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Economics

“The Coming Tide”

July 25th, 2017 // 7:22 am @

A Prediction

For decades the Democrats proudly saw themselves as the party of the little guy and the working poor. Republicans were considered the party of Wall Street, white collar professionals, and big business. But these alignments have changed during the opening years of the 21st Century. The Democrats are now, as The Atlantic put it, “a coalition of Millennials, minorities, and white professionals.” The Republicans consist of whatever is left over, which amounts to a majority of people in the large majority of states.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this new political arrangement is that so many white-collar professionals are now Democrats. Moreover, a large number of them are genuinely liberal, even progressive. This is a major departure from historical trends.

The most obvious reason for this shift is something members of the professional class have in common: years of participation in and graduation from the modern American university system. To find success in today’s campus environment often corresponds with embracing academe’s general values, processes, and views. When such views emphasize diversity of thought and vigorous debate of different ideas, the result is a certain kind of learning—and a certain kind of graduate. This approach helped make American universities the best in the world.

But when such views and values include rejection of diverse ideas, religious values, and pressure to adopt one overarching political and cultural perspective (pervasively advanced by the Left), a different result is natural. A different kind of typical graduate is also inevitable. This is where we find ourselves today. As the American campus has moved increasingly Left, the culture experienced and accepted by a large number of its participants has followed suit.

College Flight

This leaves many conservative or religious families, and others who aren’t particularly conservative or religious but don’t want their college youth to be ridiculed for their views or indoctrinated with blatant liberalism, with a difficult choice. College, long considered a required rite of passage into adulthood by many families, is becoming less attractive to a lot of people. The rebuttal is that the financial rewards of a college degree make it unavoidable. This boils down to two widely accepted but currently weakening views:

  1. College leads to financial success
  2. Financial success requires college

Perception is never quite as accurate as reality. Belief #1 (college leads to financial success) is a partial truth. It turns out to be true for some people, not true for others. In the 2010s, it is false for more than half of college graduates. Belief #2 (financial success requires college), on the other hand, is patently false. There are many people with financial success and means who dropped out of college or never enrolled at all. Indeed, many business owners who never finished college find their company bombarded with resumes and applications of those who did.

Certainly college is an effective path to career for many people. However, a downside for parents who aren’t committed liberal ideologues is the worry that many of today’s universities will turn their children into exactly that. And the biggest losers in the current system—even in the few schools where religious or conservative values are acceptable—are students whose focus on career prep distracts them from getting a truly great education. Sadly, this describes a significant majority.

II.

To be clear, all of this is part of a much larger national context. The bigger trend is that Americans are increasingly rejecting the 1960s promise of a society of experts who wisely and efficiently fix everything. The golden era of the American university was an outgrowth of this post-World War II zeitgeist: that everyone could participate in a society of experts, and that expertise and institutions held the solutions to all our national, world, community, material, and even personal problems.

Increased medical expertise and technology would make us truly healthy; better law schools and lawyers would ensure true justice to everyone; advanced technology and training in journalism would bring a golden age of media full of light and truth; business advances and expertise would eradicate poverty and bring prosperity to all. And so on….

The promise of what experts would bring the world was exciting, even intoxicating. True political experts, we were assured, would bring lasting peace, end conflicts, and spread happiness to every city and town. The Fed would ensure a stable and growing economy at all times, using modern expertise and financial algorithms to save us from major financial challenges. The promises were endless.

Over fifty years later, none of these expectations have been realized. Not even one of them. The entire “experts will fix everything” project is a bust. Just look at the current state of our politics, from the Clinton era to the Bush years, from Obama to Trump. Problems are far from solved. Many of our great national institutions, both public and private, have declined or lost their way. The citizenry’s trust of our government, and of experts in general, is lower and lower each decade.

In truth, the era of the expert is insolvent. It’s well past bankrupt, to be precise. We’re still training more experts, but they still haven’t solved the problems that caused us to want more of them in the first place. A lot of things have gotten worse. In short, something else is needed…

And soon.

What’s Next?

While national debts continue to skyrocket (more than doubling in the past 8 years), markets show increased volatility, and governmental credit ratings are downgraded, many of the experts assure us that things are getting better. But all they’ve shown is that they don’t really know what they’re doing. They know how to keep themselves well paid and in power, but beyond that, they haven’t fulfilled their purpose.

For example, imagine what would happen if we faced an economic depression like those the U.S. suffered in the 1930s, 1860s, or 1780s. When the Great Depression came, most Americans trusted the government, our leaders, and our national institutions. Today most citizens have very little trust in any of these; indeed, over sixty percent of Americas don’t trust the government to do the right thing most of the time. If crisis comes in this atmosphere of mistrust, few solutions from Washington will find enough traction to be successful.

This is a dominant characteristic of our times: We can’t seem to solve our national problems, big or small. We are mired in political squabbles, both between parties and within parties, and Washington accomplishes very little that actually helps the American people. It often causes harm, in fact.

As a people, we have largely lost trust not only in governmental officials and institutions but also in the media, Wall Street, Hollywood, the schools, big business…the list is long. Whom do we really trust as a people? Whom can we turn to in crisis—with real confidence they’ll fix things? In short, which experts do we really believe have our backs anymore?

If the promise of “experts will save us, and all our youth should become experts” doesn’t ring true anymore, what does? What is the answer? From the founding era through westward migration and the Industrial Revolution, the overarching goal of most Americans was to build a business and raise a family. This was our drive, our agenda. It was our national project, carried out by myriad individuals and families.

Then after World War II we turned our gaze in another direction: the career, a profession, education as job training, and daily life spent meeting the needs of the corporation or whatever organization employed us. In short, experts ruled and most people wanted to be experts. If they couldn’t swing it themselves, they at least tried to make it a reality for their children. Even family goals were expected to bend or give way to the interests of employers. Schools, likewise, were reorganized to separate, grade, sort, and point young people in the direction most likely to meet corporate needs. Experts oversaw the entire process, literally from cradle to grave and almost everything in between.

As the evidence of expert limitations grows, and as our national faith in the power of experts to solve our problems erodes and crumbles, what is left? Where will we turn? A whole generation of Millennials grapple with this situation in their work life, and more decide to opt out of the system than join it. Where are we headed?

III.

So far, nobody can definitively answer these questions. Time will tell, but in the meantime we must do our best to understand and prepare for the economy and world that is emerging in the post-faith-in-experts era. My opinion is that the most likely path forward is to reconnect with our American roots and turn our sights once again toward entrepreneurship. Business ownership is, in fact, the historical American pastime. The fact that many people abandoned it for half a century only worked because a few business owners did things on a big enough scale to employ the many.

But eventually, like any system where the many depend on the few for survival and progress, the few began taking more and more of the profits and power for themselves. In history this was called aristocracy, in more recent times it has been called socialism, and in our day it often gets away with calling itself capitalism. But whatever we call it, such a model is a far cry from the free enterprise system that turned America into a world leader—based firmly on freedom and the goal of most people to be independent owners and build their own businesses.

If and when this goal once again permeates our national mindset and our people’s choices, we’ll see the rise of a nation of problem-solvers. At that point, we won’t be dependent on politicians to fix things, and as a result, things will actually get fixed. In the process, we’ll naturally see a decreasing attachment to political parties and the rise of a non-political majority of business owners and family raisers.

There was once a name for just such goals: “The American Dream.” It’s time to bring it back.

To put it succinctly: Experts won’t save us. Politicians won’t fix what ails our nation. The solution will come, if at all, from a cultural change that marks the resurgence of a certain kind of person. At one point in history, people around the world had a word for such independent-thinking mavericks who took risks and then worked incredibly hard to make their businesses flourish and grow. They called them “Americans.” What qualified one for such a title? A burning drive to build and lead one’s own business, and to raise a family and community of young people with the same goal.

I think we’ll witness the rebirth of this same “tide in human affairs” very soon. In fact, I believe it’s already begun. But it faces strong headwinds blowing in the other direction, so we need to do better if we want the American Dream to succeed again. This is our key to the kind of future we want to pass down to our children and grandchildren.

Families, schools, communities and parents can either raise a nation of “independents” or a society of “dependents.” One will bring freedom and opportunity, the other won’t.

It’s our choice, and the decision won’t be made in Washington — or even at the ballot box.

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Obama vs. Trump

July 17th, 2017 // 4:07 pm @

The Reality of the Paris Climate Agreement—What it Really Means

What’s Actually Being Said

When President Obama spoke of climate change as America’s biggest challenge, and then touted what he called American “leadership” in the 2015 Paris global climate agreement, a lot of conservatives were confused. They wondered if Obama truly considered climate change a more dangerous threat than ISIS, Al Qaeda, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, etc. “Really?” they wondered. “How can he possibly believe that?”

Likewise, when president Trump pulled the United States out of the global climate accord, many conservatives were surprised by the extreme media reaction. “Don’t media members know that while nearly all nations in the world signed on to the agreement, funding it was put mostly on the backs of American taxpayers? We’re already deeply in debt and financially strapped. Why would the media support that?”

In reality, this is all a simple misunderstanding. Most Americans don’t know the hidden “code” that guided President Obama, the mainstream media, and many others who support the agreement. Only those who know the code realize what is actually happening. Everyone else is left to wonder. In fact, the large majority of Americans on the Left don’t know the code either—instead they assume that Obama’s climate agenda was driven by pure environmental concerns.

What is the code? Put simply, on one side we find leaders whose overarching objective is to maintain America’s national freedom and prosperity. On the other side the major objective is to build a truly global society—maintained by global-level governance. This is the true, but somewhat hidden, struggle of our time. Not surprisingly, these two grand strategies frequently come into conflict.

Responsibility or Power Grab

This is the code. How does it play out in everyday life? Put simply: on one side the justification for promoting American freedoms and prosperity is our shared national heritage, goals, and values. The justification for globalism, on the other hand, is that some things must be dealt with at the global level, and national governments have no business interfering with such concerns. If a nation supports policies that are “best handled globally,” it is “leading,” according to this view. If not, it isn’t.

Put another way, the only justification for national government is that it deals more effectively with certain issues than any local, provincial, or state government. Thus the need for a central power, or federal government. The American framers felt that two such issues existed: (1) national security, and (2) keeping peace between the states. This focus is foundational in the U.S. Constitution.

The framers saw no need for international or global level government, because no global threat existed that would require all nations to join together under one centralized command. The most that would be needed, the framers believed, was occasional treaties that allowed two or more nations to cooperate on shared goals. Such treaties could be discarded once the goals were met or the shared threats no longer existed.

Since government is “fire,” as George Washington put it, meaning that the power of government has throughout history been abused and/or turned against its own people, the power of any and every government must always be kept in check. Limited. “Smaller is better” sums up one-half of the founding American view of government. The other half was clearly expressed in the first 10 Federalist Papers: government should be strong and vigorous in doing what it is designed to do (national security and protection of inalienable rights), and limited from doing anything else. More than one of the framers expressed the key idea that our government must be “shackled” and “bound” to its limits by the “chains” of the U.S. Constitution.

These are strong terms. Indeed, the founding generation couldn’t think of any stronger words. The framers knew firsthand the pain and suffering caused by government that doesn’t remain limited, and they wrote the Constitution accordingly. They bound and shackled the government to its basic limits. They did everything they could think of to keep it that way.

Today’s Danger

Those pressing for global governance today know that only a truly global threat will create mass support for their worldwide agenda. An alien invasion would clearly accomplish this objective. Since no such threat confronts us, they seek the next best thing—a truly global environmental threat, one that endangers human survival, our very existence. If such a threat is accepted by the masses, the move to global governance will be certain.

This is the current appeal of environmental collapse as “the great global menace.” Note that loving the environment, and wanting to nurture and protect it, is not the same as pushing the belief that worldwide environmental breakdown and even collapse are inevitable (or even imminent). The first (love and protection of nature) can and should be handled by individual nations, or even smaller governmental units working with private entities. The second (global environmental collapse) can only be achieved by global-level controls that are enforced—ultimately by military action if necessary.

This is the code. Those who are pushing for global governance want concern for a global environmental threat to spread and grow—because it is the strongest idea that supports their political agenda. When politicians or the media say that the U.S. must “lead” on the environment, they are calling for global governmental powers to be established. When they say the U.S. is caving on its values in leaving the Paris climate agreement, they want the masses to hear that conservatives hate the environment, but what they really mean is that such a move is against globalism. That’s the one thing globalists can’t abide. This is their litmus test:

You can be Republican or Democrat, white collar or blue collar, religious or not, short or tall or happy or sad, but you can’t be against globalism and still represent the power elites. Such is heresy, pure and simple. It must be resisted at all costs. Globalism is the future.

This is the view of the power elites: in finance, media, academia, the sprawling federal bureaucracies, and top centers of the governing-industrial-lobbying establishment.

But the truth is different than the media reports. Specifically:

-Most conservatives care deeply about the environment.

-Most conservatives are against global governance.

-The Paris climate agreement does almost nothing to actually help the environment. (If the goal were truly environmental, the details of the agreement would be different.)

-The Paris climate agreement greatly promotes global governance. This is the real goal.

Sides and Purposes

Only those who understand “the code” actually understand current events. This applies to more than the Paris agreement, to be sure. For example, consider how globalist-leaning federal judges frequently insert the global agenda into decisions in ways that directly undermine the United States and even the Constitution. The goal is to replace the Constitution with global precedents and borderless jurisprudence, bit by bit.

Or consider how the pursuit of globalism impacts energy policy: oil pipelines from Canada create more energy independence in North America, thus reducing one of the major incentives of the U.S. to pursue globalism. Such pipelines should therefore be avoided at all costs, using any means necessary, according to globalists. The same globalist values governed Obama administration relationships with oil-rich nations in the Middle East.

Likewise, weaker borders, not stronger, are necessary for the shift to global governance; any strengthening of immigration controls is viewed by elites as a major setback. An actual wall between nations is considered downright medieval. Even “savage.” It goes directly in the opposite direction as global governance. So does anything that weakens Planned Parenthood and free access to “planet-saving” abortions, or any policy that slows gun control in the U.S. from matching European levels. The push is consistently global.

Moreover, the Iran nuclear deal strengthened the institutions and powers of globalism (while tending to decrease long-term U.S. unilateralism), and a strong relationship with Israel was considered by the Obama administration to damage the overall global agenda because Netanyahu is frequently a holdout against globalism. Mottos such as “the American Worker” or “Make America great again” are anathema to everything the globalists seek. There are many other examples.

Americans who understand “the code” of the elites will know what is going on in U.S. policy, even when others are confused by what is really happening. They will also understand the urgency and vehemence of elites and the elite-run mainstream media in opposing anything and everything that puts American interests before the ultimate goal of global governance.

The louder the media protests, and the more strident its voice, the better the fight is going against anti-American elite globalism. And make no mistake: the push for global governance is anti-freedom, anti-Constitution, anti-Biblical morality, and anti-family. The battle is real, and it is happening right now.

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A 2017 State of the Union!

June 28th, 2017 // 7:47 pm @

Where are We Right Now as a Nation, and Where are We Going?

The Not-Quite-New Normal

This is the way we govern now: The White House is the prize. Majorities in Congress are the way to get closer to the prize. And the ultimate goal is to control the Supreme Court, because it now has almost ultimate power on whatever issue it engages.

This is the way we govern now. To win these prizes, the party out of power goes on the offensive. Its mantra is attack, attack, attack. Look at the last 8 years: the party out of the White House (Republicans) attacked the party in the White House (Democrats) with whatever scandal it could. Benghazi. Clinton emails. IRS targeting. Obamacare. Fast and Furious. Loretta Lynch on the tarmac. Obstruction of every White House project they thought they could slow down. Calling ISIS “the JV team.” Debts and deficits. Some of these needed to be openly and loudly addressed, yes. But this is the way we govern now.

This eventually brought Republican majorities in the House. Then the Senate. Finally, the White House. The same happened in the 8 years before that, from 2000 to 2008, only at that point the roles were reversed. Democrats attacked Republicans, especially those in the White House, with everything they could muster. Hanging chads. No WMDs. The outing of Valerie Plame. The Great Recession. The rise of fuel prices from a little over $1 per gallon to about 4 times that. False allegations that President Bush repeatedly skipped out on required military service. Carl Rove and Scooter Libby in a Special Prosecutor gone wild. More debt, big deficits, using the Justice Department to investigate political rivals of the White House. Again, some of these needed to be opposed, but this has become the center-point of our governance.

The eight years prior to that followed the same pattern, with the party roles once again reversed. Republicans attacked the Democrats with allegations of Lewinsky-gate and abusive behavior toward Paula Jones and other women by President Clinton, Impeachment by the House of Representatives for Perjury, China-gate, White House handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge standoffs, Hillary’s proposed Health Care plan. In the decades before that it was Iran-Contra, “Read My Lips,” etc.

This is how we govern now. It’s not only the perpetual campaign, where even between elections both parties are fully engaged in tearing each other down, it’s also a high-stakes game of thrones where both sides are out for blood—and the losers are the American people. In short, as mentioned, this is how we govern now. And it’s not good for our nation.

Who, What, and Why

In fairness, a free media and open debate that keeps the government under constant scrutiny is necessary and helpful. It is a serious check on anyone in power. Where the American Framers put most of the checks in the hands of competing branches of government, modern technology has significantly increased the power of non-governmental actors such as media, academia, big business, and online providers, among others. When this increases the power and wisdom of the electorate, the changes are positive. But too often the reality is manipulative spin and constant attempts by media to sway the citizens rather than inform them, to guide and convince voters rather than just objectively tell them the facts.

Indeed, a great negative occurs where the electorate is dependent on powerful institutions for its knowledge of the facts and issues we face as a nation—or swayed by the tone in which elites attempt to skew the public’s view of world events. The power of such institutions to prejudice people has only increased with each passing decade and year, and while this has sparked increased media savvy among some people, it has also created a mob mentality, even groupthink, for many others.

One of the reasons many in the media—both Left and Right—loudly decry President Trump’s habit of tweeting is that this cuts such media personalities out of the picture. When top leaders speak directly to the citizens, the media model of the past three hundred years is turned on its head. If this ever works effectively on the large scale, many media professionals will need to find new employment.

But let’s be clear. Accuracy in the news hit a two-decade low in 2009, according to the Pew Research Center (September 13, 2009). Then it hit another low by 2012 (August 16, 2012). In 2016 and 2017, many citizens feel that accuracy is hard to find in any media. In fact, a number of people consider British media outlets more factual about U.S. news than American media organizations that seem increasingly biased. When asked what news is most accurate, the public is split along party lines.

As for the ability of the media to accurately predict elections, it has become clear in the last 5 national-level elections (in 2016 and 2017) that the mainstream media and polling models have it all wrong. They keep predicting the opposite of what actually occurs. The biggest problem in media is that an increasing number of people simply don’t trust it anymore. They want the media to be unbiased, objective, and share “just the facts,” but this isn’t what they experience when they read the daily paper or turn on the nightly news. Gallup reports that popular trust in the media is at an all-time low (wjla.com/news, June 18, 2017).

Important Questions

The solution, of course, is for the regular citizens to step up their game. As former CIA officer Bryan Dean Wright shared (Fox, June 20, 2017), intelligence officers vet their news by looking at “five different kinds of questions.” Citizens today need to do the same. For example, whenever we hear or read a news report, we need to ask ourselves:

  1. Who is the person sharing the news? Does he really know what he’s talking about? [If the source of news is “anonymous,” give it very little credence.]
  2. Is the person sharing the news actually in a position to have access to the original details? Or is he just repeating something he heard or read? [If he’s not the original source, be skeptical.]
  3. What is the motivation of the person/institution reporting the news? Liberal? Conservative? Independent? Objective? What is the reporter’s goal? [In the case of the mainstream media, the goal is often to get better ratings and seek promotions from elite powerbrokers, or even to directly sway people to a different political viewpoint.]
  4. What bias does the reporter/institution have? [If you don’t know, you can’t possibly trust what he says until you find out why he’s saying it.]
  5. Does anyone corroborate the story? Who? Are both sources trustworthy? [Journalists used to print nothing until they had at least two separate named sources confirming the same thing. Now media outlets frequently go to print or air without even one named source. Many such reports have turned out to be entirely false.]

It’s not that journalism schools have stopped teaching the principles and rules of good journalism, but rather that many newspapers and electronic news organizations simply ignore the rules and steam ahead—as long as they feel they can promote their pre-planned agenda. Buyer beware. Or, in this case, consumers of media beware. We’re frequently being lied to.

Indeed, much of modern media seems to approach journalism like the villainous media magnate Magnussen in Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent rendition of Sherlock Holmes. When pressed on accuracy, he says: “Facts are for history books. I work in news.”

Facts vs. News

There is a lot of wisdom in this short statement. It is one of the genuine mantras of life in the 21st Century, and it bears repeating:

“Facts are for history books. I work in news.”

The news in our time has largely become reality television—scripted, planned, twisted to support a pre-determined narrative and agenda. The only antidote is a citizenry that sees through it and responds accordingly.

This is the way we govern now. This is where we are, and where we’re headed—at least in the immediate future. Crisis after crisis after crises…repeated ad infinitum. If one crisis gets resolved, another is already in the wings—just waiting for prime time. That’s Washington today.

Will something change it? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not the important question. The true question is whether American citizens will see through the endless crises, attacks, spin, manipulations, and innuendo—and focus their attention on the things that really matter. If we do, and if we only support media and news that actually focus on the important things, and vote for leaders who do the same (regardless of media manipulation) in every election, we’ll help keep the nation on track. The media will howl and moan and scream and whine, but they can be taken with a grain of salt. We should listen to the media, hear what they have to say, but we should take our own counsel as citizens.

Up Next

The following maxim for the 21st Century is needed:

Perception isn’t reality.

Reality is reality. Wise citizens will grin at the uproar when the media is off base, because they know the real story is very simple:

  1. Is Washington deregulating the economy and people’s lives, or increasing freedom-killing regulation? Same with state and local government? Why/Why not?
  2. Is the economy growing or contracting? Why/Why not?
  3. Are we more safe from our enemies or less? Why/Why not?
  4. Is freedom growing or decreasing? Why/Why not?

These four simple questions and answers tell us whether our government is helping us go forward or backward. We just need to keep our eye on the ball. Let the news wail and shriek. Hear what they have to say, and really examine their reports. Think about what you hear, and ponder, analyze, question.

Then apply the four questions outlined just above, and respond accordingly. That’s the real news.

And one more thing: Help as many people as possible do the same.

Because this is the way we should govern: With the American people firmly, wisely, and independently in charge.

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Chaos in Current Events!

June 21st, 2017 // 8:50 am @

History is Repeating Itself, But Do We Know Its Lesson?

Cycling Back Around

This is a chaotic time. Political scandals, media lies, shootings and violence based on political disagreements, terrorist attacks in formerly safe places. For the American people, it’s both frustrating and scary.

It helps to step back and take a deep breath, then turn to history for answers. Since patterns frequently repeat, they can tell us a lot about what’s actually happening—beyond the anger and intensity of nightly news reports. They can also tell us what’s coming.

Here’s how things work. Since the beginning of written history society has been split between three groups: 1) those in power, 2) those who have some power but are seeking more of it in order to be at the top of the power pyramid, and 3) other people who just want to live their lives. The good news is that in the United States today, a higher number of people are free to enjoy life and seek to live their dreams than perhaps any other society in known history. That’s worth smiling about, no matter what the news tells us.

On the other hand, a lot of people today have a sense that things are heading in the wrong direction. We have a lot of problems, both here and abroad, and it often feels as if some spark will soon set off some kind of powder keg that leads to real crisis. It’s a feeling like many Americans experienced in the late 1930s and early 1940s, or in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The American founding generation felt it at the beginning of the 1770s. In each of these cases, that sense of unease and anxiety was eventually followed by drastic challenges—Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War.

Indeed, according to the cycles of history, we’re in that same turn of the pattern right now. It’s unclear exactly what will happen to bring bigger national crisis, but a lot of people feel a foreboding sense that something momentous is about to come.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

To put this in clear perspective, the news right now is a tale of four nations.

One: the business news reports almost daily signs of an economic upturn, more financial opportunity, and budding growth in a rebooting economy.

Two: international news reports increasing terror attacks, alarming danger signs in North Korea, Iran and from ISIS, and a looming energy building for more conflicts ahead with Russia and China.

Three: the mainstream media portrays the Trump White House and the Republican Congress as ineffective, and throws out daily allegations of Administration corruptions, lies, conspiracies and hidden agendas to hurt the nation.

Four: conservative media debunks these mainstream reports and points instead to the kind of alleged corruption on the Left: Loretta Lynch, James Comey, the Clinton Foundation, illegal leaks, violent “Resisters”, DNC collusion with the mainstream media, Hillary Clinton’s emails, etc.

It is amazing how often these competing sources of media tell exactly the opposite story about a given event from the day’s news. Most people listening to all the reports are left deeply confused, or cynical. And those who only listen to one news source are frequently surprised by what friends tell them about the news. “But I listened to the total opposite on the morning news! You must be remembering that wrong.”

To make sense of all this, let’s put aside the noise and distraction. Let’s be as blunt and direct as possible: We are living in one of those historical periods where we face an existence-level conflict. We are literally in the midst of an existential war. Such wars are both cold and hot, violent and emotional. They are deeply rooted in the conflict between major ideas—with two cultures battling to survive, to win, and to thrive. But each side feels that it must fully defeat an opposing culture in order to survive.

Such intellectual wars have always existed, but they only reach a crisis-point like the one we are now experiencing when certain factors align. First, instead of a general conflict among ideas, the populace finds itself facing off in a dramatic disagreement between two major viewpoints, two overall paradigms that cannot peacefully coexist. Second, the stakes are high enough that almost everyone in the society firmly picks one of the two sides. Even people who are usually moderate, or generally centrist in their views, feel strongly enough about the current situation to put aside their typical willingness to see both good and bad on both sides. They now clearly see one side as right and the other as wrong. Many people go further—they see their side as Good, and the other as Evil.

Third, and this is where—according to historical patterns—the real danger sets in, more and more people find their emotions leading them, and they stop really thinking about current events. Symbols, which are always important in society, become the main thing in such eras. Symbols take over. For example, we now live in a nation where millions of people don’t even consider a certain policy if it is supported by the Trump Administration. They immediately think they “know” it is bad, wrong, hurtful—as soon as the name Trump is attached. In contrast, millions of other people have the exact same emotional reaction to anything attached to the name Obama, or Hillary Clinton. Rationality, consideration, and even empathy, are largely ignored. Millions basically turn off their brains and simply react to symbols—and their reactions are emotional, charged, and frequently downright angry. This turns violent more often than in less extreme eras of history.

Diverging Paths

In the current environment, winning has become the only goal for many in leadership, and for a majority of the population. And winning itself is defined as having certain people in power and in office, and/or other specific people out of power and out of office. Nothing but winning is acceptable to far too many in positions of influence and power—both public and in the private sector.

But there is an even worse situation, and it is the one we are now living. This occurs when one side believes that winning is the only important thing, and is willing to go to any length, any extreme, to win, while the other side still believes that some things are more important than winning.

When this happens, the side that only cares about winning becomes truly extreme, loses its moral sense and ethical compass, and goes entirely on the attack, using any means and justification it can muster. The other side, still convinced that morality is more important than winning, holds back, tries to show restraint, and attempts to use reason and appeals to decency to make its case. The result, in history, is mixed:

  • If an election is near, the anger gets channeled to the voting booth and a winning number of voters weigh in and throw their support behind the side arguing for decency, goodness, and wisdom.
  • If no election is imminent, the anger grows and is expressed mostly by the political class: those on the full attack win, while the side seeking reason and decency loses.

We are now witnessing the latter scenario. And history is clear on this point: Nations are drastically hurt by this approach. It tore the United States apart in the 1960s, where we witnessed the assassination of a President and two other major national leaders, along with massive violence, cultural civil war, and the destruction of national trust and cooperation. Similar events tore nations apart during the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and Bismarck’s Wars. The French and Indian War, the War of the Roses, the 30 Years War, and a number of others followed the same pattern. World War I took Europe for a similar ride—or, more precisely, a similar culture war culminated in the muddy trenches full of blood and machine-gun casings that webbed the continent in World War I.

In each case, it came down to two great, competing ideas or cultures, large or powerful groups supporting each side, and, eventually, the rise of symbol to extreme levels that incited violence, irrationality, and all-out culture war. We are now witnessing the same stew. Any who aren’t alarmed, or at least deeply concerned, don’t understand the ebbs and flows of history.

The solution, as history teaches, is to clearly identify which idea is right—and reject the other. This finally ended the great conflicts listed above, whether the conflicting ideas were communism vs. democratic free enterprise, a divine right of kings vs. the inalienable rights of all, Nazism vs. parliamentary democracy, imperialism vs. self-determination, slavery vs. individual rights, etc.

Follow or Lead?

To make matters even more challenging, today we are engaged in two such wars at the same time. First, there is the battle of radical Islamic terrorism vs. democratic inalienable rights. The clear winner will be democratic inalienable rights, which is more popular than terrorism among Muslims and pretty much everyone else around the world. Only the terrorists themselves, a very small minority of the world’s population, think theirs is the right idea.

The second great war being fought right now for control of our future is more complex. More difficult. Indeed, it threatens to tear our modern societies apart. It consists of, to put it as directly as possible, the competing ideas of democracy vs. aristocracy.

Elites choose the latter. They think society should be run by a few, and that the rest of us should accept the rule of our “betters.” And be grateful.

This is the underlying battle of our times. It is the war being fought in Washington D.C. between the Establishment and the American voters, and in most of our schools (where young people are largely convinced that success consists of getting a job working for elites, showing gratitude to elites, and kowtowing to elites in return for the promised salaries, promotions, and employee benefits). It is the war being fought on our campuses, and in most of the television programs and movies we consume.

Sometimes the message from schools, campuses, and the entertainment media is blatant, while other times it is subtle. But the message is nearly always the same: “the values of elites are best”, and “the rule of elites in all walks of life is just the way things are—and the way things should be”. This viewpoint is repeated over and over: “The best we can do is fall in line and get the kind of education and careers elites want for us.” Few people are able to spend many years in this system without succumbing to its promises and threats.

Perhaps the very center of this war is the media. Nearly every mainstream media report today communicates the same message: elites are the answer, we all need to adopt and celebrate elite values, all other values are obsolete or inferior, the voters get it wrong when they don’t follow elite media guidance, and the best path for our children is to embrace elite values and get the kind of good jobs that are mostly available working for elites and furthering elite agendas. The message is clear, and it is repeated from many of our most venerated institutions: “Everyone who isn’t an elite, or working for elites, is a loser, an outsider, an inferior.”

The Choice Right Now

This is not an exaggeration. Step back, look at our society today, the culture wars that are brewing, the leaders and their battles, and the news media. We are the world described just above—run “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites.” The United States is a society at war, and the war is democracy vs. aristocracy. Note that aristocracy is promoted by nearly all of our major societal institutions. We are a world where all men and women are created equal, to paraphrase Orwell, but some, the elites (and those who adopt elite values and work for their goals), are to be treated more equal than others.

When the voters put in presidents and other leaders approved by elites they are applauded by the same elites. Media, academia, television, movies and experts of all stripes laud such officials and those who voted for them. When voters elect anyone who threatens or challenges elite values or goals, these same institutions turn to full attack mode. It’s like a pack of jackals going after their worst enemy. It’s Lord of the Flies. The courts are brought to bear, the media is weaponized, schools and universities become arms of elite propaganda, and the bulk of professionals and experts turn their attention to reversing or amending electoral “mistakes.” The voters must be kept in their place. Their superiors must rule.

Again, to history—it has always been thus. In fact, this is what Burke and Santayana were talking about when they warned that those who don’t learn from the mistakes of history are bound to repeat them. Specifically: The aristocrats have always known how to respond when a bit of democracy raises its head in challenge. They lie, they attack, they use innuendo, they mischaracterize, they publish false reports—followed by more false reports. When they do tell the truth, they spin it to promote their narrative. Where possible, they employ character assassination. If these fail, they look for another way. Any way to bring back elite rule and control.

This can go two ways, history shows us. If the people are swayed by such elite manipulations and tactics, the elites quickly regain their power. If not, if the people hold strong against elitist lies, agendas, and domination, democracy spreads and free enterprise flourishes.

Make no mistake. No matter how it looks (and remember that elites almost single-handedly control how it looks), the battles we witness on the nightly news are not personality vs. personality or even political party vs. political party. Something deeper is afoot. Aristocracy and Democracy are at war. Rule by elites vs. rule by the regular people. This is a true fork in the road. We will either remain a democratic, free enterprise nation, or we will become a fully functioning aristocracy.

This is our choice. Right now. And it boils down to whether we let the media sway our views, or not.

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How to Get the Real News

April 27th, 2017 // 8:39 am @

“Wait!” she said. “Where did you hear that? That’s the opposite of what the news is telling people.”

“Of course it is. I didn’t get this from the news. Or social media.”

Long pause…

“Where did you get it?”

Part I: Conclusion

For many years I’ve recommended that people get their news in a special way: read 2-3 liberal publications, and also 2-3 conservative ones. Pay close attention, and note how both sides spin things. Watch for their assumptions and media agendas. Think about what you read, and draw your own conclusions.

But in the Trump era, it’s no longer this simple. The media has become so biased, so angrily bent on waging war against the current Administration, that even the conservative press frequently joins the mainstream media in its attacks—or in fighting them.

Objectivity in media reports is almost extinct. Manipulative spin is now the one constant in our national–and much of the local–media.

So, where should today’s concerned citizen get the news? The answer to this question is enlightening. In the new era of media—what could arguably be called the post-journalistic era—it’s not just about where you get the news. It’s more about how you read the news. Those who read it the right way will learn what’s really going on. Those who don’t, won’t….

Part II: Example

I open the magazine and read the first article. It’s a liberal magazine, and, like always, I’m enjoying it. Reading what people who disagree with me have to say about the current state of the world is invigorating.

When I was younger, it sometimes made me angry. A decade later it made me want to argue. Nowadays, I find myself laughing a lot. Or, once in a while, surprised by a new idea that deserves serious consideration.

For example, the first magazine I read begins with a long editorial about how the economy is “on the rise.” Markets are getting more good news than they have since 2008, and not the “media-spin economic upturn news” that Washington loved during the Obama years, but that always turned out to be false. This time it’s about a real upturn it seems.

Still, the editorial warns, the danger is that people are going to think that things like Brexit and actions of the Trump Administration are responsible for the good economic news. These are all coincidences, apparently, according to the article. Any intelligent person, the magazine seems to be communicating, will clearly realize that there is little or no correlation between Obama/European Union policies and the economic malaise that accompanied them, and the a significant economic upsurge following Brexit/Trump.

My grin turns to laughter. Are they serious? No correlation? Funny. Ironic, but humorous. The same magazine issue has the following question on the front cover: “Is the pope Catholic?” Note that the word “pope” isn’t capitalized. The article takes this question seriously—analyzing the ways the current Pope is rehashing many ideas long considered sacrosanct at the Vatican. This part isn’t funny. Interesting, and important. But I’m pondering, not laughing.

Another article proclaims: “From deprivation to daffodils… All around the world, the economy is picking up.” The cause of this, we are assured once again, has nothing to do with Brexit or conservative policies. In fact, we’re told, these things caused “jitters” and kept the economy from improving sooner.

In the same magazine, we are warned about populist uprisings from the Netherlands, Mexico, and Scotland—all part of a “dangerous” trend. (In fairness, if you favor the elite classes and a system that benefits elites above all others, it actually is a dangerous trend.)

I finish this magazine and pick up the next one. Its purpose, apparently, is to find clever and original ways to criticize Donald Trump and anyone who didn’t happily vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. A very popular hobby these days.

But this publication does it in such cerebral language that it’s really fun to read—as if reading it, just soaking it all in, must mean you are one of the smart people, the enlightened, the few, the wise. I do enjoy the creative, engaging writing, even as I find myself disagreeing with much of the content.

I start laughing again. After all, the articles work so hard to sound impartial, journalistic, even erudite. But their frustration and anger with the last election, and the current Administration, shows through on nearly every page.

For example, I read paragraph after paragraph of seemingly objective, unbiased prose (“Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts…”), then I run into words like “vengeful,” “binge,” “vindictive.” The reader is being swayed by largely journalistic writing peppered with emotional triggers. I like it. I mean, it’s interesting, and funny. Besides, the American people are smart enough to see right through this kind of bias, whatever elites think of them. Still, this kind of spin is an art, and the articles I’m reading are skillfully crafted to sway their reader—just like most of the television media.

Pundits on the Right try to do this as well as those on the Left, but the Left has more true artists—masters of this process. Good for them.  Seriously. I’m genuinely impressed. Conservatives really do need more effective artists, and more appreciation for well-crafted symbolism.

The End of the Expert

On the less artistic, more direct side of things, one article calls President Trump: “an untruthful, vain, vindictive, alarmingly erratic President.” My first thought is that this is mean-spirited. But wait. I re-read the list of criticisms more carefully. Actually, I tell myself, most of this is fairly accurate, with one exception: What liberals call “untruthful” in Trump is often more a case of inarticulate.

President Trump frequently uses imprecise language, to the point of confusing. It’s a wonderful blessing for his opponents. But I don’t think he knowingly lies as much as the media claims (not in the way career politicians so frequently lie: “If you like your health care provider, you can keep your health care provider” or “insurance premiums will go down,” or “the Benghazi attack was caused by a video made in California,” or “I did not have sex with that woman.”)

But the other things on the list are fair game. Vain. Vindictive. Erratic. The President has exhibited all of these traits at times. I’m laughing again as I ponder this twist—because the real joke is on elites. Seriously: Why did the American people elect someone who is so openly vain and vindictive at times?

This is pretty funny, when you think about it. Liberals want these things to convince Americans that he shouldn’t be president. But those who elected him don’t really care about these things.

In short, liberals seem to want a president they can look up to, hold up as a role model, even canonize (e.g. FDR, Obama). Like medieval courtiers at the palace, they want to put their king on a pedestal. “He’s such a good and great man. She’s such a good and great woman.” They want Josiah Bartlett back in the White House. Or at least Michael Douglass. Or, better still, Kevin Klein’s “Dave”.

Conservatives aren’t thinking of anything so lofty. They don’t need a prophet or a saint in the Oval Office. They just want a president who will reboot the economy and make us safer in the world. Even if he acts like a jerk sometimes.

Liberals don’t seem to get the joke. It’s funny. Think about it: the voters in a majority of states preferred someone who is sometimes vain and vindictive over the elite’s favorite choice—a lifetime politician who checked off all the boxes and did everything the Establishment considers necessary to be in the Oval Office. The voters wanted the exact opposite. The irony is rich.

I finish the second magazine and take a long, deep breath before picking up the next one. But something I just saw keeps nagging me, so I go back to the magazine and look for a certain ad.

Ah…there it is. A promotion for online courses from Julliard. Open to all. “Learn from the Julliard faculty,” the ad proclaims, “classes include…Music Theory 101, Sharpen Your Piano Artistry…. No audition required.” I can hardly believe it. Doesn’t this fly in the face of the elite prime directive: “Rule By Experts—In All Things”? Do we really live in an age where MIT, Harvard and Julliard offer open enrollment classes to everyone? What happened to rule “of the experts, by the experts, and for the experts”? Elites are using technology to promote the appearance of democracy while still focusing on elite rule in every sector.

I open the third periodical in the pile. The lead article picks up right where the other magazine left off: “How Americans Turned Against Experts.” I study this article closely, taking notes in the margins, and then I read a half-dozen others. Apparently, the people just aren’t all that impressed with rule by the experts anymore. (“What have all those experts done for us?” millions are asking. “And why can’t they fix our national problems? What’s taking so long? In fact, why do things keep getting worse in so many ways? If these Ivy-trained experts with all their lofty titles and salaries are so good for America, why don’t they fix things?”)

Cause and Effect?

Finally, I pick up the last magazine in today’s stack. Several of the articles are intriguing. For example, I read: “Poverty has profound effects on the size, shape and functioning of a young child’s brain. Would a cash payment to parents prevent harm from the experience of being poor?” At first blush, it is sad that economic struggles have negative effects on early childhood. It is also not surprising that progressives think passing out money would fix this problem—easily and effectively.

But there’s more to this than initially meets the eye. I’m reminded of the economic idea of “helicoptering”: if the economy is struggling, dump cash from helicopters to poor families. They’ll spend it, and this will provide increased demand, supply, more jobs, and an improved economy. Of course, economists don’t suggest literally throwing cash out of helicopters (like turkeys on WKRP in Cincinnati), but rather depositing money directly into the accounts of people below a certain income level.

Conservatives tend to reflexively balk at such proposals, because they believe in the law of unintended consequences. In other words, paying people without asking them to work for it makes more people want to do nothing, and more citizens become increasingly dependent on government handouts—leaving the productive people to fund it all. Not good for society.

On the flip side, I like to point out to conservative friends that one of the early proponents of such financial “helicoptering” was Milton Friedman. Why? In truth, the direct cost of giving money to poor parents is far less than the amount currently spent by governments to provide all the services they and their children receive.

If we’re going to offer a lot of socialist programs, let’s at least be efficient.

The real answer is to get rid of socialism altogether. Besides, in the long term, there’s a deeper problem. The idea of giving cash to poor parents in order to help their kids either assumes that the parents will spend it in ways that actually address the problem, or assumes that the government will monitor such spending and force parents to use it “effectively” (an escalation from helicopter parenting to “helicopter government”).

Reading the article even more closely, it becomes clear that there “are dramatic differences from person to person.” Meaning: Some people raised in poverty have normal or even above-average brains, but on average they are smaller, less developed. I’m not laughing anymore. This is deep, and important. The biggest challenge seems to occur where single parents are forced to work so much to pay the bills that there is little time for interaction with young children. The negative consequences last for generations.

Surely our society can find ways to deal with this. Sadly, in our modern world, any talk of real problems seems to turn into demands for more government programs–as if government is the only way to fix anything.

We’re all at fault here: liberals tend to want government to solve everything, and conservatives often fail to provide non-governmental solutions to real challenges that should be addressed by the private sector. Both sides just end up pointing fingers and criticizing, while the problems remain (or grow).

The article provides a lot of interesting details and proposals. I don’t agree with everything I read, but it makes me think outside the box. I finish the magazine and lean back in my chair.

The New News

We have a major problem today with media, but it’s not what most people think. The biggest issue is the fact that few of us are reading enough news. Forget the electronic news. And forget newspapers. Both are too trapped in today’s 24-hour news cycle—and the race for ratings. We need to read bigger ideas, and from a variety of sources.

Readers of quality news magazines and journals are less easily manipulated than those who get their news from TV or social media. Such readers can more adroitly identify spin or media agendas and see right through them—then grin, or laugh, or decide to study more about a certain topic.

If you’re getting most of your news from TV, newspapers, online headlines, or social media—consider moving on. Start reading longer articles, in publications or posts that treat things more deeply, like Foreign Affairs, The Economist, The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vital Speeches of the Day, and issue-oriented online sites and articles.

Read things that make you think, really ponder and analyze. And read a mix of conservative, independent, and mainstream sources.

If you do decide that you prefer to get your news from TV or online news sites, go to the business news. Where the regular news tends to focus on network political agendas, thereby frequently skewing the day’s news stories, the business news will tell you how the economy is actually doing and how today’s events impact it; this is nearly always a more accurate indication of whether to be worried or optimistic about the news of the day. The business news usually tells the story more directly, with less partisan slant.

Whatever your political views, knowing how to get the real news, to see through the media and understand what’s really happening in world events, is part of being an informed and good citizen. All of us benefit from people who do media right.

These two simple changes (1-Reading deeper issue-oriented articles rather than watching or reading the daily event-focused articles, and 2-Going to the business media rather than the political media for a clearer understanding of the news) will drastically increase how well each person understands the news and knows what’s actually happening in the world.

If you stick with the daily TV news or newspaper (or online equivalents), you are always in danger of being another one of those people who actually believe what they hear on the nightly news. In other words…grossly misinformed.

*****

(For further helps on where and how to get the real news, check out my Current Events Course at The Leadership Education Store.  This will help you significantly upgrade your ability to see through media spin and know what’s really happening in the world.)

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