Archive for October 2011

The Clash of Western and Islamic Values – Part 1

Throwing Snowballs at the Arab Spring

In 2002 the Turkish people elected an Islamist party to power, Justice and Development Party. In 2006 Palestinians held elections and Hamas won. In 2008 Pakistani Islamists drove Pervez Musharraf out of power. The Arab Spring of 2011 has seen Tunisia conduct its first free and fair election in decades, and the winner is the Islamist party. Just this month Islamists have stormed a university for enacting a veil ban on campus and planned an attack on a TV station after attacking a theater in July for screening a film about secularism. The Muslim Brotherhood is expected to win Egypt’s November 2011’s elections, the first since deposing Hosni Mubarak. And just over the weekend of October 22, 2011, Iraq kicked out all US troops from the country, Afghan president Hamid Karzai promised Pakistan that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in any armed conflict between that nation and the United States, and Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council and de fact president of the new Libya, declared Sharia is the basis of law in Libya and immediately lifted the ban on polygamy to prove it.

Neocons supporting the liberation of Iraq believed that people would always choose freedom when given the choice between freedom and dictatorship. All year people on both sides of the political divide have spoken hopefully about the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East, expecting the Egyptians and Libyans to embrace liberty after dropping their shackles of tyranny. This belief is rooted in the Enlightenment which assumed Man was rational, and that when presented with the choice would always choose freedom over tyranny. The Founding Fathers of the American republic wrote at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Are these inalienable rights always self-evident? How do we explain the statement “I am the enemy of democracy,” by Egyptian Salafist leader and tailor Hesham al Ashry? Al Ashry knows how to make a man look his best yet is blind to the value of liberty?

We live with the conceit that everyone in the world is like us, they just have different colored skin, wear different dress, pray differently, and speak different languages. It is a fanciful notion based on our superficial knowledge of the world. Some people may be like us, if by “us” you mean Americans who value liberty. Canadians are like us, as are Australians, Brits, Germans, and anyone who traces their intellectual foundation to the Enlightenment philosophers, particularly the ideas of Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Everyone else, however is different. Their values aren’t the same as ours, and some even prefer it that way. Think everybody loves their children like you do? Ask a Palestinian in Gaza how they feel about their son or daughter strapping on a suicide bomb vest. Osama Bin Laden expressed a common belief among Islamists that they would eventually defeat the West because the West embraced life while they chose death. It wasn’t for lack of education that he and elites of the Jihadist groups believe this. Many have been educated in the West and understand our values; they just don’t accept them. It doesn’t matter whether liberty and freedom are self-evident to men who believe that God’s will requires submission. In fact in their view these values are heresy since they were accepted by the Koran nor by the Ideal Man, Mohammed.

After being defeated in World War 2 the Japanese people had no tradition that included Enlightenment ideals like freedom and liberty, but instead of recognizing Japanese culture as superior to Western culture in some ways equal in all the rest, the leaders of the occupation forced freedom and liberty onto the population. The Japanese took the opportunity and immediately ran with it, forming trade unions and political parties that were immediately infiltrated by Communist groups supported by the KGB. By 1948 trade unionists were striking and rioting against the occupation authorities as Europeans were doing in central Europe. The Truman administration could have said “We have to listen to the will of the Japanese people,” and allowed the protests to undermine the occupation. Instead the Americans colluded with the Japanese government to ban the trade unions, jail the unionists and enact parliamentary rules that prevented the communist party from winning seats in the Diet. Within three years the Japanese people had gone from tyranny, to liberty, and were on the verge of returning to tyranny albeit of a new type, forcing authorities to use undemocratic means to protect the nascent democracy. The Japanese were given liberty, just within limits. Eventually even the communists were allowed back into the Diet but only after the Liberal Democratic Party had established itself as most powerful party in the country.

So if liberty wasn’t self-evident to the Japanese after the War, why do we expect it to be to the Palestinians in Gaza, the Iraqis in Iraq or the Libyans in Libya? We can’t expect people to be liberated by our actions or through our support and expect them to suddenly begin to respect the rights of women when their culture lacks such a tradition. Neocons seem to think that such a right is self-evident, while liberals blinded by political correctness might not even believe that any culture could lack such a basic, fundamental human right. They will claim Islamic law does grant rights to women, yet women are not equal with men according to the Koran nor under Sharia law. And religious freedom or equal rights for minorities? Ask an Egyptian Copt.

The US State Department has followed a program of cultural non-interference and has gone from promoting universal human values to exposing others to “American values” and hoping that the values will speak for themselves and that other will adopt them on their own merit. This cultural equivalence has spread to the US military which has been tasked with nation-building but without the replacement of core values that undermine its mission. How successful has the anti-corruption effort been in Afghanistan, where corruption is as endemic to Pashtun culture as the chain-of-command is in US military culture? How can you expect to develop a professional military, police or civil service when everyone believes that power gives one a license to steal? The only way to stop corruption is to teach that it is wrong, but that requires a moral judgement that could be interpreted as cultural imperialism, so nothing is done. We just teach and hope that the locals will see the benefits of clean government – that these benefits are self-evident.

It’s a hell of a way to run foreign policy, and it wouldn’t make sense to our fathers and grandfathers who fought in Japan or Germany. We made it clear with our victory over those nations that their values were abhorrent, and we had the confidence in our own values to occupy these countries and force our values upon them. Today we show none of that confidence; instead we ring our hands and hope for the best but the best that happens is that the governments are no longer threats to us or their neighbors even as their people are worse off than before.

The American Left, drowning in a morass of moral equivalence, would bristle at these suggestions, but there are some absolutes in its philosophies; it just hasn’t figured out how to respond to them. Back to the Japanese. Whaling is has been embedded in its culture for at least a thousand years. Immediately after the War, the occupation authorities struggled with feeding the Japanese people and specifically, with providing them with enough protein. So the authorities turned to whaling, and whale meat was a common dish served to school children until the early 1960s. Since then whale meat consumption has been in decline, although the Japanese government has been continually pushed by the domestic whaling industry to expand the practice. The cultural tradition of Whaling in Japan hasn’t stopped the Left from forcing its own value that whaling is bad on the Japanese. Is the protection of whales a universal value? If not then what is the Sea Shepherd doing in the ocean around Antarctica? Are the Left cultural imperialists? And if so, is it such a bad thing if imperialism means spreading freedom, women’s rights, gay rights, religious tolerance and respect for minorities around the planet?

The West needs to shake off the moral relativism that leads to the tolerance of human rights abuses around the planet. Freedom, liberty, equality – all these values of the Enlightenment shouldn’t be limited to those of us in the West; they are universals that apply to everyone. If we are willing to spend our money and risk our lives to help others, we should be just as willing to impose our values on them. Yes, impose; they shouldn’t have a choice when it comes to female circumcision, the separation of religion from politics, killing homosexuals, allowing slavery or persecuting Christians and Jews no matter what holy book says it’s okay.

We in the West must decide whether these values are indeed universal. If we decide that they are, then we must act when people in other societies disrespect them. Either women are equal, or they are not. Either religious freedom applies in Riyadh Saudi Arabia as it does in Cairo, Illinois, or it’s not a universal and the Enlightenment philosophers were wrong.

Simply stated the choice is between personal liberty versus submission to God. This choice reverberates throughout our society and the West’s relations with Islam, presenting it with an unsolvable dilemma laying at the core of its relations with Islam, whether the Islamic nations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia or the integration of Muslims within Western society.

The Council Has Spoken: October 28, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm Room –-Is it true that the poor ye always have with you?

Noncouncil: FrontPage Magazine– - Obama’s Libyan Disaster

Full voting here.

The Faces Change, But the Roles Stay the Same

The older I get the more I recognize patterns in daily life, whether they are of parents repeating the same things they heard as children or politicians making promises that only sound new to people under 40. It seems that the words stay the same, only the speakers change – as if life has a finite set of scripts for a limited number of roles. If the patterns are obvious to me in middle age, I can’t help but wonder how the elderly feel. They must be bored senseless from hearing the same crap over and over again.

As I watch President Obama’s bubble of importance shrink around him, I wonder whether he appreciates the future that lays before him. Jimmy Carter should be falling off his perch any day now, but when he does he can die knowing that his role of playing “Misunderstood, Unappreciated Genius President” will soldier on long after he bumps knuckles with Lucifer. Obama has played Carter’s understudy for 3 years now, but being kicked out of office in an electoral rout will not be the end of his career. No, Obama will haunt American policy for decades to come just as Jimmy Carter has. Obama can then whine about America’s missteps to an eager world as he wines and dines with dictators just as Carter has done, and write op-ed pieces in the New York Times that will inspire future generations of young Leftists until it is time for Obama to groom one just as Carter has groomed him.

Speaking of dictators, seeing Qaddafi off may be a relief to spell check designers worldwide, but rest assured there are others waiting in the wings to subject innocents to terror and atrocities. Julius Malema is a sprite 30 year old future president of South Africa who is being groomed as the heir to Robert “Comrade Bob” Mugabe of Zimbabwe “national impoverishment scheme through killing white people and taking their stuff.” While Malema is too young to have  put a few years of being a decent human being under his belt the way Mugabe did after Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, he’s not going to let that inexperience stop him from taking over Mugabe’s mantle as “Despot of a Country You Know is in Africa but Aren’t Sure Where in Africa,” although the “South” part of the name should make that task easier. I’m sure that in a few years we will even have a replacement for Qaddafi, and hopefully we will contract a hit on him too.

Of course the Republicans are auditioning for the role of Ronald Reagan, but so far conservative voters playing the role of “director” haven’t been happy with any of those answering the casting call. Mitt Romney was first to show up as he was four years ago, but he sounds too fake reading Reagan’s lines even though he has the part memorized. Rick Perry must have hit the audition after practicing his best Richard Nixon in the mirror because he came off sounding mean and liberal at the same time – amazing considering his experience and record in Texas. The director’s hopes were so high when Rick strode on the stage but then fell when he opened his mouth. Michelle Bachmann gave it her best shot, and the director was really pulling for her but unfortunately she really doesn’t understand the Reagan character. If conservatives ever have a call for a Margaret Thatcher role, I think she would do well. Herman Cain shows some promise but improvs in the audition by adding an un-Reaganesque sales tax. Newt Gingrich plays the role as Newt Gingrich. Reagan was no professor unlike Newt, and I think that Newt has a future in acting but just not for this part (but man I’m sure he’d be a hit!) Ron Paul reminds me of Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now; when he’s not flipping out he sounds like the sanest person alive. Then there’s Jon Huntsman. He’s got Community Theater written all over him. Next!

One thing is for sure, the roles will all be cast and the lines will all sound familiar to anyone who has been paying attention over the past 5 decades.

The Council Has Spoken: October 21, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Joshuapundit–-Egypt Moves Towards The Abyss

Noncouncil: Big Government- Journolist 2.0: Occupy Wall Street Emails Show MSM, Dylan Ratigan, Working With Protesters To Craft Message

Full voting here.

Watching the Final Moments of a Dictator’s Life

If you want to have an interesting life, travel abroad. There’s something about leaving your comfort zone and moving around foreign countries that exposes you to unique and extraordinary people. I have been to many beautiful places, but they aren’t half as memorable as the people that I met while traveling and living abroad. To anyone young enough to lack the ties of adulthood, I suggest doing this as soon as possible before your parents (or your own fear) talk you out of it.

Many years ago I worked in Kyoto Japan at a small branch of one of the largest English conversation schools in the country. A teacher I worked with was slightly older than me, a man from the UK who had spent years teaching in Eastern Europe just after the fall of the Iron Curtain. One of the places he taught was Romania. We’d often hold conversations conducted in a thick haze of cigarette smoke in the teacher’s lounge interrupted by 50 minute lessons. One story he related to me was of a little old Romanian woman that he had met while teaching. By that time he had picked up enough Romana, and she enough English, to have conversations beyond “Is this your pen? Yes, it is. Are these your pens? Yes, they are.” He told me about dropping by this old woman’s flat and sipping tea with her, and they would just talk about whatever came to mind. He had grown to like the woman, and found her to be charming and humble. But one day they discussed the revolution that had freed Romania from the serfdom under Nicolae Ceau┼čescu. She said that in the days after he and his wife had been shot, she had watched the video of their deaths over and over. “I could have watched that tape forever,” she confided to him, showing him an honest yet unexpected side that startled him. Ever since whenever my mind grasps for a reference to pure hatred, I remember my colleague’s story of this little old Romanian woman.

She came to mind again today as I watched the videos of Qaddafi’s capture and subsequent killing in cell phone videos posted to YouTube and forwarded to journalists by Libyan rebels. In the videos Qaddafi is injured, in a daze and panicked. The crowd is roughing him up, pulling him this way and that as if to tear him limb from limb. It must have been a nightmare for him, and I think it is a natural human reaction to pity him.

But then I remember the things I know he has done, like bombing a German disco. There are no videos of Nermin Hannay, a Turkish woman, and U.S. sergeant Kenneth T. Ford who were killed instantly at the La Belle disco in West Berlin. We didn’t see shaky, hand-held videos of their bodies or the crushing grief of their families. Nor are there videos of American sergeant, James E. Goins, showing the suffering from his injuries in the two months before he died. And there aren’t any videos of the scores of people permanently disabled from the blast whose lives were changed forever for no fault of their own.

That is only one atrocity committed by Qaddafi; there are thousands, from the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 to the torture and execution of countless Libyans under his brutal regime. There are tens of thousands of people who aren’t around to see the streets of Surte scoured with the blood of the dictator who murdered them. Their suffering is silent, as is that of hundreds of thousands of their loved ones.

More importantly we will never know the suffering of those who would have died had Qaddafi been left alone or worse, survived the civil war to lead terrorist attacks inside and outside Libya. We must not forget how close Qaddafi came to adding Misrata to the long list of places knowing atrocities such as Nanking, Srebrenica, and Katyn Forest. According to Roman Catholic doctrine inaction is a sin; I’m reminded of a case years ago where a man knew his friend was molesting and murdering a little girl in a bathroom, but refused to stop him or get help. He did not break any laws and never served time for his inaction, but according to Catholic doctrine which I am most familiar with he shares guilt for the heinous crime. Similarly we would have borne partial responsibility the deaths of tens of thousand Qaddafi would have killed because we had the ability to act to stop him and refused to do so. Had we failed in our mission to capture or kill Qaddafi, he would likely have turned to terrorism to strike back at us. How many would he have killed in these attacks? Qaddafi had quite a murderous track record, and he would not have refrained from violence. Hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people would have died.

But today they are alive, and they will never know the suffering that would have befallen them or their loved ones. Those faceless people should also be considered as we watch the dead man in the shaky, grainy cell phone videos.

I admit that I had mixed feelings about the civil war and still do. It is more likely Libya will turn into Pakistan than Portugal, and the precedent Obama has set is a bad one. But as I watch a disheveled man alive in one frame then dead the next, I remember what Qaddafi has done, and what he would have done had he remained alive. And all I can think as I click the video window closed is “Good riddance.”

Update: Michael Totten weighs in as does Jonathan Foreman at the Frum Forum.

For any civilized person the images of the former dictator wounded, beaten, bloodied and begging for his life were disturbing. I had to remind myself of the thousands of terrified, bloodied people stripped of their dignity, who must have begged for their lives in his dreadful prisons before they were murdered. (Apparently Gaddafi liked to broadcast videos of victims of his show trials urinating on themselves in fear before they were tortured or executed.)

Some Good Figures on Education Debt and the Salaries Needed to Support It

PoliPundit lays out the facts in the piece “Republicans Pulling to the Left.”

Speaking of prices, Forbes just published an article titled “America’s Most Expensive Colleges” that included this nugget:
Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y., has long held the dubious honor of being one of the nation’s most expensive colleges. This year, it tops the list for the second year in a row, with an all-in price of $58,334 a year, or close to $240,000 for a four-year course of studies if inflation in higher ed continues on its current course.

$240K? A simple spreadsheet calculation shows that $240K at 3% interest for 10 years amounts to $2,317 per month. That’s $27,800 per year. To keep this at a manageable level of 20% of net income, this would require a starting net salary of $139,000, grossed up for 35% taxes, that is a starting gross of $187,650. How many Africana Studies graduates do you think are going to command that princely sum?

Is Herman Cain Healthy Enough To Be President?

I am a supporter of Herman Cain, but I am a bigger supporter of the effort to defeat President Obama in November 2012. With that goal in mind I believe that it is critical to do what the Democrats failed to do in 2008 and vet our candidate thoroughly. At one of the debates (I’ve seen every one and honestly they start to blend in to one another) Cain led off with his fight against colon cancer but otherwise no one has mentioned it.

Until October 13th when the Washington Post ran a story “Cain beats odds against surviving colon cancer.” The story explains how in 2006 he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer that had spread to his liver. He underwent four treatments of chemotherapy then had a third of his colon, 70% of his liver and 48 lymph nodes surgically removed followed by another round of chemotherapy. Cain believes he is cancer free, and in his autobiography writes that he is “Cured!”

In the interest of selecting the strongest candidate to beat Obama in 2012 Republicans have to ask, “Is he?” because if they don’t the Democrats will raise the issue after he wins the nomination.

Colon cancer is considered to be Stage IV after it has spread to other places in the body. Usually it metastasizes to the lungs and in Cain’s case, the liver. In most cases, removal of the tumors along with chemotherapy are not curative, but there are cases where they are. In his book Cain claims that he has been monitored by doctors and that the cancer hasn’t reappeared since the 2006 diagnosis; based on his being cancer free for 5 years, he writes that according to his doctors he is cured.

I am not a cancer specialist, but I do have access to the Internet and what I’ve found leads me to believe that what Cain writes is a little optimistic. Colon cancer can be cured, but it also can reappear years after treatment. It can then be treated again using chemotherapy and surgery, but it is still a big deal when a future Commander in Chief is the subject. What are the odds that Cain will remain cancer free? Not 100%, and you can bet that the Democrats will use the battle which Cain is rightly proud of fighting and winning to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt over his condition once the GOP has settled on him. It will be subtle at first like the Washington Post piece, with later reports from doctors less sanguine about Cain’s prognosis gradually creeping in to stories. Then there will be the inevitable stories about the importance of his running mate although little fuss was ever made about Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as his, possibly the least intelligent VP pick since George Bush Sr. chose Dan Quayle (although to his credit, Quayle has matured a lot over the decades whereas Biden is still a garden variety moron). In the heat of the campaign battle a year from now I would expect there to be continuous health statuses discussed daily, with every cough a symptom of lung cancer and verbal gaffe the result of a cancer metastases to the brain.

Again, I am not a cancer specialist, but I have watched elections unfold since 1972 and I know that every possible weapon will eventually be used. Nothing is left on the table. Ever. Cain supporters and Republicans need to open this line of inquiry into their candidate today while most Americans aren’t paying attention to immunize and strengthen Cain’s candidacy if and when he does become the GOP standard bearer.



CNN Republican Debate Analysis

Tonight’s debate was the best so far, probably in part because Jon Huntsman wasn’t there in protest of something Nevada said about his momma or something. I had to add CNN to my DirecTv channel list, so it’s the first time I have seen Anderson Cooper moving. He had a creepy, otherworldly look to him, almost vampirish – the Ann Rice vampires, not the sparklers in the Twilight saga. With his white hair, pale skin and blue eyes he reminded me of a Japanese anime villain; I kept expecting him to ask questions using that high pitched yet sinister girlish voice that nearly all dubbed Japanese anime villains use. But overall his questions weren’t nowhere near as loaded as the MSNBC debate; no dying people without insurance tonight.

The candidates performed well. At least most of them did. Rick Perry just can’t debate. I guess it’s not his thing. He came across as mean when he attacked Romney, and Romney handled him the way a strong man might when challenged by a skinny guy waving his fists and shouting “Put up your dukes ya’ big palooka!” I can’t help but feel that Perry simply isn’t ready for the Presidency. I also think America needs a longer break from Texan governors. 2016 might be his year if Obama wins and the Democrats haven’t banned elections as NC governor Bev Perdue suggested.

Newt Gingrich is funny. He speaks like a man who has nothing to lose, probably because he knows in his heart that he has a snowball’s chance of making it past South Carolina. The man should have a show on TV. He gives insightful commentary that everyone listens to – including the other candidates.

Michele Bachmann got emotional tonight when asked a question about how she would stop foreclosures. The directors sensed it and zoomed in the cameras as she spoke about women losing their homes “their family nests.” Cut to shots of women getting teary eyed in the audience. The whole sequences struck me as extremely contrived and practiced. She just couldn’t manage a tear; she needed someone dripping glycerine in her eye or whatever soap opera actresses use to simulate tears. Sorry Michele, you’re done as far as I’m concerned.

Rick Santorum avoided all the gay bashing of the last debate and sounded reasonable for most of the debate, which is why I probably have forgotten everything he said.

Ron Paul. I want to like Ron Paul, I really do. When it comes to his domestic policy I think he’s a genius. His line tonight about replacing the Income Tax with nothing was classic. Libertarians watching everywhere whooped for joy. I just think he’s batshit insane whenever he opens his mouth to talk about foreign policy.

Herman Cain held his own tonight under a barrage of questions about 9-9-9. He’s got to formulate a better answer then “visit” As Perry pointed out his plan isn’t as simple as Cain says it is, and he needs to develop short scenarios that explain how it works for poor and middle class workers because all his opponents have to do is say “consumption taxes are regressive,” and he’s burned. He’s improved his foreign policy points, but whether or not he realizes it (and he had better if he doesn’t) he will live or die by 9-9-9. I’ve begun looking into it myself and I think it’s revolutionary, but like every revolution there are enemies behind every rock and tree. He needs to formulate quick responses to those – and fast.

Mitt Romney. Conservatives hate him to the point where I’m just not sure they will vote for him no matter how much they hate Obama. Maybe they’ll come around, but I can’t help but think that the Obama machine has daily war plans for how they will attack him on everything from his Mormonism, to his venture capitalist days, and every decision he made in the Massachusetts State House. He’s slick and polished, an excellent debater. But people in the party really hate him. I don’t; I think he’ll pull better from the independents than Perry, but he might lose the base.

Overall it was a good show, but even after several of these debates I still am not sure who is the best candidate to defeat Obama next year.

Let’s Think Big: Attacking The Problem of Money in Politics in the USA

I don’t have many friends, but the few that I do have are quite special. Recently I’ve noticed that two of them have grown jaded with our political system, seeing no solution to the problem of corruption caused by cash from special interests, corporations and billionaires. They have lost all hope that we can contain the influence of a privileged few over the many, and are dropping out of political discourse. Another took issue with my criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement, stating he thought I was offering the simple solution that hosing down the encampments and sending the kids fleeing back to their dorm rooms would make things better. He wanted a better solution, one that involved listening to the other side, recognizing and even acting on the common ground between the two. I pointed out that I didn’t think life would be better without liberals; I consider myself a reformed one but continue to hold many of its values like universal human rights, concern for the environment, and racial equality. The only difference is how I want to achieve those goals. For example, I want to see environmentalists buying land to protect endangered animals or plants instead of using the federal government to limit the land owner’s property rights. Similarly, I might share some of the same opinions about corporate bailouts, student loan debt, and corruption in politics as liberals but I disagree with their solutions.

Every year Transparency International ranks corruption in the world’s countries, and will soon be releasing its report for 2011. The 2010 report had Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore topping the index as the least corrupt countries, with the United States ranked 22, tied with Belgium behind Chile and the UK. While the top tier of “clean” countries is dominated by small countries like Finland and Canada, both Germany and Japan rank higher than the United States. Having studied Japanese politics over the years I completely disagree with their optimistic assessment of that country, but I believe that overall the index does paint a fairly accurate picture of corruption in the world.

Being ranked 22nd may seem bad, but it is much easier to govern a small country such as New Zealand, population 4.3m, than it is the United States, population 300m. Large countries don’t appear in the survey until Germany at #15, population 81.8m, so the US is at least in the top tier of the least corrupt countries. The purpose of this comparison is not to undermine the argument that the United States has a corruption problem; it does, but it is not as bad as thought, or not bad enough that people can’t do anything about it. At least we have mechanisms in place that allow us to fight corruption, including a free press, an independent judiciary, and divisions between the legislative and executive branches of government. China, ranked 78th, has none of these.

The problem is that all of these elements that insure a free and fair society are under siege. Academia, a monoculture of elitist ideals, threatens the free press by its certification of the professional journalist. Prior to the 1960’s journalists entered the profession through the military or by applying to work for a newspaper then working their way up. It also impacts the judiciary through the indoctrination of lawyers in undergrad and law school who then become future jurists. The judiciary is also undermined manipulated by the Executive branch through the Department of Justice. The legislative and executive branches are manipulated by the need to raise ever larger sums of money to attain or stay in power. These branches then manipulate the government to reward supporters, punish enemies – just two of the hallmarks of corruption.

So if we want to root out corruption, where do we start?

There is a reason behind the name Transparency International. The enemy of corruption is exposure, and that is why a free press is critical to the achieving of a virtuous government. While most mainstream journalists are blinded by the indoctrination in journalism school, some are asking questions and seeing problems in a new light. The Internet has created an Army of Davids to use Glenn Reynolds’s term, whereby everyone with a cell phone camera and an Internet connection can upload stories that challenge and undermine the status quo. A politician or a cop can easily deny ever taking a bribe or acting illegally, but a video can expose the deceit in a way that words cannot.

Transparency can also be achieved through legislation. As a long-time supporter of Herman Cain for president, I will admit that I don’t fully appreciate his 9-9-9 Plan. I do recognize that its simplicity, however, is what makes it truly revolutionary for our time. Along with that simplicity comes a level of transparency in our everyday economic lives that most Americans have never seen.

Take for example payroll taxes. Most Americans receiving paychecks from an employer see deductions taken out for social security (6.2%) and Medicare (1.45%). What they don’t see is their employer’s side of FICA, another 7.65% that it pays to the government to employ you.

So what exactly is your compensation? An employee may believe his gross salary is $x, but his or her total compensation is really $x+7.62% including the employer’s FICA contribution. Now a worker might think that since the employer pays that, it’s not really his. But when the employer looks at the bottom line, it will look at total employee compensation which includes not only the 7.62% contribution but the value of fringe benefits such as health and dental insurance. Before hiring an employee, a employer usually budgets for the spot and that budget includes expected salary, the employer’s FICA contribution, as well as additional costs of the benefits package. Some of these benefits provide the employer with tax advantages that the employee doesn’t benefit from. The bottom line is that an employee doesn’t know how much he his being compensated, and an employer cannot easily determine how much an employee will cost.

This is exactly the type of scenario Cain’s 9-9-9 plan would simplify. An employee would be paid a salary which the employee would then be able to use to purchase benefits such as health care. This would decouple health insurance from employers since employers would not enjoy tax benefits for providing access to insurance. The cost of health insurance would be up front, and the employee would be able to buy the plan that suited him. If he’s young and single, a cheap catastrophic plan might be best for him. If he is older and has a family, more expensive full coverage might be more to his liking. The employee would then pay 9% of her salary to the government, which is 1.35% more than is currently taken out of her check but much less than the 15.3% she is already paying, half of which is hidden from her.

Simplicity and transparency go hand in hand. It is much easier for a company like GE to pay less taxes than you did last year when the tax code runs 70,000 pages and cannot be understood by anyone. If it had to pay 9% on its earnings it wouldn’t need platoons of tax accountants to comb through the 70,000 pages looking for every possible deduction. How much did it earn? $100 billion? Cut a check to Uncle Sam for $9 billion. It also wouldn’t need to spend money paying off congressmen to create GE-specific loopholes in that 70,000 pages. And next year when Transparency International conducts its survey, maybe the United States rises a notch or two.

This is one example of how we can improve the system that no one likes – whether it’s the Tea Partiers like me angry at Congress and the Obama Administration’s bailout of Wall Street, or the hippies stoned in the streets pissed off at the same thing. The important thing to remember is to not lose hope and give in to apathy. There are solutions, and they are not easy ones. But we need to begin to think grand again; we need to think “big.” These are immense problems and we can never completely solve them, but we can make things better for our society if we open our minds to new ideas like a flat tax or Herman Cain’s 9-9-9. If there are better ideas than Cain’s, let’s find them. If 70,000 pages of tax code become an edifice of bureaucratic inertia, let’s destroy it. But we shouldn’t throw our arms in the air and give up because that is exactly not what our country needs right now. It needs courage and conviction at a level we haven’t seen in awhile but that haven’t disappeared and are still there. What Tom Wolfe wrote years ago about Americans still rings true today, “Americans are childish in many ways and about as subtle as a Wimpy burger; but in the long run it doesn’t make any difference. They just turn on the power.” It’s time to turn on the power.

Disappointment Over King Memorial And Its Dedication

I was part of the first generation born after the victory of the Civil Rights struggle but before Martin Luther King jr was martyred. While my political party allegiances and beliefs have shifted over the years, my admiration for Dr. King has never wavered. King was a man whose life was so large that he transcended petty political divisions. His fight for justice and dignity for all was not a battle between Left or Right, Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative. It was a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, Knowledge and Ignorance, Light and Darkness. In the end he triumphed although he died before he reached the Promised Land that he dreamed about.

I have followed the controversy over the King memorial on the National Mall for several years. I understand that such controversies over monuments in Washington DC are common; I still recall the controversy over the Vietnam Memorial in the 1970’s and how over the years it has been forgotten due to the emotional impact from the simplicity of the memorial. But Dr. King’s memorial is different.

The memorial was commissioned by the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation which did not solicit bids from American sculptors and quarries. It selected Lei Yixin, a sculptor who had done large scale statues of Mao Zedong and the Dingli Stone Carving Co at a time when American artists go hungry and granite quarries lay off workers. The foundation has justified its choice of Lei and Dingli Stone but its claims have been refuted by stone cutters and sculptors in Vermont, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Dr. King would also not have agreed with China’s human rights record and there are concerns over the dangerous working conditions Dingli. In addition King is misquoted on the monument, and his portrayal in the Socialist-Realist style common to Communist leaders like Mao and Lenin makes King appear stern and lifeless. Congress has evidently investigated the Foundation but there is a reason why it outsourced the monument to China, a regime that holds human rights in such disregard that it bases its foreign policy on the doings of a single Buddhist monk. We simply haven’t heard what that reason is, but we eventually will. I’d also like to know what the Dalai Lama thinks of the Foundation’s choice.

The controversy continued today with the dedication where speaker after speaker praised President Obama and disparaged his critics – implying that the Democrats own Dr. Martin Luther King jr. It was sad to see a man’s memory used to gain cheap political points. I expected as much from Obama, and I was not disappointed. But from King’s sister and the other civil rights leaders taking partisan shots at a national event?

I never met Martin Luther King jr, but I hope that he would be the kind of man who would bristle at seeing a solemn event used for petty political gains. Perhaps I’m wrong and I’ve been raised to honor an illusion, or maybe those who claim the mantle of Dr. King are simply not worthy to wear it.

Out of the Mouths of Babes Comes Gibberish

I have been watching the Occupy Wall Street protests with mixed emotions. While I sympathize with some of what they say, the group says a lot – too much in fact to be coherent given their shotgun sloganeering. Over the years I have argued against the bailouts of banks and especially the American auto industry, and have railed against crony capitalism regardless of whether it was conducted by Republicans or Democrats. And I disagree with President Obama that much of what the bankers and other corporate leaders did the precipitated the crisis was legal so they are immune to prosecution. The only reason they are immune to prosecution is that those behind the economic crisis including Goldman Sachs’s Llloyd Blankfein, billionaires  Warren “Backtax” Buffet, George “Judenrat” Soros, Solyndra backer George Kaiser and JP Morgan-Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon are strong supporters of the president. If they went down, they would take the entire Obama administration with them. What these men have accomplished is as much “capitalist” as what China is doing is communist. Ayn Rand and Adam Smith would be shaking their heads and laughing ironically in that annoying Gen X way; Rand doesn’t strike me as much of a crier.

What is truly ironic is that in the beginning of the 21st century when Capitalism has proven itself to be the most successful form of economics, so successful that former communist states like China have become capitalist in all but name only, the nation at the heart of 20th century capitalism now gazes intensely at its navel, questioning its basic tenets that created its success in the first place. And the height of irony is that its children, wearing expensive clothing made by multinational corporations, carrying expensive gadgets designed and sold by multinational corporations, and skipping classes at their expensive colleges and universities paid by their parents working at some of the very corporations they are protesting 0r enjoying stock dividends from these same corporations. These children, who are the beneficiaries of capitalism to such an extent that they don’t have to work, have the time to protest thanks to the very system they want to overthrow. Maybe they should get back to class judging by how little they know about the economy.

And to top off that irony, they claim to speak for 99% of the population. How can these children claim that except through the arrogance born through their privileged upbringing? 99% of the population sure can’t afford $5000 laptops, unlike these protesters.

They don’t speak for me. Not only did I work my way through college, I worked my way through high school because its yearly tuition was roughly 20% of my mother’s take-home pay from her small home-based sales business. When I graduated with a degree in political science, my future here was bleak even 20 years ago, so I left the country and taught English – an option I saw recently floated for OWS protesters complaining about being indebted with worthless degrees. When I returned to the US I had enough experience under my belt to know what my skills were and how I could improve them. Since then I have had good jobs and bad, but I built a career on my own without government or anyone else’s support. I am proud of my personal success; I own it and no one can take it away from me. I also have failures; I own them too, and don’t blame anyone else for those.

How can these children speak for me when they haven’t been allowed to experience success, because success is often a zero sum game where to succeed someone else must fail, and we wouldn’t want to hurt the loser’s feelings? Take applying for a job for example – something most of these protesters haven’t had to do. Nearly all jobs have more applicants than openings, so winning one requires others losing. Such competition is thought to be barbaric and was avoided throughout their education. The irony is that their parents understand competition. Many of them had to compete with other parents to get their children into the “right” preschool or the “right” elementary school so that they will be accepted into the “right” colleges and universities. These protesters are the winners of these events. The losers are either working, attending schools where they can’t afford to miss classes to protest, or both. But Karma loves irony just as much as anyone. You know what these protesting “winners” will call their “loser” brethren in 10 years? “Boss.”

These winners might be smoking dope, crapping on police cars and mounting each other like a pack of horny poodles, but the fun won’t last and reality will assert itself. Unless they are part of the 1% they are protesting against (some, like the students of Bard college are part of that hated cohort) they will have to cut their hair, remove their nose rings, take a shower and get a job. Of course, majoring in Gender Studies will have adequately prepared them for one of the millions of high paid jobs studying genders, or perhaps the English majors can nab one of the millions of jobs in America teaching English (although judging by the grammar and spelling on the signs perhaps not). Meanwhile positions requiring petroleum and geology engineering degrees in the US, ones paying starting salaries that would push these kids into the top 5% straight out of school, go wanting, snapped up by foreign kids who majored in fields that society demanded but weren’t “green” or didn’t have the word “studies” in them.

But that isn’t the heart of the problem with the protesters. Their biggest problems are the assumptions that they understand the system well enough to criticize it, that their criticism means anything, and that they speak for America. None of these assumptions are based in fact.

You have 20-somethings who have never held a job criticizing the job making infrastructure of our society that has functioned pretty well although not perfectly for the past 200+ years. You have children who have not been taught civics or American politics because these courses “perpetuated male-dominated stereotypes” or some such claptrap; they don’t understand how our democracy works enough to criticize it because if they did they would do what the Tea Party has done and captured the apparatus of an existing political party. Finally, you have single, young, white, “educated” upper-middle class people who have never worked a day in their lives representing the 99% of America. That 99% includes whites, minorities, part-time workers, minimum wage workers, the elderly, people with children, people who are caring for their aged relatives, professional workers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, soldiers, garbage men, assembly line workers, plumbers, members of the coast guard, marines, independent contractors, ex-military, small business owners, the religious, atheists, straights, gays, non-union auto workers, construction workers, plumbers, retail sales workers, and yes, even the vast majority of Wall Street workers. And that’s just a sample of the diversity found in the American economy. To make it more reflective of the population, one would have to mix and match those categories: an independent contractor with children who is caring for his aging parents, or a black, single father working construction.

Isn’t it amazing that the group that wraps itself so tightly in the “diversity mantle” is one of the least diverse in skin color, education, ideology and wealth? The protesters have the uniformity of a Ku Klux Klan cross-burning. Their view of the world is incredibly naive and narrow, thanks to parents who like Gautama Buddha’s protected them from pain from suffering and teachers whose ideologies run the gamut from A to B. They spout slogans like “Question authority!” and “Dissent is patriotic!” without actually questioning their own beliefs let alone their professor’s, or proving how dissent can be patriotic when in their own worldview  patriotism itself is derided as an outdated concept meant to mask class differences and prevent class consciousness from arising within the proletariat.

Worst of all they are incredibly narcissistic. These protests aren’t about the 99% of Americans they claim to represent; they are about enjoying themselves while role-playing “protester.” These kids won’t face National Guardsmen with live rounds in their magazines like Kent State, let alone the rampaging tanks and APCs of Tiananmen Square, but these kids can pretend they will. The biggest danger they face is catching a venereal disease or getting pepper sprayed; their protest zones are cocoons of safety that no city or state government is willing to disrupt for fear that it will face the wrath of these children’s parents. When hippies crashed the Democratic convention in 1968, Mayor Daley wasn’t worried about lawsuits when he responded with tear gas, water cannons, batons and police dogs. Today the lawsuits would rain down on the administration of any mayor or governor that hurt the feelings of a protester, let alone beat one. The protesters can get high, have sex, organize themselves in post-capitalist and pre-industrial, matriarchal ways, and twitter each other on how much change they are making in the world. These kids are more concerned with playing “protester” rather than actually changing society. It’s as if society gave them a giant cardboard box to play with and they are inside it busily imagining that box to be a new society, with new representational governments, and new ways of organizing the economy. But it’s just a box for children to play with – not Congress or the judiciary.

The protests have been quite useful in many, unanticipated ways. They have shown the moral bankruptcy, gross incompetence and overpriced uselessness of higher education. They have proven that the most spoiled generation in American history, the Baby Boomers, has begotten an even more spoiled generation than their own. Finally, they have shown that the economic situation in this country is nowhere bad enough to merit serious protest. Throughout our history protesters only took to the streets in desperation, whether it was the Irish fighting conscription in the Civil War, or the civil rights protesters fighting for their dignity a century later. All of these protesters put their lives on the line, and many lost them. These pretend protesters aren’t desperate; they aren’t even fighting for themselves and have no “skin in the game”, and should the protests go bad – as I fully expect them to do once they are taken over by nihilists and anarchists – they will run home to the safety of their upper middle class homes built by a corporation and paid for with a salary from another through a mortgage borrowed from a bank on Wall Street.

UPDATE: Mark Cuban lays out what the OWS should do.

The Council Has Spoken: October 14, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Razor–-Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do

Noncouncil: The Investigative Project On Terrorism- ABBas Could Be Next Domino To Fall

Full voting here.

The Japan Tourist Agency Free Round-Trip Ticket Program

So the Japan Tourism Agency will be giving away 10,000 airline tickets to foreigners to spread the word that the parts of Japan that aren’t under water or radioactive anymore are worth visiting. As a former gaijin who spent 4 years there in the mid ‘90s, I can confidently state that the airfare will be the least of one’s worries. The foreign exchange rate is the killer.

By my reckoning the cost of the 10k tickets will be around $15 million US – or a shade under ¥1.2 billion. That’s a very cheap program by Japanese standards.

I’ve traveled to and from Japan a few times, and you have to assume you are going to lose a full day arriving and a full day departing to jet lag. Consequently I wouldn’t travel there for less than 10 days. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to travel there alone simply because you will miss a lot; another pair of eyes will help you take in the sights of the country as well as share the experience with you. I doubt the Japan Tourist Agency will float you another free ticket for your companion, although maybe they will. For argument’s sake let’s assume if you are selected you get one free ticket estimated at $1,500.

A quick check of hotel prices in my old stomping grounds of Kyoto finds that a decent hotel (one with a private bathroom – not shared) will run about ¥15k a night for a twin two person stay. The current exchange rate is ¥77-$1, making that room just under $200/night. I’ve lost touch with Japanese prices, but it was very expensive living there when the dollar was at ¥115, so it’s got to be about 40% worse now. A Japan rail pass is a must, so that will cut down somewhat on cost of travel inside Japan, but I would budget at least ¥50k per couple per day for hotel room, meals, taxis, buses, etc – and that might be way too bare-bones. An older person like me can’t crash in the youth hostels and “gaijin houses” the way I could 20 years ago, nor would I be happy hitting noodle shops for food. I left Japan with a serious appreciation for its food, and a deep respect for its rice. There is no way in hell I would waste my time there eating bad food.

Assuming a 10 day trip for two people with paid airfare for one person, unpaid airfare for another ($1500), and $1100 for 2 JR passes, that’s $2,600 before you board the plane. Then there’s the in country budget of ¥50k per day for 10 days, or ¥500k. You will never get the current exchange rate is ¥77 to the dollar. The closest you’ll come is when you use a credit card, but that limits where you can shop inside Japan because not all shops accept foreign credit cards. So you’ll have to exchange money, and the best rate you’ll find is within Japan itself, preferably at a large bank in a major city. If you’re lucky they won’t charge more than ¥1 or ¥2. So for our purposes let’s assume ¥2, using the exchange rate of ¥75 to $1 you’ll need $6,700 in spending money while in Japan. Total cost of the trip: $9,300 for a 10 day, two person trip.

That’s a lot of money for a stressful, bare bones trip. For that money one could take a cruise or go someplace and be pampered for 10 days. At ¥50k/day per couple there’s no pampering, and experience has taught me that Japan is without a doubt the most stressful place on the planet. You’ll need a vacation to de-stress after the vacation for sure.

I have many personal reasons for going back, but the earthquakes and tsunamis don’t scare me: the exchange rate and resultant high cost of living does. What I would like the Japanese government to do is let me buy my own airfare but subsidize my exchange rate. Let’s say the Japanese government gave me an exchange rate of ¥250 to the dollar, subsidizing the current exchange rate by ¥170. My 10 day budget in Japan suddenly becomes a very reasonable $2,000. Add in two tickets and two JR passes and the trip becomes $6,100. That’s not too bad for 2 people and 10 days. The problem is that subsidy for 10,000 people would make the program much more expensive.

There’s simply no way around it: Japan is far away and it’s expensive. I believe it’s a great place to visit because the Japanese are unique, but logistically it’s not an easy trip.

And that’s the problem with the Japan Tourist Agency’s program. It doesn’t recognize the problem is not fear: it’s economics.

If someone paid for my family’s trip there I would go back in a heartbeat. Our son was born there and the Wife is fluent in Japanese. Living in Japan was an overwhelming experience for a kid from the American Midwest, and I didn’t handle it as well as I could have. But living there taught me a lot about not just Japanese history, culture and the Japanese themselves, it taught me more about what it meant to be an American. The Japanese showed me that the idea that “people are the same all over the world” is a complete fantasy based on ignorance and selfishness. The Japanese are Japanese; they aren’t Americans who eat more fish. They think differently than we do. They see the world and themselves differently than we do. I don’t claim to know how they think or feel because I am not Japanese, nor could I ever be, but I can tell you with certainty that they do it differently than you do – unless you happen to be Japanese yourself.

“Different” doesn’t mean “bad.” They have many qualities that I like and find endearing, but they also have a dark side and I have seen it up close and personal. Even knowing what I know about them, and seeing what I’ve seen I have a deep respect for the Japanese people as a whole, though I wish the younger generations had more respect for their own culture themselves. While there I often thought that foreigners took Japanese culture more seriously than the young generation of Japanese who seemed content with getting drunk and watching porn on their latest gadget. I saw so many foreigners studying Buddhism, flower arrangement, paper making, and a host of other traditional Japanese arts. My students were amazed at how much Japanese history I knew (in that respect they were very much like Americans who concept of history stretches back a maximum of 5 years).

Japan needs to open up; it has a tendency to become isolated and weirds-out when it does so, but the economics of traveling there just makes opening up that much tougher. I hope that this plan works; I believe everyone should go to Japan at least once in their lives – especially in Spring or Autumn. The experience is truly unforgettable.

The Council Has Spoken: October 7, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Razor–-How Taking the Black Vote For Granted Is Racist

Noncouncil: Barry Rubin- Why Most of The Mass Media Can’t Report Honestly on Israel—Or Other Middle East Issues

Full voting here.

Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent People Making More Money Than I Do

For some reason most of the conservatives I know tend to have more liberal than conservative friends even though statistics show that conservatives outnumber liberals in the US by two to one. My fellow Watcher’s Council colleague Bookworm Room is married to one, and even my wife aligns more to the Left although her recent experiences with Medicaid and other government interference in health care is steering her hard to the Right. The vast majority of my “Facebook Friends” are liberals and regularly post about politics. Being conservative and polite I try to keep my mouth shut, but it takes some serious effort sometimes and every once in a while I just can’t help but open it.

Recently Elizabeth Warren’s little canned speech about taxation “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,”  made the rounds among liberals and sure enough a couple of my friends posted it on their “walls”. I noticed that it originated at a site called “The Other 98%.” I recognized that immediately as a liberal meme that 2% of Americans own the other 98% or something to that effect, and when matched with Warren’s speech it implied that 2% owned factories and broke the social contract which liberals like her were going to rectify by imposing taxes on them. I did a little research then broke my “no posting about politics on Facebook” rule.

“As best as I can figure out the bottom of that 2% is around $200k for a married couple filing jointly (IRS statistics use 1%, 5% etc). I doubt anyone earning that who owns a factory. Even the 1% cutoff of $388k could mean 2 doctors or a pair of lawyers.”Those earners making $200k might be considered bourgeoisie by some making do with $30k a year, but I doubt that Warren Buffett, George “Judenrat” Soros or even Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon would hang out with them after they washed the smell of hippies of themselves (except Moore; by the looks of him I doubt he washes much.) I later wrote, “What concerns me is that the rhetoric is being directed at the top 2% of taxpayers – not solely billionaires. Warren is including people making $200k with the likes of those worth tens of billions of dollars.”

Well that opened me up to friends of my liberal friend. One posted:

“Why? Sorry, but I find it hard to feel terribly concerned that people who are earning “only” 200k per year might have to pay more in taxes. The words “cry me a river” somehow get stuck in my head every time I try to muster up some pity in my heart for folks bringing home only 6 or 7 times my annual income.”

I didn’t know this woman, but a review of her profile found that she was evidently a librarian who got her undergrad degree from one of the best public schools in the country, then went to graduate school at one of the country’s most expensive private schools, albeit one not considered top-tiered. Judging by her photograph she was younger than me, although not by much. For all that education, by her own admission she was making $35k year, max?

Long ago while the Wife was attending preparing for medical school, I invited a salesman from Appleby windows into my house to learn about vinyl replacement windows (big mistake; don’t ever mess with Appleby Products.) The guy was not a salesman, he was a con-artist. I like salespeople; my mother was a saleswoman, and the best never lie or cheat their customers. This guy was a con man. He dodged questions about the price of the windows and instead asked personal questions about our backgrounds, searching for emotional leverage over us. We were honest, but we knew what he was doing. We mentioned the Wife’s graduate degrees from Japan and her continuing study while prepping for med school. He eventually asked, “You care about your baby, don’t you?” We nodded. “You don’t want him to catch cold now do you?”  “I thought viruses cause the common cold,” my wife chirped. The salesman went on for a few minutes until it became clear to him that we weren’t going to by his crappy overpriced windows he went from being pleasant to rude in a heartbeat.  In exasperation he said to my wife, “All that education gone to waste.” It was the first time I’ve ever physically grabbed a guy and threw him out of my house. I didn’t know I had the strength or the body mass to actually throw another man out of my house, but I did heave him through the door.

When I read the librarian’s comment on Facebook I remembered, “All that education gone to waste.” It was true in this librarian’s case. Grad school and making $35k a year? Whose fault is it that? Society’s? Mine? George W. Bush’s?

6 years after I graduated college I was faced with a problem: I was back in the USA, had a wife and a baby to care for, and my political science degree and the experience I had overseas teaching in Japan wasn’t worth anything on the job market. So I took a job working at a help desk in the IT field. It’s not that I loved answering phones and being yelled at by my boss, but it gave me a foot on a path that led to better paying jobs in the IT field. In two years I had parlayed that job into one making more than the librarian does today. I kept learning new skills which lead to better paying jobs. Some of these involved risk. The technology changes quickly in IT, and worse, both India and China had coders that charged 1/10th what American programmers charged. But I stepped from technology to another which netted me a little more money to pay the bills while the wife went to school. I eventually left coding altogether, not because I don’t like it (I do) but because it had become a commodity that had been offshored.

The Wife’s story is even less conventional. After 7 years active duty in the Navy, she went to college and got her undergrad. Then she went to Japan and got her D.Sc in zoology. After we returned to the US, she was accepted in a postbac program and eventually got accepted to medical school. For years she worked hard while piling up a massive student loan debt. Now she’s working 60 hours a week and saving people’s lives. I don’t know any librarians who do either of those.

This brings up an important point: marriage or even cohabitation where the two parties pull their resources together is important. The librarian is evidently single. If she paired up with someone, even another librarian at $35k they together would be making just shy of a third of that 2% $200k figure. She is also a government employees; these tend to have lower dollar salaries but better benefits packages. It is unlikely that she is including those benefits in her “6 or 7 times my annual income” statement. She might think she’s only making $35k but is receiving another $15k in benefits such as pension, health care, etc. I have spent most of my career as a contractor in the IT field, so there are no benefits; the hourly wage I make is all I get.

But with all that education, $35k benefits or no isn’t a lot. At that salary she isn’t even paying income tax, and I’ll leave it to others to decide whether someone who pays nothing should have a say on those who do pay income tax. It sounds to me that she resents her salary, so why doesn’t she change it?

Are librarians worth more? The market seems to think so. The median salary (base pay only) of librarians is $56,749 – so I’m not sure why she’s making much less. Perhaps she’s working part-time, but if so she shouldn’t compare herself to those working full time (and usually many more hours) for more money. If she wants to make more money, what’s to stop her?

I feel like telling her: Change careers. I did, and so did my wife. She started medical school beyond the age of 40; I had to start my career chained to a phone being yelled at by computer illiterates at the age of 31. There are plenty of jobs out there that she could get that pay more. It takes courage and some preparation, but it’s better than resenting others who took the risks, work much longer hours, and reap the rewards – which we should remember by supporting Warren and other limousine liberals she wants the Government to steal.

Our system has its flaws. I have personally lost a job in a futile campaign against offshoring and labor dumping through the government’s meddling in the labor market. I worry about things like the cost of education and the future value of college degrees. Just like many liberals I too resent seeing the same people who caused the financial meltdown still in power instead of the chains they deserve. But for all of its flaws, it’s still the best at providing choice to anyone who demands it.

If you want to become a doctor, you can become one. If you want to start your own business and sell tutus to little girls studying dance, you can. If you want to start a restaurant or cook at one, there is no bureaucrat needing a bribe or law preventing you. Our system excels at providing choices to people whereas other systems provide outcomes. You are a farmer, but you will sell your produce to us at a price we determine. You are a doctor, but we will determine how much you are paid for each patient. You want to sell shoes in my district, you will have to pay me a flat fee every month (that’s how my friend Jan Mohamed was shaken down in Tanzania under socialism).

It takes much more than education and hard work to become a millionaire or a billionaire. To reach those heights one needs luck, family connections – a variety of things that are out of reach to all but a very few. But if you are young and your goal is to make a solid middle class salary of $100k a year, or $200k for the top 2% of households, you have to choose a career that pays well and you have to marry or live with someone with the same goal. There’s nothing magical about that formula, and no reason to resent those who have achieved that goal.

As my late mother-in-law said, usually when I had come home complaining after a rough day at the office or the Wife had a particularly tough night on call, “You chose this path.” And we have, all of us, chosen our paths. The Wife and I could have chosen to forgo having children, moved to a major city and gotten higher paying jobs; but we chose to live in a rural area with our rescued animals and our son. She could make much more money as a dermatologist or cardiologist, but she chose the lower paying specialty of family medicine because she wanted to be an old country doctor.

I almost titled this “Chosen Paths: Why I Don’t Resent Those Who Are Better Off Than I Am,” but that would have undermined the very theme of this essay. I am better off than anyone else, living in a beautiful area of the country, with a woman I adore and a son whose every breath is a miracle to me. Sure people have more money than I do, but I don’t resent them; why should I when what I have means more to me than a figure on a bank account statement? My mother-in-law, crazy as she was, was right; I did choose this path, just as the librarian chose hers. Instead of resenting those who make more than she does, perhaps its time that she changed her path to one that will end in a place where she will feel much the same as I do here, among my family and my misfit pack of dogs in the North Carolina mountains.

UPDATE: As the Occupy Wall St. movement has grown, so has the percentage it claims to represent. The Other 98% has morphed into We Are the 99% – probably after some Lefties realized $200k won’t make you rich enough to steal from, especially in their favorite hangouts in San Francisco and New York City where $200k is almost poverty level.