the tidal wave of terrorism that has crashed on Iraq is universally termed a resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has been Iranian-sponsored since Day One . … [So there is] an Iranian (Shi’ite)-sponsored (Sunni) al-Qaeda assault against (Shi’ite) Iraq, and right next door an Iranian-assisted (Sunni) al-Qaeda, alongside other (mostly Sunni) foreign and domestic fighters against a (kinda Shi’ite) regime under the control of (totally Shi’ite) Tehran. …
Let’s get outside these little boxes and look at the big board.
There’s an alliance plotting against us, bound together by two radical views of the world that share a profound, fundamental hatred of us. If they win, it’s hell to pay, because then we will be attacked directly and often, and we will be faced with only two options, winning or losing.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that they’re divided, and slaughtering each other. And it’s not always possible for us to sort out what “each other” even means. But one thing is quite clear, and I know it’s an unpopular idea, but it’s a true fact: they’re not an awesome force.
That is true. And because they are not militarily a match for the US, Michael Ledeen thinks they will fail.
The radical left has failed everywhere, and so have the radical Islamists. Both claim to have history (and/or the Almighty) on their side, but they go right on failing. The left is now pretty much in the garbage bin of history (you can hire Gorbachev for your next annual meeting if you can afford his speaking fee), and the “Muslim world” – sorry to be so blunt – is a fossilized remnant of a failed civilization. Look at the shambles in Iran, look at the colossal mess the Brothers unleashed on a once-great nation.
So we’ve got opportunities, lots of them. We’ve already passed up many: failing to support the Iranian people against the evil regime that is the central source of terror against us and our would-be friends, failing to support Mubarak against the Brothers, failing to quickly support the opposition to Assad at the outset, before the enterprise got buried under a heap of jihadi manure, and so forth. OK, we’re human, we’re led, if that’s the right verb, very badly, by ideologues who think we [Americans] are the root cause of most of the world’s problems. Which is the same thing our enemies believe …
Just think of the consequences of a free Iran: the fall of the Syrian regime, a devastating blow to Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guards, Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Bad news for the Brothers. A kick in the solar plexus of the nasty lefties in South America…
Think globally. Act as if you understood it. On our side, confound it.
Excellent advice. But omitted from the reckoning is the “stealth jihad”. Islam’s advance by immigration, taking over regions within Western countries, imposing sharia wherever they can, infiltrating governments, disseminating their propaganda surreptitiously through the public schools with false accounts of Islam and its history in prescribed books.
And is the left “in the garbage can of history”? Our view is that the USSR was defeated in the Cold War, but Communism was not. It is crowing its triumph in almost every Western university. It’s purring in the public schools. It colors many a ruling from a judge’s bench. It holds the mass media in thrall. It beats its dreary drum and sounds its infuriating trumpet in the United Nations. And it has a protégé of its acolyte Frank Marshall Davis, a member of its New Party, a disciple of its prophet Saul Alinsky presiding over the United States.
Which side, so far, is winning?
This is from the Washington Post:
A group of atheists unveiled a monument to their non-belief in God … to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County [Florida] courthouse.
As a small group of protesters blasted Christian country music and waved “Honk for Jesus” signs, the atheists celebrated what they believe is the first atheist monument allowed on government property in the United States. …
American Atheists sued to try to have the stone slab with the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse lawn in this rural, conservative town in northern Florida. Their demand was not met, but they were told they could erect their own monument in “what is described as a free–speech zone”.
It ‘s not just a monument, however:
“When you look at this monument, the first thing you will notice is that it has a function. . . we selected to place this monument in the form of a bench,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists. …
The event – on Saturday June 29, 3013 – made a small stir:
About 200 people attended the unveiling. Most were supportive, although there were protesters, including a group from the Florida League of the South that had signs that said, “Yankees Go Home.” …
After the 1,500-pound granite bench was unveiled, people rushed to have their pictures taken on it. The bench bears quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists. It also has a list of Old Testament punishments for violating the Ten Commandments, including death and stoning.
The event did not pass entirely without drama. A Christian “jumped atop the peak of the monument and shouted his thanks to the atheists for giving him a platform to declare that Jesus is real.” [He isn’t – ed.] But “atheists shouted at him, and he stepped down after about a minute”. …
The atheists said they expected protesters.
“There always are,” said Rick Wingrove, director of a Washington, D.C., area office of American Atheists. “We protest their events, they protests our events. As long as everybody’s cordial and let people speak. This is our day, not theirs. We’re fine with them being here.”
Could we now have a monument to non-belief in socialism in the grounds of the White House?
We who counted ourselves luckier than the general run of humankind because we live in the United States of America are no longer standing on firm ground but on shifting sands.
What accustomed ways, what assumptions on which we’ve always relied, what expectations we’ve long held, what values we’ve taken for granted, are not being interrogated anew?
Customs, values, standards, principles – the elements that cement civilization – are being let go, one after another, at ever increasing pace as we are moved away from liberty into serfdom.
Have you relied on custom? On long accepted moral norms? On the probity of public servants? On high standards of medical practice? On the intellectual openness of universities? On the integrity of scientists? On the solidity of old established institutions? On common values of decency, civility, and honesty?
You, we, can do so no longer. The wrecking crew is out. The fundamental transformation of America is underway.
Immense progress in science and technology will not help us because all invention will come under the ever-expanding control of the government and its ideological army of wreckers.
Over what part of our lives, even the most intimate, is government not taking control?
Our freedom of speech has been qualified by political correctness. Certain words are taboo, and it is widely accepted that they ought to be, on the grounds that some might take offense if they hear them.
In almost everything we commonly do, in almost every sphere of normal activity, we find ourselves in a state of uncertainty. So multitudinous are the regulations continually heaped upon us by government that we could be unknowingly breaking the law every hour of every day, in our businesses, our professions, our leisure, our shopping, our travel, or while simply breathing inside our own homes. The hand of government is on our thermostats. Its scolding tongue lashes us if we use more water than it deems necessary to our survival. It tells us what we ought to eat and drink; what we must do with our garbage; what we may not carry on a plane; what we may not move from one state to another. If we unintentionally break an obscure business regulation, we can be raided by an armed SWAT team and heavily fined. If we gather people together at regular intervals in our home to share a common interest we can be sentenced to a term in prison. (The example our link leads to concerns a bible-studying group. We would hate to attend it ourselves, but we defend the freedom of everybody.)
Do not expect the money you earn, save, or invest to keep its value. Our currency is being continually debased. We cannot even be sure that our cash will be safe in a bank. It’s all too possible that government will summarily confiscate it. What happened recently to private deposits in Cyprus banks could happen here – a blatant act of government theft:
According to in-house memos now circulating, the DHS has issued orders to banks across America which announce to them that “under the Patriot Act” the DHS has the absolute right to seize, without any warrant whatsoever, any and all customer bank accounts, to make “periodic and unannounced” visits to any bank to open and inspect the contents of “selected safe deposit boxes”.
We can no longer rely on our title deeds to protect our property tenure. On the grounds of “eminent domain” any real estate, including your own home, can be snatched away by government and handed over to someone else who wants to change its use for his own benefit. In the case of land, the government can declare it subject to environmental laws that make it impossible for its owners to use it as they choose.
Government agencies which many or even most considered irreproachably honorable (if also terrifyingly powerful) – such as and chiefly the Internal Revenue Service – have turned out to be rotten with corruption.
We are surveyed by government all the time. We have come to expect that we cannot make a phone-call 0r send an email that government doesn’t know we made or sent. And government can look at what we said in them at any time it chooses. Under “Obamacare” we cannot have an ingrowing toenail, a terminal disease, a deformity, an embarrassing whatever that untold numbers of persons will not be informed about.
In the matter of our health and “Obamacare”, we do not know how we will pay for medical consultations and treatment in future; what insurance we may have, at what price, or what it will cover.
The political principles on which the Republic was founded are no longer the bedrock of the American nation.
The values our civilization was built on – which are not in any religion but in pre-Christian classical antiquity and the Enlightenment – are no longer esteemed. Worse, they are despised, mocked, and discarded.
Mark Steyn, recognizing the rot, writes of a recent momentous day in the decay of America – June 26, 2013:
First thing in the morning, Gregory Roseman, Deputy Director of Acquisitions (whatever that means), became the second IRS official to take the Fifth Amendment, after he was questioned about awarding the largest contract in IRS history, totaling some half a billion dollars, to his close friend Braulio Castillo, who qualified under a federal “set aside” program favoring disadvantaged groups — in this case, disabled veterans. For the purposes of federal contracting, Mr. Castillo is a “disabled veteran” because he twisted his ankle during a football game at the U.S. Military Academy prep school 27 years ago. How he overcame this crippling disability to win a half-billion-dollar IRS contract is the heartwarming stuff of an inspiring Lifetime TV movie. …
The so-called comprehensive immigration reform is so comprehensive it includes special deals for Nevada casinos and the recategorization of the Alaskan fish-processing industry as a “cultural exchange” program, because the more leaping salmon we have the harder it is for Mexicans to get across the Bering Strait. While we’re bringing millions of Undocumented-Americans “out of the shadows,” why don’t we try bringing Washington’s decadent and diseased law-making out of the shadows?
Just when you thought the day couldn’t get any more momentous, the Supreme Court weighed in on same-sex marriage. When less advanced societies wish to introduce gay marriage, the people’s elected representatives assemble in parliament and pass a law. That’s how they did it in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, etc. But one shudders to contemplate what would result were the legislative class to attempt “comprehensive marriage reform,” complete with tax breaks for Maine lobstermen’s au pairs and the hiring of 20,000 new IRS agents to verify business expenses for page boys from disparate-impact groups. So instead it fell to five out of nine judges, which means it fell to Anthony Kennedy, because he’s the guy who swings both ways. Thus, Supreme Intergalactic Emperor Anthony gets to decide the issue for 300 million people.
As Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben so famously says in every remake, with great power comes great responsibility. Having assumed the power to redefine a societal institution that predates the United States by thousands of years, Emperor Tony the All-Wise had the responsibility at least to work up the semblance of a legal argument. Instead, he struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that those responsible for it were motivated by an “improper animus” against a “politically unpopular group” they wished to “disparage,” “demean,” and “humiliate” as “unworthy.”
What stump-toothed knuckle-dragging inbred swamp-dwellers from which hellish Bible Belt redoubt would do such a thing? Well, fortunately, we have their names on the record: The DOMA legislators who were driven by their need to “harm” gay people include notorious homophobe Democrats Chuck Schumer, Pat Leahy, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and the virulent anti-gay hater who signed it into law, Bill Clinton. …
In his dissent, Justice Scalia wrote that “to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions.” Indeed. With this judgment, America’s constitutional court demeans and humiliates only its own. …
As I say, just another day in the life of the republic: a corrupt bureaucracy dispensing federal gravy to favored clients; a pseudo-legislature passing bills unread by the people’s representatives and uncomprehended by the men who claim to have written them; and a co-regency of jurists torturing an 18th-century document in order to justify what other countries are at least honest enough to recognize as an unprecedented novelty. Whether or not, per Scalia, we should “condemn” the United States Constitution, it might be time to put the poor wee thing out of its misery.
Hayek warned us that an over-mighty state would put us on “the road to serfdom”. Well, we’ve arrived. We’ve passed the sign at the side of the road saying “Welcome to Serfdom” and we are now in Serfdom itself. It is built on a quagmire of erroneous theory. Serfs may console themselves with an illusion of security, but serfs are not secure; they exist at the whim of their masters.
By the time Islam takes over and imposes sharia law over the whole of North America, we’ll hardly notice any difference.
Afterword: One of our readers and commenters, Roger, laments the drop in standards of personal presentation among his professional colleagues with this description. (Please note we make no judgments of a person by his taste or appearance. We quote this comment because it conveys how some American citizens feel they have strayed into an alien world.)
Yes, our society is changing. I attended a construction “kick-off” meeting yesterday, at which all of the construction “professionals” were present as well as the major trades. This project is for the renovation of a very high end residence, if I mentioned the Client’s name many of you would know the person. The Architect wore an ill fitting suit that looked like it had been piled into a corner of the utility room for weeks, bare feet and flip-flops (on a construction site!) The project manager wore a loose undershirt of the type colloquially known I believe, as a “wife beater”. His entire upper body was covered in multicolored tattoos depicting what seemed to be scenes from robot wars featuring children’s Saturday morning cartoon characters. The representative of one of the mechanical trades wore a patched and worn out dungaree overall and sported a bone through his nose. [They all] wore various metal items in different parts of their faces; earrings, nose rings, lip rings, etc. None seemed in the least bit surprised at the attire of the others. I admit my concentration suffered as I wondered when it was exactly that I had been abducted and brought to this planet, and when the hell could I go home.
Most of us have not only ourselves and our family dependents to support but also a welfare state.
We do not ask ourselves why we support a welfare state rather than let ourselves be supported by it. But perhaps we should.
Fred Reed, a dry-humored iconoclast (with whom we often but not invariably agree), has considered the question and presents “An Approach to Poverty”, which we like and quote. (Read it all here.)
Before I learned about poverty, I was just a country boy from up the holler in West Virginia, with twelve toes, and I guess I didn’t know much. Especially about poverty. When I got to Washington, DC, I decided that I ought to be poor. I just wish I’da started earlier.
It’s a good deal. You get lots of free stuff and you don’t have to work. If I had knowed about poverty when I was fourteen, and what a good thing it was, I’da give up my paper route. I mean, who in his right mind would get up at four-thirty in the morning in January, with eight inches of snow on the ground, and ride across lawns on a bike with four hundred pounds of the Wheeling Intelligencer in a basket, so people could read about crooked politicians and clip grocery coupons? And then I’d catch the school bus.
That teacher lady said I was pretty smart, and she hoped I’d go far, but I reckoned she’da been happy if I just went to the next country over.
When you got out of high school, you had to get a job, and get up mornings even if you didn’t want to, and do something all day that you probably didn’t like. Unless you were poor, and then you could sleep in and do what you wanted all day. I didn’t know it then, though.
Best thing if you want to be poor is to go to Washington, the Yankee Capital, and take up poverty. Then the feddle gummint gives you a house for free. It may not be the best house in the world. You probably don’t have your own swimming pool like a football field. But it’s dry and warm and nothing wrong with it. And in the morning you can get up early, just to appreciate that you don’t have to, and watch all those other people go to work. They got better houses, sure. But they got to sit all day in little square boxes in offices and scratch on pieces of paper. You don’t, if you’re poor.
The gummint gives you Medicaid in case you fall on your head, and Food Stalmps, or really it’s like a credit card, so you can act like one of them high-dollar lawyers that work twenty hours a day and makes a million dollars till they die of a heart attack. Don’t matter. There’s always another waiting in line. You can get roasted chicken at Safeway or Cheetos or anything you want. Or you can sell your Food Stalmps and buy liquor. Or that left-handed tobacco.
The gummint gives you welfare, which is money. See, you get to be poor and have money at the same time. Only America has figured out how to do that. It makes you feel all patriotic, when you wake up at eleven to eat roasted chicken.
Now, welfare ain’t a lot of money. It ain’t a lot of work, either. But it’s enough to live on really good if you think about it. For a couple of hundred dollars you can buy a cheap stereo that lasts forever. Cheap stuff now is a lot better than expensive stuff used to be. Another few hundred gets you a cheap computer that lasts for five years, and internet don’t cost much. You can steal all the music you want. You can get CDs from your friends and copy them. …
Anyhow, after I heard about this and went to Washington to be poor, I met this feller, Git-Some Jukis. … That wasn’t his real name, not Git-Some, but everybody called him that because he had a lot of girlfriends. He was real smart and had a beard and read books He told me he wanted a good education when he got out of high school, but it cost too much. He said being poor was better than a university. It was because when you are poor you have plenty of time to study, and everything you need is free.
Like, there’s the Martin Luther King Public Library on Ninth Street, where you can get any kind of book you want and read it. If you don’t read too good, there’s plenty of ways on the internet to learn if you really want to, but Git-Some could read fine already. He had this thing called a Kindle, that cost about seventy dollars. That’s less than you can sell one bunch of Food Stamps for. And he used to get free books from the internet with it.
The more he talked about it, the more I thought maybe I’d do it too… once I get really settled into poverty. You could go to all the Smithsonian museums, which are free, and read all about any of it on the computer before you went.
And he said you could find all kinds of free music, like classical at the Kennedy Center, and lots of free lectures about interesting stuff, and there was so much of it that getting educated could take up all your time. …
He said someplace called MIT put all its college courses on the internet and he was studying like a steam beaver, and anybody who had the advantage of poverty, and didn’t feel thankful and study and listen to music was just shiftless. He kind of upset me. Momma always told me not to be shiftless.
I thought about it all, and what Git-Some said. I’d always had curiosity about things and I wanted to educate myself, but I never had time because I had to work, like night shift at Kriegstedt’s Amoco on Route 301 in Virginia. Having a job really gets in the way of your poverty. I decided to be like Git-Some. I’d buy me a Kindle with my first Food Stamps and get him to help me. It made me appreciate things.
I always liked America fine. But poverty made me realize what a wonderful great country I lived in.