Posts for March, 2012
As many of you know, I am in opposition to the international adventurism with which we as a country seem to be obsessed lately. I regret ever having supported the Iraq invasion. In retrospect--hindsight is always better than foresight--we accomplished very little at great cost. Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, but so what? The world is full of bad guys running countries. Are we going to depose every tinpot dictator we don't happen to like?
Saving innocent lives is a worthy endeavor, but oppression and mistreatment happens all over the world and has been going on since the beginning of recorded history. If enough residents of a country object to their government, they can depose it by coup, revolution, insurrection or, if available, the ballot box. Why our government thinks it is somehow our responsibility to right all the wrongs of the world defies logical explanation. We have expended many American lives and gobs of money in Iraq, Libya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, along with something very quietly going on in Uganda, with very little to show for it.
Besides the loss of life and resources, we are stressing our military, especially air power, to dangerously near the breaking point and reacting to this manufactured crisis with draconian budget cuts. The Air force was caught unawares by the Administration's precipitous campaign in Libya to depose another tin pot dictator who constituted no threat whatsoever to the United States. Now, our President and his Secretary of State seem to be desperately searching for an excuse to intervene militarily in Syria.
Let me engage in a bit of hypothetical hyperbole. Let's say that several domestic militias, most of whom hate the government, banded together and mounted an insurrection with the purpose of deposing the government of the United States. Let's say they were supported by a bunch of right-wing extremist organizations and even some disaffected citizenry. What would be the reaction of the government? Wouldn't we attack them, militarily if necessary--I believe the Posse Comitatus Act permits military intervention ion the event of insurrection--with whatever force needed to defeat them, including lethal force. I believe the majority of the country would support this action.
Now, what is the difference between this hypothetical and what Basheer Assad is doing in Syria? He is defending his legal government against an armed insurrection--an attempt to overthrow him and his government. Oh, that's right, he is a "bad guy" and we don't like him, and he is militarily attacking a ragtag group of revolutionaries masquerading as civilian protestors.
I maintain that what Assad is doing in Sryia is none of our--or anyone else's--business. If enough Syrians support the insurrectionists, they will prevail. From recent reports, that does not seem to be the case despite Hillary's unseemly appeal for the populace to rise up; they seem uninclined to do so. I fear we will find some excuse/justification for intervening militarily, probably with air power and SOF (Special Operations Forces) at least initially. Realize that Iran is a strong supporter of the Syrian government and Mr. Assad. Any military intervention could easily open a Pandora's Box of escalation.
Let's just stay home and fix our own problems. Or don't we have enough to keep us busy?
In the 2010 campaign for Governor, Scott Walker made a foolish promise. Now, folks with more than two working brain cells know to take campaign promises with a grain of salt. However, by promising to create 250,000 new jobs, Walker gave the opposition, stinging from their rejection by the voters in the 2010 elections, a club with which to beat him about the head and shoulders. I think Walker depended on an overwhelming Republican legislature that would permit him to make massive changes in the Wisconsin business landscape, thus attracting new industry. He underestimated the resolve and pure anger of the opposition he would face from the Democrats.
He succeeded in acquiring some degree of oversight of state agencies by directive, but this was not nearly enough to change the perceived and actual negative business climate in this state. There is a tradition, from heaven knows where, for environmental activism, excessive taxation both personal and business, and bureaucratic regulation here that consistently places Wisconsin near the bottom of "business-friendly" ratings. Even though the environment has improved a bit under Walker, although he failed to repeal combined reporting that nailed Harley-Davidson for over $20 million in new taxes (he "tweaked" it to add some loopholes), everything is perception, even in the business world. Wisconsin has a reputation for high taxes, still largely earned, that discourages new business from moving or expanding here and makes it difficult to induce key employees from out of state to relocate to a rust belt "tax hell."
We are blessed in Wisconsin with a plethora of environmental organizations, from the Sierra Club to Clean Air/Water Wisconsin and a long list of others, who traditionally fight business expansion and industry-enhancing infrastructure changes like power transmission lines. Instead we build wind farms the mandated funding of which has pushed and continues to drive our electric rates from among the lowest in the nation to well above average. Just how many jobs do windmills built largely in Germany create? I'll wager a lot fewer than Tower Automotive, Allis-Chalmers, (most of) Briggs and Stratton and other industrial corporations that are now gone.
The latest example of enviromentalist-fueled anti-industry activism is the loss of the Gogobic-Taconite iron mine in northern Wisconsin due to near-universal opposition from environmental organizations, aided and abetted by pure Democrat political venom plus one RINO whose motivation eludes me, unless it's an obsession with his enhanced status thanks to vindictive recall elections that elevated him into a majority of one. Regardless, this is an example of politics at its stupidest, exceptional even for Wisconsin.
All Gogobic wanted, other than an absence of punitive tax-fees, was a clear end date for bureaucratic wrangling, a set date for a yea or nay to its proposal for an open-pit iron mine. At present, hearings and litigation, coupled with DNR sluggishness, can hold up a proposed mine indefinitely, an eventuality Gogobic was unwilling to accept. They couldn't get it by a 17-16 Senate vote, thanks to the newly-inflated Republican Senator Shultz. Of course, don't forget the 100% opposition by the Democratic minority. I can't believe that not one Democrat senator was philosophically sympathetic to this large job-creating enterprise in an economically depressed region of Wisconsin. No, what they were philosophically obsessed with was denying Governor Walker anything resembling a political victory. Thus went thousands of new jobs and tax revenue sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Even the DNR was comfortable with the Republican-proposed bill and its environmental protections.
So, to all those pundits and others wondering why there's a jobs crisis in Wisconsin, notwithstanding our lower-than average unemployment figure, you need look no further than Wisconsin politics as usual coupled with an obsession for environmentalist extremism and the resulting industry-stifling regulation. This combination is toxic to industrial development, both perceptually and in actuality. I wouldn't want to start a business here either. In fact, I have heard that many small businesses are leaving our fine state, or planning to. Even Wisconsin icon Harley is making bye-bye noises.
Walker hasn't a prayer of making the 250,000, but it won't be for lack of trying. The cards are stacked.
Moralty is defined as virtuous behavior in conformity to accepted standards.. Besides being somewhat of an oxymoron, I defy anyone to define "accepted standards." In fact, anyone know what they are today?? Virtue is easier to define, comprising good characteristics such as self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, honesty, loyalty, courage, friendship, work (oh, yes!) and even faith. The problem is that, while these characteristics may be found in some individuals, they are conspiculously absent in the public sector and society in general.
In politics, it would take Diogenes to find even one of these virtues in the typical politician, regardless of party. Conservatives and liberals alike profess allegiance to a high and moral philosophy of government while in actuality compulsively only seeking endless reelection and the concomitant acquiring of campaign funds. Campaign promises are notoriously unfulfilled. The voting public is virtually powerless to make an informed voting decision, being befuddled by the blizzard of mendacity.
In business, the bottom line is king. The founder of my former employer (the last one), James Cash Penney, built a retail empire on one simple principle, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. His first tiny store in tiny Kemmerer, Wyoming, was named "The Golden Rule." One of his cardinal principles was to charge not what the traffic would bear, but rather a price that would provide only a fair remuneration for services rendered. [Have you stopped laughing yet?] At the time, this was an unique concept in stores and resulted in droves of grateful customers. Old JC is no doubt spinning in his grave to see what his beloved company, and the retail industry in general, have become. Most retail establishments today spend huge advertising dollars to convince the public to take advantage of fake sales of foreign-made merchandise, marked up 100% or more to what the traffic will bear. (My old company is ostensibly turning over a new leaf and offering "a square deal" with low prices and without the sham sales. Time will tell.)
Most businesses today are obsessed with "the bottom line," an euphemism for "as much profit as we can squeeze out of the customer." When the bottom line would benefit, jobs and operations are moved to a lower-cost venue, usually overseas, regardless of the ensuing hardship. Automation is installed, not to improve the product but rather primarily to eliminate jobs. Patents are stolen, bypassed or just simply violated, relying on protracted and costly litigation to wear down the legitimate holder or betting on an uninformed judge/jury to countenance the thievery.
The public schools are hotbeds of immoral behavior, ranging from sexual promiscuity--I think the euphemism is "sexually active"--to outright violence. While many school districts claim no drug "problem", the students laugh and claim "You can get anything you want." Discipline has been cancelled due to an overreaction to a few instances of excessive punishment. Without enforcement tools, administrators are helpless to enforce classroom discipline, with the result that little or no learning takes place other than teaching the periodic performance evaluation tests. In the inner city, it is nearly impossible to attract high-quality teachers who refuse to enter an environment of survival rather than education.
I am repeatedly amazed and apalled at man's inumanity to man. Individual events involving cruelty and depraved indifference abound in our so-called civilized society. The elderly are neglected or warehoused in institutions chronically understaffed with underpaid attendants. I have personally witnessed cases of "inmates" ignored by family or visited once a month for an hour or two. Even home care is often left to hired caregivers with little or no participation by family members. It's difficult to escape the conclusion that our parents when becoming old and/or infirm are seen as an impediment rather than a loving obligation.
Incidents of outright cruelty and abuse appear regularly in the news. The recent example of a 15-year old girl confined for years in a basement without sanitary facilities, starved (she weighed 71 lb.) and sexually abused, while shocking, sadly is not unique. Babies physically abused and injured or killed because they "wouldn't stop crying" are tragically frequent occurrences. I will never understand what motivates individuals to inflict cruelty on other human beings. I am mercifully omitting reference to pedophilia and abortion.
Groups of young people gather in spontaneous cell-phone gangs to trash some shopping center or disrupt a neighborhood event. (There's a name for this that escapes me.) School fights are becoming more common. (We had them too, but they consisted of a lot of name-calling and threatening gestures. Little actual fighting took place.) Gay students are outed on Facebook or other media, even to the extent of driving the victim to suicide. Oh, it's just a "boyish prank."
That brings me to something I call "inappropriate response." An innocent school insult results in cell-phone calls that bring a more dangerous element to the scene and we have a police incident, or worse. The "outing" of a gay student complete with video results in the subject committing suicide. No level of embarrassment justifies self-murder, especially of a very young person who has his or her whole life ahead. Even worse is the resort to this tragically final act over a lost boy- or girlfriend. A desire for an article of clothing results in lethal violence. What kind of athletic shoe is worth shooting someone for? Parents at youth sporting events respond to a coach's or referee's decision with physical confrontation and sometimes actual violence.
All of these examples represent an absence of morality. Modern social philosophy advocates "moral relativism," which is no morality at all. (Remember, "accepted standards?") Moral principles are not taught in school or, sadly, in many homes by overworked parents who think carting junior to endless extra-curricular activities is real parenting. Heaven forbid that we should be judgemental!
Morality is not really dead, despite the title of this post, but rather is locked away out of sight. So long as we keep it locked away, societal behavior, both public and private, will continue to deteriorate. The lack of morality inevitably results in immorality.
You may ask, "Well, that's all to the good, but who sets those standards of behavior?" Perhaps you noticed that the last item on the list of virtues is "faith". In our society, accepted behavior is, or used to be, based on Judeo-Christian principles. Much of what used to be morality is based on the Ten Commandments and the Beautitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Most other religions do not address moral behavior except in the violent extremism of Islam. (Many Muslims eschew the violent aspects, but the fact remains that Islamic writings justify and in some respects encourage violent enforcement of so-called moral precepts. "Honor killings" are a case in point.)
So, where has virtue gone? Well, it left with the teaching of moral precepts and--yes--religious principles in the schools and in the home. I have witnessed through the years the increase of inexplicable acts of inhumanity as religion was systematically and deliberately stuffed into one hour on Sunday morning. The fictional "wall of separation between church and state" has become a rallying cry of the unchurched as morality declines and society coarsens and sinks inexorably into depravity.
Yes, there is virtue outside of religion, but it suffers from disorganization and controversy, muddying the message and containing massive loopholes. Without firm standards of social conduct based on universal religious principles, the moral structure becomes a house of sand. The Judeo-Christian religious ethic provides the firm structure necessary to guide and control human conduct. It may not be the only way, but it's the only one I know of that's been tried and tested by experience.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" needs to be more than an outmoded retailing slogan.
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