Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Senator Manchin Helps to Sink Obama Department of Justice Appointee

Joe Manchin and six other Senate Democrats voted this week to reject Obama's appointment to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.  They, along with every Republican, slammed to door on Debo Adegbile's bid for the office.

Adegbile supported the release of convicted police officer murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal.  As the National Review notes, Abu-Jamal was found guilty of murdering a Philadelphia police officer.  Adegbile, apart from his activism, has worked for the NAACP and currently serves as counsel for Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.

Bob Casey (D) Pa explained his vote, saying that support for Abu-Jamal was important.  He described the pain still felt by the officer's family and the city of Philadelphia.

The Civil Rights Division is supposed to "uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans."  Whoever oversees the division has some latitude to interpret and decide who to go after and why.  The character of that man or woman is vital to ensuring that civil rights cases do not devolve into witch hunts.

In a larger sense, this illustrates an important split in the Democratic Party.  Traditional liberals and moderates rejected a left wing appointee of a left wing president.  Only two of these Democrats face voters this year.  Manchin's electorate would not decide his fate based on this vote alone.

This also sets up a subtext to the 2016 presidential election.  Will a moderate run on the Democratic side?  The appearance of one not connected to the Obama Administration could make for a lively race and produce headaches for Republicans.

Putin, Ukraine, and an Abysmal Failure of US Foreign Policy

It did not have to be this way.

Today, Vladimir Putin's forces hold the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, part of the sovereign nation of Ukraine.  Barack Obama looks weaker than ever, his presidency's previous shambles even look good by comparison.  Pundits decry the loss of US influence.  The stark truth is that there is little that the United States can do to alter the situation.

But why?

First, Putin actually has defensible reasons to enter Ukraine.  This is not to say that he could not have achieved better results with a less dramatic move.  But a border country approaching chaos gives Russia a powerful excuse to protect Russian ethnics and Russian facilities there.  What if Mexico devolved even more into violence and instability?  At some point in the near future, US forces may have to occupy parts of that country to bring stability and protect Americans living there.  Before criticizing others, a nation must consider what it would have to do in a similar situation.

The West failed in Ukraine because the United States abdicated its role, dating back to the Treaty of Versailles, to bolster free societies and free markets around the globe.  US policy has, at times used the Franklin Roosevelt philosophy of "he's a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch" in backing friendly authoritarian regimes.  But the overall goal has always been transition into free societies with economic opportunity.

That does not happen by dumping money or bombs on a nation.  It comes from a consistently articulated vision by the US foreign policy establishment that natural rights, free markets, rule of law are essential to human happiness and world peace.  Praising democratic friends, such as Britain and Israel, helps to broaden the "city on the hill" ideal articulated by Democratic and Republican presidents alike in different ways.

The vision does not just come from talking about freedom.  Diplomatic, other government, and private groups must engage fragile societies to help educate and develop faith in the essential aspects of freedom and prosperity.  Internationalize the values that Americans and others take for granted.

Instead, Obama tore apart the fabric.  He blamed the United States for the trouble in the world, never realizing that wise use of American power and influence more often puts us in the referee role.  We are keeping more conflicts apart than anyone realizes.  Until the influence and respect dissipates and the world runs riot.

We are not the world's policeman, nor should we be.  But constant engagement of rhetoric, policy, and economic influence has helped to keep the world at peace.  Obama could not see the overall benefit of US power, only the rare times that it has not turned out right.  He tore it down and now instability hits one country after another.

Power seeks a vacuum,  Obama created one.  Putin and China have been happy to step in.

And so you get what we had here last week.  Which is the way he wants it.

As for Putin, he is more Bismarck than Stalin.  He's willing to bend his own region to his economic and security goals, use social issues to rally his supporters and alienate his political opponents.  Russia's sudden worry about gays smacks of Bismarck's kulturkampf against political Catholics.  But Bismarck did not want to completely revise the international system, just strengthen Germany's position within it.  The Russian Czars acted in the same way.  Russia traditionally seeks security on its borderlands and will aggressively move to ensure it.

Had the United States remained engaged in Ukraine and kept its near century old commitment to supporting freedom, that country may have solved its own problems.  It may have remained solid enough to deter Russian fears or thoughts of aggrandizement.

China is more worrisome for a number of reasons.  As is Iran.  Both countries have more revisionist fantasies.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why Do We Have Failure to Communicate?

Communication is a necessity for every successful group.  Most fail to do it well and reach almost no one.  And that is not the way anyone wants it.

Bad communication comes from barriers established by gibberish, which is unintelligible speech or writing.  Most gibberish comes from either the least articulate or the most highly capable.  People in between tend to actually get their points across pretty well.

Young people often communicate very poorly, more from the lack of experience than intelligence.  Generally they don't give much thought to language style or word use.  As a result, young people experiment and play with word use and definitions, creating slang.  Some of these elevate into general use, like the word "cool."  "Cool" entered slang decades ago, meaning a calm person, a good situation, and other things.  It passed into political diction with "Keep Cool With Coolidge."

Words and phrases that don't make the cut fall quickly into dated disuse, a funny reminder of the place and time used.  Where did "23 skiddoo" come from?  Who knows?  But it was slang for almost two decades.

Those trying to communicate with young people often make the mistake of trying to communicate in this invented lingo.  They think it establishes rapport, but it really makes the listeners feel uncomfortable.  Most likely, the awkwardness stems from the fact that most slang is just plain silly and comes from young people's inability to really use language precisely. The silliness is reflected in the surrealism of an older person speaking or writing in this way.

Invention of slang and playing with language is an effective collective stage for each generation, especially with the sharp decline of English language education.  If any individual of any age wants to learn to communicate well, unless they went to a select few schools, they have to teach themselves.  And innovation is not bad.  At its best, slang keeps the language dynamic and relevant.  But most slang is ridiculous.

Young people want messages related in the same way as anyone else, clearly and without fuss.  Speaking to them in their own way smacks of condescension.

Other gibberish spewers deserve blame because they should know better.  In this category fall business people, academics, and public policy wonks.  Lawyers get a pass when they are trying to anticipate all legal variables which, honestly, is an almost impossible job.  Lawyers are using necessary tools, not producing gibberish.

The rest of this crowd sets up barriers that do not need to be there, and they know better.  Most understand that they can communicate more simply.  They train themselves to speak gibberish just like a young person has to train themselves to like cigarettes. One has to overcome the initial revulsion of doing something unnatural until it becomes a comfortable, addicting habit.

But why? Likely because of an inferiority complex initially.  One wants to sound "professional," be accepted as a peer.  To moo using the same notes as the rest of the herd.  To be a good cow.

This makes no sense in business.  Certainly, each individual seeks acceptance as a professional and endeavors to reduce the gap between their actual employment position and their perceived professional goals (see how that works?  Dreadful!)  But the great corporate founders did not and do not speak that way.  Tom Watson, Andrew Carnegie, Sam Walton never spoke like that.  Bill Gates, one of the most brilliant minds in business, does not speak in gibberish.  They use simple terms.  They want to get their message across.  Why business professionals don't emulate their models remains a great mystery.

Academics deserve no sympathy.  Their entire job is communication and they purposefully erect gibberish walls to keep us commoners out, then blame us for not comprehending their point.  The walls insulate their intellects, protecting them and their ideas from the vulgar Aristotlean world.  Which is why their thoughts are often not practical and make no sense.  They not so secretly hate accomplished writers like David McCullough whose writing has influenced generations.  How?  Instead of acres of pointless, dry, thick wordage he tells stories and produces beautiful prose.

Breaking the gibberish habit is simple.  First, read George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language."  Some of it does reflect linguistic nationalism, but the rest offers good advice.  Use simpler words when possible.  Follow the rules, but don't be afraid to break them if they lead you to writing something "barbarous."

Also, remove 10 percent of the total word count as part of the first edit.  It forces the writer to simplify gibberish and communicate in the same way as normal humans.

The vast middle ground actually communicates well.  For most people, simple and honest communication is a necessity.  The barriers of bad language would keep them from accomplishing anything in their normal lives.  The young and the professional world often condemn simple communicators as Philistines, but they could learn a lot from us.