Monthly Archives: July 2015

Disassembling America

Over the past several years, events which challenge the continued existence of the United States in its current format have occurred:

  • A push has commenced to tear down  the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., and, indeed, to rename the city itself. The Connecticut Democrat Party  has renamed its annual dinner to remove the names of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.
  • A self-consciously “hip” publication recently proclaimed that the American Revolution was a mistake.
  • There are calls for legislation which, in essence, would allow almost unchecked illegal immigration  on the U.S. southern border.
  • The President has sent a vital international deal to the U.N. before submitting   it to Congress for approval, contrary to Constitutional mandates.
  • One of the most commonly used textbooks in U.S. schools is one written by an individual who is sharply critical of America.
  • There is a continual push to emphasize ethnic and racial identity at the expense of a larger, shared American identity. The historian Arthur Schlessinger Jr., in his 2006 book “The Disuniting of America,”  called attention to the jeopardy caused by those who advocate racial and ethnic identification over a shared American identity.
  • A small, radicalized group within the U.S., including some illegal aliens, openly advocate “La Reconquista,” a transfer of several American states to Mexico.
  • Justice Elena Kagan, during her confirmation hearings before the United States Senate, refused to acknowledge that Americans have “inalienable” rights.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in an address in Africa, stated that if she were drafting a constitution for a new nation, she would not use the American Constitution as a model.

These actions, although not necessarily centrally connected, did not occur in a vacuum. They are part of a radical concept that views the establishment of the American Republic with its guaranteed rights to citizens as a historic mistake, which should be rectified by “fundamentally changing” the nature of the United States.

There has always been a comparatively small element that has been uncomfortable with a nation based on limited government, personal rights and capitalist economics. What has changed in the past several decades is the ascension of that group to leading positions in the judiciary, the media and academia. With the 2008 election of a president who openly advocates a “fundamental change” of the American nation, this movement has become far more powerful.

The wrongs cited by these critics are events that have, for the most part, already been corrected, and are hardly unique to the American experience.

The most potent, of course, is that of racial discrimination. There can be no justification for the slavery that was once allowed in the U.S.  But there is not a nation on Earth that has not permitted slavery at some point in its history. Unless one is willing to topple every government on the planet, holding America up to special criticism is frankly nonsense. True, terrible segregation existed for a century after the U.S. paid a horrendous price in a bloody Civil War as a penance for this wrong, but that wrong, too, has ended. Contrary to what racial arsonists insist, there is no official racial bias in America today.  That does not preclude, of course, individuals—even individuals within government—from occasional wrongdoing. But when discovered, justice is brought to bear. No system can ever reach into every heart and remove every evil.

To achieve the goals of those who dislike the American Constitution’s emphasis on personal freedom and limited government, the destruction of the national heritage is a vital step. What better way to do that than to point out the faults of the nation’s founding fathers? By current standards, some of the actions made by those extraordinary individuals were far from perfect. But tearing down monuments to Thomas Jefferson, who authored the greatest step forward in human freedom, is nonsense. Removing the name of George Washington from the capital city, after his heroic leadership, including turning down a crown because of his belief in freedom and the rights of citizens, is equally absurd.

Of course, renaming or removing monuments, dinners, or even cities isn’t sufficient for those who seek to “fundamentally change” the American character. That requires the elimination of the national heritage itself. That is the reasons those who don’t favor the American experience favor replacing the teaching of an objective view of U.S. history with one that emphasizes past wrongs and a multicultural approach.

As noted in a Commentary magazine review of Schlesinger’s “Disuniting” book:

“Our unique admixture of peoples has prompted both native-born and foreign observers to ask: what can hold so variegated a nation together? From the 18th to the 20th century the answer has remained constant: the “American Creed.” As Gunnar Myrdal wrote in 1944, Americans hold in common “the most explicitly expressed system of general ideals” of any country in the West: the ideals of equality and the inalienable rights to freedom, justice, and opportunity. It is adherence to those ideals, not one’s race, original nationality, or ethnicity, that makes one an American.”

Those shared ideals, brilliantly expressed in the Bill of Rights, are a tremendous roadblock to those who believe that government, not the citizenry, is the font of all wisdom and therefore should retain all the power.

There are, once the slogans and symbols are removed, only two true schools of thought on governance: those who believe in personal freedom, and those that believe that individuals are only entitled to what a powerful government deigns to allow. The American Constitution is the most thorough and successful version of the personal freedom side. On the other, whether the central authority is an absolute monarch, a fascist regime, a dictatorship, or a socialist/Communist central government, it’s all about absolute power in the hands of a few.

The existence of a strong, free nation that governs through a Constitution based on individual liberty remains an affront to those who believe in strong central governments. Ignoring that Constitution by replacing Congressional prerogatives with U.N. approvals, and encouraging other steps to diminish or weaken American strength is a key goal of those opposed to the American experience.

What the popularity of Sanders & Trump reveals

The popularity Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have amassed is a significant indicator of the mindset of the American electorate.

The Senator from Vermont and the billionaire from New York have little in common. Sanders is an avowed socialist, Trump espouses conservative views. At the outset of their seemingly quixotic quest for the White House, the pundits gave neither much chance of making a significant splash in the run-up to 2016. Clearly, the chattering classes were wrong. The reasons both have fared well, from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, are not that obscure.

The United States is not doing well, either at home or abroad.

Despite the publicly stated drop in unemployment, listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics “U-3” number as about 5.3%, the more accurate figure, the U-6, is a dismal 10.5%, and the real rate may be far higher still. The labor participation rate is the worst it has been in close to 40 years. In particular, the employment rate of minority communities continues at astronomical levels. This, despite the extraordinary power Democrats have wielded for so long, with solid control of the White House and both houses of Congress for several years, and then the White House and the Senate until the last election cycle. It is not surprising, then, that many have taken a significant interest in one of the only self-proclaimed labor-friendly senators not only not a part of the Democrat leadership, but not even a registered Democrat.

As the financial numbers for the first part of 2015 come perilously close to recessionary levels, the anger felt by many within the party is being directed at the “establishment” Democrats. That’s bad news for candidates like Clinton and Martin O’Malley, good news for Sanders.

GOP rank and file members have their own complaints.

In the less than seven years of the Obama Administration, America has plummeted from its former status as the world’s leading superpower to a far lesser position. In every corner of the planet, including the western hemisphere, Washington’s influence has been sharply reduced. While the media may have decided that, as Francis Fukuyama wrote following the collapse of the Soviet Union that “history came to an end,” the leaders of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and various terrorist entities didn’t agree.  As the U.S. sharply reduced its military prowess, those other nations dramatically increased theirs.

A growing segment of Republican enrollees is becoming increasingly furious about this state of global affairs. America’s decline is seen not as an inevitable turn of events, but the result of truly amateurish policy decisions on the part of the White House. The Obama/Clinton “Reset” with Russia was a disaster, the pacifism towards China’s aggression equally incompetent. The premature withdrawal from Iraq led to ISIS. While the GOP leadership has been sharply critical of all this, they have done little to oppose it. They have been out maneuvered by the White House at every turn, and even with control of both houses of Congress, still are ineffective. Indeed, that leadership appears more interested in quelling the influence of their conservative Tea Party-affiliated fellow Republicans than in countering the President’s extreme left-wing positions.

Interestingly enough, GOP conservatives and left wing Democrats may have several common complaints about Washington’s actions since President Obama first took office. Both are angry at China’s economic policies which have hurt American businesses and workers. Black Americans are angered by the President’s failure to control illegal immigration, which has devastated the job market for inner city black youth; Republicans worry about security, public health, and financial crises generated by the nearly unrestricted flow across the southern border.

A common element among both supporters of socialist Sanders and Republican Trump is the lack of trust in their respective party’s leaders. Both establishments have accomplished little of the promises they made. Neither has been effective in addressing the nation’s needs.

Both party establishments are seen as more interested in maintaining their careers than in doing the people’s business. Increasingly, one hears that there are, indeed, two major political parties in the nation—the incumbents, and everybody else.

There is little chance that either Sanders or Trump will win the nomination. Having an avowed socialist as a presidential standard bearer could finally alienate the many Democrats who have been dismayed at the extreme left-wing tilt of their party. Trump’s checkered career, including his bankruptcies, contributions to Democrats, and harsh comments almost insure his lack of success in November, at a time when Republicans are desperate to retake the Executive Branch.

However, the unexpected popularity of both “outsiders” should be a clear warning to the leadership of both parties.

Honest reporting is needed

Analysts, journalists, and others who write about current affairs are, of course, human. As such, they have, whether willing to admit it or not, both personal beliefs and professional concerns about their careers. Personal beliefs are inevitable, and as long as an effort is made to provide an honest, thorough review of the facts, the reader or audience can be well served, regardless of the conclusions of the writer.

But in the past several years, far more so than ever before in the U.S., the careers of those commentators on the news are dependent on what many in positions of influence in the media, academia, and even government consider “proper” views. Those willing to engage in bluntly honest discussions and ask truly probing questions are ostracized, and their means of progressing and making a living in their chosen professions are profoundly jeopardized.

Across the world, it’s not just paychecks that are involved. In several cases, life itself may be at stake. Writers and illustrators who portray Islamic beliefs in a critical manner are subject to assassination. Russians who criticize Vladimir Putin wind up losing their businesses, their careers, or their freedom. Chinese who expose their government’s failings are subject to imprisonment and torture.

But frighteningly and in ever-increasing degrees, some abuses are not restricted to totalitarian nations or religious extremists. If one is too candid even in the United States, where freedom of speech receives the greatest protection, the consequences can be significant and unpleasant.

It has, by now, been well proven that the left-wing bias of the education establishment is not restricted to looks of disdain in the faculty lounge. Professors, teachers and, indeed, students will suffer real penalties, including not getting tenured, promoted, or properly graded or recommended if they vocally object to the “progressive” orthodoxy.

Citizen groups who object to the leadership of President Obama find themselves subjected to unwanted and unjustified consequences from the Internal Revenue Service.

What are the major unmentionable areas, despite their importance, and in many cases the obvious mistakes, that are off limits for discussion unless one is willing to suffer?  Among the most important:

Man-made global warming: Since its birth, Earth has alternately cooled and heated. Even long before industrialization, warming periods came and went. There is absolutely nothing unusual about our current period. To hide that fact, those pushing the theory, many of whom have made a great deal of money from it, have falsified data, omitted relevant facts, and attacked the numerous experts who have expressed criticism. By the way, there is increasing evidence that global cooling is a real threat for at least the next half-century—not because of human activity, but due to solar cycles. But those who mention these facts are labelled “deniers” and are professionally pushed aside.

Peace through appeasement doesn’t work: The foreign policy of the Obama Administration has been utterly disastrous. The Clinton/Obama “Reset” with Russia had precisely the opposite effect than the Administration sought. Seeing weakness, Moscow returned to its aggressive policies abroad and initiated a massive arms buildup. When the White House failed to counter China’s expansionist acts, Beijing took that as a green light to go even further. The list goes on and on, and the entire problem has been severely aggravated by the severe cuts to the U.S. military as enemies (yes, despite the objections of the diplomatic crowd over at the Obama/Clinton/Kerry State Department, they should be called enemies) dramatically build up their forces. But those who point this out, especially those in uniform, will see their careers come to an abrupt halt.

Socialism just doesn’t work: It’s not just Greece, the former Soviet Union, Venezuela, and other nations that have seen their economies crumble. Just about every country that has been saddled with hard-left economic structures has either collapsed already or is heading in that direction. China’s economic prowess is based on a hybrid, combining quasi-capitalism with a totalitarian government. In the U.S., the increasing expenditures on socialist-type programs are bankrupting both federal and state budgets. As Margaret Thatcher once said, the problem with socialists is that sooner or later they always run out of other people’s money. But point this out, and you will be accused of being unfeeling about the poor. Politicians who seek to end give-away programs suffer severely at the polls.

Black Americans have been betrayed by their current leadership: After suffering centuries of slavery and segregation, it is a heart-rendering tragedy that the heroic legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King has been diminished not by white racists but by profiteering charlatans who pretend to represent the interests of blacks. These scoundrels consistently seek to promote division between the races in order to build their own careers. Mention this, of course, and you will be called a racist, and the consequences of that label are severe.

Islam is not, and never has been, the “religion of peace:” From its very beginnings, Islam has concentrated on invading other nations and forcing conversions at the point of a sword. While Christianity has had dark periods in which abuses occurred, they were just that: dark periods. At its core, Christianity was not a religion that advocated violence. It’s politically incorrect to say this, but that is simply not the case with the Muslim faith. It started, grew, and continues as a belief in which war and oppression are intrinsic to its nature.

Each of these areas is vitally important. Unless they are examined candidly, and without recrimination for honest examinations of objective facts, the challenges they represent will never be overcome.

A Meaningful Election

“America is at a crossroads” is an overblown cliché used in every presidential election.

In 2016, it will actually be true. The coming White House race really will determine whether the United States remains a constitutional republic rooted in the concepts of individual rights at home, and firm opposition to expansionist powers abroad.

For the first time since the establishment of the Constitution, the most basic premises of how America’s government and economic system work will be on the table. Several recent news stories highlight how radical a departure has been made from the standard practices since that June day in 1788 when it became the central document of the young nation.

A defining concept of American governance has been the precise definition of how the Republic works under a separation of powers concept, and a sharp delineation and limitation of the federal governments’ powers, strongly expressed in the Bill of Right’s Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

Two recent facts illustrate how the continuation of that concept is in question. The New York Post  recently reported that the federal government, under President Obama, has engaged in an “unprecedented collection of sensitive data on Americans by race. The government is prying into our most personal information at the most local levels, all for the purpose of ‘racial and economic justice…Unbeknown to most Americans, Obama’s racial bean counters are furiously mining data on their health, home loans, credit cards, places of work, neighborhoods, even how their kids are disciplined in school — all to document ‘inequalities’ between minorities and whites.”

While racial equality is the overall reason given for the federal government’s extraordinary intrusion into the privacy of its citizenry, this dramatic probe into the most private aspects of life gives Washington extraordinary power, the kind sought after by totalitarian governments of every stripe and description. It also begs the question, what, precisely, will federal agencies do with the data? Will it stop at racial issues, or will it seek to regulate every aspect of private life so that the outcome fits into a social planners’ vision? It will certainly have the capacity to do so. If history is any guide, and considering the tenor of several of the President’s would-be successors, racial equality will not be the sole use of this collection.

Economy

The alteration of the United States from a free market economy to one more closely resembling that of socialist nations is also looming on the horizon.

Consider the surprising early campaign success of Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed Socialist. The Boston Globe  notes that “Federal reports made public last week show [Senator Sanders] has raised more than $15 million for his campaign, beating every other presidential candidate from either party save Hillary Rodham Clinton …He has gathered the money from an army of small donors that is larger than that of any other presidential candidate.”

Sanders’ success indicates that the extreme left is no longer merely has just a remote potential to capture the White House.  If it does so, it will certainly build on the hard-left positions implemented by the Obama Administration since 2009.

IMMIGRATION

The very makeup of the American population will also be on the table. Several candidates, following the lead of the White House, appear loath to criticize either the unchecked illegal immigration from Latin America, or the dramatic increase in legal immigration from Muslim nations. These two groups will dramatically alter the results of national votes. The combined effect of both will be felt sooner rather than later, particularly considering the lack of adequate scrutiny of illegal voting practices.

SEPARATION OF POWERS

It remains to be seen which candidates will espouse President Obama’s attempts to diminish the role of Congress. The President has made his disdain for the legislative process clear with his comments that he won’t wait or Congress or to act, and his use of the regulatory (as opposed to the lawmaking) process to achieve his goals. His latest move, sending the Iran nuclear deal to the United Nations before gaining Congressional approval, highlights the issue.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

In many ways, the most dramatic reversals of positions have been in foreign affairs, particularly in the role America has taken since the conclusion of the Second World War.

The President has alienated key allies such as the United Kingdom, Israel, Poland and the Philippines. He has shifted vast funds from defense to social welfare programs. He has provided vast arms concessions to Russia, conceding nuclear superiority to Moscow for the first time in history.

His premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq led to the rise of ISIS, his assisting in the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, his refusal to take firm steps against Boko Haram and his announced departure from Afghanistan all aided the rise in Islamic extremism.

He has taken Cuba off the terror watch list, despite evidence to the contrary, and has not acted to counter growing Russian, Chinese and Iranian influence in Latin America.

AMERICA WILL HAVE TO CHOOSE

Depending on which candidates the parties choose, Americans may face their most meaningful selection since the election of Abraham Lincoln.

ALEC reports on the “State of the States”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has reviewed the 2015 “State of the State” addresses of the fifty U.S. state governors. According to ALEC, tax relief and reform was a common trend.   The following are key excerpts:

“More governors focused on reducing the tax burden of their citizens as a path to growth than those who claimed more taxes and spending would improve their state’s economy. While some governors did support raising taxes and fees, many of these were small increases targeted at addressing a specific expense in the state. It appears most governors have learned the lesson that they are in constant competition with other states for jobs and capital. In order to keep their state economically competitive, they must make tax cuts a continuing priority, while keeping tax increases at a minimum… Generally, states with lower tax burdens, less regulations, and responsible levels of spending outperform other states…

“[T]ax cuts were proposed by more governors in their state-of-the-state addresses this year than those who proposed tax increases. Regarding those states with some combination of both, there was significant variation. Many states called for lowering some taxes, such as income taxes, or property taxes, but then proposed taxes on particular products, most notably gasoline taxes and cigarette taxes. Other governors called for fundamental tax reform, such as Governor Paul LePage in Maine, whose bold plan to eliminate the personal income tax over the coming years also relied on increasing the state’s sales tax, a plan that will be a significant benefit to the state. Another trend was the effort in many states to reduce or eliminate the income tax, and instead rely on other forms of revenue to fund the state budget. Governors Paul LePage in Maine and Sam Brownback in Kansas spoke about the need to lower income taxes and work towards phasing them out entirely. Currently, nine states have no income tax, but these two could join them in the coming years if these governors are able to follow through on their plans…

“[T]he nine states that do not levy a personal income tax experienced a cumulative job growth rate of 9.9 percent from 2003 to 2013 while the nine states with the highest personal income tax rates experienced less than half of that at just 4.3 percent over the same time period. The no income tax states also experienced much better rates of net domestic migration, personal income growth, and gross state product growth than their high tax counterparts. While there was a lot of good news for taxpayers in this year’s state-of-the-state addresses, there were some proposals that would increase taxes and fees. The most common tax hike proposals were calls to raise transportation-related charges, including gas taxes and vehicle fees. These were typically sold as necessary to fund roads and infrastructure. The map below shows which governors proposed raising gas taxes and vehicle fees. While there was a lot of good news for taxpayers in this year’s state-of-the-state addresses, there were some proposals that would increase taxes and fees. The most common tax hike proposals were calls to raise transportation-related charges, including gas taxes and vehicle fees. These were typically sold as necessary to fund roads and infrastructure. In addition to gas taxes, cigarette tax increases were also proposed be a few governors. Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Bill Bentley of Alabama proposed raising cigarette taxes to increase revenue.

“Tax policy wasn’t the only common theme in this year’s state-of-the-state addresses. Several governors spoke about the importance of balancing the state budget. Indiana Governor Mike Pence went as far as to call for a new state constitutional amendment that would require the state to pass a balanced budget every year. Other governors pledged to balance their budgets for the coming year and others discussed the need to constrain budget growth. While 49 states already have some form of balanced budget requirement, it is encouraging to see so many governors take the time to discuss the value of not spending more than the state collects in revenue and avoiding large debt obligations. In order to improve their budget situation, many governors announced new proposals to reduce the cost of government. Several governors called for finding new ways to operate state government more efficiently through consolidating agencies, creating new agencies dedicated to finding cost-saving strategies in government, or even asking the public for their suggestions on how the state government could save money. A few governors called for improved budget transparency by making information about the cost of government more easily available to citizens, a policy that will hopefully lead to a reduction in waste, fraud, and abuse in the coming years. Finally, many governors discussed the need for pension reform. The public pension system is a significant unfunded liability for many states.

The West’s ideological surrender to ISIS

Why does a movement that seeks to murder or enslave all those that oppose it, that treats women like chattel, that permits no personal conscience choices of its own adherents and subjects, and that prides itself on destroying all cultural attributes other than its own limited and warped heritage continue to gain followers, even those from western nations?

ISIS’ ideological success is based less on its own merits and actions than on the intellectual pacifism of its opponents. Leaders of the world’s nations are quick to condemn this ultimate terrorist movement, but shrink from entering into the battle of ideals and morals that is necessary to provide persuadable youth with a more decent alternative.

The actions of the Obama Administration provide a clear example of the west’s unilateral disarmament in the world of cultural values. Even before ISIS’ meteoric rise, or perhaps as one factor causing it, the President’s bizarre apologies for nonexistent offenses to the Muslim world, as well as his failure to promote American intellectual values such as individual rights and the rejection of totalitarian rule, have stripped from the marketplace of ideas the most potent alternatives to the witches’ brew ISIS offers. It was the firm advocacy of western values, backed by a staunch and armed resolve that helped topple the Soviet Empire. No such confrontation of concepts has yet been launched against Islamic extremists. There has been no “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall” moment in the fight against ISIS.

There has been no significant rebuttal of radical Islam’s nonsensical mantra that it has been the victim of western oppression, particularly the period of the Crusades. Islamic aggression towards, and invasion of, the West   predates the crusades, starting in 630 A.D. The first crusade didn’t even occur until 1096. Muslim acts of brutality and oppression against Christians and Jews took place practically from the very birth of the Islamic faith.

A look at relations between the Muslim world and the United States in particular is instructive. Before America had any involvement, other than trade, beyond its borders, the Islamic governments in Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers and Morocco assaulted  unarmed Yankee ships, stealing cargo and the vessels themselves, and enslaving the crews. At this point in the young Republic’s history, there wasn’t even an American navy in existence. Despite that, in the centuries that followed, the U.S. has aided Muslims in Europe and in Asia. Yet the un-responded-to myth of U.S. oppression continues to be touted, even by uninformed apologists within the U.S. itself, including President Obama.

In the ultimately successful ideological battle against the former Soviet Union, the great importance of countering an anti-freedom philosophy was recognized and made into official policy by President Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 75, which noted:

“U.S. policy must have an ideological thrust which clearly affirms the superiority of U.S. and Western values of individual dignity and freedom, a free press, free trade unions, free enterprise, and political democracy over the repressive features of Soviet Communism. We need to review and significantly strengthen U.S. instruments of political action including: (a) The President’s London initiative to support democratic forces; (b) USG efforts to highlight Soviet human rights violations; and (c) U.S. radio broadcasting policy. The U.S. should: Expose at all available fora the double standards employed by the Soviet Union in dealing with difficulties within its own domain and the outside (“capitalist”) world (e.g., treatment of labor, policies toward ethnic minorities, use of chemical weapons, etc.). Prevent the Soviet propaganda machine from seizing the … high-ground in the battle of ideas…”

That winning strategy has not been sufficiently utilized in the war against ISIS. The President appears to believe it is inappropriate to enthusiastically assert that the concepts of personal freedom, equal rights for women, and religious tolerance are superior to Sharia law. He is not alone. Indeed, even the National Organization for Women  (NOW) has been, disgracefully,  missing in action in the effort to help the female victims of ISIS. The NOW web site fails to mention the problem at all.  Indeed, those heroic women such as Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali  who do challenge Islam’s inexcusable offenses against females find themselves ostracized by the White House’s leftist supporters.

There has been much written about the sparse and hesitant western military response to ISIS, and its failure to adequately support indigenous allies such as the Kurds. But far less comment has been made on the curious lack of an intellectual and moral response to this truly evil movement.

Corrupt transportation policies in America’s largest city

America’s great cities continue to be diminished by corrupt politics. The New York Analysis has reviewed one aspect of municipal wrongdoing, transportation policy, in the United States’ largest city.

New York City is descending into the chaos that once threatened the Big Apple’s prominence. A deadly combination of corruption and tawdry politics threatens to bring about a set of circumstances that may render the metropolis, once again, into an undesirable place to live.  The city’s deeply flawed transportation policies and practices provide a prime example.

NYC has been at this precipice before.  During the 1990—1993 tenure of Mayor David Dinkins, conditions become so intolerable that urban experts questioned whether it had become an “ungovernable city.” Crime levels were high, vagrants were a major factor on the streets and in the parks, and municipal services were inadequate.  In one incident, streets in the Bronx were so dirty that the Borough’s chief executive had to threaten to sue the mayor just to get them cleaned. Race relations were dismal, marked by what has been called an Eastern-European style “pogrom” against Jewish merchants in Brooklyn by a small but radicalized portion of extremists who were attempting to pit blacks against Jews.

But the city fought its way back. The President of the City Council at the time, Peter Vallone, initiated demands for greater numbers of police officers. A new mayor, Rudy Giuliani, was elected, bringing a tough new approach to crime, along with tax cuts. City officials were forced to produce results. Organized crime’s influence was attacked. Instead of the “ungovernable city,” the Big Apple became known as the “Capital City of the World.”

Despite the ravages of the 9/11 attacks, the downturn in the national economy, and Giuliani’s eccentric immediate successor at City Hall, New York fared reasonably well. But the clock may be turning back due to statewide corruption and the ascendancy of union politics.

The speaker of the Assembly, the majority leader of the Senate, and a number of other NY local, state and federal officials are under investigation, indictment, or have been convicted of criminal offenses. Their fast and loose attitude towards propriety is clearly seen in state and city transportation funding and practices.

The State’s AAA  recently reported on transportation budget gimmickry:

“New York State created the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund in 1991 as a pay-as-you-go fund for capital projects, but…officials stealthily converted it into a debt-based system by leveraging Thruway bonding capacity. Since 1992, $1.3 billion of Thruway toll revenue has been diverted…the Port Authority [which is responsible for bridges and tunnels between NY and NJ] is…shockingly wasteful.”

Mass transit hasn’t fared any better. According to the New York Post ,the Mass Transit Authority, (MTA) charged with keeping buses, subways, and commuter rail lines rolling, is a key culprit, a factor in the reality that even as fares go up, service gets worse. The Post’s investigation blames union contracts.

“Some 21,352 out of 76,445 MTA employees made more than $100,000 last year, a $10,000 plus spike.  Average pay was $80,780, up 10 percent from the year before. A major culprit? Labor contracts. The report points in particular to the deals for the Transport Workers Union and the LIRR union, both retroactive—the LIRR [Long Island Railroad] union one to 2010.  As a result, the average LIRR salary last year was $106,103—up 27 percent from 2013. On top of that, the report notes, the MTA paid out $849 million in overtime on top pf $4.78 billion in regular earnings.”

The problems extend to the city’s taxi industry. Continuously increasing fares have given rise to alternative services, all of which have been attacked by the powerful taxi industry, a heavy contributor to political campaigns.  The Post also reported that in what may have been an effort to prevent competition from Uber, taxi industry interests contributed over $27,000 to the current City Council Speaker.

The lack of adequate transportation policies and practices has led to local citizens’ groups to form their own organizations to pressure City Hall into making more reasonable and non-corrupted decisions.

The Empire’s Returning

Concerns that Vladimir Putin is seeking to re-establish hegemony in the former Soviet Empire, as well as controlling vital regional resources, deepened in the wake of Moscow’s installation of new demarcation signs about 300 feet into Georgian territory in the internationally non-recognized border of Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

This is a follow up move to Russia’s military support and recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence in 2008. In 2009, Russia took control of the South Ossetia/Georgian border.

The change leaves slightly less than a mile of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline under Moscow’s control.

Georgia’s ambassador Konstantine Zaldastanishvili  emphasized that the “Russian Federation remains in flagrant breach of the principles of international law and its commitments under the 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement. Moreover, the installation of barbed wire fences and other artificial barriers further violates the fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to free movement of the local population.”

According to the European Union “The installation of new demarcation signposts along the administrative boundary line of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia has led to tension in the area, with potentially negative effects on the local population, their livelihood and freedom of movement…The EU reaffirms its full support for Georgia’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.”

The BBC reports that “a flag erected by Georgian protesters near the village of Khurvaleti, just south of the dividing line, has been removed by guards on the South Ossetian side.

Earlier this year, the Foreign Policy Research Institute noted that “Russia and South Ossetia … ironed out final details of a “Treaty of Alliance and Integration.” The treaty was drafted in December 2014 and on January 31, 2015 Georgian news agencies reported that the leader of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, had sent the finalized document back to Moscow…This comes less than three months after the signing of the Russia-Abkhazia treaty of a similar nature, although it is not as comprehensive. The international community and the Georgian government have condemned Russia’s actions and will not recognize either of the treaties but that is not likely to stem Putin’s expansionist policies – if Crimea is any guide…The treaty…[allows] Russia to absorb South Ossetia.”

The U.S. State Department, while issuing no comment on the latest move, had stated earlier this year that “The United States’ position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains clear: these regions are integral parts of Georgia, and we continue to support Georgia’s independence, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity.

The United States does not recognize the legitimacy of any so-called “treaty” between the de facto leaders of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation. Neither this agreement nor the one signed between Russia and the de facto leaders in Abkhazia in November 2014 constitutes a valid international agreement.

Russia should fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions, reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, and provide free access for humanitarian assistance to these regions.

We continue to support the Geneva International Discussions as a means to achieving concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues that continue to impact the communities on the ground in Georgia. In this regard, we are concerned by reports that the signing of this so-called agreement may coincide with the current round of Geneva Discussions on the conflict in Georgia. The United States calls on all participants to seize the opportunity to make progress in this and future rounds.”

Stratfor’s 2008 Analysis remains current and disturbing:The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted. The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery. This, as we have argued, has opened a window of opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the invasion did not shift the balance of power. The balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public.”

Supreme Court overrules EPA

The June 29 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of  Michigan et al. V. Environmental Protection Agency et al. restores some common sense to the Environmental Protection Agency’s    (EPA) extreme practices.

The Clean Air Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants from certain stationary sources (such as refineries and factories). The Agency may regulate power plants under this program only if it concludes that “regulation is appropriate and necessary” after studying hazards to public health posed by power-plant emissions.

In response to protests over its  promulgating an extremely costly regulation designed to control the emission of mercury and other pollutants, the EPA found power-plant regulation “appropriate” because the plants’ emissions pose risks to public health and the environment and because controls capable of reducing these emissions were available. It found regulation “necessary” because the imposition of other Clean Air Act requirements did not eliminate those risks. The Agency refused to consider cost when making its decision. It estimated, however, that the cost of its regulations to power plants would be $9.6 billion a year, but the quantifiable benefits from the resulting reduction in hazardous-air-pollutant emissions would be $4 to $6 million a year.

The U.S. Supreme Court found that the EPA interpreted the hazardous air pollution statute unreasonably when it deemed cost irrelevant to the decision to regulate power plants.

The 5-4 majority opinion (written by Justice Anton Scalia, and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito)  of the Court ruled that the “EPA strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants. ‘Appropriate and necessary’ is a capacious phrase. Read naturally against the backdrop of established administrative law, this phrase plainly encompasses cost. It is not rational, never mind “appropriate,” to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits.”

The Court noted that “the possibility of considering cost at a later stage, when deciding how much to regulate power plants, does not establish its irrelevance at [an earlier] stage. And although the Clean Air Act makes cost irrelevant to the initial decision to regulate sources other than power plants, the whole point of having a separate provision for power plants was to treat power plants differently. EPA must consider cost—including cost of compliance—before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the Agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost.”

Twenty-one states had challenged the EPA’s action.

The decision may just be the start of the EPA’s troubles.  Accusations of extremist and intrusive policies that run roughshod over individual and business rights have gained traction lately after revelations from Fox News that a “prominent left-wing group helped formulate Environmental Protection Agency talking points designed to sell a controversial regulatory scheme to skeptical journalists, internal emails show.”

Last September, several members of Congress wrote to the EPA requesting information about allegations that the agency was “colluding” with an extremist organization, the National Resources Defense Council, to engage in policy making outside of the normal process of government.