Playing the Race Card

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Whenever President Obama gets in trouble the leftists love to play the race card and accuse his enemies of hating him because he is black. Jimmy Carter, among others, is guilty of this, and other leftists regularly accuse Tea Party patriots of being racists. So let’s see whether this theory withstands logical scrutiny.

People say that racism is about “hate” and “bigotry.” These, however, are mere empty slogans. If you look at history, you can discern a central motive that generally explains racism. Here I will draw upon the theory of social biology, which seeks to explain human social structures, e.g. marriage, by reference to each organism’s drive to maximize the spread of its genetic material. A race is a collection of humans who evolved in roughly the same geographic area and are therefore related to one another more closely than to members of other races. Members of racial groups use racism to promote the survival of their DNA at the expense of other genetic blends.

If this theory of racism is correct, then the solution to racism is for humans to stop thinking like animals, who only care about the survival of their DNA, if that, and to start thinking like human beings, who care about individual happiness and fulfilling one’s potential as a reasoning mind. If people were to do this, then interracial marriage would become far more common, and 500 years from now everyone would be a member of the same global race, which would end racism for good.

Now let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the ideas in a person’s mind come from his or her thoughts and decisions and not from DNA. Then, if we concede that a “culture” consists not only of art, music, and food, but also (and most importantly) of ideas and concepts and the style of thinking that they embody, it will become evident that culture has no direct relationship to DNA. If that is so, then a race and a culture can be associated only by accident, and there is no causal relationship such that, for instance, black DNA causes black culture.

A racial culture is chosen by the members of a race, and it is not an expression of their DNA, although the culture that parents teach to their children can have a strong impact on the culture of the next generation. These observations underscore Thomas Sowell’s brilliant argument that members of oppressed racial minority groups might best be served by reforming their culture on the model of, say, Jewish culture, which has shown itself capable of overcoming oppression and achieving affluence.

So at last we come to the great fraud of racial leftism: the argument that if you oppose an idea that is thought to be implicit in, for instance, black culture, you are therefore a racist. From here all the modern-liberals need to do is argue that leftism and Marxism are intrinsically tied to black culture, and they can make an argument, quite logical within the context of their faulty premises, that everyone who opposes the Obama agenda is an anti-black racist.  This is the trick that Obama, whom some regard as the Ace of Hearts, has up his sleeve.  You can expect him to lay it on thick by accusing the Tea Party and Republicans of being white supremacists during the 2012 election campaign.

But as Ayn Rand said, “Check your premises.” Yes, there may be groups of bigoted whites in the deep South who vote Republican and also like white DNA more than black DNA (although even to suggest this is to engage in discriminatory stereotyping). Nobody knows how Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry really feels about blacks, although I am confident that Ron Paul is not a racist. But what in the world do white racists in the South have to do with economic theory? If you do not accept any causal link between racial DNA and cultural ideas, and if you reject the absurd and insulting notion that socialism favors dark-skinned people (see my essay on racism in Liberty, August 2010), then this racist argument is nonsense. Pull out the premises that form the foundation of the argument, and Obama’s house of cards collapses.




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Big, Fat Hypocrite

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Prominent at various Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, lending his overweighty support to the decorticated descamisados raucously protesting and polluting the parks, is famous Marxist millionaire Michael Moore. He’s as hard to miss as a bellowing beached whale. He is there to rail against the wicked rich, the “1%” who are such a bane to mankind.

But confronted by an interviewer who had the temerity to point out the obvious hypocrisy of Moore’s bashing of the upper 1% while being in that very group himself, Moore tried gamely to deny — while keeping a straight face — that he was part of the 1% being vilified. The irrepressibly cheeky Andrew Breitbart has posted pictures of Moore’s huge, obscenely lavish new lakefront mansion. Moore’s gorgeous place, on the shores of Torch Lake, Michigan, is officially assessed at roughly a million bucks, but the joint is probably worth much more. Homes on the lake range from $400,000 to $3 million, and his is one of the newer, bigger properties. Michigan property tax assessments are set at roughly half the market value of the property, so figure it to be worth $2 million.

Yes, an upper-1% kind of joint.

Ah, but this delicious dish of hypocrisy has more layers. Not only is the “manse” worth multi-millions, but it is in a township with no black residents. This leftist toad lives in a segregated community, whose inhabitants are 98% white.

Add another layer to the poser cake: this is just his summer home! Mr. Man of the Peeps has other massive properties as well.

Quite a dish to stomach, indeed.




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Is the Arab Spring a Winter for Women?

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President Obama backed the rebels in Egypt, abandoning our longstanding (and admittedly loathsome) quasi-ally Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptians in the street were, after all, demanding their freedom . . . or so it was presented. When Mubarak fell, Obama of course congratulated himself warmly.

However, some people were nervous at this spectacle. Especially nervous were people who recalled Obama’s spiritual guru, Jimmy Carter, who decided to abandon support for the Shah of Iran to help usher in the new “forces of democracy” there. The result was not democracy, but an even more authoritarian regime — indeed, a totalitarian one, driven by an Islamist ideology and implacably hostile to the United States.

Recent events in Egypt have ominously suggested that we may be seeing a similar devolution there, with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood looking to take control.

A recent story is both a disgusting and worrisome harbinger. It tells the story of a Cairo businessman trying to decide whether or not to “circumcise” (i.e., mutilate the genitals of) his daughter, who is — 12 years old! This procedure is a happy custom endorsed by many conservative Egyptians, and Mubarak’s regime struggled to suppress it. But with the winds of the Arab Spring, it is resurgent again.

Female genital mutilation (given the euphemistic acronym “FGM”) involves removing most or even all of the clitoris, and even the labia minora, followed by stitching up the vaginal opening.

All this, to make sure that young women remain chaste and “pure.” It is already incredibly common in Egypt, and is now likely to become even more so.

The Mubarak regime had banned the practice after a young girl died from it, and Suzanne Mubarak (the dictator’s wife) had spoken out continuously against FGM and had gotten religious leaders to oppose it. But the Muslim Brotherhood opposes the Mubarak ban, and it now appears that prior progress will be rapidly reversed.

We can only wonder what other treats are in store for Miss Liberty as the New Egypt evolves.




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From “Reinvest” to “Occupy”

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The “Occupy” movement attacks only the superficial side of the problem. It’s like blaming the gardener, instead of the weather, when the flowers die.

Times are hard and our first impulse is to indict what is right in front of us, namely, banks, corporations, the people who have made money by merely observing and accurately interpreting the idiocy around them — people who have taken advantage of the economic distortions to make money.

Banks, corporations, and wealthy people happily obeyed the Community Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress, and used the cheap money created by the Fed to make obscene profits in the five years or so before 2007. Since that time, they have made even more profits by borrowing short-term money at almost zero interest rates, forced into the economy by the Fed, and investing in long-term Treasuries at 3%, the so-called carry trade. If there is a trough, there will be pigs.

The government is the ultimate source of the misallocations that have and probably will continue to impoverish “the 99%.” “Occupy” and its supporters who “believe,” in their government-school-induced darkness, that the government can “save” them from evil “capitalists” seem to be screwing their heads into a socket that produces very little light.




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Easy Money

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Not too long ago I received an email solicitation for money from an old acquaintance. A breast cancer survivor, Patty (her real alias) proposed to ski across the middle of the Greenland ice cap with three other female cancer survivors to "raise breast cancer awareness."

Though it was easy to see how the proposition might work — give me money and the cure for cancer will be one step closer — I couldn’t connect the "awareness" dots.

How does "awareness" actually help the struggle against cancer? Those who have it are already aware, and those who don’t have it know someone who’s had it, and are, therefore, also aware. That covers pretty much everyone. I know, the reasoning goes something like this: the more people are aware that cancer exists, the more they are likely to donate money for research, so cancer will be cured sooner. But this is tenuous and specious sophistry at best. If cancer research is the objective, why not just solicit funds for that, and skip the arctic junket? What Patty really wanted was one more great adventure in her life, and she didn’t want to pay for it.

Actually, I was envious. Adventure junkies (of whom I am one) are driven to ever more outrageous accomplishments. It gives meaning to our lives. It’s what we live for. Transcending our own abilities doesn’t always put food on the table, but it builds “human capital” (in the words of Thomas Sowell) — capital that recharges our energy and creativity, capital that can be invested in future endeavors. But these adventures cost money. Last time I checked, climbing Mount Everest cost over $70,000. Put that on your resume.

I’d faced this before. Contemplating crossing sub-arctic Canada from Great Slave Lake to Hudson Bay along the Thelon River in kayaks, my partner (a journalist) suggested we raise funds by "doing it for charity" — any charity that deigned to associate itself with us. I asked her how the accounting would work. She responded that the funds would first be used to pay for our expedition; then whatever money was left over would go to the good cause. We’d solicit media coverage, write up our trip account, get it published, and donate the receipts (if any) to our charity.

Yeah, right.

Our incentives didn’t align with the still-unchosen charity’s. Our primary objective was crossing Canada above the 60th parallel: raising money and awareness for a generic "good cause" was just a way to finance our trip. To me, it seemed dishonest to flip the two and pretend that our charity was our primary objective while our trip was a self-imposed hair shirt to show dedication to the cause. So, in a spirit of greater transparency, I suggested soliciting commercial sponsorship from companies whose products we could use and who would actually benefit from supporting our venture through ads and testimonials. After all, I couldn’t — with a straight face — declare that I was kayaking the Thelon for Jerry’s Kids when I was actually doing it for Miller’s Adult: me.

Kelty, Hormel, and L’Oreal responded. They sent a tent, two cases of tinned meat, and assorted cosmetics. (Our pitch to L’Oreal had been that outdoorsy women also use cosmetics. They bought it.) In the big scheme of expedition funding, this was chump — albeit honest — change: we were very grateful and never failed to mention them.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not against charity (with the caveat that charity, either with someone else’s money or at the expense of one’s own needs, is no virtue [while stinginess with one’s own property is no vice]). And I’m a firm believer in the libertarian value of uncoerced, private funding. Additionally, my heart always skips a beat whenever I think of Terry Fox, the cancer amputee who attempted to run across Canada with a 1970’s-era prosthetic leg, in unimaginable pain, come rain or shine, and in a constantly deteriorating condition, to inspire people to donate funds for cancer research. Fox’s only motivation was to cure cancer: he literally ran himself into the grave in a heroic act of total dedication. It was about the only thing left he could do.

I turned Patty down, telling her I needed my money for my own inspiring adventures, wished her luck, and congratulated her on her gambit.

She responded that I was small-minded, and that it was people like me who were what’s wrong with modern society.

Patty’s expedition succeeded in crossing a notable portion of Greenland’s ice cap but met with defeat for the usual reasons: weather, personal conflicts, equipment failure, less-than-perfect conditions, etc. — all understandable. Still, I can’t help but think that perhaps a bit of the wrong motivation had something to do with the failure.




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A Prayer for the Council of Economic Advisors

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Have you ever said a prayer for the President’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA)?

Neither have I.

It seems an odd thing to do, doesn’t it? To nonbelievers, it would, of course, be a pointless act, and while it would not necessarily be pointless to believers, surely even they would see it as presumptuous.

In any case, people do say prayers for their leaders, particularly in times of strife; and since we may be entering such a time, I have selected a prayer for the CEA just in case I ever feel the urge to use it.

It is a simple prayer, taken from the King James Bible, Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

 




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Legacies

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Looking down the vista of time I see an epoch in our nation's history, not in my time or yours, but in the not distant future, when there shall be in the United States but one people, molded by the same culture, swayed by the same patriotic ideals, holding their citizenship in such high esteem that for another to share it is of itself to entitle him to fraternal regard; when men will be esteemed and honored for their character and talents.

The sentiment expressed in these words may sound familiar, especially considering that the monument to Martin Luther King was dedicated just last week. You might think that these words are from an early draft of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech. It would be a good guess, but it would be wrong. The words above were written by Charles Waddell Chesnutt in 1905, more than half a century before Dr. King uttered his poetic and powerful prose on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Born in 1858, Charles W. Chesnutt witnessed the Civil War and lived through the reconstruction and racism that followed it. Both his parents were considered black, although both had some white ancestors. Photographs of Chesnutt reveal that he could easily have passed for white, as many mixed-race people did in those days. Chesnutt chose not to pass into that easier world. Instead, he embraced his black roots and wrote short stories about the complex issues of racial relationships. He was well respected in the literary community, writing for the Atlantic Monthly and other mainstream publications. He was even invited to attend Mark Twain's posh 70th birthday party.

Nevertheless, Chesnutt's political sensibilities ran deep. He was an early civil rights activist and a founding member of the NAACP. The words quoted above are taken from an essay he wrote for the NAACP's literary magazine, The Crisis, entitled "Race Prejudice, Its Causes and Its Cure."

Like the man who would follow in his footsteps, Chesnutt did not believe in violent reprisals for the wrongs committed against African-Americans. He wanted fair treatment, but without retaliation or reverse bigotry. Chesnutt and King both longed for a day when color simply would not matter. In that 1905 essay, Chesnutt continued:

[I see an epoch] when hand in hand and heart with heart all the people of this nation will join to preserve to all and to each of them for all future time that ideal of human liberty which the fathers of the republic set out in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that “all men are created equal.”

Similarly, King's 1963 speech proclaimed: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"

Interestingly, King's heirs sued CBS for copyright infringement after CBS aired a segment of the speech as part of a documentary on the civil rights movement. They claimed that the speech was a performance and thus was protected by “common law copyright,” even though King did not register the speech in advance with the Registrar of Copyrights. In 1999 the court ruled in the estate's favor, giving King's family the right to license the speech and receive royalties whenever it is copied, aired, published, or performed. Now if the speech is printed in a textbook or quoted on Martin Luther King’s birthday, for example, his heirs will earn a royalty. It’s a little like singing “Happy Birthday”… even though it seems to be in the public domain, it isn’t. This copyright will remain in force until 70 years after King's death (2038).

I am happy for King's heirs, especially in light of the monument that was recently unveiled near the steps where he delivered his famous speech. I applaud the distance we have come toward seeing his dream become a reality, as well as toward seeing Chesnutt's “vista” move into the foreground. Sadly, however, to my knowledge none of King’s heirs has ever acknowledged or credited the article that Charles Chesnutt published in The Crisis all those years ago, even though its influence on the "I have a dream" speech can hardly be disputed. Let’s acknowledge the contributions of both these great civil rights leaders.




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The Return of Coxey’s Army

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In 1894, Coxey’s Army, a legion of purportedly needy people, came to Washington to demand radical reform of the capitalist system. It was supposed to be a “march,” but some of Coxey’s soldiers tried to make their trip to the capital by hijacking railroad trains. The depredations of the Army were widely feared, especially by communities that lay on its route, but by the time it reached Washington its numbers had dwindled. It ended when its leaders were arrested for walking on the capitol grass. That took care of Coxey’s Army.

During the past few weeks, downtowns across the country have been the unwilling hosts of tribes of ignorant savages shouting about the wickedness of, guess what, the capitalist system.  They maintain that they represent the 99% of Americans whose lives are controlled by the remaining 1%, who supposedly own 99% of property in this country. Ironies abound: people who have nothing better to do than hang out in a park and empty their bladders in a McDonalds restroom are lauded and supported by labor unions; people who want to abolish wealth are bankrolled by “liberal” billionaires; and people who never vote are courted by the highest official representatives of the Democratic Party. Friendly media note with relief that the Occupy mobs are (usually) “peaceful.” I suppose that if you come over to my condo complex, pitch a tent, and refuse to leave, denouncing me day and night and threatening my neighbors with the risk of epidemic disease, you are being “peaceful.”

It’s a safe bet that not one Occupier, or mainstream commentator on the Occupiers, has ever heard of Coxey’s Army. So such people haven’t fully realized what the lowest level of police power can do to wipe up a “movement.” On October 13, all around the country, local mayors and cops started moving against the demonstrators, evicting them from their zones of occupation for reasons of health. Their tent cities were fouling the environment.

Of course, that’s another irony that should be savored.  One of the Occupiers’ great complaints is that capitalism is ruining the environment. Well, just look at what the Occupiers did to New York’s Zuccotti Park (which by the way is privately owned, despite Mayor Bloomberg’s apparent assumption that he owns it and can let protestors in and out whenever he wants). It’s hard to imagine a more degraded environment.  For this reason, the protestors were nearly kicked out of the park on October 14, a mere four weeks after they started to degrade it. On that day and the day after, they were kicked out of parks and other civic spaces in many other cities. On October 16, they were prevented from starting a camp in Chicago’s Grant Park.

A few more run-ins with local government, and the movement will probably go the way of Coxey and Friends. This is yet another irony, because what the protestors, “anarchist” or not, are really screaming for is more government, government that will run everyone’s life in the minutest detail. That’s the only way in which their multitudinous demands — for equal incomes, free money, vast solar energy projects, whatever — could ever be satisfied.

But there’s one nice, nonironic touch.  For once, one of the Occupiers said something correct. According to a CNN report on October 13, Occupy Wall Street spokesman Tyler Combelic promised resistance to any attempt to move the protest out of its usurped location, observing. "It's not an occupation if you can't occupy the park."  How true, how true.




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It’s Not Even Keynesian

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In a Facebook discussion of tax policy, I came up with an idea. It seems obvious, and on reflection also useful.

There are three basic categories of government taxing and spending:

One — tax to spend on government services;

Two — tax to redistribute wealth;

Three — tax to spend on stimulating economic activity.

The debate about one is always just a debate about which government services are necessary and desirable. The debate about two is very complex and can be approached from many angles, but it helps the analysis to state clearly when you are talking about redistribution.

The debate about three, when brought into clear focus, has a clear answer. Raising taxes (in current government jargon "paying") for "stimulus" is a certain mistake. It does not even have the theoretical support of the most rabid Keynesian theory.

Keynesian theory favors fiscal stimulus (that is, deficit spending) in times of high unemployment and recession. This can be achieved by lowering taxes while keeping expenditures stable or by raising expenditures while keeping taxes stable. The Keynesian hope was to put an end to the business cycle.

President Obama has lately made a stupid proposal. He wants to be seen as doing something about poor economic conditions. He recognizes that the idea of more deficit spending is very unpopular. So he proposes a false stimulus. It would be paid for by higher taxes on the rich. Grabbing more money and spending it (as opposed to deficit spending) may provide government services and may redistribute wealth, but it cannot provide a Keynesian stimulus. When it is considered as a "stimulus" proposal, the only theoretical argument in favor of it is a purely communist one — the planners will better allocate the money than would private enterprise. That's a bankrupt, and also an unpopular theory, and I don't think Obama or his advisors like it.

I think they like taking and spending (for purposes of redistribution and abuse of power — tossing billion-dollar favors around for one's personal benefit) and appearing (for political purposes) to be doing something. So they have dressed up a policy that would increase corrupt central planning while dressing it in the clothes of "economic stimulus."




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Stop the Slander of Inner-City Parents

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A few years ago I wrote an article for this journal urging school choice. Afterward, I received a number of arguments against it — bad arguments. One of these was what I termed the “incompetent parent argument,” which is the one you often hear from the defenders of the present public school system (that is, from greedy rentseekers who benefit from the system, because they are employed by it). The argument is this: school choice will fail because inner-city parents are too ignorant and indifferent to make wise choices about their kids’ education.

This claim is usually proffered sotto voce, since inner-city parents are often members of ethnic minorities. The argument can be accused of having a racist cast, yet the people who offer it are typically politically correct progressive liberals who love accusing the rest of us of racial insensitivity.

But to return to the argument itself. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal exhibits the ultimate refutation of this rubbish. It reports the dramatic swelling of a “crime wave” of inner-city parents who lie about their home address on school applications. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) recently had to grant clemency to a poor black mother who had dared — dared!! — to use her father’s home address to get her two daughters into a decent school.

For this act of vicious criminality, she was charged with grand theft. After being incarcerated for nine days, she was convicted on two felony counts. If they had remained on her record they would have ruined her chances of getting a teacher’s certificate and becoming a teacher herself.

The lady is not alone. Not hardly. In several states, desperate parents — you know, the inferior inner-city parents who are genetically incapable of the same love for their children that tenured white teachers can feel — have been arrested for trying to do what she did, and are facing jail time or other punishment. School districts around the country are hiring detectives to follow children and see whether they really live where they say they do. Some districts are even using “address-verification” programs to halt the abominable crime of finding a decent education for your kids. One of these programs, VerifyResidence.com, uses “covert video technology” to find the pernicious perps.

Minority parents must care a lot about choosing good schools for their kids, if so many are risking prison for the chance to do so. And of course, these people are hardly criminals. As the article suggests, we can view them as practicing a form of nonviolent protest to achieve their civil rights, in the honorable tradition of Martin Luther King.

A couple of months ago, more evidence that parents are not indifferent but are in fact committed to finding good schools came to light. It was an internal teachers’ union PowerPoint presentation boasting about how the union (the notorious American Federation of Teachers) thwarted parents’ groups in Connecticut from passing a “parent-trigger law” that would have forced a change in administration of any failing school if the majority of the district’s parents voted for the change. If the parents had been as indifferent as rumored, would the union have gone to such Machiavellian means to screw them?




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