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Priceless Treasure in Cheap Storage   Leave a comment

Archivists take great care with historical documents as do those of us who want to preserve vintage clothing or antique furniture. So this passage Paul wrote to the Corinthians should have resonance with us in that context, but it also has deep theological meaning and practical application to the Christian life.

But we have this treasure in clay jarsso that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushedwe are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecutedbut not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesusso that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sakeso that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body. 

As a resultdeath is at work in usbut life is at work in you. But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, “I believedtherefore I spoke,” we also believetherefore we also speak. We do so because we know that the one who raised up Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. For all these things are for your sakeso that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing awayour inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seenFor what can be seen is temporarybut what cannot be seen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

Image result for image of treasures in clay jarsIn the 1st century, earthen (pottery) vessels were commonplace. They were used for everything from storing water and treasures, to the base for oil lamps. On the one hand, they were sturdy and durable, but on the other hand, fragile. Drop a clay pot and it shatters. It was an inexpensive vessel for storage.

Paul clearly wrote that his own sufferings, and his attitude toward them, were an instructive example for the afflictions that the Corinthian Christians also experienced. Our weakness shows that the power comes from God. A similar lesson is stated in 2 Corinthians 12:9: God’s power is made perfect in human weakness. And in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29: God calls the weak and foolish, so no one can boast.

As Paul persevered in preaching the gospel despite the persecutions that came, he demonstrated that he was motivated not by selfish benefit but by devotion, and he was empowered not by human power or reasoning, but by God working in and through him. The lesson is still valid as Christians in some nations suffer overt persecution for preaching Christianity or for converting to Christianity.

In most of Western society today, persecution is more subtle. The academic world may sneer at faith; the economic world may ridicule those who have scruples; group-identity advocates may not want to associate with people who do not accept homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, those who have been married multiple times may find the monogamy of Christianity to be stifling and there are those who will overtly state that Christians should not be allowed to vote as they see fit or raise our children according to our values. Non-Christians may have more employment options and may make more money. When we face such discrepancies in society, our lack of anxiety about our disadvantages testifies to our belief that the things of this world are passing away, and our faith that a far greater reward is at stake. When we face trials that strike believer and unbeliever alike, our calmness and positive approach can likewise show we have knowledge and hope of life and reward in a new aeon. People can see that we have hope in a situation that appears hopeless, and such contrast may lead them to inquire about our faith and to give it credence because its value is demonstrated.

In our afflictions, our life follows the pattern of Jesus. In our current state, especially in our day-to-day trials, our bodies manifest mortality, such as Jesus Himself had. Yet we also manifest eternal life, the life of Jesus in us. His life is shown in the message we share and in the lifestyle decisions we make. We have life evident in us, and that life is energized by faith (4:10-11, 18) — faith that our life will continue to follow the pattern of Jesus, that we will also be raised into glory (4:14, 17). Our determination comes not from human stubbornness or grit, but from God, and the life of Jesus, and the Spirit of faith. We of course have nothing to boast of, for it is all done for the glory of God.

Our life illustrates the “not yet” paradox of Christianity: The consequences of mortality are evident in our bodies, and our faith in eternal life is evident in the way we respond to that mortal weakness. We worship a Being Who had a life of suffering and a death of shame Who also had a triumphant resurrection and now has a life of glory. We, in this “not yet” phase of the kingdom of God, are given opportunity to follow this pattern. Few of us actually have a shameful death, but all Christians should be willing to endure it if necessary for the kingdom of God. Most of us escape overt persecution, but all of us should be faithful if it comes. Why? Because we believe and trust that God will give us glorious, spiritual, eternal life. We believe, and therefore we do whatever God calls us to do. Our afflictions will be followed by glory.

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RIP Sam’s Club   Leave a comment

Sam’s Clubs around the country are being closed, proof positive — according to some of my Democratic friends, that the economy is not doing as well as people think it is.

Image result for image of sam's club closingSam’s doesn’t mean that much to me. We used to be members, but when we stopped spending on credit, we went through a couple of years where we couldn’t afford Sam’s in our budget and by the time we could afford to budget for it again, we were out of the habit of using them. We’d started buying bulk at a local feed store and we’d discovered the Internet, so Sam’s was redundant.

I do acknowledge that it will be hard for some people to lose Sam’s. Small businesses who need bulk items – cups, coffee, etc. – will feel the pinch. Big families who buy bulk. A friend of ours who is a meat connoisseur who buys his meat in primals and does his own butchering. But for our family, it really wasn’t worth the membership. And 150 people lost their jobs here locally and in a community of only 100,000 people, that’s a hit.

But why did Sam’s close? According to our newspaper here, Sam’s nationwide is restructuring and that’s a complicated story. It belongs to the same corporation that Walmart and Walgreen’s belong to. Although Sam’s has not been unprofitable, it has not been growing as fast as Walmart and the fact that about 12 of the closed locations will be turned into e-commerce distribution centers, suggests Sam’s is looking into the future. These new centers will help Sam’s Club build out its e-commerce capabilities by giving it a wider fulfillment network, potentially helping it get online orders delivered to customers faster.

Increasing its commitment to e-commerce may help Sam’s Club compete with wholesale rivals like Cosco and Boxed. E-commerce is becoming more of a focus in wholesale retail, and if Sam’s Club doesn’t invest in it, the company may get left behind. Costco is a major competitor to Sam’s Club (and there’s one in Anchorage, but not in Fairbanks), and in its most recently reported quarter, its e-commerce comparable sales jumped nearly 44% year over year. Additionally, Boxed, an e-commerce only wholesale startup, is starting to establish itself. Sam’s Club’s e-commerce gross merchandise value (GMV) has been between 20% and 29% year over year in recent quarters, Sam’s Club told Business Insider Intelligence. These new fulfillment centers may help the company strengthen this growth, as it looks to better compete in wholesale online.

Turning physical stores into distribution centers is also way for Walmart to leverage its brick-and-mortar network. Walmart has a virtually unmatched brick-and-mortar network — its CEO has estimated that it has a brick-and-mortar location within 10 miles of 90% of the US population. The retailer has made efforts to entice consumers to pickup online orders in-store, but turning underperforming stores into full-blown e-commerce distribution centers as Sam’s Club is doing is another way to take advantage of its proximity to its consumers. If Walmart, and Sam’s Club, hope to thrive online, they’ll need to offer fast delivery times to rival Amazon, and having e-commerce distribution centers close to customers should help with that.

Just as the Piggly Wiggly’s ran the full-service grocery store out of business, online e-commerce is sucking away the business of physical locations. But Amazon isn’t a monopoly yet and it is struggling with its network (hence, it’s desire to build a second HQ). If Walmart moves into ecommerce in a big way, utilizing former Sam’s Club locations as fulfillment centers, it potentially becomes a major contender against Amazon.

It sucks for Alaska because we have to pay individual shipping rather than allowing Sam’s to spread that cost in bulk, but we can still use Cosco, which is in Anchorage and has been suggesting for years that it might move to Fairbanks. They no longer have any competition here, so they just might. And, if they don’t, a local trucking company is advertising that they will be doing twice-a-month 380-mile runs with people’s personalized shopping lists. Yeah, it’s the return to the full-service grocery store.

Ultimately, Sam’s Club is an example of creative destruction. By closing many of their locations, they allow their parent company to become healthier and better able to face the changing needs of a 21st Century society. In 10 years, people will wonder why we went through all the hassle of traveling to a big warehouse to pick up stuff, wandering by stuff we don’t need, but then decide to buy, then try to fit it into our cars when we can now just make our selections online and have it delivered to our door by freight drone.

Posted January 20, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in economics, Uncategorized

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Swiss Students Are Fighting Back Against Unfair TV Fees | Bill Wirtz   Leave a comment

By Bill Wirtz

The European liberty movement may be small, but it’s having extraordinary growth and grassroots success in a place you might least expect it: Switzerland.

Source: Swiss Students Are Fighting Back Against Unfair TV Fees | Bill Wirtz

 

Image result for image switzerland tvSwitzerland, like many European nations, has certain television and radio channels that are run by the government. The state-run channels in Switzerland date back to World War I when the government had completely monopolized both TV and radio “for security reasons,” and paid for it with a fee called the “Billag.” After the war period, Switzerland opened the market to private media companies, but it kept the “Billag” fee in order to pay for the state channels which still absolutely dominate the market to this day.

The fee even has its own website, http://www.billag.ch, on which the mandatory contribution is explained as follows:

In Switzerland, you are legally obligated to pay the radio and television fees. By paying the fees you enable radio and television programmes in every part of Switzerland.”

Which almost sounds like you couldn’t have any TV or radio stations if it wasn’t for governmental control. For Frédéric Jollien, who is a Senior Local Coordinator for European Students for Liberty and founder of Swiss Students for Liberty, this description is dishonest:

The assumption that the media landscape would crumble if we were to abolish this annual fee is ridiculous. The opponents of our campaign claim that without the “Billag,” nobody would pay for state channels, yet they simultaneously also argue that people are very fond of the content. Which one is it now?”

Together with other classical liberals in Switzerland, Frédéric Jollien is fighting against the royalties imposed by the government for media consumption. 450 Swiss Francs, the equivalent of €382 or $456, is the annual fee that consumers are required to pay, regardless if they want state-run TV and radio channels or not.

“We are not trying to abolish anything. We merely want consumers to choose for themselves which channels they want to watch,” says Frédéric, who works in the campaign of “NoBillag,” the citizens’ initiative that intends to overturn the fee via referendum.

The “NoBillag” campaign has been working on the issue of media royalties for three years now, and effectively managed to get their citizens’ initiative approved. This means that a public vote on the repeal of the “Billag” will take place on March 4, 2018. Until then, the campaign is tirelessly working to promote its ideas. Frédéric Jollien explains that this one of the very few referenda which were organized by people who believe in the concepts of free markets and free people.

However, running such a campaign demands considerable efforts.

The government has extended the “Billag” to include private companies as well. Despite them only receiving less than 10 percent of the revenue generated by the fee, they now also have vested interests in keeping it in place and steadily negotiating a larger chunk of it. It’s us against the whole media landscape.”

The print media is equally unimpressed by the “NoBillag” campaign, as owners also seek to convince the government to initiate large subsidies for the papers, the same way it is practiced in countries like France. Furthermore, after petitioning for months to get the necessary signatures to organize a referendum, the campaign was left with only 30,000 CHF (€25,600), which is clearly too little to run a three-language campaign in the mountainous country in Central Europe.

Frédéric Jollien is very optimistic regardless.

“We started a crowdfunding campaign and raised over 100,000 Francs in only ten days, bringing us closer to our 160,000 CHF objective. But not only that: several polls have indicated that we might very well be able to win the public vote!”

The success of the idea of letting consumers choose which TV and radio programs they watch is apparent. Journalists (who, by the way, are exempt from paying this fee) are releasing heavy verbal fire on the campaigners. They claim it would cause massive unemployment in the media sector, that it is anti-democratic, and that it would enable big foreign companies to take over the Swiss market.

“It’s actually quite peculiar. The Swiss conservatives, who are usually the ones spreading fear of foreigners, support us because they believe that state media is being biased against them, while the Left opposes us because they believe the evil foreign media channels from Germany, Italy, and France will eat us up. This shows how strange the idea of a free market can sound to people,” says Frédéric.

Until the vote in March, he is busily writing op-eds and participating in radio and TV debates. If the campaign would be successful, then this would definitely be one of the most extraordinary free-market grassroots-led initiatives in Europe to date.

Frédéric and the campaign hope to raise more money for their efforts. You can support them through their crowdfunding campaign here: www.wemakeitbetter.ch

Adapted from an article originally appearing on the Freedom Today Network

Posted January 19, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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Stealing From Your Neighbor Through Subsidies   Leave a comment

In 2017, the Montana Public Service Commission approved (4 to 1) the renewal of Commnet Wireless’s Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) certification, authorizing that company to receive a federal “Lifeline” subsidy of $34.25 for every customer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation – an amount sufficient to render their service free to most users. Previously, this same company received $2.2 million in Universal Service Fund (USF) “high cost” subsidies to build their infrastructure in Rosebud County. This subsidy paid for all of their capital costs in establishing their business, debt-free, while producing for them a tidy annual profit of almost $1 million.

Image result for image of fiber optic cableIt seems that Commnet Wireless is “living the American Dream” – at everyone else’s expense. But that’s not a rare circumstance.

 

The Universal Service Fund was first created by Congress in 1934 then greatly expanded under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Clinton was President). It is funded by a dedicated federal tax on consumer phone bills. This, ironically, makes the very services Congress wishes to expand less affordable, especially to lower-income Americans. The program is premised on the belief that an ever-expanding set of telecommunications services are the “right” of all citizens, and should thus be made “universal” by the generosity of Washington’s re-distributional political class.

The program started with landlines, then expanded to wireless and is now being applied to broadband — and not just any broadband, but high-speed fiber-delivered broadband. The Lifeline program gives away free cell phones and subsidizes low-income and tribal households. The Connect America Fund and “High Cost” programs directly subsidize telephone companies, as well as schools, libraries and rural health care facilities to provide “free” Internet. USF’s total annual budget is currently $10.5 billion, or $84 per American household.

That’s a month of Internet at my home, where I can’t get high-speed broadband because the infrastructure doesn’t exist. We can get “high-speed” DSL that drops out 2-3 times a day because people are making phone calls or cable Internet which is slower than high-speed fiber. I’ve never lived anywhere that offered high-speed broadband because our local Internet providers just don’t see a profit in providing it and permitting laws don’t allow competition. So do I have a “right” to high-speed fiber-delivered broadband? I haven’t died without it up to this point and we’ll pursue that thought further down.

Like all federal programs, USF proceeds blindly with the assumption that shoveling federal dollars at something automatically produces the desired outcomes – outcomes that would not otherwise happen if people were left to spend more of their own money, and the marketplace was allowed to respond to human needs and desires absent government intervention. It’s not surprising to learn then, that the FCC has never reliably measured to what extent the subsidized telecommunications services would have expanded just as much – or more – into the targeted high-cost areas, without any subsidies needed – and done so at lower cost. Dollars spent are considered a successful outcome regardless of actual outcomes.

In Alaska, rural villages and the Native corporations that they own came to the conclusion that, since the cities don’t have fiber-based high-speed broadband yet, the villages would have to provide it for themselves. Internet is currently provided via satellite and it sucks. Several corporations made a decision to contract with Anchorage-based Quintillion for a land- and sea-based fiber-optic cable network with an overall capacity of 30 terabits per second. Each of the five communities in the network currently will have access to up to 200 gigabits of data per second. If demand increases, the capacity can be increased according to Quintillion. It went live December 13. Four other villages will be added this coming summer.

This is a side project to a planned Tokyo to London fiber cable. It’s being financied by Leonard Blavatnik, one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, through the Cooper Investment Fund, but there are also Alaska-based investors including subsidiaries of Native corporations Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Calista Corp, two of the largest “private” companies in Alaska. Eventually, this cable is expected to provide fiber-delivered Internet to Fairbanks and Anchorage.

So what do we learn from that? The time has come to re-think wealth transfer schemes like the USF, that eliminate price signals, supplant the free market, and create the net effect of increased government dependency and a culture of entitlement. As with any other good or service in a free economy, consumer demand for rural high-speed broadband should be based on the willingness of consumers to pay for the full cost of that service – not based on political pandering that subsidizes one man at another’s expense. A shell game with predetermined winners and losers, lacking any credible metrics and amounting to little more than a glorified multi-billion dollar welfare program.

Saying we “want” something as long as somebody else pays for it is not “demand”. Currently, broadband build-out into high-cost areas is based almost entirely on artificial demand – created by subsidy – rather than on true demand, created by value-seeking consumers in the marketplace, responding to the price signals of true cost. If consumers in outlying areas value fiber-delivered high-speed internet enough to pay the full cost, then we have genuine demand and the market will see to it that these services are provided – without any government involvement.

If consumers are unwilling to pay the true cost, then demand does not exist, and presumably won’t exist until private enterprise finds ways of delivering better service at a lower price. But that incentive disappears when the government steps in. Saying we “want” something as long as somebody else pays for it is not demand. It is little more than theft dressed up by the agency and power of government. Personal responsibility – the foundational principle of a free society – is replaced with “but I want it, so you should pay for it.”

According to my research, you can get high-speed broadband for $30 a month in New York City. Here in Alaska’s second-largest city, I can get slower cable-based Internet for $100 a month — actually, I could get cable Internet for as low as $60 a month, but you can’t watch Netflix without going over the monthly limit. Of course, we don’t have high-speed broadband because the current cost for building broadband or wireless infrastructure into rural and low-population areas is obviously higher on a per-customer basis – perhaps 50 to 100 percent more. One of the fundamental principles of sound economics is the alignment of benefits with costs. When you subsidize a good or service, you can no longer know what people are actually willing to pay as consumers because the government has gotten somebody else to pay for them.

This arrangement tends to convince rural customers that the full price is “unjust” to those who have chosen to live in the country. At the same time, it obstructs the very progress that would bring lower prices about. The subsidized companies have a reduced incentive to economize and to innovate since their profit is all but guaranteed without it.

Public service commissioners everywhere need to understand that it is not the job of the state commissions to rubber stamp federal programs that evidence shows are harmful in the long run to the people they serve. Subsidies like USF produce obvious beneficiaries. Government giveaways always do. They are highly visible. The market-driven benefits produced by those same dollars, left in the hands of those who earned them, are always far greater, but cannot be specifically identified. They become the opportunities lost, the blessings of liberty that were aborted before their birth.

Thus, government creates an illusion of value and benefit, when in reality all it has done is substitute government spending for spending in the marketplace by the frugal, self-interested, wage-earning consumer. The fantasy of a net benefit is bestowed on the person who wasn’t involved in the working or the earning – convinced by politicians that he had it coming all along. Surely, high-speed broadband is in the Constitution somewhere.

Once established, climbing out of the Subsidy Entitlement Pit is never easy. The smoke and mirrors of perceived benefit are so effective, that it becomes very difficult for elected officeholders to do the right thing, by choosing freedom over political security. It is far easier to avoid criticism and “go with the flow.”

To be sure, doing the right thing and doing the easy thing are rarely companions that walk the same path. Doing the right thing requires an extra measure of principle, courage and integrity, something most politicians and government workers lack.

What this comes down to is not just an economic consideration, but also the need to educate people on just what is a “right”. I have no right to anyone else’s stuff. I only have a right to what I can produce myself or trade with others from what I can produce myself.

So, for example, I am a writer and administrator. I make money from both of these endeavors. I can take the money and buy stuff with it, stuff that someone else has produced. One-hundred dollars of my earnings go every month to my cable provider to provide Internet service. I don’t have cable television or this would be the biggest bill in my budget. I get what I get. From the perspective of someone with fiber-delivered high-speed broadband, my Internet service is clunky. But would I be willing to pay $200 a month for fiber? No way! I simply don’t have that sort of wriggle room in my budget. If it were available for that cost, I would continue with the service I have now because I make choices of what to do with my money.

My neighbor says he wants high-speed Internet, but he isn’t willing to pay $200 for it. So, he petitions the cable company and the city government to apply for ETC funds. Pretty soon, my cable bill increases because the company is trying to finance fiber. Also my telephone and cable bill taxes increase. Now, even though I have elected to stay with ordinary Internet service because I don’t want to pay for fiber, I am paying for my neighbor’s fiber.

That’s theft. And there is no scenario where you can say that you have a right to steal from someone else, even if you do it through a government program.

What If You Passed A Test … And Nobody Cared?   Leave a comment

I like tests. Puzzles fascinate me. I don’t even mind cognitive tests because I used to work for a mental health agency and so they don’t scare me.

Image result for image of trump's cognitive test resultsThe news that President Trump passed a mental acuity test was welcome news. I think the country is better off if the president doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. And a 30 out of 30 score indicates that he doesn’t.

By the way, most 71-year-olds could not score a 30 out of 30. In fact, many people in their middle-years would struggle with reverse serial sevens. I can’t pass that particular one without counting on my fingers. How do I know? Brad, Keirnan and I took the test last night.

Keirnan is 19 and suffers from bipolar, so he’s been through this test once before — and scored a 30 out of 30. The doctor was so amazed that he could do reverse serial sevens from 100 into the negatives that he just let him go until Keirnan said he needed water to continue. The kid has a diagnosed mental illness, but he doesn’t have dementia or any other sort of cognitive disorder. And bipolar, with appropriate medication, doesn’t really negatively affect his life. It’s just something he has to manage – like if you have diabetes or asthma. That attitude toward mental illness as a condition that can be managed comes from familiarity with mental illness.

Brad sucks at remembering sequences of numbers. So do I. I often can’t remember a phone number long enough to dial it — which is why I write them down — and have since I was about 15 years old. I passed the immediate recall on the assessment and the delayed recall because I knew it was important to remember them. Brad, however, flunked the delayed recall question. It doesn’t mean he has dementia. He didn’t flunk the assessment overall, just that one section.

I didn’t do so well on the tap for the letter A. It’s deliberately hard and none of us did well on it, though we all passed. Keirnan almost lost a point on it because Brad was saying the letters way too fast and he made two errors which is still allowable to get a perfect score.

So, the results of our tests mean very little. It was a fun exercise and we now understand what President Trump was tested on. We know that none of the four of us has dementia.

Well, our family knows that, but I think we knew it before we took the test. President Trump’s supporters are probably relieved that what they thought was true has been proven true, but his detractors don’t care.

“Well, this is a really easy test,” someone on the radio said while I was brushing my teeth this morning.

Yeah, if you’re mentally fit, it is an easy test. If you have dementia, it’s not.

“There are other tests that would show his mental fitness better.”

Yeah. there are. If I were President Trump, I’d request a full psychological assessment. They take about two hours and they include some of the same questions as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. They would detect mental illness such as bipolar, schizophrenia and major depression and they would also indicate whether screening for personality disorders is in order.

I don’t think anyone seriously believes a successful businessman in his 70s has been a schizophrenic for decades. But that doesn’t matter to his detractors. Even if he took a full psychological assessment, they’d insist the results were wrong. And of course, they’d insist he be assessed for “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”.

Let’s talk about that for a moment. First, it’s not a disease. It’s a spectrum of personality traits. Most people fall somewhere on the scale. I took the assessment and I scored in the bottom 30. I took the test as if I were Donald Trump and he scores pretty high on the scale. According to the psychiatrists I worked with, so does Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Lincoln, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Angela Merkel, Elon Musk, every psychiatrist except the one you’re speaking to at the moment, and almost all of the actors in Hollywood.

Basically, anyone with any self-esteem at all will score at least at the lower end of the scale. That doesn’t mean they are crippled by NPD. It means they know their worth and there’s nothing wrong with that. If they don’t know their worth, there’s another personality disorder they might qualify for.

People who aspire to be President of the United States typically score in the top 70% of this scale. Why? Because it takes a lot of chutzpah to believe you can be one of the most powerful people in the world and do the job competently. Some of these narcissists were so certain they’re right that they declared independence from Britain and founded a whole new country. Others decide to challenge NASA in the space race or create a company that dominates the tech world. A narcissist found a way to stop the scourge of polio. Some day a series of narcissists will cure cancer. Narcissism, evidenced by the belief that God was on her side, allowed Mother Theresa to minister to the poor of Calcutta and eventually be named a saint.

Look behind almost every successful and well-known person and you will find a degree of narcissism. But that doesn’t matter to Trump’s detractors. They don’t see that their own idols were often as narcissistic or more than the object of their Derangement Syndrome. They don’t care what the truth is, they only want what they want …

Which is itself a sign of scoring pretty high on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder spectrum.

Yeah. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s mostly the young and liberal who hate Trump to the degree that they don’t care what the tests say about his mental fitness. Baby boomers, who themselves scored higher than their parents on the scale of narcissism, raised a generation of raging narcissists. Everywhere you turn, you find scores of people who believe they have a “right” to other people’s stuff because they’re “special.” That narcissistic trait is a liberal ideal and I find most liberals to be at least moderately narcissistic. They believe they know better than everyone else how we all should live our lives and they cannot be dissuaded from that belief. They will do anything to force others to comply with what they consider to be best practices.

So, maybe it’s not surprising that they are allergic to everything Donald Trump does. Narcissists usually can’t stand to be in the room with other narcissists. It steals the limelight from them. It explains, to a certain degree, the conservative opposition to Barack Obama, himself a raging narcissist. Conservatives also believe that they know better than everyone else how we should all live our lives. It pissed them off that Obama thought he knew better.

Which brings the question — in this day where nobody knows humility, can anyone actually lead us? And should they try?

My fear is that a society of narcissists would have a good deal of trouble staying out of each other’s business without a government to impose some boundaries and, yet, as long as they have a government, they will seek to use it to insinuate themselves into everyone’s business.

A Fork in the Road   1 comment

I always considered George Washington to be a principled individual until I read a letter between him and Alexander Hamilton basically plotting the overthrow of the American Confederacy in 1783. It’s what inspired “A Bridge at Adelphia”, an alternative history short story that was published in Echoes of Liberty: Clarion Call 2, an anthology project of the Agorist Writers Workshop.

Image result for image of george washingtonGeorge Washington took office as president in 1789 possessing a reputation of inestimable value. People viewed him as the hero of the American Revolution who, disdaining power, had like the Roman general Cincinnatus returned home to his farm. When he allowed himself, with great reluctance, to be nominated as chief executive, his prestige was unparalleled. Indeed, his reputation was worldwide. When he died,

Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that the standards and flags of the French army be dressed in mourning crepe. The flags of the British Channel Fleet were lowered to half-mast to honor the fallen hero. Talleyrand, the French minister of foreign affairs, … [called] for a statue of Washington to be erected in Paris.1

People of his time were impressed that the indispensable hero of the Revolutionary War did not establish a personal dictatorship upon winning the war. This had to be a good sign for liberty, right?

I now see Washington as a mixed bag. He certainly was a useful figure for showing the world that America could establish a democratic republic and not fall into chaos or depotism, but Washington, though not a principal author of the Constitution, supported calling a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation … in violation of the Articles. Then, at the convention itself, he strongly backed Madison’s plans for centralized control.

On assuming power, Washington soon faced a division of opinion in his cabinet. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was not satisfied with the centralization already achieved by the Constitution. He called for a national bank and a government- directed program of industrial development. Thomas Jefferson raised a decisive objection to Hamilton’s proposal because it exceeded the bounds of power granted the central government by the new Constitution. Hamilton wasn’t fazed by this objection and produced an analysis that granted the central government broad power to do whatever Hamilton thought best. Washington, who had been present during the constitutional convention and surely knew what the Framers had wanted, weighed in on the side of the centralizers, drawing opposition from those who had also been there.

Washinton’s Farewell Address partially redeemed him from a classical-liberal standpoint. He cautioned against America’s involvement in European power politics, with which the United States had no concern. His warning against permanent alliances guided much of American foreign policy in the 19th century; and, in the 20th century, opponents of the bellicose policies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt appealed to it. Washington’s prestige for once had beneficial results.

So was Washington’s influence was “good” or “bad” for liberty. By whose standard are we judging? I’m viewing it from a classical-liberal perspective in which the growth of government is viewed as an unmitigated disaster and expansionist foreign policy is resolutely opposed. I support “states’ rights” against increases in federal authority, and increasingly, oppose wars, except in cases of exercising self-determination or repelling direct invasion. 3 On the other hand, the goal of classical liberalism is to promote individual liberty, so while I support states rights, I don’t believe states have authority to abuse the individuals that live within them.

Can you name a time in American history … or just about any other country’s history … when engagement in war resulted in more freedom for individuals while the war was being conducted? Of course not, aggressive war shackles us with devastation and restriction of liberty in order to combat speculative dangers.6

The Articles of Confederation established a much less centralized system than the Constitution. Yet because ratification by all the states was required for the Articles to come into effect, most of the American Revolution was fought with no written structure of authority over the states at all. As Murray Rothbard notes,

The Articles were not exactly received with huzzahs; rather, they were greeted quietly and dutifully, as a needed part of the war effort against Britain. One of the keenest critiques of the Articles, as might be expected, came from Thomas Burke, who warned that, under cover of the war emergency, eager power-seekers were trying to impose a central government upon the states. … [t]he Articles of Confederation were not to be ratified and go into effect until 1781, when the Revolutionary War would be all but over.7

So much for the supposed necessity for a strong central government to combat other nations.

Washington held a decidedly different view. In 1783, he wrote to Alexander Hamilton: “It is clearly my opinion, unless Congress have powers competent to all general purposes, that the distresses we have encountered, the expense we have incurred, and the blood we have spilt, will avail nothing.”8

Among the “distresses” of which Washington spoke, one may speculate that personal considerations loomed large. Throughout his adult life, Washington avidly sought land. “His family had first speculated in Ohio Valley land decades ago [before the 1780s], and Washington owned nearly sixty thousand acres.”9

A project that aroused his interest offered a chance to appreciate greatly the value of his land. “If a canal could be pushed over the mountains to link up with the Allegheny river system, then all the future produce of the Ohio Valley could flow through Virginia land, (not coincidentally, past Mount Vernon).”10

A crucial obstacle confronted Washington’s hopes for a Potomac Canal. Under the Articles of Confederation, a state had the right to levy fees on the use of waterways that passed through its boundaries. If the states bordering the Potomac were to do so, the proposed canal might generate no profit for him. Yeah, Washington may have been motivated toward a central government by business concerns.  As Richard Brookhiser notes, “[h]e was drawn to the plan by important private and public interests, and the political steps he took to fulfill it led directly to the Constitutional Convention, if not a canal.”11 Interstate taxation would be eliminated by a strong central government.

I don’t think Washington was only motivated by personal economic interests, but you cannot neglect his personal interests in explaining his policies.

Regardless of Washington’s motives, the fact that someone of his reputation advocated a Constitutional Convention eased the doubts of those who feared centralization. Some Americans figured that if Washington was involved, the proposed convention could not be aimed at the destruction of liberty. Washington was Cincinnatus, who spurned dictatorship when it was within his grasp. Clearly, the Convention could not have bad intentions if Washington had agreed to serve as a delegate to it. Richard Brookhiser puts the essential point well:

Much of the political class was happy with the current arrangements. … Supporters of change would have to make the case that a new government would not threaten liberty. … Washington’s presence would help immeasurably to make that case. He had already held more power than any man in America, and after eight and half years, he had surrendered it. He was the most conspicuous example of moderation and disinterestedness that the nation could supply.12

At the convention, Washington’s primary aim was not to enact a particular plan of government. The need rather was to act immediately, so that centralization could be secured as fast as possible.

During the constitutional debates, Washington insisted that the Articles of Confederation be overhauled quickly. “Otherwise,” he wrote, “like a house on fire, whilst the most regular mode of extinguishing it is contended for, the building is reduced to ashes.” What was needed, Washington thought, was any solid national government.13

Washington was quite willing to push his argument to extremes. So essential did he deem centralization that he contemplated a monarchy for America, should the Constitutional Convention fail. He was not himself a monarchist—far from it. But a letter of March 31, 1787, to James Madison shows that conceivable circumstances might change him into one.

In his definitive study of James Madison’s political thought, Lance Banning summarized Washington’s thoughts in this vital letter:

No one could deny the indispensability of a complete reform of the existing system, which he hoped the Constitutional Convention would attempt. But only if complete reform were tried, and the resulting system still proved inefficient, would a belief in the necessity of greater change begin to spread “among all classes of the people. Then, and not till then is my [Washington’s] opinion, can it [monarchy] be attempted without involving all the evils of civil discord.”14

Which was exactly what most people were worried about when considering a constitutional convention. Were their fears calmed by Washington’s endorsement? Would they have been reignited had they known of this letter? I think it was fortunate for Washington’s reputation that the convention did not fail and the fact that Washington contemplated monarchy remained hidden.

Any centralized form of government, Washington held, was desirable so long as it could be quickly established. This doesn’t mean Washington was indifferent to the type of centralized government established. He soon fell in with the radical nationalism of Madison’s Virginia Plan.

To Madison, Washington’s presence at the convention was essential: It was “an invitation to the most select characters from every part of the Confederacy.”15 Madison reported that Washington arrived at the Philadelphia convention “amidst the acclamations of the people, as more sober marks of the affection and veneration which continue to be felt for his character.”16

Washington’s presence and the presence of “lesser figures of impeccable republican credentials allowed the convention to rebut the charge of being an aristocratic conspiracy while conferring on it the opportunity to behave like one.”17

Strong words, but the details of Madison’s plans bear out the interpretation. Madison and other extreme nationalists sought to entirely eviscerate the power of the states to thwart the will of the nation.

Under the Virginia Plan, which Madison submitted to Washington before the convention opened, Congress could veto any law enacted by a state legislature that it deemed unconstitutional.

It called, as Washington’s summary of Madison’s draft put it, for a “due supremacy of the national authority,” including “local authorities [only] whenever they can be subordinately useful.” … Madison had originally called for an even more sweeping national power over state laws, a “negative in all cases whatever.”18

In fairness to Washington, he did not vote in favor of Madison’s radical proposal of an unlimited congressional veto. But neither did he oppose the plan. Madison noted that

Gen. W. was “not consulted.” How could he not have been consulted? He never missed a session. Most probably, Gen. W. had been consulted privately, and the result of the consultation was that, since Madison had the voters anyway, Washington chose not to take a public stand on an inflamed issue.19

It seems quite clear that opposition by Washington would have at once ended so far-reaching a plan, but it was not forthcoming. Surely then he cannot have been very strongly against it. Had he been, he need only have spoken a word. But why speculate on Washington’s private opinion of Madison’s proposal? Its importance for our purposes is this: Many of those who feared that the convention would strike a fatal blow at states’ rights were reassured by Washington’s presence. But, unknown to them, he was at least a fellow traveler of radical centralism. His image as a Cincinnatus averse to power led many into error. It did not follow from Washington’s personal reluctance to hold office that he was not an opponent of states’ rights, as this concept was understood in the 1780s.

Fortunately, for those opposed to centralism, no version of the congressional veto survived into the Constitution’s final draft. But the Constitution, even without it, was far more centralizing than the Articles; and Washington’s image once again proved useful when the Constitution came up for ratification. Skeptics were reassured by Washington’s image that he would not support a regime that opposed liberty. Thus, in Virginia, opposition to the Constitution was in part disarmed by Washington’s prestige. “Few, if any of Virginia’s revolutionary leaders questioned Madison’s republican credentials. All, no doubt, were comforted by their awareness that George Washington would head the federal government if it were put into effect.”20

Again, I don’t believe Washington’s image sufficed to quell all opposition to the new document. Quite the contrary, in the very passage just cited, Lance Banning maintained that Madison’s skill at argument was needed to win over the recalcitrant. Confidence in Washington was not enough because in 1788, “quite unlike today, few believed that the executive would set the federal government’s directions.”21 Nevertheless, the importance of the “Washington-image factor” cannot be ignored.

The Constitution did not in all respects settle the nature of the American system. What sort of government would result from it? Would its provisions be interpreted loosely, to enable the central government to seize as much power from the states as possible? Two conflicting approaches to government split Washington’s cabinet, one favored by Alexander Hamilton and the other by Thomas Jefferson.

These divergent views have been ably summarized by Forrest McDonald.

In Federalist Essay number 70, Hamilton had said that “energy in the executive is a leading ingredient in the definition of good government.” … In essays 71 and 73, he made his position clearer: “It is one thing,” he said, for the executive “to be subordinate to the laws, and another to be dependent on the legislative body.” In other words, the executive authority must operate independently and with a wide range of discretion in its field, the Constitution and laws providing only broad guidelines and rules.22

Jefferson and his followers saw matters entirely otherwise.

In Jefferson’s view, and that of most Republicans, such discretionary authority was inherently dangerous and smacked of monarchy. … A society would grow better … by stripping social and governmental institutions to the bare minimum so that the natural aristocracy might rise to the top.23

The differences between Hamilton and Jefferson were not confined to abstract argument, but quietly became manifest in practical affairs. Although Hamilton considered himself a student of economics, his views embodied the discredited doctrines of mercantilism.

One of the duties of the federal government, according to the Hamilton philosophy, is the active promotion of a dynamic industrial capitalist economy … by establishment of sound public finance, public investment in infrastructure, and promotion of new industrial sectors unlikely to be profitable in their early stages.

As Hamilton wrote in The Report on Manufactures:

Capital is wayward and timid in leading itself to new undertakings, and the state ought to excite the confidence of capitalists, who are ever cautious and sagacious, by aiding them to overcome the obstacles that lie in the way of all experiments.24

Where the State would acquire the requisite understanding to direct the economy, Hamilton neglected to inform his readers; and Jefferson and his followers were reluctant to take the matter on faith. In particular, the Jeffersonians rejected Hamilton’s plan, as part of reforming public finance, to establish a national bank.

In this opposition they had a seemingly irrefutable argument. Hamilton’s plan for a bank clearly violated the Constitution. Nowhere does that document give Congress the power to charter a national bank. So small a matter did not deter Hamilton from avid pursuit of his scheme.

In response to a request by Washington, Hamilton delivered a “Defense of the Constitutionality of the Bank” to him on February 23, 1791.

The well-known part of the defense spelled out the “loose constructionist” doctrine of the Constitution. The Constitution, said Hamilton, defined only in general terms the broad purposes for which the federal government was created. … If Congress determined to achieve an end authorized by the Constitution, it was empowered by the final clause in Article I, Section 8 [the “necessary and proper” clause] … to use any means that were not prohibited by the Constitution.25

Hamilton’s argument had much further reach than just the bank, though that was no small thing. If Hamilton’s views were accepted, little of limited government could remain. Given the vaguest aims, for example, the promotion of “the general welfare,” the government had the power, Hamilton alleged, to do whatever it thought was needed to attain them.

Faced with so blatant a challenge to constitutional rule, what did Washington do? He accepted Hamilton’s opinion, refusing Madison’s advance to veto the bank bill. Hamilton’s “defense convinced Washington, and on February 25 [1791], he signed the bank bill into law.”26

Once again Washington lent his prestige and authority to the cause of a strong central state. From a classical-liberal perspective, his course of action was a disastrous blunder.

But the record is not all black. Looking at it from a certain angle, Washington seemed an opponent of the libertarian tradition the country was founded on. He used his fame to secure unwarranted credence for a convention that aimed to strengthen the central government. At that convention, he gave the most extreme centralizers at least tacit support. He then accepted an argument that freed the government from all constitutional restraint. Nevertheless, from the classical-liberal perspective, Washington almost redeemed himself.

In his Farewell Address, Washington set forward principles of foreign policy that, if followed, would virtually immunize America from involvement in foreign wars. (The Address was not delivered as a speech. It was a circular published in The American Daily Advertiser, September 19, 1796.)27

In the Address, Washington sharply separated European affairs from those of the United States.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificialities, in … the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships, or enmities.28

It can’t be argued that Washington thought that European politics shouldn’t concern Americans at all. He recognized that European aggression could affect America and that we might need to actively prevent domination.

Washington rejected this contention in advance.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain in one People, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance. . . . Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground.29

Here Washington adopts the much maligned Fortress America stance so derided by critics of isolation. Given the manifest perils of war, Washington suggested a classical-liberal system could take advantage of a favorable geographic position to steer clear of foreign entanglements. Washington’s argument on this subject and, for once, his immense prestige aided the cause of liberty.30

Opponents of American entry into the world wars frequently appealed to the Address. If they were ultimately unsuccessful, at least the fame of the Address and its author helped slow the race toward war and statism. Unfortunately, his assent to the Constitutional system and the modifications in policy requested by Hamilton has slowly, but surely resulted in the vexing situation we have today.

I contemplate these things while I consider expanding upon that alternative history short story. Lai has more things to say about an era of history we seem not to be truly aware of.

 

Posted January 16, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in History

Tagged with , , ,

Open Book Blog Hop – January 15th   Leave a comment

Stevie Turner, Indie Author.

This week we have to share a recent travel experience or anecdote.

I suppose it’s got to be the morning of Sunday December 10th, when my eldest son Leon drove me 200 miles from the centre of Manchester to where we live in Suffolk, East Anglia.  We had been to see Queen + Adam Lambert the evening before at the Manchester Arena.

Snow had been predicted on the previous day’s weather forecast, but there was no sign of it as we set off southbound on the M6 around 9.30am.  However, after about an hour into the journey sure enough snow was falling, and by the looks of it had already been falling for some time.  High winds had blown snow across the motorway and the outside lane was blocked with a thick slush.  Traffic had slowed down, but some cars were risking the outside lane and skidding.

Thankfully Leon was…

View original post 422 more words

Posted January 15, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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