TBT: Brexit: The Antidote to Supranational Tyranny

The first indication that a major sea-change in Western politics was underway was the historic Brexit vote in June 2016.  The mere fact that Britain voted to leave the European Union boosted nationalist movements in Europe, and reflected the growing discontent of Britons with the policies of their elites.  That frustration manifested itself outside of Britain, and seemed to presage—at least in hindsight—Trump’s unlikely, underdog victory in November of that year.

The following is my first piece on Brexit, dated 13 June 2016.  I wrote it in response to a student’s inquiry.  That launched a series of pieces on Brexit that I will—eventually—compile into an eBook, the title of which will draw from a phrase I coined for this article:  “supranational tyranny.”

In essence, I argued then (and still argue now) that Brexit was, at bottom, a referendum on national sovereignty.  Issues like trade and immigration, while quite important, were merely the outgrowth of that fundamental issue.  Brexit, in so many words and in so many ways, simply asked, “Can a country make its own decisions about its own destiny?”  Like so many fundamentals, that we even have to ask the question demonstrates how far postmodern deconstructionism has taken us.  Regardless, the people of Britain resoundingly answered, “YES!”  The vote to leave was not an endorsement of xenophobia or anything else:  it was a vote for national sovereignty.

The European Union was a classic bait-and-switch:  Britain joined under the pretense that it was entering an economic free trade zone.  That morphed—it seems, based on the EU’s charter and its goal of “ever closer union”, deliberately and by design—into the supranational, undemocratic behemoth it is today, with decisions largely dictated from Germany and its toadie, France.  When the people lost the ability to control their own borders and immigration policies—the bare-bone essentials of what constitute a “nation” and “national sovereignty”—they seized the opening and voted for liberty and sovereignty over continued acquiescence in exchange for goodies.

Here is June 2016’s “Brexit:  The Antidote to Supranational Tyranny“:

I’ve been planning to do a few pieces on the question of “Brexit”–whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, or to remain a part of it–but originally intended to wait until the 23 June referendum drew closer.  However, over the weekend I received this e-mail from a student:

A summer vacation well spent.
In case you can’t read the e-mail, here’s the text in full:
Dear Mr[.] Cook (Self entitled defender of Rock & Roll),
I know this isn’t the average email you get from a student, political. However, with one of the most impactful votes to effect [
sic] the US economy to take place in just 11 days, June 23, I would like to ask how you felt on the United Kingdom’s vote on whether to stay in the EU or leave it. US news has refused to cover this major event due to irresponsibility and foolishness. Just wanted to know your thoughts on this vital subject.

(Please note that I am blessed to teach some very bright students.)

Brexit is a hugely complicated issue; however, viewed through the lens of national sovereignty versus the dubious claims of supranational organizations, the ultimate solution is, in my mind, a no-brainer:  the people of Great Britain should vote “Leave” this June.

Now for some preliminary disclaimers, lest I be burned in effigy:

To any British readers, please do not presume that an upstart, boorish American is preaching at you about what to do with your national destiny.  If the situation were reversed, I’d rightfully scoff at any attempts from “Europeans” to tell my country how to function.  However, I ask that all readers approach my arguments for Brexit in a philosophical and rational way; that is, treat them in the context of one mind reasoning from a set a premises, not as an American lecturing foreign nationals about their sovereign politics.

(British readers–if you exist–please feel free to leave your comments, reflections, reactions, and bitter recriminations below; I respect and welcome your perspective, which is far more accurate and attuned to the realities of the situation than my own.)

I’d also like to acknowledge the influence of a book review I read over the weekend in the 9 May 2016 edition of National Review(Volume LXVIII, No. 8).  The review, written by John Fonte and entitled “The EU’s Soft Utopia,” is of the book The Totalitarian Temptation:  Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe by Todd Huizinga, a long-time observer of European Union politics.  I highly recommend you seek out this review.  I intend to read the book soon.

 ***

Now that those pleasantries are out of the way, I’d like to lay out my case, clumsy though it may be.  My remarks are adapted from those I sent to the young man above.

The Brexit issue is one of huge importance to the US, the UK, and Europe, and while it has not been covered heavily in the mainstream media, I’ve read a number of articles about it in both National Review and the Weekly Standard.

The question of whether or not to vote “Remain” or “Leave” really depends on your perspective and your goals, or what you think the European Union is supposed to do.  The EU itself tries to appear unsure of its goals, but its mission clearly states that it seeks “ever closer union” of the various member nation-states.

The EU began life as essentially a large economic free trade zone that gradually expanded, and which then adopted a common currency in the late 1990s (a move, we now know, that was fraught with peril, especially as it is very difficult for disparate nations at different points of economic development and national sovereignty to share a single currency effectively; see also Greece).  My perception is that the EU wants to become, ultimately, the “United States of Europe”; indeed, this goal is straightforwardly expressed by many pro-Europe observers.  The question, then, is this goal desirable or not?

 The United States of Europe, where six-weeks paid vacation is a basic human right.

It certainly has elements that are attractive.  In theory, a politically unified Europe becomes a powerful check against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Many of the “far-right” populist parties in European nations (France’s National Front, Germany’s Alternativ für Deutschland, etc.) are gaining traction now due to the flood of (often violent) Islamic “refugees” into Europe, and many of those groups view Putin’s ultra-nationalistic Russia warmly (some, too, are allegedly bankrolled by Russia).  Moving toward greater union would help resolve the economic problems the euro faces, as it would allow the EU to change monetary and fiscal policy in its member states, which would no longer look like America under the Articles of Confederation, but would instead look more like America under the Constitution.

At least, that’s how we’re supposed to view it.  Unfortunately, that comparison quickly falls apart under scrutiny.  The constitutional order our Framers carefully constructed in 1787 functions verydifferently than the European Union conceived of by its architects.  The EU is largely run by an unelected, globalist-progressive bureaucracy that is both unaccountable to the peoples and sovereign member states of Europe, and which has already acted to oust democratically-elected leaders (see also:  Italy).  Sure, there’s the European Parliament, which is currently (and ironically) dominated by members from Euroskeptic parties like UKIP, but it has only limited functions and can essentially only vote to block decisions made by the European Commission, itself made up of unelected commissioners.

The EU, then, cares not for democratic input, national sovereignty (and, therefore, borders), or federalism.  A United States of Europe would be a heavily centralized unit that might allow some state sovereignty in some limited areas, but would ultimately have vast, unchecked control over its members, with little regard for what the people in those member states want (just look at Germany and Angela Merkel’s increasingly unpopular–and arguably dangerous–stance on the refugee crisis).

So, while a large, intact European Union would present a unified front against Russia, it would also be a largely undemocratic front against the United States.  Some have argued that the EU is necessary to keep NATO viable, but I don’t buy this argument.  NATO has functioned well, if somewhat inconsistently, with a couple of dozen or so sovereign states for decades.  If Britain votes “Leave,” how would this dynamic substantially change in the long-run?

A United States of Europe would be a heavily centralized unit that might allow some state sovereignty in some limited areas, but would ultimately have vast, unchecked control over its members, with little regard for what the people in those member states want….”

Ultimately, the Brexit vote is a referendum on national sovereignty.  If national sovereignty has any meaning and significance for the people of Britain–and for the world–British voters will resoundingly vote “no” to the EU.

Would such an outcome have ripple effects politically and economically?  Absolutely.  Britain might struggle temporarily because of the (admittedly) huge institutional and economic disruptions, but it would soon rock back to its feet, as it would find itself freed of the EU’s overbearing economic regulations and rules.  Britain is also well-positioned to leave, as it prudently maintained the British pound, and could very likely continue to accept euros for everyday economic exchanges.

The European Union might callously block trade with Britain, but Britain’s large financial and consumer markets would quickly erode any such vindictive measures.  President Obama has darkly warned that Britain would be at “the back of the queue” for future trade deals, which would be a slap to the face to the Churchillian, Anglo-American “special relationship.”  Our next president would, if he or she is wise, quickly embrace a “most-favored nation” treaty with Britain to keep trade open and affordable between our nations.

Putin might take advantage of the situation temporarily, but Europe and Britain would likely come together rapidly in the face of any Russian aggression.  Putin is wily and will take any advantage he can, which is all the more reason for the Obama administration to put aside its pro-EU stance and to support an independent Britain should the British people vote “Leave.”

Just because Putin might benefit doesn’t mean that Brexit is ultimately a bad idea.  A “Leave” vote would, in a paradoxical way, be healthy for the EU, as it would likely lead to the exit of nations that have no business being under the euro, such as Greece and Spain.  It would also inspire and embolden other nations to push for greater transparency, accountability, and democratization from the European Union’s leaders and institutions.

Most importantly, though, it would strike a blow against the totalizing, globalist elitism of the EU bureaucracy.  Brussels might see itself as enlightened, progressive, cosmopolitan–and, as a result, more humane–but it’s still authoritarian and anti-democratic-republican in the way it functions and pursues its vision.

Therefore, while I recognize the potential geopolitical and economic risks, I sincerely pray that the good people of the United Kingdom will strike a blow for republican self-government, national sovereignty, and liberty, and vote “Leave” this June.

The time for Brexit is now.  Like ripping off an old bandage, the initial pain will sting, but only briefly.  The old wound will heal, and a new, freer nation will enjoy the fruits of its sovereignty.

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The Life of Roger Stone

Flamboyant political trickster and Barnum-esque huckster Roger Stone was arrested last week as part of the out-of-control Mueller investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election.  Stone’s arrest suggests the desperation in Mueller’s witch hunt.

Stone himself is an endlessly fascinating individual, and I have a soft-spot for over-the-top confidence men, which is essentially what Stone is (or how he presents himself).  In reading some of the news coverage about his arrest, I stumbled upon a 2007 profile of the famed master of the dark arts, “Roger Stone, Political Animal.”

The author is Matt Labash, one of the best long-form writers the now-defunct The Weekly Standard ever employed.  I’ve totally written off The Weekly Standard as a pathologically anti-Trump publication, especially with Bill Kristol going off the deep end politically (and maybe psychologically), actively encouraging the FBI’s mendacious, corrupt attempts to overthrow the duly-elected President of the United States.

That said, Labash is an excellent writer.  When I taught US Government regularly, I would assign students another Labash piece, a lengthy profile of former Louisiana Governor (and convicted felon) Edwin Edwards, entitled “Conviction Politician.”  Labash wrote that profile when Edwards, then 86, was attempting to run for Congress.  Edwards would go on to lose that race—the first time he ever lost a run for office—but Labash’s profile made me want to vote for Edwards, and not because it casts the corrupt four-time governor in a positive light.  Rather, Labash possesses a knack for drawing out the humor and humanity in deeply flawed, larger-than-life characters (some great Edwards quotes:  he said the only way he’d lose an election was if he was “caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy”; when discussing Klansman David Duke, Edwards said the only thing they had in common was they’re “both wizards under the sheets”).

That jeweler’s eye for humanizing moral failure is beautifully apparent in the 2007 Stone profile.  Labash is also sympathetic to his subject, without necessarily condoning his trickiness:  unlike many reporters, Labash actually likes Roger Stone.

It’s also interesting reading about politics pre-2015-2016, what we might call “B.T.”:  “Before Trump.”  That’s especially the case when Donald Trump is involved (Stone, a longtime Trump friend and ally, only half-jokingly called Trump the p-word in reference to a botched run for the Reform Party nomination early in this century).  It’s hard to conceive now, after four years of Trumpism, of a time when The Donald didn’t dominate our political discussions, when we basically debated the merits between two or more members of both parties’ elites (I don’t completely buy the “Uniparty” theory—there were clearly important philosophical differences between Romney and Obama, for example, in 2012—but I’m willing to concede that elites in both parties are two sides of the same elitist coin in terms of their interests and positions in life).

Reading about Roger Stone in a pre-Trump political age, on the cusp of the Great Recession and before even the meteoric rise of Barack Obama is fun and a bit disconcerting:  it’s hard to remember exactly what it was like back then, as we’ve gone through the looking glass into a whole new paradigm.  Such is the power of the red-pilling that came in the wake of Trump’s rise.

But this post is (ostensibly) about Stone.  I highly recommend you carve out thirty minutes to read the Labash profile in full—after all, it’s Wednesday, and all the real work for the week got done Monday or will get done hastily Friday morning, before you ease your way into the weekend.  I had a hard time finding a “representative sample” to highlight from this piece, but I settled (and not entirely to my satisfaction) on this excerpt discussing a young Stone’s possible roll in splitting the Liberal Party of New York’s vote from the Democrats, giving Ronald Reagan the edge—and New York’s electoral votes—in 1980:

Stone, who going back to his class elections in high school has been a proponent of recruiting patsy candidates to split the other guy’s support, remembers suggesting to Cohn that if they could figure out a way to make John Anderson the Liberal party nominee in New York, with Jimmy Carter picking up the Democratic nod, Reagan might win the state in a three-way race. “Roy says, ‘Let me look into it.'” Cohn then told him, “‘You need to go visit this lawyer’–a lawyer who shall remain nameless–‘and see what his number is.’ I said, ‘Roy, I don’t understand.’ Roy says, ‘How much cash he wants, dumbf–.'” Stone balked when he found out the guy wanted $125,000 in cash to grease the skids, and Cohn wanted to know what the problem was. Stone told him he didn’t have $125,000, and Cohn said, “That’s not the problem. How does he want it?”

Cohn sent Stone on an errand a few days later. “There’s a suitcase,” Stone says. “I don’t look in the suitcase . . . I don’t even know what was in the suitcase . . . I take the suitcase to the law office. I drop it off. Two days later, they have a convention. Liberals decide they’re endorsing John Anderson for president. It’s a three-way race now in New York State. Reagan wins with 46 percent of the vote. I paid his law firm. Legal fees. I don’t know what he did for the money, but whatever it was, the Liberal party reached its right conclusion out of a matter of principle.”

I ask him how he feels about this in retrospect. He seems to feel pretty good–now that certain statutes of limitations are up. He cites one of Stone’s Rules, by way of Malcolm X, his “brother under the skin”: “By any means necessary.” “Reagan got the electoral votes in New York State, we saved the country,” Stone says with characteristic understatement. “[More] Carter would’ve been an unmitigated disaster.”

Who knows if that story is true or not—after all, this is Roger Stone—but there’s no doubt the Liberal Party nominated Anderson, and Reagan won a plurality in the Empire State.  If it’s true, Stone might have saved the Republic.

Labash’s piece also revealed to the world “Stone’s Rules,” which Stone has compiled into a book.  From Labash:

[Stone] often sets his pronouncements off with the utterance “Stone’s Rules,” signifying listeners that one of his shot-glass commandments is coming down, a pithy dictate uttered with the unbending certitude one usually associates with the Book of Deuteronomy. Some original, some borrowed, Stone’s Rules address everything from fashion to food to how to screw people. And one of his favorite Stone’s Rules is “Unless you can fake sincerity, you’ll get nowhere in this business.” He is honest about his dishonesty. “Politics with me isn’t theater,” he admits. “It’s performance art. Sometimes, for its own sake.”

The performance for the sake of itself is a recurring theme with Stone, who seems to embroil himself in controversy just for the thrill of it.  He could have had a lucrative, quiet career in political consulting, but from reading Labash’s piece—and from watching Roger Stone on television and YouTube—that doesn’t seem like a life that would appeal to him.

That, in my mind, is the appeal of Stone—like Milo Yiannopolous, he relishes the dirt and grime of the arena, and he digs into it while dressed impeccably.  He’s a despicable, perfidious, disreputable con man—and I love him for it.

Reblogs: Of Grills and Men

Traditional Christian blogger Dalrock wrote two posts Monday about grilling, specifically grilling in the context of traditional masculinity and fatherhood.  The occasion for these posts is the infamous Gillette razor ad, which basically scolds men for not being noodle-wristed soy boys and pliant betas.

I really thought that after 2016, when a swaggering alpha male with a supermodel wife won the presidency, we’d see fewer of these hectoring, pedantic social justice ads.  Sadly, feminized, postmodern Corporate America still allows radical feminists to scare off their customers.

If you’ve seen the ad, you’ll recall there’s a scene with a row of dads grilling in an endless backyard, intoning “boys will boys” while two kids wail on each other (as if that’s an accurate depiction of fatherhood).  Dalrock’s first post Monday, “The symbolism of the line of men grilling in the Gilette ad,” quotes from a piece from Post Millenial, in which the author points out the significance of that scene (Dalrock’s quotation of Barbara Kay’s “‘Toxic Masculinity’ in Advertising:  Keeping Women Scared and Men Shamed“):

For what does a neatly-dressed man standing behind a barbecue signify? Think of every Father’s Day ad you have ever seen. How many of them feature barbecue tools? Maybe 50%? Why? Because when men barbecue, they are usually in a back yard. If men have a back yard, it means they live in a house. If they have a house, they are generally married with children. When men barbecue, they are usually feeding their families and friends and having fun doing it. In other words, barbecue men are deeply invested in family life.

They are, in short, fathers. And what is the easiest way to produce boys who do not understand or respect the boundaries between positive and negative masculinity? Take away their fathers.

The barbecue men are the reason most boys with loving fathers grow up to be strong, productive men: men who will never be a threat to anyone—except to bad guys who never learned the boundaries for—or how to positively channel—aggression, because so many of them had no fathers to teach them.

The ad is not just an attack on men, per se, but on married fathers, a key demographic in the war against unruly hooligans.  Let’s be clear here:  the problem isn’t “toxic masculinity”; it’s a lack of masculinity.  Boys without fathers are the major problem.

Consider the male child of a single mother:  outside of an uncle or grandfather, his formative years will be devoid of male influence.  Nearly all of his teachers will be female until at least middle school.  His absent father will be a lingering shadow in his life, unconsciously imprinting him with the idea that men are unreliable and that he has no obligation to his hypothetical future offspring.  Such a child has a higher propensity for loafer-lightening flamboyance (probably).  There are a host of negative consequences of fatherlessness.

Dalrock’s second piece looks at a 2015 Slate “think-piece” about a man who hates himself for loving to grill.  It is painful to read the quotations from the essay.  It affirms a central tenant of postmodern political philosophy, especially radical feminism:  you’re not allowed to enjoy anything.

Dalrock elaborates in that piece that the point is to feminize grilling; that is, to bring women into a traditionally male space, and to make men feel bad if they want to keep it a male space.  This topic is a major theme of Dalrock’s writing:  the forced infiltration of men’s private spaces, such as social clubs, with women, depriving men of any kind of separate world they can enjoy on their own terms.

Check out the pieces linked (caution:  you will cringe incredibly hard reading that Slate piece, but it is from Slate, after all) and leave your comments below.

The League of Nations

For the past five years, Western civilization has been observing and memorializing the Great War, what we now call the First World War. That war was so destructive, it single-handedly cost the West its mojo. Before the war, Western civilization was supremely confident, believing in the rightness and righteousness of its own ideals. After it, self-doubt and nihilism gripped the hearts of once-great nations.

Some of that antebellum self-confidence was founded on the sandy foundation of positivist idealism, and some of it on the misguided internationalism that tied European nations together in a strangling, inflexible web of secret alliances and global brinksmanship. But for all its faults—and the mostly pointless slaughter of millions of young men on the battlefields of Europe—the West was (and is) the best.

Friday, 25 January 2019 quietly marked another milestone in the rolling commemoration of the Great War: the opening, 100 years ago, of the Versailles Peace Conference, the gathering that planted the seeds for the Second World War. New Criterion published a short essay on the anniversary that discusses the maneuvering at the Conference with lively detail; it’s even more impressive when you realize the author, Daniel M. Bring, is still in college.

The League of Nations was the precursor to the United Nations, and the godfather of various supranational entities. In that context, it is rather inauspicious, and is the root of many evils. It was a stunningly ineffective organization, too, that failed to uphold its obligations to collective security.

The United States famously did not join the League, as the Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which included membership in the organization. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts led the charge against ratification, arguing that Article X of the League charter would compel the United States to join in foreign wars that may have little bearing on actual American interests.

Such a degree of foreign policy realism would be refreshing in today’s political climate; as it was, Lodge’s reservations were entirely consistent with American foreign policy dating back to George Washington and John Quincy Adams. The United States did not formally make peace with Germany until 1921, with the signing of the Treaty of Berlin.

Without American support—and in the wake of the global Great Depression—the League of Nations floundered and failed. To quote Bring:

In discussions of (especially, recent) history, there is much said by historians about hindsight and counterfactual scenarios. What if the United States had lent its strength to the League’s success? What if the League had levied more effective sanctions and even executed military countermeasures? But in the end, these hypotheticals cannot change the past.
“All that matters is that which occurred. Within thirty years from the League’s creation, tens of millions, both soldiers and civilians, were dead in a second great war.”

The post Second World War global order has endured reasonably well, with its broad commitment to global security underpinned with American might. That order flourished, however, in the face of the long Cold War and the mostly-united fronts of a long ideological struggle with Soviet Communism. In the absence of such a major external threat—radical Islamism notwithstanding—the raison d’etre for open-ended, supranational regimes is largely gone, and such organizations are ineffective at best or tyrannical at worst.

The United Nations is a clown college for Third World dictators and their lackeys. The European Union is an undemocratic dystopia under German rule (didn’t we fight two world wars to prevent that outcome?). NATO (perhaps inadvertently) antagonizes Russia by extending into the Baltic region, and American lives are obligated to prop up those very regions should Russia interfere. Further, NATO is only truly effective with American backing and support—a major sticking point for President Trump, who wants member nations to meet their obligations to funding it (and they even balk at that minimal request).

Nineteenth-century isolationism no longer appears to be a viable option for the United States, but constant interventionism and multilateralism come with all the costs and none of the benefits of empire, and severely stretch America’s blood and treasure. An earnest reevaluation of the effectiveness of our international institutions is long overdue; kudos to President Trump for questioning the orthodoxy and probing new possibilities.

As part of that re-examination, let us look back to the idealistic, but unhappy, failure of the League—and the costs its failure entailed for humanity.

Reblog: New White Shoe Review for You

My good friend and fellow blogger Frederick Ingram of Corporate History International has written an intriguing review of what appears to be a quite intriguing book: historian John Oller’s White Shoe: How a New Bread of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business and the American Century. Based on Ingram’s review alone, the book is a fascinating dive into the heady politics of early twentieth-century America, the transition from the relative laissez-faire capitalism of the so-called “Gilded Age” into the economic, political, and social reforms of the Progressive Era.

The Progressive Movement fundamentally transformed the United States, in many ways (constitutionally) for the worse. But it was an attempt to rectify some of the excesses of the Gilded Age, and to ensure that workers were not merely cogs in faceless corporate machines. In reading Ingram’s review, I heard echoes of Tucker Carlson’s recent on-air musings, particularly the idea that efficiency is not a god to be worshipped blindly, and that capitalism is great, but it should work for us, not the other way around.

The more things change, the more they stay the same: Carlson’s diagnosis of America’s current ills echoes attorney (and future Supreme Court justice) Louis Brandeis’s “curse of bigness,” the argument against efficiency-for-its-own-sake. I was struck, while reading Ingram’s review, how much our own age mirrors the period that, in many ways, begat our current crises: the Progressive Era of 100 years ago.

According to Ingram, a consensus of sorts was reached among these big Wall Street Lawyers (WSLs), which ultimately prevented radicalism and presented “capitalism with a human face”:

“The end of ‘The Last Great Epoch’ coincided with the end of World War I, flanked by the funerals of the earlier generation of great industrialists and white shoe pioneers. ‘Each year has the significance of a hundred,’ said William Nelson Cromwell in 1918, and this applied not just to armistice negotiations but vast swaths of human society. Business, law, and government in the US would be professionalized and regulated, but still relatively free by world standards. The reforms advocated by enlightened and informed WSLs formed a barrier against imported radicalism. Even rightwing attorneys backed movements such as social security, child labor prohibitions, and even minimum wage.”

 

Ingram, as I mentioned, is a good friend, and we’ve had some lively discussions over the years about the “big questions” of life. His thoughtfulness and reflexivity are in full display in his review here, as he links insights from this work to concurrent readings of Jordan Peterson and Christopher Andrews. He also brings in his own experiences working in “BigLaw,” as he calls it, the grueling world of billable hours and 80+-hour workweeks.

To (indulgently) block-quote Ingram once more:

“Having worked as a BigLaw accounting clerk myself, I have an issue with the Cravath System and the slavish devotion to billable hours. Is your spouse really going to leave you if you don’t make $250,000 this year? Will your children no longer look up to you? Is that worth being a cortisol-addled prick 80 hours a week, every weekday of your miserable life? Wouldn’t it be wiser to make, I don’t know, $100k or even $50k and have your peace of mind back?”

 

As much as I admire the energy and drive of the restless striver—and as much as I over-work myself—Ingram makes a compelling point. Money doesn’t buy happiness (although it certainly buys a great deal of freedom), and the pursuit of it can lead other, more enduring obligations—family, friends, faith—to wither.

An excellent review, from a good friend. Check it out at https://corporatehistory.international/2019/01/27/new-white-shoe-review-for-you, then pick up a copy of Oller’s book.

Corporate History International

White Shoe: How a New Breed of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business and the American Century by John Oller (Dutton: 2019). Review by Frederick C. Ingram, CorporateHistory.International, January 27, 2019.

White Shoe promises to deliver an engaging and revealing tale regarding the handful of New York City attorneys who effectively created big business as we’ve known it, the “new high priests for a new century.” As an accomplished historian (The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution, Da Capo: 2016) and former Wall Street attorney himself (Willkie Farr & Gallagher), John Oller is well placed to fulfill this tall order.

20190127 white shoe cover squareIn a previous economy, I researched hundreds of corporations for the International Directory of Company Histories, so the prospect of peeking a little beyond the opaque public relations and investor relations curtain intrigued me. I’m also reminded of strolling along Fifth Avenue, whose equally opaque walls…

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Saturday Reading: SOTU and the Shutdown

A quick post today, as I have a jam-packed Saturday (after a jam-packed week, with another busy week on the horizon—it’s the Year of the Panther, baby!):  the President has reached an agreement to reopen the government for three weeks, it seems in order to get paychecks out to Homeland Security and federal law enforcement more than anything else, with the promise (threat?) to leverage another government shutdown in February to obtain border wall funding.

This compromise feels like a loss; I can only hope President Trump has some clever scheme up his sleeve.  From what I’ve been hearing (most recently on today’s episode of Radio Derb), the polls have shown Americans steadily blaming Trump for the shutdown.  Of course, this prompts me to ask, “do they see the shutdown as positive or negative?”

Certainly there are good federal employees who need paychecks, especially border patrol agents and federal law enforcement, but how many of you actually felt the effects of the shutdown?  At the very least, let’s hope the President took Ben Boychuck’s advice, as well as the advice of his anonymous senior official, to layoff permanently some of the dead weight in the federal bureaucracy.

As Boychuck writes in the Sacramento Bee:

Everyone knows the president cannot fire career government employees willy-nilly. Our civil service laws are ironclad. But a fairly obscure rule would allow the administration to lay off certain workers if they’ve been furloughed for at least 30 days. It’s called a “reduction in force” and it’s perfectly legal as long as the White House adheres to certain criteria, accounting for an employee’s tenure, total federal and military service, and work performance.

According to Boychuck, some 350,000 federal employees are eligible for “reduction in force” according to this obscure rule.  I don’t think anyone is advocating laying off all of those people—surely some 5-10% of them perform useful functions and/or aren’t totally subvervise to the President’s agenda—but I imagine we could do without at least some of them.  Surely even a token culling of the herd would send a powerful warning to feds:  you work for the American people, not your second home.

A part of me worries that our peacocking POTUS might be reopening the government simply to give the State of the Union Address in the House chambers.  That would be a bad move.  The Constitution doesn’t specify the form or venue for the SOTU address.  In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a verbal “address” at all!

Thomas Jefferson—timid about public speaking, and fearful of the kingly connotations—stopped giving a verbal address upon taking office in 1801.  Instead, his annual message was sent to Congress and read aloud by the Speaker or another member, then published throughout the States in newspapers.  Everyone could easily read it, and this approach made perfect sense in a pre-mass-communications age.

The Jefferson approach endured until the presidency of Democrat and progressive Woodrow Wilson.  Remember, Wilson hated our Constitution (PDF), and believed it was an archaic document that did not work adequately in the dynamic, industrial world of the early twentieth century.  He idolized the British Parliament, and sought to make the presidency more akin to the position of Prime Minister—the first among equal voting members in the legislature.  He believed that approach, called fusion of powers, was more efficient and democratic (“democratic” in those days being the Left’s preferred way to advance progressive ideology and policy, though in practice that meant electing representatives who would farm out their law-making powers to unelected technocrats in the federal bureaucracy).

Regardless, the die was cast, and with the advent of television, the State of the Union Address has become a ponderous, grandiose political event that doesn’t really tell us anything useful about the state of the nation, but just how awesome whoever the current president is.  This time, those boastful claims would be mostly true, but was it worth reopening the government to do it on time?

Boychuck, among others on the Right, were calling for the President to end the modern, monarchical spectacle of the State of the Union, returning it to Jeffersonian simplicity.  As much as I don’t want to deny the president his moment in the sun, that approach seems prudent, and more in accord with the republican nature of our Constitution.

Meetings are (Usually) a Waste of Time

Here’s something a bit lighter for your Friday morning:  Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day series on Ballotpedia from 23 January 2019 claims that, in a 40-hour workweek, Americans spend an average of 11.8 hours of that time in meetings.  That’s over two hours a day, and over 25% of the entire week!

Despite all that time in meetings, Rasmussen writes that “just 54% of workers leave most meetings with a clear idea of what to do next.”  That’s not a ringing endorsement for meetings.

Every fiber of my being is anathema to lengthy, tedious meetings, of any kind.  My time is precious (and valuable—it comes at ~$50/hour for private lessons), and I rarely need someone telling me out loud what could have been sent in an e-mail.  With rare exceptions, I almost always believe that time spent in a meeting could be spent more efficiently working on my own.

Apparently I’m not alone.  From Rasmussen:

The biggest problem workers have with meetings is that many of them are unnecessary. Seventy-six percent (76%) of workers have experienced that frustration. Also high on the list are meetings that don’t stay on topic (59%) and repetition of things that have already been said (58%).

The precise cost of ineffective meetings is impossible to quantify, but estimates range from $70 billion to $283 billion each year.

So not only are meetings ineffective, unnecessary, repetitious, and frequently off-topic, they’re potentially expensive in terms of productivity.

Of course, these numbers coming from a poll, it could be that workers merely perceive meetings to be ineffective and unclear—and they feel it’s okay to admit as such to a pollster—but this data rings true.

There are those who thrive in meetings, either in the roles of leaders or attendees.  Some enjoy preening in front of a group—the busybody types who seek out power, the narcissists who want some fluorescently-accented limelight—and some who like to use meetings as a forum to demonstrate their own cleverness.  For a small few, they need the opportunity to ask questions, either out of a genuine need for additional information, or because they want to virtue-signal to their colleagues.

In recent years, I’ve come to suspect that a large chunk of our workforce consists of people who essentially have meetings and push paper for a living.  With an average of 11.8 hours of meetings per week, this suspicion seems to be gaining concrete support:  that’s an awful lot of time in which to justify your position’s existence.  I imagine public sector bureaucrats at the federal level inflate that number, and not insubstantially (remember that the next time a conservative seeks to cut funding to some government program, and progressives wail—they’re crying about the lost make-work job, not the people who allegedly benefit from the program).  Regardless, just as the bureaucracy expands for the sake of its own self-preservation, it seems that meetings expand to justify their hosts’ jobs.

When dealing with specific technical questions or getting a quote on some expensive piece of equipment or installation, yes, meetings are important and necessary.  Long-term strategy planning requires regular meetings, and a weekly administrative meeting to set goals for the week and to review what’s coming up on the calendar is a prudent idea.  But rambling, two-hour meetings stretch to the point of ineffectiveness—no one can focus, people need to use the bathroom, and the original thread is probably long-since lost down a rabbit hole of objections and side topics.

So, here are my practical guidelines for effective meetings:

  • No more than one hour for infrequent or monthly meetings, but ideally, thirty minutes in length, tops.
  • Have a clear-cut agenda with maybe two or three items; don’t have ten agenda items that you know you won’t be able to cover adequately
  • Be willing to table important items that are not time-sensitive, with a plan to revisit them later.
  • Explain as much as possible via e-mail in advance.  In my experience, if you send a good e-mail in advance, you can wrap up a meeting in fifteen minutes—you’re mainly meeting at that point to confirm that everyone knows what’s going on, and to address any lingering questions and to clarify certain points.

I generally follow these guidelines when I’m required to hold a department meeting, and they make for smooth, quick, efficient meetings.

As a rather solitary worker, I tend to forget that some people want or need more direction—my whole career I’ve just figured stuff out as it’s come up—so I understand the necessary evil of meetings.  That said, I also value other people’s time.

So, the next time you schedule a meeting, make it quick.  People have real work to do.

TBT: Rustics Have Opinions, Too

I first launched The Portly Politico on Blogger back in 2009.  It was a different world back then, and I was a different conservative.  I was probably still deep in my Randian-libertarian economic conservative phase:  I sincerely believed neoliberal economics and mostly unbridled capitalism could solve almost all of the world’s problems, which meant I was fundamentally progressive in my outlook, “progressive” in the sense of taking a Whiggish view of human history—yes, some things are bad now, but they’ll inexorably get better as we expand free trade and free movement of peoples across borders.  Heck, I even thought that, as a Christian nation, America should take in illegal immigrants!

Such are the follies of youth.  Intervening years of lived experience—not to mention the increasingly overt radicalism of the Left—have convinced me that, as wonderful as free markets are, we’ve tended to sacrifice real lives and communities in exchange for cheap plastic junk.  I’ve also considerably altered my views on immigration; at this point, I think America needs 150 milligrams of Deportemal (and a healthy dose of limiting legal immigration, too).

One thing that hasn’t changed:  I still identify with the struggles and values of rural America.  In this 2009 post, I pointed out the growing contempt for rural Americans that the Democratic Party now openly embraces.  I think I was overly-generous to the author of the piece discussed herein, however; upon re-reading Kevin Baker’s essay “Barack Hoover Obama,” I’m chilled by how openly he argues for the usurpation of usual constitutional order and division of powers in order to push for “change.”  I apparently missed it completely ten years ago, much to my current chagrin.

Back then, I remember conservatives having some mild optimism that President Obama would govern as a pragmatic moderate—left-of-center, to be sure, but reasonable.  Then he forced through the Affordable Care Act on a purely partisan basis, alienating Republicans and contributing to the deep ideological divide in America today.  His administration doubled down on identity politics, reopening mostly-healed racial wounds.  Much of the cultural chaos we suffer today is the result of the twin evils of Senator Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration bill and President Obama’s politics of racial grievance.

So, that’s my apology for my naivety as a young, portly man.  That said, here is 2009’s “Rustics Have Opinions, Too“:

I’ve noticed something about the American Left, specifically those members who claim to be “cultured”: they share a distrust and even hatred for rural Americans. They constantly mock the values, feelings, and politics of this oft-derided constituency, framing them as stereotypical “rednecks” or “good ol’ boys” who spend most of their time polishing their guns drunk while watching NASCAR.

Let’s face it: stereotypes exist for a reason. Think of any offensive stereotype and there’s a kernel of truth to it. But that doesn’t mean we should go around judging people based on those stereotypes. Liberals are making that point all the time, and in this case they’re actually right. As usual, though, they fall back into their old, hypocritical ways when it comes to rural Americans. It’s “hate speech” if someone insinuates that an Asian is good at math, but it’s perfectly acceptable to laugh at someone who’s only skin pigmentation is on the back of his neck.

I’m not saying that having a sense of humor is wrong. Maybe white guys really aren’t as cool as black dudes when they drive. Dave Chappelle had tons of great material and Boondocks deals with race relations in the United States today better than any other show out there. I want to make it clear that I have nothing against humor. By laughing at stereotypes, we rob them of their power, rather than adding to it.

The same holds true for “rednecks” or “white trash” or whatever label one uses. If it weren’t, Jeff Foxworthy would be out of a job. The problem arises, however, when we start to marginalize those Americans because of the stereotypes that exist. Such marginalization of African Americans, for example, would be roundly denounced by the left, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, liberals often celebrate when such marginalization is applied to the rural white American.

In an otherwise excellent article in Harper’s Magazine entitled “Barak Hoover Obama: The Best and the Brightest Blow it Again,” Kevin Baker indulges in this marginalization to a sickening extent [Note–at the time of this writing, the full text of the article is only available to Harper’s subscribers]. The bulk of the article draws historical parallels between Presidents Herbert Hoover and Barack Obama. Baker’s research is impeccable and his understanding of an oft-maligned (and extremely intelligent) former president is refreshing. He implicitly challenges the more common “Obama-is-to-Roosevelt-as-Bush-is-to-Hoover” analogy and draws some pessimistic conclusions about Obama’s approach to passing many of his long-promised, radically liberal reforms.

A large part of Baker’s argument is that President Obama is proceeding with excessive caution and is relying too heavily on Congress to enact the changes he seeks for the nation (naturally, many conservatives would argue that the opposite is true, but suffice it to say that Baker is approaching Obama’s proposed reforms from the point of view of a liberal supporter–he actually thinks that cap-and-trade is a good thing). Baker maintains that congressional Democrats from states with small populations like Montana are stepping up after years of quiet service to challenge many of Obama’s efforts.

The language Baker uses to describe these representatives and senators is thick with disrespect. He talks about their states as filled with tumbleweeds and ignorance. He implicitly challenges the notion that these congressmen–and by extension their constituents–have no place in contemporary American politics and that they should be brushed aside and ignored, all because they’re impeding Ossiah’s democratic-socialist vision. This viewpoint is shared implicitly and explicitly by most liberals and leftists. The thinking is that because these states have small populations–and don’t have a good place to get sushi or gourmet coffee–they don’t deserve to have a place in the American political system (not to mention the fact that Baker is encouraging Obama to squelch dissent and open discussion, supposed bedrocks of modern liberalism).

What’s most disturbing about this reasoning is that it is anathema to the very structural philosophy of the United States Constitution. The Constitution clearly sets out to create a structure that gives states with large populations more power in the House of Representatives, while allowing states with small populations to maintain an equal footing in the Senate. The same theory exists behind the Electoral College. If our system was not balanced in this way, New York and California would always pick the next president and would exert a dangerous amount of control over national politics (with only conservative Texas able to balance things out a bit). Regional interests do not necessarily coincide with national interests, and what’s good for New York may not be good, and may even be bad, for Iowa.

Yet liberals consistently ignore this inconvenient truth and view it as a stumbling block to their pet projects, whatever they might be. At the risk of sounding like a blowhard conservative talk show host, leftists in America today have no respect for the Constitution except when it is politically advantageous or convenient. Now, I am willing to admit that there are plenty of conservatives who probably treat the Constitution in the same way, but they are much, much harder to find. This disrespect cannot endure for long, regardless of the side.

Therefore, I applaud what these rural Democrats are doing. Maybe they are dusty old relics of the party, but that’s for the Democrats to sort out themselves, and that should not invalidate what these men have to say. Maybe most of them are blowhards and are simply seizing their moment to be in the spotlight or to play to their base, but some of them have useful objections and suggestions. I don’t want to give liberals any additional aid, but it seems to me that they could use all the help they can get in the more rural parts of the country. Taking the interests of rural Democrats more seriously would be a great start.

Kevin Baker and his ilk live in a world of trendy green advertising and mocha lattes. They have no respect for hard working rural Americans–oh, heck, we’ll call them “rednecks”–who help make this country into the wonderful tapestry of ideas and cultures it is today.

Besides, who wants to watch Jeff Gordon race in a Prius?

The Left’s Cluelessness on Gun Control

As a rule, I don’t write about guns, gun control, or shootings, mainly because I have nothing to add, and because there doesn’t seem to be much to discuss:  either you support gun rights, or you don’t (in other words, you either read the Constitution literally, or you simply want to reinterpret it to fit your ideology more conveniently).

My basic take on the issue is as follows:  the personal right to bear arms is constitutionally safeguarded in the Second Amendment.  That right is necessary for two reasons:  to protect personal property, yourself, and your family; and to protect against an overly oppressive government.  To be clear, I’m not advocating any kind of violent overthrow of or resistance to the government; rather, I’m arguing that the Second Amendment is our last resort against a government that becomes so hostile to our rights, we have no other recourse but to fight it (see also:  the American Revolution).  I do not think we have reached that point, as we still have ample constitutional means to correct and reform the government.

As for shootings, I believe it’s a spiritual and mental issue, not a gun issue.  Godlessness seems to be the real root issue of many of our social maladies, coupled with a nihilism whose logical conclusion is “if everything is meaningless, then I can do whatever I want,” and “if everything is meaningless, then life is worthless.”  Connect the dots, and it’s no surprise we have nihilistic suicides and mass murders.  Add in the grotesque, macabre fame such acts bring in an age of social media, and the sick motivations for violence are further heightened.

Regardless, I couldn’t help notice this piece from Pacific Standard, a far Left rag known (to the extent it is) for its radicalism and overly-earnest headlines.  I get PS‘s daily e-mail of stories, and occasionally read its pieces to see what the other side is thinking (occasionally, they’re actually interesting).

I’ve been sitting on this one for awhile, but here is the context for the piece:  it was written shortly after the shooting last November in California.  Heads collectively exploded when word got out that progressive utopia California, with its robust gun control laws, was the site of a tragic mass shooting.  Without cheapening the deaths of those unfortunate, innocent souls, the question that came to my mind was, “If gun control is so effective, then how could this happen in California?”

Of course, it’s a straw man question:  gun control isn’t effective.  Indeed, arming responsible, law-abiding people is far preferable to disarming them (and, in effect, arming the bad guys, who will break the new gun control laws).  What struck me, then, was the head-exploding of the true believers on the Left.  The subtitle of this piece says it all:  “A quick look at the regulations and numbers doesn’t necessarily suggest the state’s laws are useless.”

In short, pro-gun control Leftists scrambled to explain away this shooting.  For the Left, shootings are never about man’s fallen nature and capacity for sin (unless that man is a white police officer and the person shot is some kind of favored minority), but instead a technocratic problem to be solved with increasing government control—enforced, ironically, with guns.