Where’s It Written?

 

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This morning I picked up my Wall Street Journal and read the following quote from a college classmate, former Watergate Special Prosecutor, and long-time Democratic Party mouthpiece – Richard Ben-Veniste:  “The president of the United States should not be involving himself in an ongoing investigation by soliciting details about that investigation from the head of the investigative agency. That’s just not the way the system is supposed to work.”  The head of the investigative agency is, as you probably know, the now ex- FBI director James Comey, and the president is you-know-who. I am certainly not an expert on this (and I welcome corrections from anyone out there who is), but I would like to know where it’s written that the president is forbidden to do that? Ben-Veniste would have been on firmer ground if he had said: The head of an investigative agency should never hold press conferences where he exonerates or indicts anyone. That responsibility belongs to prosecutors (the Attorney General), not investigators (the FBI).

I am constantly amazed by the definitive statements people (many of whom should know better) make about what’s legal or illegal, what’s a rule violation and what isn’t, and what’s constitutional and what’s not. One example is the popular belief that the missile strike on Syria was either illegal or unconstitutional because Congress didn’t approve it. The Constitution is not very clear on this, perhaps purposely. Yes, Congress has the power to declare war, but there have been only 11 formal declarations of war and more than 20 undeclared wars and military actions, including the Korean War (37,000 plus Americans killed) and the Vietnam War. The last formally declared war was World War II. There is the post-Vietnam War Powers Act in which Congress tried to limit the president’s power to make war, but that too would have allowed the strike on Syria, and besides, most presidents purportedly limited by the law have declared it unconstitutional and intimated that they would ignore its restrictions if they felt it necessary.

The only way to settle this difference of opinion between the president and Congress is to take it to the Supreme Court. To my knowledge, no such cases have gone to The Court. The reason is that neither side wants to risk the chance of losing, for the losing side would lose the power it believed it had. Both branches are afraid of a clear decision on the issue.

I also doubt that the Supreme Court would want to make a clear, definitive ruling on such a crucial constitutional issue. The Court sometimes hands down rulings with loopholes and a modicum of room for “interpretation.” For example, the Court has refused to decide unequivocally whether “affirmative action,” aka, racial quotas, is constitutional or not. The Justices know that racial discrimination is definitely unconstitutional, so they have ruled that race alone cannot be used by university admissions people. That word alone allows universities to make up other excuses for what is plainly racial discrimination.

And so the universities created the diversity standard; An important mission of the university is to insure a diverse student body. But there are many different kinds of diversity: class, ideological, religious, ethnic, and geographical. But the truth is that the universities want more blacks and Hispanics and thus fewer “whites” (Polish, Italian, Irish, Jewish etc.) and Asians (Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese etc.). And the Supreme Court ruled that diversity (without defining it) is a “compelling interest” of the university, so affirmative action apparently will live forever, thanks to The Court’s equivocal, politically motivated rulings.

If the president’s war powers issue ever goes to the Supreme Court, it would be entirely predictable that The Court would hand down the same kind of unclear, compromise  ruling and the struggle between the executive and legislative branches would continue. Nothing would be settled.

So when you read or hear that a political issue is “written,” always ask- where?

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Profile in Courage?

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It is not surprising that Barack Obama won the annual Profiles in Courage award. Supposedly, the recipient is chosen by “a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which includes members of the Kennedy family and other prominent Americans.” Call me cynical, but I suspect that the “bi-partisan committee” is merely a facade meant to conceal the reality that the Kennedy family alone chooses the winner. Even though there now seems to be a consensus among Kennedy scholars and journalists that Ted Sorenson really wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage, the Kennedys, nevertheless, own the phrase.

Could the Kennedys really believe that Obama is worthy of an award for exceptional courage, or is it merely politics as usual? To be sure, it does seem to take some courage to even think about running for president, but it also takes an abnormal level of ambition. Such a person must experience grandiose fantasies and/or be a masochist. Who else but a masochist with overweening ambition would submit to the endless travel, the rubber chicken dinners, the constant ass-kissing, the obsessive fund raising and all the other tedious and humiliating things that one must do to run for president. An obvious example of the humiliation is that candidates must undergo having every detail of their past revealed, examined, and judged. Since most of the media is Democratic, Republicans have to be especially masochistic, although Democrats do fear Fox News and a few of the popular conservative talk radio stars. And think of the humiliation one must suffer at the hands of the late night comedians and Saturday Night Live. In other words, you must be more than a little crazy (and not necessarily courageous) to run for president.

I don’t think the Kennedys were thinking of Obama as a candidate when they decided to award him for courage, so it must have been President Obama who, they believed, was extraordinarily courageous. Here are the examples of Obama’s courage according to the Kennedys: “It’s about understanding the challenges we face as a country and as a planet and mustering the political will to do what is right even if what is right at that moment isn’t necessarily popular,” said Joseph Kennedy III. That sounds awfully vague, but his mentioning of the “planet” is clearly about the environment and global warming. But where’s the evidence that concern about global warming is not popular? According to a very recent poll by Gallup, 62% of Americans believe global warming is taking place now, and the number of citizens who are concerned about it is at an all time high. Not only that, but global warming is a very big concern for most of those in the coalition of voters who twice elected Obama president .

Another example, cited by Caroline Kennedy, of Obama’s courage (as is usual with the Kennedys) has more to do with the Kennedys than Obama. I am talking about the endless self-serving rhetoric about carrying on the torch: “President Kennedy called on a new generation of Americans to give their talents to the service of the country. With exceptional dignity and courage, President Obama has carried that torch into our time, providing young people of all backgrounds with an example they can emulate in their own lives.”  Finally, the Affordable Care Act is thrown in to support Obama’s grace under pressure.

To me political courage means taking risks that may be unpopular but also could disastrously fail. It took some courage to order the attack on bin Laden’s compound, for it could have resulted in the deaths of American soldiers, and have failed to achieve the objective of capturing or killing bin Laden. Now that would have been unpopular. Think of Jimmy Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages held by the Iranians. Although the failure badly damaged Carter’s chances of re-election (such as they were), it still took political courage. Jack Kennedy was courageous in ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion, but he then lost his nerve when the operation went wrong. That catastrophic lack of political courage allowed the Soviets to believe they could get away with installing missiles in Cuba. But Kennedy was courageous in standing up to the Soviet challenge, even though he surrendered much in order to end the crisis. So the bin Laden operation is the only example of Obama’s courage that I can think of, and that went unmentioned by the Kennedys, probably because it involved military action.

In reality, Obama was the most  politically risk averse president in my lifetime. Everything he did both at home and abroad was carefully tailored to please his constituency. That constituency is avidly opposed to any sort of military action that lasts more than a few hours. Thus, Obama did not follow through on any of the “red lines” he drew on the war in Syria. And whenever he was forced by circumstances to commit a few soldiers to battle, he did it as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. I suspect that many, if not most, Americans are unaware of the presence today of American soldiers in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. That is because Obama wanted it that way:  He spoke loudly whenever he withdrew soldiers from war zones but said nothing when soldiers were going the other way. So while I give Obama credit for courage in ordering the bin Laden raid, I see absolutely no evidence of courage in anything else he did; in fact, I see much evidence of his aversion to risk, which is the opposite of courage. Obama’s award is all about politics, not courage. The Kennedys supported Obama when he was a candidate; the award means that they continue to support him.

Speaking of courage, I have noticed over the years that many Democrats believe it an act of courage merely to be openly supportive of their party. Such people also usually believe that fascism is about to descend on the United States. But what can Democrats possibly be afraid of when almost all of the media, the entertainment industry, and most importantly, the education system (from elementary to graduate school)  are owned and operated by Democrats? Still such fantasies are impossible to dispel. As Tom Wolfe once wrote: The dark night of fascism is always descending on America and yet lands only in Europe.

 

 

Go Know

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Writer and editor Dan Rottenberg responded to my post about why my experience teaching school in Philadelphia gradually changed me from a liberal to a conservative. He wrote that I was being illogical in believing that because liberals are wrong about something, they must be wrong about everything. But I speculated (an opinion) that they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures, not everything.

I wrote: “If … most of the left could be so wrong or dishonest about the schools, what other aspects of society could they be wrong or dishonest about? That is a question I asked myself, not a statement of fact. And in the last paragraph I concluded: “If they are so wrong about education, they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures. The dictionary defines the word must as meaning “logically inferred,” and it defines infer, “to form (an opinion) from evidence.” What I wrote in the last paragraph is an inference (a guess) from evidence – my thirty-five years of teaching English in urban schools.

Still, Rottenberg’s criticism is interesting. It reminds me of the time in 1990 when I got into trouble because of the articles I had written about my experience in the schools. I won’t go into the details, other than it inspired almost every Philadelphia Inquirer opinion writer at the time to attack me in their columns. Donald Kimelman, who was then the deputy editor of the paper’s editorial page, said to me:  Just remember, in this dispute between you and the Inquirer columnists, you are the only one who knows what he is talking about. He meant that none of the columnists had any real experience teaching in big city schools.

So compared to those who have not taught in urban schools, I “know what I am talking about,” but when it comes to other subjects, I only know what I read in the papers, magazines and books, all of which are colored by the authors’ biases. To use Don Kimelman’s words, I don’t know what I am talking about when I infer that liberals must be wrong about and responsible for the failure of many other institutions besides urban schools. It is merely an inference.

Of course every opinion journalist holds forth on subjects that he doesn’t really know anything about. Take my afore mentioned former editor and critic Dan Rottenberg. He recently wrote a piece in which he diagnosed Donald Trump’s psychological disorder. Dan asked the question, “Why…is America’s new president acting like a sore winner?”  And he declaimed himself “uniquely situated to address that question.” Why? “As a financial journalist, I have followed Trump for more than 30 years…” So according to financial journalist Dan Rottenberg, Trump “likely suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).”

Dan first tells us the symptoms of NPD and then gives some examples of behavior that, he says, support his diagnosis. The first one is the way Vice President Mike Pence responded to criticism from the cast of the show Hamilton and being booed by the audience. Trump responded to what I consider rude behavior by the cast and audience by calling it rude and insulting. Dan then tells us how Pence responded, “That’s the sound of democracy.” Indeed, that may be the sound of democracy, but it is also rude and insulting. I am not carrying water for Trump, but I don’t believe that Trump’s calling a spade a spade is evidence of mental illness, nor do I believe that Pence’s reaction is evidence of mental health. In any case, Dan does not criticize the bizarre behavior of the actors towards Mike Pence and the obnoxious behavior of many in the audience. Just ask yourself how Dan and most other observers would have reacted if the same behavior were directed towards Barack Obama instead of the present Vice President.

Another piece of Dan’s  diagnostic evidence is that Chase Manhattan and Citibank lent Trump millions of dollars “without ever conducting an audit of [Trump’s] finances.” Although he does blame the media and the banks for “swallowing Trump’s act,” shouldn’t Dan be interested in why these large, prominent banks did what they did? Perhaps this is evidence of the bankers’ NPD.  I surely don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to big-time real estate developers and banks, but I do know that very rich people borrow money to finance large projects, simply because it pays off in tax deductions to use other people’s money. And isn’t it possible that the bankers’ experience with Trump is different from Dan’s speculation that the bankers merely swallowed Trump’s act. Perhaps these big city bankers have had other dealings with Trump, and they felt confident that Trump would pay them back with interest on time.

Which brings me to something I wrote in an earlier post entitled “Is Trump Crazy?” There are lots of articles out there claiming that Trump regularly “stiffed” contractors, and Dan mentioned to me that he had learned that while “covering” Trump. In the earlier post, I mentioned that I had a relative whose father’s engineering firm worked on most of Trump’s buildings in New York.  When I asked her what her now deceased father thought of Trump, she said that he liked Trump because he “always paid him on time” and was “very straightforward.” That came from a person whose father knew what he was talking about. That makes me wonder about Dan and all the other journalists who  “swallowed” the accusations of some contractors. Is it possible that those contractors may have tried to “stiff” Trump? I doubt that those financial journalists were much interested.

Again, I am not particularly enthusiastic about Trump. I also like and admire Dan Rottenberg. But “covering” someone as a journalist does not qualify one to diagnose mental disorders. Even a professional diagnosis from afar of a political figure like Trump (or Obama) would almost always be drenched in politics. Like me and the world outside of urban schools, Dan doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

 

Teaching Magic: Why I Am No Longer A Liberal

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The other day, my sister, a staunch Democrat, asked me why I became conservative. I started as a liberal Democrat. Lyndon Johnson was the first presidential candidate I voted for, followed by Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Jimmy Carter (twice). The first Republican I voted for was George H. W. Bush, and I have voted for Republican candidates in every election since. I admit that I found it very difficult to vote for Trump, but I could not vote for Hillary, not so much because of her long history of lying and deceit; rather, because of what the Democratic Party has become as a result of the Obama administration and the candidacy of Bernie Sanders – a far left European-style social democratic party.

In addition to voting Democratic until Bush ran against Dukakis, I was strongly against the Vietnam War and “marched” in a number of anti-war demonstrations. Even though I was a “child of the 1950’s,” I bought the entire 60’s ideology of drugs, sex and rock’n roll, although my actual participation in these activities was moderate.

Getting back to my sister’s question of why I became a conservative, I would say the primary reason is because after college I started teaching school (frankly) to dodge the draft and avoid Vietnam.

In college, I read a number of books written by former teachers and education professors. The only one I remember is Death at an Early Age by Jonathan Kozol who described what, he said, were his experiences teaching public school in a poor section of Boston. What he found was a school of eager-to-learn young students and racist teachers and administrators, who not only failed to teach their enthusiastic pupils, but sought also to destroy their spirits.

What I found when I taught in a neighborhood similar to the one where Kozol taught was 180 degrees different from what he described. Far from being eager to learn, the students I first encountered seemed to be in a perpetual state of hysteria. Most appeared incapable of talking to each other in a normal tone of voice; instead, they yelled, and much of what they yelled was profanity. The idea of behaving with respect for teachers  the principal, or other students was alien to them.

At the same time, the teachers and administrators were nothing like those Kozol described. Everyone I encountered in my first school (and every school thereafter) was either a dyed-in-the-wool liberal or radical leftist. They would do anything to make the students, parents and the many school activists happy. Very slowly, over a number of years, I grew to distrust the left. If Kozol and most of the left could be so wrong or dishonest about the schools, what other aspects of society could they be wrong or dishonest about?

I taught high school English for thirty-five years in the Philadelphia public schools. When I began teaching in the mid-1960’s, a movement to radically change teaching methods dominated teacher education and revolutionized teaching practices. Traditional teaching methods like lecture and teacher-led discussion were deemed a waste of time as well as harmful to students.

The radical educationists of the 60’s started the ball rolling with the belief that promoting a student’s “self-esteem” should be the purpose of education. They derided what they referred to as “mere knowledge.” From the 60s on, teaching became a form of cognitive therapy.  Teachers evaluated student work by searching for anything “positive” to praise and by never mentioning anything that was incorrect or incomprehensible, for that would be destructive of self-esteem. I attended many “workshops” where education professors would tell us, for example, not to bother teaching students how to read and write.  English grammar, punctuation, usage, and organization only frustrated students and made them unhappy. If a teacher couldn’t find anything positive to say about a student’s work, he or she should praise the student for “effort.” Student grades were thus based on effort and anything the teacher could find that could be considered positive in a student’s work. The students would learn “mere knowledge” on their own once they had high self-esteem.

It was understandable that radical ideas in education took hold in the 60’s. The students in urban schools, in particular, came from much less stable environments than their predecessors. Many had only a single woman in their homes: a mother, aunt or grandmother who could not (or would not) control children or teenagers.

Those who ran the schools and the education professors in universities searched for some new way to effectively teach these difficult students, a search for what the late Columbia professor Jacques Barzun called a “‘teaching magic’ that relieved the student of the burden of wanting to be taught.”

The quest for a teaching magic produced one change in educational methodology after another. When it was discovered that the self-esteem movement produced the phenomenon of the illiterate high school graduate, the educational establishment proclaimed a “back to basics” movement. But back to basics turned out to be more talk than reality.

The powerful educational ideology of the sixties was overwhelmingly seductive. But the word self-esteem had to go when moderate and conservative critics  began to make fun of it. So it was “re-branded” as the “student-centered classroom,” not unlike, in politics, the reincarnation of liberals into “progressives.”

Child-centered education meant that the students sat in groups, and each group worked on a project. Any teacher who employed traditional methods was likely to receive a reprimand from an administrator, who, was always happy to see a classroom of students in groups. Ultimately, the goal was to reduce and eventually eliminate the teacher’s role in learning. Usually, one or two students in the group actually worked on the project, but everyone in the group received the same grade. Although I haven’t been in a classroom in years, I believe that teachers are still expected to arrange their classes into groups in which students, it is hoped, “teach each other.”

Another 60’s influenced theory that gained prominence was that students had different “learning styles” ( supported by “research”). The learning style theory required that lessons should be directed towards each of the senses – sight, sound, touch, and even smell and taste. Again many moderate and conservative education critics considered the whole idea and its “research” to be fraudulent. I don’t know whether that theory is still considered gospel in the schools, but I haven’t read or seen anything about it in the media recently, so I assume that learning styles is less fashionable than it used to be.

The most recent educational fad might be labelled the computer-centered classroom.  A friend of mine who retired a few years after I did regularly substitutes in the Philadelphia schools. He often used to do long-term work where he would cover a teacher’s class who was on sabbatical or out on some other leave for half a year. He tells me that now he is not able to take those jobs because he isn’t sufficiently “computer literate.” Teaching nowadays requires a relatively high level of computer skill. I am told that there are many things you can do with a computer and a “smart board” that are amazingly entertaining, but I have not heard that the technology has improved student performance. Hardly anyone these days, for example, knows the difference between its and it’s or your and you’re or therethey’re, and their. And how many college graduates know how to use lie and lay?

An acquaintance recently asked me to read and edit a long essay he has been writing. I found that almost all of his writing was awkward and incomprehensible, and it wasn’t because he was using jargon specific to a particular profession. What was really shocking is that he graduated with honors from a prestigious Ivy League university and received a Phd. from what is reputedly the most demanding university in the country. How could he get through these schools, with honors and a doctorate no less, without being able to write clearly? I mentioned this to a professional writer and editor I know, and he said that he wasn’t surprised because “They don’t teach students how to write anymore.”

Some say it all started with John Dewey in the 19th Century with his “progressive education” theories that gave birth to the education fads of the past fifty or more years.  The schools will never abandon the quest for a teaching magic.. And it has now infected higher education:  Another acquaintance who teaches history at a well known liberal arts college explained to me recently that “you just can’t teach today’s students the way we were taught.” That and the widespread use of student evaluation of professors in decisions concerning tenure and promotion have resulted in the grade inflation that has so trivialized much of American higher education.

So how did a once liberal (progressive) become a conservative? It slowly became clear to me that the schools weren’t working and that liberals were responsible. As I said in the beginning: If they are so wrong about education, they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures. When it comes to politicians, I am a bi-partisan skeptic, but I am much more skeptical of those on the left. My experience in the schools made me think about and question the ideas I had grown up with. I have found that most people never think about the validity of their political views. As someone once said, perhaps Jonathan Swift:  “You cannot reason people out of something they were not reasoned into.”

 

 

 

EXTREME VETTING

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The Trump Administration is considering instituting extreme vetting of all foreigners entering the United States. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Visitors to the U.S. could be forced to provide cellphone contacts and social-media passwords and answer questions about their ideology, according to Trump administration officials, measures that could intrude into the lives of millions of foreigners.

The changes being considered could apply to visitors from America’s closest allies as well as other nations and include subjecting more visa applicants to intense security reviews. Together, they would amount to the “extreme vetting” President Donald Trump promised as a candidate to guard against possible terror attacks.

I don’t think this plan will fly, so to speak. Why the Trump administration thinks it will is a mystery. It is apparent that no broad plan to vet all foreigners will work. The visitors’ countries would complain bitterly and would certainly retaliate against American travelers. Even a somewhat more aggressive plan than the current one targeting those from Muslim countries with a history of terrorism would be considered “profiling” and discriminatory. Even more “Hate Doesn’t Live Here” lawn signs would pop up, and either program would be shot down by the courts and condemned by many in Congress and most of the news media.

The assertion that hate is Trump’s motive in dealing with illegal immigration and visiting foreigners is the usual partisan rhetoric.  A couple of years ago, I talked with a young Israeli woman who was selling skin products at the King of Prussia Mall. She said that the mall was the perfect setting for a terrorist attack, and she couldn’t believe the lack of security there. She also noted that the size of the place made it very easy for terrorists to get lost in the crowd and avoid the police.

Many have noted that all of the terrorist attacks here have been carried out by those who are “home grown.”  That may be true, but even those with signs on their lawns wouldn’t want to be the first victims of a “refugee” terrorist.

I think it crucial that we get illegal immigration under control. As Mark Steyn wrote, A country that has no control over its borders is not sovereign.” And we must prevent terrorists from traveling to the U.S. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will happen, at least under this president.

 

 

Trump Nervous Disorder

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With apologies to the late Art Linkletter (Who remembers him?), people say and write the funniest things. The funniest are those that are unintentionally funny. A couple of articles, one in the magazine of The Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the other an op-ed piece in the New York Times assert that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency is causing major, clinical depression with anxiety among at least half of the U.S. population. If that isn’t unintentionally funny, I don’t know what is. The Times’s weighing in on the idea of mass depression and anxiety over Trump guarantees that the rest of the media will follow up with front page pieces of their own; tv news, talk tv and radio will follow. Thus a “crisis” is born.

The source for the idea of what might be called Trump Nervous Disorder is the mental health community. The members of that profession at least can’t say that Trump didn’t do anything for them; business must be booming, which usually makes for a sense of well being, not depression. So I doubt that they are suffering from Trump Nervous Disorder. They must sleep very well at night with Mr. Trump in the White House.

The JTA article begins with “The text messages started pouring in at 6:30 a.m., as Tracey Rubenstein was getting her kids ready for school. By the end of the day, the Boca Raton, Florida-based social worker had spoken to most of her clients…They were shocked, disappointed, sad and scared.” The reason:  It was the morning after the election. Rubenstein claimed that “This is anxiety on a national level, on a level of existential crisis [My emphasis] for some people of national identity.” It’s an apocalypse!

Seriously, isn’t that a bit much? After all, Ms. Rubenstein practices social work in one of the richest neighborhoods in the country, where most of the residents are retired. They thus have a great deal of time on their hands, after their daily round of golf, to think about such things. In addition, research on retirees has found that retirement greatly increases one’s risk of clinical depression and anxiety, by as much as forty percent. Now that’s a crisis, at least for those who suffer from depression as well as the medical system that must treat the ever- growing number of elderly people.

The article goes on citing the opinions of various “mental health workers” and victims of Trump disorder, as well as well as a novelist. It ends where it began, with the Boca-Raton social worker who says, “I think there’s something very extraordinary going on with this president, and I don’t want to normalize erratic behavior, or behavior that’s not grounded in reality, or policies that are openly discriminatory or harmful [My emphasis].” Ms Rubenstein’s last phrase is partisan, not scientific. Rather than taking these complaints seriously, Rubenstein should advise her patients to join the club: Those who are politically engaged are always unhappy when their candidate loses; they may even experience some very mild depression for a while. Besides anyone being treated by a “mental health professional” has “issues” that pre-date an election.

The New York Times op-ed says pretty much the same as the one cited above: “‘So much is coming at us,’ said Sue Elias, a psychotherapist in New York City. ‘There’s a chronic sense of anxiety among my patients that I have never seen before.'” One psychiatrist cited, “A couple of patients…[who] were incredibly stressed and embarrassed to tell friends they had voted for Trump, as they felt they would lose their friendship…”  So this is a bi-partisan crisis, although the mental illness, unsurprisingly, afflicts more Democrats than Republicans, 26 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats.

Personally, I am concerned about Trump for many of the same reasons that trouble the people suffering from Trump Nervous Disorder. But I have never been depressed and anxious over who is president. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama and consider him to be devious, nasty, untruthful, and intellectually overrated; but he never made me feel depressed because I believe that whoever is president usually doesn’t matter that much. The President of the United States is often called “the most powerful man in the world,” but all that really means is that the United States is the most militarily powerful nation in the world. In reality, the president’s powers are relatively weak when it comes to domestic policy because both Congress and the courts have the power to thwart the president’s policies. The only time a president has domestic power is when his or her party controls Congress with a veto-proof majority, and even then he can be stymied by factions within his party, as we have recently seen when the so-called Freedom Caucus of Republicans killed the Republican health care bill. The real power of the Presidency is in foreign affairs, but even that is limited, as we have seen, when an unelected judge halted Trump’s immigration policy despite the fact that immigration policy has always been considered an executive branch responsibility. Although Congress has the constitutional power to declare war, that power has not been used for a long time. Still there is always tremendous pressure on the President to get a vote of approval from the Senate when he commits troops to battle.

To be sure, there have been times when the occupant of the White House had a powerful emotional impact on people, and it is always during or immediately after catastrophic events. The country was lucky to have Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression and World War II.  His sunny disposition and self-confidence made people feel that better times were on the way, even during the war. We were also lucky to have Eisenhower in office after the Depression, World War II, and Korea. His even temperament and low-keyed manner made it possible for the country to return to normality after the terrible events that preceded his administration.

Most historians revere Abraham Lincoln, but I have always felt ambivalent about him. Undoubtedly he was a brilliant speech writer and politician, but I find it hard to accept the idea that the Civil War was necessary. I find it hard to believe that slavery in America would have continued into the 20th century. All of the civilized Western nations had pretty much banned slavery and the slave trade before the Civil War. The South must have realized that slavery’s days were numbered because of anti-slavery public opinion among the Western nations as well as the advent of new technology. The South’s stubbornness was based on their strong aversion to being dictated to by Washington. Given that, I often wonder whether the deaths of more than 600,000 young men was worth it (6 million in today’s population). Regardless of whom one voted for in that election, I think it would have been completely normal to have been very anxious about the Lincoln presidency.

Finally, there were other popular presidents about whom we should have been anxious and worried, but weren’t. John F. Kennedy’s  recklessness and indecisiveness in the Bay of Pigs invasion set off a series of events that eventually led to both the brink of nuclear war over Cuba and the Vietnam War. And we now know that he was a very sick man, and a philanderer. However, the only time Kennedy made me anxious was during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that had more to do with the fear of nuclear war, not Kennedy himself.

You can certainly make a case against Nixon, Bill Clinton, George W, Bush, and Barack Obama. We knew that Nixon was an angry, perhaps unstable man, that Bill Clinton was a womanizer (making him a prime target for blackmail), that Bush was perhaps not that smart, and that Obama was inexperienced. Still, there were no reports of mass depression over their elections and during the controversies of their administrations.

Many have strongly criticized Trump’s reference to what he calls “fake news.” The media characterized that as a major part of what they portentously called Trump’s effort to undermine the news media. That may be so, but the media’s attention paid to claims of a wave of mass clinical depression sweeping the country is a good example of either media gullibility or, yes, fake news. Still, it’s pretty amusing.

Why Are The Palestinians Special?

Note on the map below: “Palestinian Land” and “Occupied Palestinian Land” are more accurately considered “disputed territory.”

4mapsWhat is so special about the Palestinians? Why is the conflict between them and Israel such an essential casus belli for mostly leftist intellectuals around the world? Before offering my answer to that question, I note that the struggle over what was once called Palestine is only one of many land disputes around the world. Usually the disputes are resolved when one side defeats the other, and then both sides, as they say, move on.

The present-day American states of California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, about half of New Mexico, about a quarter of Colorado, and a small section of Wyoming once belonged to Mexico.  Mexico lost the Mexican-American War, and those territories were annexed by the United States. To be sure, there may be a few diehards in Mexico who still bemoan the loss of their land to the U.S, but I expect that most Mexicans consider that to be ancient history.

The Vietnam War was a land dispute between the communist North Vietnamese and the American backed South Vietnamese. The Americans and their Vietnamese allies lost the war, and once again, most moved on. A neighbor of mine was one of the Vietnamese “boat people,” who escaped Vietnam by way of a rickety boat when she was a child. I asked her if she had since visited Vietnam or wished to. Her answer: No, no no! She now lives in a beautiful house with her husband and children. And she drives a Tesla. She is definitely not interested in returning to her “ancestral home,” her roots. She too has moved on. Today, Freedom House rates Vietnam a six out of seven for nations that are the “least free,” and a seven out of seven for countries with the worst record in political rights.

According to an article in the March 28, 2014 issue of National Geographic Magazine, there are more than 150 disputes around the world that involve land. One they consider particularly problematic is Crimea where Russian forces occupied and then annexed the country. And do you remember the 2008 “five-day war” with Georgia in which Russia took over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that once were firmly considered part of Georgia?

China is engaged in an number of land disputes. There is the territory known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China. The article notes that, “China is involved in multiple other territorial disputes, including the long struggle over Tibet, which ‘is an example of a dispute where there is one state and an area inside it wants to be separate,’ says Ron Hassner, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, who has written extensively about territory disputes… He adds, ‘Another form of territorial dispute is when two states argue over a piece of land that lies between them, such as Jammu and Kashmir.'” Gibraltar is also a bone of contention between the U.K. and Spain.

The Kurds are a people who many believe deserve a state of their own. They suffered in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and they still have an ongoing armed conflict with Turkey.  I could go on, but you can see for yourself: Google “territorial land disputes.” The list is long. Yet most of those obsessed over the supposed Israeli oppression of the Palestinians could not care less about any of these other disputes where, in many cases, people are being oppressed and denied their rights.

The case for Israel is that the Jews were living in the disputed land long before the Arabs invaded. In addition, Israel still stands prosperous and strong after defeating the Arabs over and over again in wars of self-defense. This is usually the way land disputes are settled, and the Israeli presence pre-dating the Arabs is further support for their right to the land. Of course, the dispute could be settled by negotiation, but the Palestinians have shown no interest in that. It is true that “might doesn’t make right,” but it does make for reality as history shows.

So why is the Palestinian-Israeli dispute special as compared to the more than 150 other land disputes going on around the world?  The two answers are usually oil or anti-Semitism. As I said before, the group mainly responsible for the anti-Israel movement is the left-wing educated class; therefore, I would reject oil as a reason for their obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since that class is adamantly opposed to fossil fuels. I can only conclude that they don’t like Jews.

Israel- An Addition

 

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Yesterday, I wrote about the views of our guide Jackie. I wrote that Jackie did not express his opinion about the Israeli settlements on the West Bank. My wife remembers it differently, and I think she is right.

Jackie stressed throughout our tour that the Jews lived in Israel and the West Bank long before the Arabs. Much of the tour was spent visiting excavation sights and ruins that prove the presence of Jews in Israel that pre-dated the Arabs. Thus, the Jews, he believes, have a greater claim to the area than the Palestinians. I don’t know whether he would be for annexing the West Bank and Gaza, but he does believe that the Israelis have the right to do so.

Israel and London

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I recently returned from an eighteen day trip to Israel and London. I had been to Israel once before and to London many times. In Israel, we had a guide who drove us around the country, and we stayed in relatively luxurious hotels. In London, we stayed with a friend who lives in a section of London called Islington, a once poor neighborhood that is now being “gentrified” with houses selling for a million pounds or more. In London, we got around by bus and the tube (subway). In Israel, I spoke only with our guide, Jackie; and in London with a few friends. Thus, I had a limited exposure to the political views that dominate each country.

In Israel, I didn’t feel that I was in a country under siege. The markets were packed with lots of food and customers. The same was true of the restaurants. I never had the feeling that I was in danger. Rather I felt that I was in a prosperous, safe country where construction and renovation were widespread.

Jackie, our guide, was reticent about talking politics, so it was, at first, difficult to ascertain his views. As I recall, the first indication of his politics came when we visited the sight in Tel Aviv where Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish religious fanatic. Jackie’s reverence for Rabin was obvious as was, we later discovered, his contempt for Bibi Netanyahu and most other right wing politicians now in power.  He talked about Netanyahu’s greed (Bibi was under investigation for accepting gifts from wealthy supporters) as well as his wife’s reputed addiction to expensive clothes and jewelry. All of Jackie’s distaste for politicians was directed at the conservative party in power, none at the more liberal Labor Party.

Although Jackie was on the left side of Israeli politics, he was quite conservative when it came to what he called “the world.” Extremely gregarious, Jackie made friends with all types of Israelis, including Muslims. Still, he had much disdain for “the world’s” intentions towards Israel. When I brought up the boycott of Israeli products made on the West Bank, he angrily noted how hypocritical this was: “Don’t these people know that thousands of Palestinians lose their jobs when Israeli manufacturers close down?” He also had total contempt for the United Nations, especially UNRA, the U.N Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees. UNRA’s job is to move the many Palestinians currently in refugee camps to other countries like Jordan where the population is 70 percent Palestinian, many of whom are living in refugee camps because Jordan refuses to resettle them. Jackie noted that UNRA has not resettled even one refugee and observed that the United States is the main source of financing for UNRA. Unfortunately, I neglected to ask him what he thought about the expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  Jackie was a politically liberal Israeli and a conservative when it came to “the world” versus Israel. He even supported Donald Trump because he believed that Trump would support Israel, as opposed to Barack Obama. Still, Jackie’s views on domestic issues are obviously those of a minority of Israelis since Bibi has been elected Prime Minister four times, matching David Ben-Gurion’s record.

After a few days in London I began to feel less affection for a city I had loved since my first visit in 1965. Maybe I am getting old, but getting around on the tube was an ordeal. Most times, the train was packed full (One nice thing is that young people always offer their seats to the older riders.). Then there’s the endless walks to other trains or to the exit. The passengers often looked tired and shabby as they gazed at their cell phones or listened to music through their headphones.

Walking around the rich West End, I saw lots of large Mercedes parked outside of  fancy shops. The Mercedes are usually accompanied by large, tough looking chauffeur/body guards. Reputedly, the cars and chauffeurs belong to billionaire Russians. Unfortunately, London isn’t an English city anymore. In a city like New York, such things don’t matter perhaps because all Americans are immigrants, but the English are a people, a race; and they and their culture are being eclipsed by foreigners, many of whom refuse to assimilate. Indeed, they often demand that the English live by their rules. For example, British writer Melanie Phillips cites “a poll conducted by the Guardian newspaper [that] 61 percent of British Muslims wanted to be governed by Islamic law, operating on Sharia principles…A clear majority wanted Islamic law introduced into Britain in civil cases relating to their own community…88 percent wanted to see British schools and workplaces accommodating Muslim prayer time as part of their normal working day.”

As I said, we stayed with a friend who lives in Islington, a once poor, now respectable neighborhood. The new residents are often of the intellectual class. Professors and actors set the tone. It seems that Islington residents depend solely on the far left Guardian for their news along with the almost equally left wing BBC. In Islington no one would read a right of center paper like the Daily Telegraph, or any news source owned by Rupert Murdoch, like Sky News television or The Times. This is different from America where right wingers often read or at least know what’s in the New York Times, and left wingers often read the conservative Wall Street Journal and look occasionally at Fox News. In other words, the British are much more balkanized than Americans when it comes to the news. So for example, I found my Islington friends to be unaware of Palestinian rejection of an extremely generous peace proposal devised by Bill Clinton and accepted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack. Obviously it wasn’t covered much in the Guardian.

Still, there is obviously a diversity of political views in Britain, for the Conservative Party has governed the country for a number of years. And while those on the left despise the late conservative Margaret Thatcher, others revere her. And in Israel, Jackie is obviously in the minority since Netanyahu has been elected prime minister four times, matching David Ben- Gurion’s record.

Politics aside, we had fun visiting friends in London and experiencing the unique nation of Israel.

Who Are The Vandals?

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The recent vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries is a disturbing development. It is important to keep in mind that we do not know, as of yet, who committed these acts in Philadelphia and St. Louis. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were ordinary anti-semites, neo-Nazis, or as Mark Steyn once put it, three guys named Mo (Mohammed). Despite not knowing who the perpetrators are, many want to blame President Trump.

Those who blame Trump do have a point. Trump’s obsessive combativeness probably does unsettle many people, particularly those who are already excitable. He really needs to cool it. Most of Trump’s aggressiveness has been directed at two targets – federal judges and the media. Trump referred to the judge who stopped his travel ban as a “so-called judge.” But it is hardly unusual for presidents to attack the judiciary.  Andrew Jackson said about one of the Supreme Court’s decisions, [Supreme Court Chief Justice ] “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!” FDR tried to add six justices of his own to the court, called “packing the court,” to insure decisions favorable to him. And President Obama criticized the Court for its decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case while many of the justices sat before him at the State of the Union address.

Criticizing the media is not new either. Trump barred from the daily news briefing the White House reporters from the New York Times and CNN, but President Obama tried the same tactic on Fox News. The other reporters threatened to boycott unless the Fox reporter was permitted to attend the briefings, and the administration gave in. If the White House reporters were willing to boycott to support Fox News, surely they would do the same to support the Times and CNN.  Trump’s ban is highly unlikely to continue.

Trump’s “travel ban” for ninety days on people from seven Middle Eastern countries has upset many and is responsible for the proliferation of lawn signs saying “Hate Has No Home Here.” It is unlikely that the people with such signs on their lawns are responsible for the desecration of Jewish graves, but other people sympathetic to the group targeted by the travel ban may be. We will just have to wait and see.

In any case, President Trump needs to control himself and rein in the tweets. His aggression may very well be inspiring others to attack their supposed enemies. The Jews are always a prime target.