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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘america’

Tribalism, Post-Tribalism and Counter-Tribalism

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Man begins with the tribe. The tribe is his earliest civilization. It is enduring because it is based on blood. The ties of blood may hinder its growth, the accretion of tradition holds it to past wisdom while barring the way to learning new things, but it provides its culture with a physical culture.

The modern world embraced post-tribalism, the transcendence of tribe, to produce more complicated, but also more fragile cultures. And then eventually post-tribalism became counter-tribalism.

Our America is tribal, post-tribal and counter-tribal. It is a strange and unstable mix of all these things.

The post-tribal could be summed up by the melting pot, a modernist idea of a cultural empire, the E pluribus unum of a society in which culture could be entirely detached from tribe, manufactured, replicated and imposed in mechanical fashion. The counter-tribal and the tribal however are best summed up by multiculturalism which combines both selectively.

Modernism was post-tribal. It believed that advancement lay with abandoning the tribe. Post-modernism however is counter-tribal. It doesn’t just seek to leave the tribe behind, but to destroy the very notion of one’s own tribe as the source of evil, while welcoming the tribalism of the oppressed.

The post-tribal and counter-tribals both felt that the rejection of one’s own tribe was a cultural victory. But where the modernists thought that tribe itself was the evil, the post-modernists think that it is only their tribe that is the evil. The modernists had no more use for the tribalism of any culture than that of their own. The post-modernists however believe that the tribalism of oppressor cultures is evil, but that of oppressed cultures is good. And so they replace their own tribalism and post-tribalism with a manufactured tribalism of the oppressed consisting of fake African proverbs and “Other” mentors.

Counter-tribalism is obsessed with the “Other”. It regards the interaction with the “Other” as the most socially and spiritually significant activity of a society. Counter-tribalists instinctively understand diversity as a higher good in a way that they cannot express to outsiders. They may cloak it in post-tribal rhetoric, but the emotion underneath is the counter-tribal rejection of one’s own identity in search of a deeper authenticity, of the noble savage within.

For the modernists, tribalism was savage and that was a bad thing. For the post-modernists, the savage was a good thing. The savage was natural and real. He was a part of the world of tribe and blood. A world that they believed that we had lost touch with. It was the civilized man and his modernism that was evil. It was the tribalism of wealth and technology that they fought against.

The modernists believed that culture was mechanical, that it could be taken apart and put back together, that fantastic new things could be added, the boundaries pushed into infinity in the exploration of the human spirit. The post-modernists knew better. Culture was human noise. Boundaries defined culture. When they were broken, there was only the fascinating explosion of anarchy and private language. Communications broke down and elites took over. They stepped outside those boundaries and lost the ability to create culture, instead they went seeking for the roots of human culture, for the tribal and the primitive, hoping to become ignorant savages again.

The modern left has become a curious amalgam of the modern, the post-modern and the savage. There you have a Richard Dawkins knocking Muslims for their lack of Nobel prizes and then side by side is the post-modern sneering at the idea that being celebrated by the Eurocentric culture and its fetishization of technology matters compared to the rich cultural heritage of Islam and the savage on Twitter demanding Dawkins’ head.

The same scenes play out on daily commutes in modern cities, where Bloombergian post-tribal social planners exist side by side with Occupier counter-tribals and violent tribal gangs acting as flash mobs in the interplay of liberalism, the left and the failed societies left behind by the systems of the left.

Muslim immigration is a distinctly counter-tribal project. The European tensions over it among its elites, as opposed to the street protesters who make up groups such as the EDL, is a conflict between the post-tribals who envisioned the European Union and the counter-tribals who view it as a refugee camp that will melt down the last of Europe’s cultures and traditions.

Egypt: This Is Big

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

One way to gauge the import of the conflict erupting in Egypt is by looking at the character of media coverage in America.  Both sides of the political spectrum have been slow to advance narratives of blame.  What’s going on in Egypt doesn’t fit into any pat, off-the-shelf narratives.

There has been a curious absence of “themage” on the left: no unified narrative about this all being the fault of Bush-era failures of good fellowship, or of the plight of the Palestinians, or (my personal favorite) of warmongering arms dealers, oil mavens, or ([insert ROTFLOL here]) international banks.

Meanwhile, blame-fixing criticisms of President Obama are getting little traction on the right.  (I even saw Sean Hannity shouted down by other conservatives the other day, when he was advancing an Obama’s-to-blame theory.)  I have the sense that most on the right see – accurately – that what’s going on is bigger than either Obama’s shortcomings or America’s predicament under his leadership.  While the Arab Spring might well have never happened if the United States had had a different president in January 2011, it is more than overstating the case to say that it happened because of Obama.

It happened because of deep rifts and discontents in the Arab world.  Its progress since the initial trigger event has been shaped to some degree by the defensively triangulating inaction (mainly) of Obama’s America.  But there’s real there there, in terms of political divisions and conflict in the nations of the Middle East.

This is a genuine fight, not a series of mass protests out of which nothing will really change.  If we understand anything, it must be that.  The Western media have been reflexively – if perfunctorily – reporting the bloodshed in Egypt as a “military crack-down” on protesters.  But the truth is that, where military action is concerned, it is a strategy to get out ahead of civil war.  The Muslim Brotherhood has indicated that it intends to make a fight of this.  Its “protest camps” are not a stupid, time-on-their-hands Occupy Cairo escapade; they are bases from which to keep an armed fight going.

The Muslim Brotherhood does not care what happens to the people of Egypt: whether their streets become safe for daily life and commerce again.  It is willing to keep chaos and misery going for as long as necessary to topple the military’s interim government.  That is its present purpose.  The Muslim Brotherhood strategy is to make it impossible for the military to restore enough order and public confidence to move ahead with new democratic arrangements.  The strategy is pure Bolshevism, and we’ve seen it before, dozens of times over the last several centuries.

Reports from Friday’s fighting indicate that plenty of Egyptians are aware of this.  Citizens around the capital set up checkpoints to prevent the movement of Muslim Brotherhood formations:

Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. At one, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Cairo’s main battleground, Ramses Square, from reaching a hospital.

And much of the fighting was between pro-Morsi supporters and other civilians:

Friday’s violence introduced a combustible new mix, with residents and police in civilian clothing battling those participating in the Brotherhood-led marches.

Few police in uniform were seen as neighborhood watchdogs and pro-Morsi protesters fired at one another for hours on a bridge that crosses over Cairo’s Zamalek district, an upscale island neighborhood where many foreigners and ambassadors reside.

In keeping with the astonishing mass scale of the national revulsion against Morsi’s rule in June and July, the current fight is developing as a popular one.  The anti-Morsi citizens have no intention of waiting around to see their government fall back into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.  They are taking to the streets themselves.

This will have to be remembered in the coming days, when poorly armed civilians inevitably begin dropping out of the fight.  The civil population does care, and care enough to fight with sticks, stones, and fists, if necessary, even though It will take the military to put down the Muslim Brotherhood decisively – if, indeed, the outcome ends up being defined in that manner.

It may not be.  A key organizing factor in the June and July civil protests against Morsi was the “Tamarod” movement, a pastiche of anti-Morsi forces with little to unify them other than their objection to Morsi’s rule.  Some throwing in with Tamarod are Salafists themselves (including a former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad); others bring some element of liberalization or secularism.  They made common cause with the military during the coup in July, but they are hardly a moderate, liberal, pro-Western force; in the days since, they have called for expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, and for Egypt to withdraw from the 1979 treaty with Israel.

Tamarod movements are busting out all over the Arab world (e.g., in Tunisia, Morocco, and Bahrain), portending many more months of instability and a long fight for the futures of these and other nations.  A movement with this much internal division to it will begin to splinter in Egypt: some of its members will want to take the lead in forging a new ruling consensus – specifically, in preempting the people to do so – and my bet for this is on the Salafists.

So there are more than two factions in the overall fight; this won’t come down to just the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Whoever plays the spoiler role could put together some kind of modus vivendi linking the opposing factions.  A little bit of gesturing toward civil protections for the people; a little bit of door left open to shari’a.  It wouldn’t last long, if history is any kind of guide.  But Western observers are likely to put stock in it (and even be hoodwinked by it).

Today’s fight may not go the full fifteen rounds, but if it doesn’t, it will have to be fought again down the road.  Because there is no coexistence for soft despotism – or democracy-lite – and Islamism; there is no coexistence for anything else and Islamism.  And Islamism won’t stop fighting until it is put down decisively.

It is not actually unusual for the governments and media of the West to misread developments like these (or at least to have the “deer in the headlights” look on their faces as they witness them).  The last time there was comparative unity and accuracy of understanding about a Bolshevik moment was – well, the actual Bolshevik moment, in late 1917 and the few years following it, when Western governments sought briefly to support the White anti-Bolshevists.  Whatever the merits of that policy, the understanding on which it was based was perfectly accurate.  Bolshevism was an uncontainable threat.

Within a very few years after that, Western governments, and many in our media, had become invested in misreading or ignoring manifestations from the sanguinary arena of collectivist statism.  We were quite tolerant of Mussolini and Hitler until they declared war on Stalin, and to this day, tendentious narratives of popular support are adduced in our academies to explain the advance of Marxist totalitarianism across the map of the globe through the late 1970s.  There were major movements in the free world to define away the threat of communism incident not only to Stalin’s excesses but to Maoism in China, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the encroachments of Marxism on Latin America and Africa, and the standoff between East and West in Europe.

Throughout the 20th century, the bloody adventures of collectivism forced Westerners, and Americans in particular, to inspect and crystallize our view of who and what we were.  Through the “progressive,” statist movements in our own nations, we ended up being transformed away from the character we had once sought to honor and cultivate.  Yet for a time, in the late 1970s (with the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK) and 1980s, we achieved a meaningful consensus that our liberal values had not been extinguished yet.  Acting on that consensus turned out to be enough, in that time and place, to overwhelm the failed ideology of Marxist socialism, in its totalitarian-state manifestation.

State-Islamism is doomed to inflict self-destruction and despair on its victims.  But what will we in the still-not-Islamist West do while it is organizing itself and launching its career?  We can’t go out and try to run everyone else’s county for him, after all.  And that said, we need not actively support the infliction of despotic Islamism on foreign populations.

How will we define ourselves during this process?  Will it be Islamism that has the momentum, with us defining ourselves as what we are not, in relation to it?  Or will we retake the public dialogue with our own propositions and language about liberty and limited government?  Our success in that endeavor was intermittent and incomplete, to say the least, during the Cold War.  Will we learn from that era and do better today?

Will we retain the capacity – always under attack, always fighting for its life – to define a totalitarian ideology truthfully, and let that truth be a guide to our policies?  These are questions to which we simply don’t know the answer.  There were days during the Cold War when even the most optimistic political observers would have answered them for us in the negative.

One thing we can be sure of, however – a thing we may see more clearly, I think, because we have the president we have today, and not a president who will act in a more traditional manner, according to the conventions of American statecraft.  The developments in Egypt have importance for the entire world.  They are about an ideological, Bolshevik-style assault on conventional, non-radicalized government.  That is the dynamic in play.  And, as much as they are about Egypt, the Egyptian people, and the fact that they do not want ideological “shari’a” rule, they are also, in an existential way, about us.  They are about who we are, and who we intend to be.  None of us will be the same when this is all over.

The Importance of Day Schools

Monday, August 12th, 2013

I never thought I would have to make this argument in 2013.

Jordana Horn, the former New York bureau chief of The Jerusalem Post,  has written an article in the Forward defending the premise that one can be raised as a proud and productive Jew without ever attending a day school. She proceeds to document her own attendance in public school and that of her siblings to prove her point. Which is that one can be fully Jewish, relatively knowledgeable about one’s Judaism and fully proud and participatory in it at many levels. She then presents a list of suggestions instructing us how to go about doing so successfully. It is a list of very practical suggestions with which I agree. But it falls woefully short in my view.

I have to ask, is her definition of being a Jew the correct definition? Is Judaism only about marrying Jewish? Or reading Hebrew? Or the ability to read the Torah? As laudable as these things are, they fall far short of what being a Jew is all about. The entire concept of following Halacha is missing from her definition. And in my view being an observant  ‘Halakhic Man’ is the essence of being a Jew. Everything we do as a Jew should be viewed through the lens of Halacha. That is what God desires of the Jewish people… and no less. That many of us fail in that regard one way or another does not make it any less so.

That said, I must concede that it is possible to raise a child to be Halachic Jew without sending him to day school. I am sure that there are some cases where that has happened even in our day. But I would not recommend it.

I understand the incentive for a parent too try and do something like that. The tuition crisis in America is real. There is no two ways about it. Any parent with children in a day school will verify that. But there is a reason that is so

Day schools today are not what they used to be in their early days (…fifties and early sixties) – a school with teachers so underpaid that they could barely survive even with second jobs. No enrichment programs. No school psychologists. No real curriculum development. No special classes for learning disabled children.  Nothing except the bare bones of studying Limudei Kodesh  (religious studies) in the morning and Limudei Chol (secular studies) in the afternoons.

Funding Jewish education in those days was a joke. Tuitions were tiny back then because day schools were struggling just to get parents to send them their children – even for free. Generous philanthropists didn’t exist yet. As a result, religious teachers sometimes went unpaid their meager earnings for months at a time. I don’t know how they existed.

And yet, somehow the day schools of that time managed.

Today, things are much better. Teachers make livable wages. Fundraising is much better. Teachers are paid mostly on time. Schools are therefore much better now. It is easier to recruit good teachers for a school if you pay them a livable wage. And as a school grows – so do programs they offer their students. All this costs money. Hence the increased tuitions today.

Meanwhile parents who themselves have gone through the day school system recognize their value and no longer need convincing to send their children.  All of this translates to the impossibly high tuition that are demanded of parents today. Even though scholarships are given to those who need them – every spare dime a parent may have is asked for by the schools that have no choice but to demand it in order to fund their exploding budgets. Budgets that are for the most part necessary in order to serve the demands made by parents who expect the best and most enriching education possible. (Although trimming what is in some cases bloated school budgets is a subject for legitimate discussion – it is beyond the scope of this post.)

For parents with four, five, six or more children who feel they are squeezed to the max for every dime, the thought of sending a child to a free public school while teaching them about Judaism at home must be very tempting. But it is a losing proposition in most cases. It would take a most unusual family and an unusual child to overcome the influences in a public school.

Why Does the NY Times So Hate Missile Defense?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Originally published at Gatestone Institute.

Recent news is that both North Korea and Pakistan have sought help in developing EMP weapons; Iran has launched its missile tests in an EMP mode. The U.S. could, for a small additional expense, protect the country from EMP and nuclear threats through the production of short and medium defense radars and interceptors, now available and in the U.S. inventory.

In nearly two thousand stories and editorials since President Reagan identified missile defense as a critical new capability needed for America’s security, the New York Times has rarely found anything positive to say about America’s first line of defense against enemy missiles.

In the past few weeks, editors of the New York Times continued, announcing their opposition to the newly considered East Coast missile defense site, and describing it as “unnecessary.” [June 4, "An Unnecessary Military Expense"]

Contrast this to how they report on other offensive missile developments by America’s enemies.

North Korean threats to launch offensive rockets at America and its allies, for example, are described as “puzzling” [May 21, 2013, "N Korea Launches Missiles for Third Straight Day"].

Russia’s possible sales of anti-ship missiles to Syria are described as an “indication of the depth of support” of Moscow for Damascus (May 17 “Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad”).

Hezbollah threats to use rockets against Israel are carefully described as in “retaliation,” implying of course any attack would be Israel’s fault. [May 10, "Hezbollah Threatens Israel over Syria Strike"]

In short, offensive missile deployments by America’s adversaries enjoy whitewashed explanations, while American efforts to defend itself and its allies from these same threats come in only for criticism.

The same New York Times logic was especially on display in 2002. Times Editor Bill Keller argued then that if President Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty the possibility of more nuclear arms control in the future would be very low. He described US missile defenses as a search for an “unfettered” US security policy that sought to “neutralize the power of countries such as North Korea and Iran”, (as if this was a bad idea!)

Keller approvingly referenced a speech by Jack Mendelssohn of the Arms Control Association in which he said that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could not be confronted unless the US had an effective missile defense, as Washington would “hesitate to come to the island’s aid because of Beijing’s nuclear weapons.”

Keller apparently is aghast that, if the US had a missile defense in place, America might actually defend Taiwan from invasion.

Keller claims the missile defense “schemers” [those supporting their deployment] just want to get into a war with China and might end up spurring an arms race as well.

Added to this is his claim that missile defense advocates are also “deceivers,” seeking secretly to end all arms control restraints on US nuclear weapons.

Is this actually how things turned out? Did arms control disappear as the US deployed protective missile defenses? Well, by the end of 2004, the Bush administration had deployed an initial series of missile defense interceptors against long range missiles, plus hundreds of short and medium range interceptors. To accomplish this, the US did have to jettison the ABM Treaty, which the Bush administration did in 2002.

At the same time, however, the US and Russia secured under the Moscow Treaty a collective reduction of 63% of US’s strategic deployed warheads, with both countries ending up with 2,200 deployed strategic nuclear warheads compared to the 6,000 allowed under the Start I treaty.

Progress on US-Russian arms control and US missile defense deployments continued. By the end of the decade, with the addition of the 2010 New Start Treaty, US deployed warheads fell to 1,550 while missile defense interceptors of all kinds rose to over 1,250. When allied forces are included, the number of defense interceptors, while the exact number is classified, probably exceeds 2,000.

Nuclear weapons down. Missile defense interceptors up.

What the New York Times concluded could never be accomplished had been in fact achieved. But the New York Times apparently never got the message.

During both the Clinton and Bush administrations, the growing capability of Iran missile forces eventually pushed NATO jointly to call for the deployment of better missile defenses.

The Bush administration secured agreement to deploy interceptors in Poland and complimentary radars in the Czech Republic.

Although nuclear weapons arms control had accelerated, simultaneously with the deployment of over 1000 defense interceptors, the New York Times continued to complain.

The Czech and Polish deployments, said the New York Times, would “anger Russia” [April 15, 2008]. A month later, an “expert analysis,” cautioned the Times, cast serious “doubt” on the capability of the proposed system [May 18, 2008].

The analysis of course turned out to be bogus. The two-stage interceptor being proposed for Poland worked and had been tested. The Czech-based radar was similarly qualified for the job.

The Russians ginned up media opposition to the NATO missile defense deal, and then used threats of nuclear-armed missile attacks to delay its deployment.

By the fall 2009, therefore, with a new administration, the Polish and Czech sites previously planned were abandoned by the new administration.

But ironically, new European alternative sites were suggested instead by the new American administration, such as Romania. And instead of a two-stage missile defense interceptor, it was proposed that a new land-based “version” of the Navy Standard Missile (SM) be developed and deployed at a new European site, but sometime after 2020. It became known as the fourth phase of the EPAA or European Phased Adaptive Approach, or SM-3 Block II-B, and was designed to deal with long-range Iranian rockets.

But even that plan eventually came unraveled. Following North Korea’s recent missile launch tests and its explosion of another nuclear device, the administration changed course again.

The fourth phase of the EPAA was redesigned, and in all likelihood cancelled. The Iranian missile threats to Europe appeared to no longer be taken seriously by the administration.

Instead, it was announced that 14 ground-based missile interceptors, originally scheduled for deployment in Alaska by the Bush administration (but cancelled in 2009), would in fact go forward, and provide some additional protection to the United States (but not NATO) from emerging missile threats from Iran and North Korea.

On March 15, trying to maintain its perfect record of hostility to missile defense, the New York Times, twisting itself, acknowledged that while the added West Coast deployment was indeed in response to North Korean “provocations,” such defense was probably not needed because even without any U.S. defenses, Pyongyang would “surely be destroyed” if it attacked the United States.

And, added the Times, such a defense response by the United States might give North Korea “the satisfaction of making the rest of the world jumpy.” (And we certainly could not have that!)

There are, however, bipartisan reasons why the Times is wrong.

As Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Congresswomen Yvette Clarke (D-NY) told a recent Capitol Hill conference, the missile threats emerging from Iran and North Korea now might very well involve an EMP nuclear device capable of rendering the U.S. electrical grid and infrastructure useless. Tens of millions of Americans would be at risk of dying, as two Congressional EMP Commissions had previously concluded in the last decade. These fears of former Director of Central Intelligence, Ambassador R. James Woolsey, echoed in a particularly passionate brief at the event.

Recent news is that both North Korea and Pakistan have sought help in developing EMP weapons; and we know Iran has launched its missile tests in an EMP mode.

Such threats could be launched from a missile at sea some hundreds of kilometers off of our coasts as well as from intercontinental distances. Such maritime threats—largely surreptitious—would be difficult to deter, as in all likelihood the adversary would be unidentifiable.

The U.S. could, however, for a modest additional expense, begin to protect the country from such maritime EMP and nuclear threats through the production of additional short and medium missile defense radars and interceptors, now available and in the US inventory. Upgrades in the future would probably be required as the threat worsened. But we could begin work now.

This could be part of a new phased East Coast missile defense site or system. Other threats, such as long range missiles from the Middle East, could be dealt with through the deployment on the East Coast of an advanced version of the current West Coast deployments, or a variant of the current sea-based BMD systems, including better sensors and kill vehicles or the final element of an interceptor that actually crashes into the incoming warhead.

Whether traditional nuclear or EMP nuclear threats, missiles have become the military technology of choice of both terror master nations and their terror group affiliates. Such threats may not be subject to the traditional notions of deterrence developed during the half century of the Cold War. Hamas, for example, late last year, launched more rockets on Israel than Nazi Germany launched in all of World War II. Israel defended itself with the deployment of the Iron Dome missile defense system, which was developed and put into place within just three years.

In short, real threats need real defenses. The “hope” of deterrence is not enough.

Can we build better defenses? Of course we can.

In Israel, the military made upgrades to the Iron Dome defense system even as it was engaging enemy rockets. Upwards of 85-90% of all targeted Hamas rockets were intercepted. Contrary to the same academic “experts” often cited by the New York Times, this missile defense system worked and worked very well. The intercepts were meticulously recorded and verified. When told of the key basis for the critics’ conclusion that Iron Dome hit only 15% of the targets—private cell phone pictures—a coterie of Pentagon civilian and military experts burst out laughing.

The US is now in partnership with Jerusalem to produce more Iron Dome batteries.

We should take our inspiration from Israel.

To defend the homeland and build better missile defenses simply follows our constitutional requirement to “provide for the common defense.”

Obama’s Vision: Government Itself as the American Ideal

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

In his speech at Ohio State University, President Barack Obama used the word “together” four times.

Yet each time he defined the collective endeavor of Americans as merely that of promoting more government. Thus, while trying to turn American history and even the Constitution into precedents for his goals and policies, Obama reverses reality, undermining not only the conservative vision of America but also the historic liberal one.

Normally, a president would speak of the vast array of efforts made “together” to refer—or at least include—non-government activities. That means the actions of voluntarily formed communities, organizations, corporations, charities, religious groups, and trade unions. It is the freedom, energy, and enthusiasm to form such groups that marks American society as unusual in the world.

All those things are actions independent of the government. It was the virtue of American government that it accepted limitations to permit the maximum space for the autonomous action of citizens and groups of citizens. After all, democracy is not defined as the ability to come together to serve the state. On one level, all countries require some such service. But on another level this is the philosophy of the modern ideological dictatorship.

Let’s consider Obama’s four uses of the word “together” to gain better understanding of his ideology:

That’s precisely what the founders left us: the power to adapt to changing times. They left us the keys to a system of self-government – the tool to do big and important things together that we could not possibly do alone. To stretch railroads and electricity and a highway system across a sprawling continent. To educate our people with a system of public schools and land grant colleges, including Ohio State. To care for the sick and the vulnerable, and provide a basic level of protection from falling into abject poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. To conquer fascism and disease; to visit the Moon and Mars; to gradually secure our God-given rights for all our citizens, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or who they love.

Here, Obama cleverly cites cases of consensus government action—the public school system, fighting wars, and the space program–in a misleading way. Two side remarks: First, it is significant that Obama doesn’t say, “To conquer fascism and Communism.” Second, whatever one thinks on the issue, Obama’s claim that gay marriage is a “God-given right” is certainly a theological novelty.

But back to the main point. In other words, because minimal or moderate government has achieved great things, Obama illogically argues that maximum government can achieve even greater things despite the contrary evidence of history, including present-day American history. Today, government doesn’t “stretch” railroads; it blocks oil pipelines; it doesn’t promote agriculture, it refuses to give water to California farmers because of a small fish; it cripples coal mining and pumping petroleum.

It is quite true that land was granted by the government in the mid-nineteenth century to make it possible to build railroads and colleges. But once the land was given, the government stepped entirely out of the picture! Giving one item and then getting out of the way—I’m talking here about creation not regulation—is quite different from the government doing these things itself.

In fact, Obama is here stealing credit from private enterprise and turning American history on its head. The same point applies to “conquer…disease” where Obamacare marks a highly questionable extension of government power to hitherto unimaginable heights.

He continues about providing “a basic level of protection,” which is often called the safety net. But the whole point, of course, is that this idea emerged relatively late in American history and was finally enshrined in the New Deal of the 1930s and afterward.

A “basic level of protection,” however, has grown to extraordinary size, far beyond what was envisioned even in the 1960s, to the point that it threatens the sustainability of the economy and of freedoms. We are not talking any more about “abject poverty,” which the American system has made rare. The safety net has been expanded to the point–as in lavish retirement spending on public employees and “poverty” programs that mainly benefit well-paid bureaucrats– that it may be strangling the country. Obama continues:

We, the people, chose to do these things together. Because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.

This is a fascinating piece of propaganda. He begins by citing the Declaration of Independence—coupling himself with the Founders (because he knows this is his opponents’ main argument) and ending with a refutation of capitalism. He counters “we the people,” (the 99 percent, Democrats, those for strengthening the state) against greedy “individual ambition” (the Republicans, capitalists, those who want to keep individual freedom).The founding argument of capitalism, originally made by Adam Smith was that individual ambition could be harnessed for maximum economic progress. Few students in America today are taught to understand how this apparent contradiction has produced the world’s most democratic, prosperous, and stable societies. By Obama’s definition, however, a government bureaucrat cannot be greedy or oppressive.

Standing in Israel’s Shoes

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

What if Americans woke up to hear on the morning news that Canada had tens of thousands of missiles, many with chemical warheads, aimed at them? And that the Canadian government — a vicious enemy of the U.S. itself — was losing control of these weapons, which were in danger of falling into the hands of terrorist groups that were sworn to destroy the U.S.?

And what if, at the same time, it was reported that Mexico — whose president had recently called Americans “bloodsuckers, warmongers … descendents of apes and pigs,” and said that Mexicans should “nurse their children on hatred” for the U.S. — was descending into chaos, unable to feed itself but still, above all, obsessed with hatred for its neighbor.

If that wasn’t enough, suppose the newscaster reported that terrorists who had taken over a coastal strip of California from the Mexican border to Monterey — who had pelted the rest of the country as far as Washington D.C. and New York City with deadly missiles a few months ago — had instituted military training in high schools to produce the “next generation of resistance fighters” who would “liberate the land” occupied by those pesky Americans.

Finally, what if, say, Venezuela was developing nuclear weapons and every other day one of their officials promised to root out the ‘cancer’ that was the U.S.?

Boker tov, people, welcome to Israel.

I didn’t mention that the U.N. is planning yet another resolution condemning Israel, or that Jew- and Israel-hatred is reaching new heights worldwide, especially in Europe and of course the U.K. Or that the president of the U.S., Israel’s main ally, has nominated three more or less anti-Israel candidates for Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and CIA director.

But despite all this, Israel just completed a free and fair election — not so usual in the Middle East — in which the major issues were social and economic. Surveys (like this one last year) show Israelis to be happy overall. Israel’s economy is doing well, although there are concerns about rising inequality and a housing shortage (but there is also a recognition that these problems can and should be solved). There is a broad consensus in Israel on questions of national security, including the need to attack Iran if it is about to obtain nuclear weapons, and on the unlikelihood of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Here in the U.S., the nation is bitterly divided on left-right lines. There is no consensus on how to deal with either security or economic issues. The Congress is suffering from permanent gridlock. The economy is slowly improving, but employment is not — and that appears to represent a structural change in the kind and number of jobs available. Many states and municipalities are close to bankrupt (California and Fresno come to mind). Infrastructure is decaying and we don’t seem to have the will to fix it. The middle class is becoming harder to get into from below, and harder to stay in. Americans don’t (yet) have to worry about missile attacks from Mexico, but its prestige and ability to protect its interests abroad have fallen sharply.

Despite the existential threats, Israel is in some important ways doing better than we are. And if it succeeds in weathering its primarily external threats, it will be around for a long time. The U.S., on the other hand, while still enormously powerful, seems to have lost its way.

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The Complainers are Alive and Well in America

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

In this Shabbat’s Torah portion, we met the complainers. Among the different types of personalities and personality disorders, there are complainers. There are people who complain about everything. Wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, they always have the need to complain. “This is no good, and that’s no good. This should be done that way, and I could have done the same thing better.”

We meet them right after our incredibly miraculous salvation from the armies of Egypt, as the Egyptians are still drowning in the sea, and our spontaneous song of joy is still echoing over the wilderness mountains, the people started complaining. Not all the people. The complainers.

First they complained that there wasn’t any fresh water – as if King of the Universe, who split the sea five minutes ago, couldn’t give them a little fresh water! Then they complained against Moshe and Aharon, finding fault with the greatest leaders in the world! Then they complained about the menu, which ever since has become a very Jewish thing to do. “Waiter, this steak is too rare.” Or, “Waiter, this steak is well done.” Then, once again in the wilderness, they complained about the lack of water, accusing Moshe of trying to kill them! A little later on, they are going to start complaining about having to live in Eretz Yisrael.

I’m sure you are familiar with the type. For instance, there is no shortage of them amongst Jewish bloggers in America. Surely you’ve noticed. Some are always complaining: “This in Israel is no good, and that’s no good, the country is too secular, or the religious have too much power, you can’t make a living there, the Israelis are rude, and on and on and on and on.”

After reading this Shabbat’s Torah portion, I realized that they’re the modern-day complainers. Apparently, it’s something genetic. It’s not their fault. They can’t help it. I suppose a doctor would call it an obsessive compulsion, and a psychiatrist might term it a neurotic disorder. It could be there are medicines that can help the problem, like the drugs that doctors prescribe for just about everything else. Maybe anti-depressants would work. After all, they don’t seem like very happy people, the way they’re complaining all the time.

The only other thing I can think of that might help them is to learn Emunah, which means faith. Rabbi Kook would always say that Emunah must be learned. True faith in God doesn’t grow on trees in Brooklyn. Every Jew has Emunah deep down inside. But it must be developed. Emunah is more than eating bagels and lox and putting on tefillin. True faith in God requires learning. Not just any type of learning, but learning designed to bring a person to a living connection with God, and to put his life in line with what God wants for the Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel.

Books like the “Kuzari” and the writings of Rabbi Kook are a good place to start. And a true reading of the Torah is the best place of all. Like they very thing that we are reading about now – how God doesn’t want us to live in foreign countries, and how He even turned the world upside down with the greatest miracles ever, to teach us this lesson and bring us to the Land of Israel where He wants us to live. But the complainers didn’t like the way God was handling things.

For example, the Spies were outstanding Torah scholars, but they were the biggest complainers of all. They believed in some things, but they didn’t believe in others. They agreed to keep Shabbat and put on tefillin, but when it came to making aliyah, they didn’t believe in God, as the Torah says, “In this matter, you did not believe in the Lord your God” (Devarim, 1:32). In the matter of going to live in Israel. They wanted to live in Brooklyn, and Chicago, and Texas instead.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook taught:

The Gemara talks about types of “Tzaddikim who don’t believe” (Sotah 48B). They choose words of Torah and commandments, saying, “This matter is arranged properly by the Almighty. It’s very nice; it pleases me; it’s easy; I agree to abide. However, this matter is not so good.” This approach to Torah leads to dangerous consequences and heresy. There is a startling saying of our Sages in the Gemara regarding someone who says, “This precept is pleasant, and this one isn’t pleasant; this matter is pleasing to me, and this other matter is not. Everyone who chooses between the mitzvot in the Torah, saying this one he agrees with, this one he doesn’t, loses the richness of Torah” (Eruvin 64A).

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