"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Rise Of Authoritarianism And The Decline Of Liberal Democracy

Despite jealous crowing by the American political establishment over China’s lack of respect for civil rights, most critics have to admire how the country has raised hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty, become a wealthy financier nation, built strong economic and political partnerships in Africa, and is quickly becoming a leader in technology.


Chinese authorities have paid no attention to the carping from the United States, dismissing it as sour grapes from a country envious of China’s rapid growth, international influence, and ability to effectively neutralize those separatist movements which threaten national integrity.  Only with a stable, disciplined, Confucian, and orderly populace, Chinese leaders say, can the country continue its impressive economic and political success and regain the greatness of its former dynastic empires.

Russia is another target for American politicians who hammer Vladimir Putin for everything from imperialist hegemonic ambitions to homophobia.  Yet most other observers have to admire the way the Russian President has acted with impunity in Ukraine and the Crimea, engaged the Syrian regime as an ally against radical Islamic extremism, flexed its renewed military muscle with no fear of the United States, and used its vast energy reserves as a political tool if not weapon. 


Putin has approval ratings that any Western politician can only dream of.  He has understood the resentment of the Russian people for the humiliation by the West after the fall of the Soviet Union, the arrogance of NATO pushing its borders farther and farther east in a direct challenge to a still-weak Russia, and a nostalgia for the greatness of Imperial Russia and yes, the Soviet Empire. 

Authoritarianism is no vice, he implies, when it is employed to united a nation in a common cause.
Religious authoritarianism is quickly replacing both secular autocratic rule and the last vestiges of liberal democracy in the Middle East.  Although many in the region are dismayed by ISIS’ brutal tactics, still more applaud its commitment to the expansion of  Muslim influence and the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. 

In such a Caliphate Islam would provide the moral foundation, the system of law, the social code, and the rules of governance.  Secular authority is meaningless, say Muslim fundamentalists, compared to the supreme authority of God.   Submission and surrender to Allah is one of the principles of Islam and the origin of its name; so an authoritarian theocracy in which the rule of God rules above all is not shocking or even surprising.

Right wing parties are ascendant in Europe largely because of the waves of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Africa.  European countries unused to the assimilative nature of countries like the United States and Great Britain feel a multi-faceted threat – foreigners, people of color, Arabic-speaking, and non-Christian.  They might be able to deal with new immigrants if only one of these factors existed, but all of them?  For all the initial outpouring of generosity and mercy, a strong backlash against refugees is occurring and with it the rise of conservative, nationalist parties who promise a return to civil order, civic harmony, and traditional Christian values.   Their policies would be authoritarian and decisive.

France which has long championed laïcité and the principle that ‘We are all French’, and that ethnic, religious, or racial distinctions will never be recognized or even acknowledged because championing such distinctions will only lead to the erosion of secular harmony.

However, after the riots in the northern suburbs ten years ago and especially after the terrorist attacks in Paris within the last year, France has moved from its racial and ethnic ‘neutrality’ and realized that it must identify, name, and challenge the enemy even if it means abandoning old and cherished principles of secularism.  The Rightist parties of France have never been stronger, and their leaders promise authority, discipline, a return to absolute secularism, and civil order.

Brazil is the latest country to wish for a return to a more strict authoritarian rule.  Despite the brutality of the military during its reign from 1964-85, many Brazilians look back to that era with nostalgia.  Current-day Brazil seems without governance with charges of corruption reaching from the top to the bottom of public authority.  Disparities in wealth and social privilege are extreme.  The favelas are breeding grounds for violent crime, and paramilitary extra-judicial raids are routine.  Although the country prides itself on racial integration and points to the palette of skin colors in Brazil, it is still racially segregated and exclusionary.  It is no wonder that Brazilians want a return to a simpler, more civil age.


Jair Bolsonaro, a conservative member of Brazil’s National Congress has explained this nostalgia:
Authoritarian nostalgia now seems to be a trend. Mr. Bolsonaro says that what Brazilian people miss most are the moral values of the military: “There was decency and respect for the family. Things today are disgraceful,” he said in an interview with a news website… (Vanessa Barbara, NYT 5.2.16)
The United States, despite its long history of the peaceful integration and easy social elision of foreigners from Europe, Africa, and Asia, and its fifty year history of undoing the wrongs of slavery, shows signs of futility, exasperation, and frustration with the extreme divisiveness in the country today.  Everyone has a gripe, many people say, and rather than find ways to join the mainstream quietly and purposefully as generations of Americans have done before them, minority groups of all kinds want separatism and recompense for their perceived oppression.

The political Left has been complicit if not directly responsible for this civil chaos.  In arguing for ‘diversity’ and ‘celebrating’ ethnic, sexual, and racial identity above, beyond, and distinct from ‘American’, they have encouraged the aggressive airing of grievances.  Racism, misogyny, homophobia, and ethnic bigotry are such serious offenses that there is no room for compromise nor any opening for negotiated settlement.   This political Left is also responsible for the political correctness which is prevalent everywhere.  Not only do minority groups have special rights, but no member of the majority should ever question their legitimacy.

It is no wonder, therefore, that during this presidential election (2016) that Donald Trump has won over tens of millions of Republican voters.  He is brazenly outspoken and refuses to capitulate to progressive criticism and demands.  It is time to take the gloves off, raise the curtain on the real drama, dispel the cant and ceremonious sanctimony of the Left and return America to a more stable, culturally homogeneous country.


A Trump presidency would indeed be authoritarian within the limits of a constitutional democracy.  He would be absolute and unequivocal in his desire to restore respect for the majority, return to equal opportunity and reject entitlement; shake the foundations of the now arrogantly ex cathedra Supreme Court and help to restore an electoral democracy; acknowledge the principle, premier role that religion continues to play in America and refuse to give in to secularism; and draw convincing lines in the sand in foreign affairs and never vacillate or compromise when it comes to American interests.

At this point (May 2016) it is difficult to predict the outcome of the election; and impossible to know how committed Americans are to turning back the progressive tide.  Given the revolutionary nature of Trump’s policies (even more revolutionary than Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan), it may be that those who have shouted hurrahs at his campaign rallies and voted for him in the primaries may get cold feet in November and opt for the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton.  On the other hand, the resentment expressed by Trump and his supporters may be almost as angrily felt by Democrats who feel they have hewed for far too long to a faded liberal dream.


In any case liberal democracy is being challenged from all quarters.  Few people believe that it is the political system for all or, as Churchill stated, “The worst political system in the world….except for all others”.  It is wrong to view liberal democracy as permanent, universal, and God-given.  It is, like everything else, only a temporary blip in world history.

American exceptionalism is dead; and American national myths are showing their age.  The world is changing and changing fast, and it seems that only America doesn’t get it.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Supreme Court–Denying The Electoral Process And The Will Of The People

The Supreme Court, perhaps the most important pillar in the three-cornered American judicial system, is the last resort for disputes that have originated in the lower courts or as often in the electoral process.  The Court is often asked to rule on the legitimacy of state laws many of which have been brought to the floor by referendum.  States which have passed laws on gun control, abortion, marriage rights, and other contentious issues are often challenged by interest groups who doubt their constitutionality.  The Court’s ruling is final, and although its judgments can be overturned by later Courts, neither state legislatures nor popular referenda can reverse any Court decision.


The main purpose of the Court is to adjudicate above and beyond popular opinion.  Certain rights, if codified in the Constitution, cannot be abrogated, no matter how strong the popular support to do so.   Many Supreme Court decisions have been challenged, however, and observers and critics have faulted the Court for imagining rights that never existed.

Dred Scott v. Sanford and Plessy v. Ferguson both ruled in favor of the white majority.  In the first case, the Court ruled that blacks whether slave or free had no rights or equal protection under the law.  Plessy confirmed the concept of ‘separate but equal’, thus supporting segregationists arguments.  Korematsu v. US  legitimized Japanese internment.

From today’s perspective these decisions were flawed and were overturned by subsequent rulings which established the principle of racial equality.

In more recent years, the Court in Roe v Wade ruled to legalize abortion despite the vocal opposition of many who said that there was no right to abortion to be found in the Constitution, and that in its use of the Right to Privacy argument, the Court perverted the judicial process because of its own political agenda. 

The Court has recently ruled on the right of gay marriage; but as in the case of Roe many conservative observers have commented that this too is an abrogation of the rights of the electorate.  Both abortion and gay marriage are highly divisive and contentious issues, both with legal, religious, civil, and philosophical implications; and why should nine Justices rule on them by judicial fiat?
The Court is political, they say, a fact obvious to anyone following how closely Court decisions follow partisan party lines.  Those Justices nominated by conservative Presidents and confirmed by conservative legislators will invariably hew to conservative principles.  Liberal members of the Court will similarly follow their own political philosophies.

If the Court’s decisions so clearly reflect the political zeitgeist of the era; if Justices, owing their tenure to the political process, vote along party lines; and if the Constitution is like the Bible or any other sacred text, always open to interpretation; then why should the Supreme Court have such final authority, trumping the other two branches of Government.

Justice Robert Jackson, speaking for the majority in Minersville Board of Education v Gobitis said the following:
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
In other words there are certain rights which are indeed inalienable and they can be found in the Constitution.  The Supreme Court’s task is to find them, and when they do, it is right that their ruling should stand in perpetuity.  The majority does not always rule nor should it.

The two points of view are in direct opposition.  One regards the Supreme Court with the same respect Catholics give the Pope who, after reviewing all sides of a case regarding faith and morals makes an ex cathedra decision – i.e. one which has been sanctioned by God himself.  The Supreme Court justices, once on the bench, are endowed with a special power to interpret the Constitution and rule according to what they find. Their judgment, like the Pope’s is final.


The other point of view says that the Justices are simply men and women who because they have found favor with Presidents and configure their testimony to please Congressional inquisitors, judge through the lens of political philosophy.  They are no different than any other citizen; and without the cloak of judicial legitimacy and technical training, their instincts are no different.  Why should they abrogate the electoral process?

Those who believe that the Supreme Court must uphold the fundamental, God-given rights enshrined in the Constitution and supersede the will of the majority miss an important issue.   The way Justice Jackson phrased the argument, not only is there an anointed right of the Court to adjudicate cases which come before them, but there is a suspicion of the inherent – and equally God-given right – ability of the majority to vote responsibly.

Jefferson and Hamilton fought for years over this point.  Jefferson believed that the will of the people would always be fundamentally right; and that even though many in the minority might disagree with electoral decisions, the rightness of majority decisions should be respected and accepted.


Hamilton disagreed and felt that not only was there an inherent right in the majority, the masses could never be trusted to make right, just, and appropriate decisions; and that government must have a buffer between their views and the final disposition of the law.  He argued for a powerful legal body which would be comprised of men who thanks to their intelligence, breeding, background, and proven moral principle would act in the best interest of the people regardless of or even despite their will.

Hamilton was forced to compromise, and the Senate is the result.

Hamilton’s idea was similar to the raison d’etre of the Supreme Court, but his appointed ‘House of Lords’ would, unlike the Court, would be assailable and decisions subject to revisions and popular appeal. 

What Jackson missed but Hamilton surmised was that the majority was not arbitrarily formed or configured in a way to always suppress the minority.  There is nothing dangerous about majorities per se because although they may dominate for a time,  they are always subject to the pressures of former minorities which take their place.  There is, therefore, no reason for the Supreme Court to protect the rights of minorities because they will always have the ability to regroup, strengthen, and challenge the majority.

But are there such things as inalienable, God-given rights?  Wasn’t that conviction only based on the historical context of the time of the Founding Fathers?  The Enlightenment focused on rationality and civil rights but within a religious context.  Rationality was to be applied in the search for God and religious and philosophical truth.

                  John Locke www.constitution.org

Certainly today, as American-style liberal democracy is falling on hard times, with many who dismiss it as antiquarian.  ISIS and its radical Islamic followers believe that individual rights, popular representation, freedom of expression, and other freedoms mean nothing when considered within the context of religious salvation.

Authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin and the Communist Politburo of China similarly dismiss the idea of the absolute nature of civil rights.  China believes that economic and social progress for the masses can only be achieved through homogeneity and an intolerance for diversity.  ‘Discrimination’ against Uighurs or Tibetans means only insisting that they drop their separatist claims and join China fully and unequivocally.

Wh0 is to say that a Japanese-style internment or mass deportation of Muslims could never occur?  How can anyone predict the future state of an already dangerous and chaotic world?  It is not unconscionable to imagine a purposeful, political ‘discrimination’ which would defy current thinking about inclusion and diversity.

No matter how much may believe in the Rights of Man in principle, when push comes to shove more prosaic issues will always upset the philosophical applecart just as they have in the past.


The point is not that history is not cyclical or repetitious; or that the ebb and flow of societies’ values will always wash up ideas that are accepted, then rejected ad perpetuam, but that given such circularity and moral relativity, then the most number of people should always have a say, not a few select, biased members of the Supreme Court.

A government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ can only be assured if the electoral process is not impeded on the basis of supposition and ex cathedra authority.   Laws passed by the people (and under federalism, the states) should always prevail with the understanding that under our democratic electoral process, they can always be changed once majorities cease to be and others take their place.

Big data offers and excellent example of 21st century democracy.  Many have argued that individual states rights have little meaning in an electronically-mediated political world; and that national referenda would be more responsible and representative of the people.  In other words, the model for true democratic representation has been demonstrated, and it is time to reassess the very foundation of our government.  What is the purpose of a so-called ‘representative House of Representatives? Or the Hamilton-inspired Upper House or Senate?  Or the Supreme Court.

Whatever the outcome of these structural reviews (and change is not likely for decades), a reconfiguration is urgent.  No more ex cathedra decisions from the Supreme Court and a return to popular democracy to determine the current relative moral values of the country.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Recipes–Spicy Noodles With Basil And Peanut Sauce

This recipe is a combination of classic Szechuan spicy noodles and Thai peanut-based sauce.  It is delicious and very simple to make.  The combination of fresh basil, peanuts, and traditional soy-sesame-vinegar is perfectly balanced.


Spicy  Noodles with Basil and Peanut Sauce
* 1/2 lb. spaghetti, cooked, cooled, and reserved
* 3-4 Tbsp. chunky peanut butter
* 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
* 1 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
* 1 tsp. sesame oil
* 5 shakes hot pepper flakes
* 1/2 lg. onion, chopped
* 1 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly chopped
* 1 Tbsp. olive oil
* 1/2 cup water
* 10 grindings fresh black pepper
- Cook the spaghetti and allow to cool thoroughly

- In a large mixing bowl, combine the other ingredients, and mix well

- Taste and adjust for spices; add water if necessary

- Place the cooled pasta in the bowl and mix well.

- Add grindings of pepper and serve