A) Government promiseth, B) Government taketh away!

This article that just appeared in Bloomberg.com, regarding Stockton-writ-California-writ-USA-writ-large’s pending bankruptcy, is just so absolutely jaw-dropping crazy…uh, no, wait….it isn’t really so crazy after all. Never mind.

If Stockton Is Broke, Why Isn’t San Diego?: Steven Greenhut

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-02/if-stockton-is-broke-then-why-isn-t-san-diego-steven-greenhut.html

Here’s the money take-away: referencing the fact that, for the past 20 years, city employees could earn full lifetime health benefits (employee and spouse) after working only one month, Stockton City Manager Bob Deis noted…

“There was no money set aside to fund those commitments.”

And that’s the rub with our national, state and local governments, isn’t it? They can promise anything to get peoples’ votes, but there is no obligation to deliver. All they can do is make empty promises. And so, like moths to a flame, do we the people incinerate our futures and our freedoms on the soaring promises of hopey-change utopians. We once-proud, free, self reliant Americans have shown ourselves to be all too willing to give up our freedoms in exchange for promised government benefits…i.e., retirement pensions, health care, security, education…with not even a guarantee that the government will or can deliver.

You see, the government can never guarantee such promises, because (as our European cousins have so amply demonstrated) these are promises that government never could deliver. Government can’t deliver because a) government itself cannot create those benefits and b) because, inevitably, in the end, there is never enough money to pay for other people to provide those benefits.

The only thing the government can guarantee is that a) once surrendered, you won’t get your freedom, retirement, health care, security, or money back and b) the only way that it can even pretend to deliver on its promises is by taking away even more of your freedoms and money. Flame – moth – destruction.

 

Voters are left helpless and bereft when the political experts form a circular firing squad

I’m planning a trip this summer to Japan, a country about which I know nothing.  Actually that’s an overstatement.  I know some things:  it’s beautiful, historic, and clean (I love that part), and comes complete with great food and well-mannered people.  But that’s all I know.

Toji Pagoda

I don’t have this tabula rasa problem when I go to Europe.  Whether England, Germany, France, Belgium, or Italy, I have in my head enough information about the country to  be a little picky. It helps, too, that Rick Steves has published a series of European travel guides.  He’s not shy about being opinionated.  Indeed, that’s why people turn to him.  They have faith that they can trust his judgment so that, if he says a city is good and requires at least three days time, they can immediately book a hotel (one he recommends, of course) for two nights.  Likewise, if he says “don’t bother with such and such,” his readers know that Rick saved them time and money on a short, expensive trip.

Schloss Neuschwanstein

So far, I haven’t found a Rick Steves for Japan.  All the travel books make everything sound wonderful, without any rankings or priorities.  And I’m sure that, if I had unlimited time and money, I would enjoy traveling to every town, shrine and museum Japan offers.  But that’s not the reality of vacation travel, and I’m currently overwhelmed by the choices. Yikes!

My Japan conundrum isn’t unique.  In a world awash in information, there is no way one person can master all the data necessary to make important life decisions.  Inevitably, in various areas such as education, travel, politics, finances, etc., we select experts whom we trust and assume that, when they state an ultimate conclusion about their subject, we can rely on that conclusion.  This works both ways, of course.  Since I’ve long thought AlBore to be a rather foolish man with enough feral instincts to be a successful snake oil salesman, I have never believed in global warming.  Likewise, a friend of mine refuses to accept the rising tide of evidence against global warming, because it’s been published in “Republican” and “conservative” outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail.  The fact that AlBore’s theories are based on computer models while the evidence against global warming is based upon actual data disturbs him not a whit.  He’s found his reliable sources, and he’s sticking with them.

Right now, my reliance upon political experts is creating a dilemma for me, because my “experts” are turning on each other.  Before the primaries, they were all united in their profound dislike for Barack Obama.  Now, though, the circular firing squad isn’t limited just to the Republican candidates themselves.  The shoot-outs are taking place at every major conservative website, not to mention many of my favorite blogs.  Just check out PJ Media’s front page at any given minute to see astute political commentators, all of whom I respect, battering away at each other and the candidates.

To some commentators, Mitt is a RINO’s RINO, who flops, then flips, while Newt is the fiery voice of conservative truth who can reclaim America.  To others, Newt is an unprincipled loose cannon, while Mitt is a steady, conservative politician whose problem-solving skills make him the only one who can defeat Obama.  Still others see both Mitt and Newt as RINOs (one of whom has a backbone of noodle, while the other has the ethics of an alley cat), while Rick Santorum is the only true conservative in the house — never mind the fact, say entirely different pundits, that Rick’s conservative stances on social issues assure that he’ll lose to Obama.

I find all of the above viewpoints both interesting and credible.  Newt is an exciting speaker who articulates core truths about America, the economy, and national security that too many Americans, intimated by the PC police, have been stifling for years.  His fund of knowledge is impressive and enjoyable.  And of course, he’s the man whose insider skills in the 1990s forced the entire political system slightly to the right.  On the other side of the scale, he’s a man who has cheated on at least two wives (and I really don’t want to find out if he’s been cheating on a third), he’s known to be a terrible manager, his relationship to truth can be distant at best, he’s erratic, he too often sees Big Government as the vehicle for his own eclectic brilliance, and so on and so forth.

(Image by Gage Skidmore)

Then there’s Mitt.  We all know and appreciate the Good Mitt.  This is the Mitt who understands the market; the Mitt who has impressive organizational abilities; the Mitt who has proven to be an adept, albeit unexciting candidate; the Mitt who makes the Republican establishment feel loved; and the Mitt who, we are told, can entice the independents whom Newt frightens.  But all is not wonderful in Mitt land.  There’s also the Less Good Mitt, the unrepentant architect of RomneyCare; the man who, when he isn’t flipping, is flopping; the man whose Mormonism worries those who believe he is committing a profound doctrinal error that reflects on his judgment and intelligence; and, which might be the worst thing of all in a hyper-media age, the man who has the charm and warmth of a first generation android.

(Image by Gage Skidmore)

And what about Rick?  My God, the man is a Boy Scout, and I mean that in a good way.  He’s honest, loyal, decent, moral, and truly conservative.  He’s definitely what we conservatives want.  Except for that little problem he has of fading into the woodwork, not to mention the fact that, with the nation trending further and further left on social issues, there’s the strong likelihood, say many, that he’ll be the poison pill candidate for independent voters.

(Image by Gage Skidmore)

Darn those independent voters!  They’re the real problem, because all three conservative candidate (and, yes, I am ignoring Ron Paul entirely) could easily win against Obama if we could automatically co-opt independents into conservativism.  We can’t, though, which paralyzes the Republican primary.  While the independents seem to dislike Obama with ever greater intensity, the mainstream media has trained them, like tens of thousands of Pavlovian dogs, to be very hostile to certain stand-out traits in the last three Republicans standing:  Newt is the evil architect of the Contract with America; Mitt is the evil Mormon; and Rick is the evil Christian who will imprison all your gay friends and relatives.  Evil!  Evil!  Evil!

The worst thing of all, though, considering all the alleged evil the MSM keeps highlighting, is the fact that America’s premier conservative commentators aren’t doing anything to help.  Rather than building up their candidate of choice, they too are just as busy as the MSM, and the candidates themselves, in the savagery of their attacks against the candidates they don’t like.

It’s worth remembering that Newt rose to prominence during the debates because, in the beginning, he kept a laser-like focus on Obama.  He pointed out Obama’s myriad, manifest flaws and failings, and articulated ideas that promised to help America recover from her experiment with a true Leftist in the White House.  His numbers rose.  When Romney went negative, though, so did Newt — and so did everyone else.  In the last couple of months, the flesh-ripping on the debate stage is sickening, and the political commentators, rather than stepping in to help focus the voters on their chosen candidate’s attributes, are standing at the base of the stage drinking up the flowing blood.

THIS IS NOT HELPFUL.  If you’re going to have an opinion, advance useful information that helps affirmative decision-making and that helps staunch the sanguinary stream we’re currently giving as a gift to the MSM.  Yes, it’s good for the candidates to get groomed to fight the dirty fight, because it’s going to be very dirty indeed when they stand on a stage opposite Barack Obama.  I think, though, that we can comfortably conclude that the current batch has the grit to take the hits.  It’s time now to give the voters the help they need to choose the best candidate, rather than just to avoid the worst.

The Coming “Soft Dark Ages” — by guest blogger Charles Martel

This is an exercise in pure speculation. I invite all here to bring their own notions to the table.

An old friend of mine visited me last Saturday to catch up on things. We walked my dog and began a long conversation that ended later in my backyard over coffee and tea.

Bob is fascinated by history, and has been a long-time contributor to print and online history publications. So our conversations often veer off into that realm. Because we have developed a years-long habit of riffing on whatever thoughts come to our heads, we never know where one of our history threads will go.

We were discussing the dark ages, which not only were characterized by the disintegration of the Roman political order, but also the loss of an immense store of practical technological knowledge: agricultural practices and implements; construction techniques—it would take until the 19th century for Europeans to match the Romans’ road-building prowess—war machines; distribution and warehousing; science; art (which in Roman times was the realm of artisans, not self-absorbed “transgressive” pricks).  

I said that I think we are headed for a “soft dark ages.” That took him aback. “How are we headed there,” he asked, “and how would they be ‘soft’?”

I answered his last question first. They would be “soft” because unlike what happened in Roman times, we have the ability to store gigantic amounts of information in small spaces. One person can carry around encyclopedic knowledge on a flash drive. Multiply him by the millions, and you have a vast repository of recoverable knowledge that is private, widely dispersed, and replicated many times over. No matter how determined or persistent this era’s barbarians—Marxists, Muslims, Democrats, unionists, academicians—they simply would not be able to track down and destroy all modern technological knowledge.

But beyond furtive individual efforts at hiding and protecting the knowledge we would need to create a New America or a New West, there would be vaster, more organized, more collective efforts to protect knowledge until better days. I suggested to Bob three institutions or concepts that would become the next dark ages’ hallmarks: The new castle fortress; the new monastic life; and the new Europe.

1.  The Return of the Castle Fortresses

If the United States, Europe and China disintegrate, as seems likely, there will be a scramble for political power among the remnant provinces, states, and regions. Most power will be wielded by Marxist thugs and old-fashioned warlords, so it would not be surprising to see China devolve to its pre-Qin Dynasty pattern of warring neighbor states, or America’s big cities—Chicago, Detroit, Washington—and its Mexicanized rural regions, become brutal satrapies run by the people like Jesse Jackson, Bill Ayers, La Raza, ethnic mafias, and the like.

Europe could begin a too-late, doomed-to-fail ethnic cleansing of its Muslim underclass, but would probably slip either into fascism or dhimmitude. Poland, the bravest of the European nations, might be able to escape either fate, although that would be doubtful given its lack of firepower and its closeness to the greatest of all the European barbarian states, Russia.

But the barbarians would not win everywhere. Just as Old Europe in the dark ages had its bright centers of learning, protected by force of arms, there would be parts of the world that would not succumb to the new barbarity. They would become mankind’s new castles, fortresses of resistance where decency and unpoliticized science might still flourish.

These new fortresses will not have thick walls and deep moats, although their means of protection metaphorically will be the same. Their moats will be the ability of their computer geniuses to resist and thwart attacks upon their databases, and their walls will be heavily and well armed soldiers and citizens who will unhesitatingly destroy any physical threat to their sanctuaries.

Where will the new fortresses be? Either in lands that can protect themselves or are far enough away from the barbarians that they will be difficult to invade and hold. In the former case, Texas and Utah come to mind, states whose populations are already armed and whose economic infrastructures already lay upon solid technological foundations. More remote places, like New Zealand, Alberta, Baja California, could set up defendable dark age redoubts if they were properly armed, including with nuclear weapons.

There would be secret places, too. Large nations and corporations have set aside fortified places where they can stash tools, seeds, patents, rare materials, genealogies, and other irreplaceable items. Assuming that some of them will not be expropriated  by the new barbarians, these vital repositories of knowledge could be available for a later renaissance.    

2. The New Monastic Life

If the fortresses hold, they will become the new monasteries. Instead of patiently copying barely understood manuscripts from a fallen civilization, the new monastics will preserve the old science that they already well understand and attempt to build on it.

The ends they pursue will be the advancement of medicine (especially countermeasures to the barbarians’ chemical and biological weapons); the protection of personal data against spying or theft; the subversion of the barbarians’ computer and weapons systems (think Stuxnet); and the preservation of seminal texts that will one day replace the adulterated, denatured literature of the new emperors.

In contrast, the science of the barbarians will, because of barbarians’ nature, focus on predictable ends: refining the capacity to deliver death, whether it be through abortion, euthanasia, or mass murder against political opponents; improving methods of surveillance and the control of communications, “education,” and literature; honing tools designed to hunt down wealth or knowledge and expropriate it; and finding ways to increase the lifespans and sexual abilities of the rulers.

3. The New Europe

In the old dark ages, Europe itself was the physical locus of quiet scholarship and the preservation of old knowledge that later flowered into the Renaissance. In the “soft dark ages,” ones cushioned by the existence of fierce armed “monks” in well-defended freeholds, the New Europe will be a state of mind. In some ways, it will be how the Catholic Church sees itself: No matter where you go or what language you speak, there are the universal constants of the Mass and the Magisterium.

Similarly, wherever our new defenders of knowledge and decency find themselves — Patagonia, the Outback, the remote Rocky Mountains, the bowels of Obama-ite Chicago — they will share a common love of truth and real science. They will know how to detect falsehood and be indifferent to the barbarians’ enticements. Whatever secret handshake they develop, it will be something that the barbarians might know exists, but will, like their Vandal and Mongol forerunners, never understand.

How long will it take for the soft dark ages to run their course? Who could tell? My concern is that there remain a core of people who will resist the thugocracy, bloodlessly and not, until the thugs’ own fatal contradictions do them in. The United States defeated the Soviet Union because the USSR not only lived a lie, but because it had long before killed off its best and smartest people.

That pattern will repeat itself among our Marxist, Muslim, and academic brethren. But while they will be doomed to repeat a history of failure and debasement, our destiny will call for us to recreate the wonderful things that men once called “the West” and “America.”  

What does Europe’s coming collapse mean when it comes to the Muslim immigrants?

For years at this blog (and others) when we’ve written about Europe’s problems, we’ve focused primarily, not on the economy, but on those Muslim immigrants.  One of the things that we talked about a lot was the fact that these same Muslim immigrants subsisted largely on public benefits.

This little tidbit emerged with force during the riots in France, when we first learned that the banlieues that housed the rioters were welfare cities.  The European paradigm was for Muslims to show up, from Pakistan, from Turkey, from North Africa, and to be showered with the European’s post-colonial guilt payments.

So I have a question for you:  What’s going to happen with all those Muslim immigrants now that Europe is broke?  Riots?  Civil War?  Quiet retreats back to their home countries?

Democratic Exhaustion

Is our democracy germinating the seeds of its own destruction?

Alexis de Toqueville warned, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” That day has come. It is not yet gone.

Democracy  in ancient Athens lasted about 250 years. We in the United States are at about that same point in our history today. In Europe, alas, democracy came but as a short, brief whimper in time. Now, post-Lisbon, it is gone…at a national scale and, very soon, at the local level, too.  EUro democracy – so ancien regime! In EUrope, the new aristocracy is already taking form, with power centered in Brussels and Strasbourg. In America, our own Washington, DC-centered aristocrat wannabees remain diffuse and riven by competing factions, but they are there and waiting.

What went wrong? I propose that the primary seed of our destruction lies in our own human nature. It is the “tragedy of the commons” writ large. The tragedy of the commons, formulated by ecologist Garrett Hardin in the 1960s, describes the dynamic whereby individuals and other animals, when confronted with limited resources, have a self-interest in expropriating the maximum amount of those resource for themselves while they can, thereby hastening the resource’s destruction. The tragedy of the commons is neatly summarized by Illinois’ de facto state motto, “where’s mine?” (with a respectful hat tip to Chicago Tribune editorialist John Kass).

I suspect that, deep down, many serious people in America’s contending factions (Left, conservative, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian) believe that we are now in the end game and that we are thus witnessing a mad, vicious scramble by traditional Democrat constituencies (e.g., public sector unions) to secure to themselves as much wealth and political power as possible before the inevitable financial collapse. The primal screams and vile demagoguery harmonized by the howling mobs of Wisconsin, Greece, France and Britain (or from our Commander in Chief, for that matter) are but the beginning of this process. Change can be ugly when people lose hope!

“Where’s mine?”

It still remains incredible for me to contemplate how we in the West, endowed with the richest standards of living every conceived in human history, still could not find satisfaction from living within our means. The wails and tribulations of the Left notwithstanding, all groups in America are living far better material standards of living than they did 25, 50 or 100 years ago or than the vast majority of our world enjoys today. How could we not find it within ourselves to be grateful for and respectful of what our forebears built and accumulated as their legacy for us. Indeed, our unparalleled wealth and quality of life appears only to have fueled resentment of “the other” in tandem with an exponential growth in our appetites and expectations. Thus have we now come to the point of destroying ourselves and our inheritors through impossible debt obligations, gained in our quest for ever more lucre and comfort gained on other peoples’ dimes.

“Where’s mine?”

So today, confronted with hard choices on whether to cut back on our expectations and regenerate the wealth that we have lost on one hand (the Paul Ryan plan) and a mad scramble to secure our own selfish claims upon the commons before its dissolution, our country confronts the fork in the road that, as Yogi Berra put it, must be taken.

Why do I suspect that earlier in our democracy, when government was not expected to fulfill everyone’s economic and social needs, a national belt-tightening to confront an existential crisis would hardly have been considered controversial. A split electorate today, unfortunately, does not bode well for constructive solutions. From my limited perspective, I suspect that 25% of our population seems committed to the conviction that the government’s largesse can continue forever and another 25% (public employee unions, Liberals, Democrat politicians) cynically manipulates events to amass all it can before the inevitable collapse.

“Where’s mine?”

I propose, however, that these manipulators on the Left and their followers are fundamentally mistaken in the following ways:

One is to believe that whatever political and financial power they accumulate in these days will translate into power and wealth in the future. I don’t think so. You can’t, for example, pay pensions on the back of a collapsed market economy. You can’t fund ObamaCare promises through foreign largesse. Princely union boss salaries will be worthless when union members inevitably catch on to their betrayal and they, too, ultimately depend upon a healthy private sector economy.

Two, we can never really predict the future.  Revolutions lead to unpredictable ends and often end-up eating their own. Anarchists and Democrats can try to collapse the system, perhaps, but nobody can know what will replace it.

Three, the real threat to our society today is not our debt but the destruction of our debt capacity. Debt capacity refers to our ability to absorb more debt in response to crises: for me, for example, debt capacity is represented by my home equity line of credit, to be drawn upon in emergencies. We can be guaranteed that our Western civilization will face serious crises that will threaten our very existence. With our home equity line exhausted, from whence will we find the capital resources to fund our survival? How will we build back from the rubble?

When FDR embarked on his wildly irresponsible debt-financed financial adventures, our country’s ability to absorb debt was still great by the time WWII arrived. We survived and, as a result, thrived. I am not so certain that we could do so today. Not to veer too far off path, but does anyone else get the sense that the ineffectual flounderings of the U.S. and our NATO allies in Libya, a misbegotten economic and military backwater of 6.5 million people, hardly reflect the actions of robust democracies?

I sense that our Western democracies have reached a point of exhaustion. Perhaps this reflects the natural lifespan of democracies. I hope not. The Ryan blueprint presents our 50:50 nation with an existential fork in the road. We shall soon discover the true strength of our national fiber. Will we tighten our belts, retrench and expand the national and global commons as we have in the past…or will we intensify our mad struggles to secure dwindling remnants thereof to ourselves? If the latter, then our democratic experiment will truly be at an end. And that would be a tragedy.

I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.

– John Adams

EUro Dis-union

One of my all-time favorite economic historians is Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, who does a very good job dissecting the transatlantic political and economic cultures with characteristic British clarity in erudition.

He’s not perfect, however: witness his bad judgment in affixing his name to a worn-out political rag like Newsweek. But, I digress…

In this nonetheless excellent article, he concisely chronicles the descent and impending collapse of the EUro-zone banking system and its political repercussions.  Some might take solace in the fact that EUro-banking and welfare systems will collapse ahead of our own, but I don’t. Our economic well-being is very much entwined with Europe’s. One notable benefit that Ferguson does confer upon us is to clearly differentiate between Europe’s impending banking system collapse and our own fiscal and economic crises: these are two very independent phenomena, albeit derived from the same disease (i.e., living way beyond our means). What cannot be denied, however, is that Western civilization is about to confront a very massive economic upheaval that will have dramatic social and political consequences.

Read it for yourselves and let’s discuss.

 

Youth unemployment – where does it lead?

As we settle into the Obama Depression era, one thing that I and others have noticed is that many of the very youth that voted enthusiastically for Obama are the ones already feeling the consequence of his policies: they are unemployed. As one of my college-age kids put it, “our generation is so over Obama, today!”.

High youth unemployment is an inevitable consequence of socialism. In modern Europe, it has always been high. Here is an example of its pervasiveness in the U.K., for example:

http://anglo-americandebate.blogspot.com/2011/01/left-wing-policies-have-destroyed.html

In Europe, the problem has been exacerbated by extensive “social safety nets” that guarantee a pretty good lifestyle for the unemployed. Why work, when you can live comfortably on public assistance combined with the black market economy (dealing drugs, for example)? There are large swaths of the European population that, like people in our inner city projects, have no idea how to work. A young man in France with a finance degree recently reported to me that he was “happily unemployed”. Thanks to his government, he leads a comfortable existence. However, that, too, shall come to an end, for Europe faces the same economic collapse as the U.S.

I really do feel sorry for university students graduating today: for many, if not most, their degrees will be obsolete by the time the economy recovers (which could be a very long time). What employer would hire a student with, say, a business, philosophy, English, or whatever degree that has lain fallow for two, four or more years when they can hire a freshly minted graduate instead? These students’ parents, meanwhile, will often have drained hundreds of thousands of dollars from their retirement funds to fund such now worthless educations. I know of parents that have destroyed their retirement options in order to put their kids through university.

So, what happens when you have armies of unemployed young people with obsolete skills? I know that this has happened before, such as in the Great Depression. However, when economic recovery did come in the mid-to-late ’40s, workers with no education and technical skills could still find plenty of hands-on work opportunities. I don’t know that this holds true anymore in a modern economy. There’s only so many openings for baristas.
Any ideas?

Can Europe Save Itself? What I Saw in Flanders.

Forgive my long opening discourse. I need to set the stage.

Most Americans don’t know much about Belgium and Flanders. It’s a shame.

For a quick summary, Flanders is the region that stretches from Belgium’s northern border with the Netherlands, west to the  English Channel and into northern France (including Dunkirk). It is home to two of Europe’s most spectacular medieval cities, Bruges (aptly nicknamed the “Venice of the North” for its myriad canals, bridges and medieval architecture) and Ghent, another canal-laced jewel of city anchored by a 1,000 year-old castle. To walk into any church or town hall is to walk into an art museum. Belgian beer, fresh from the tap, is in a category of its own  (I forget, were there 440 or 660 different beers on the wall? It’s all so hazy to me), the food is great and my brother-in-law and I spent too much time navigating our spouses through vaste archipelagos of heady chocolate and nougat shops this summer (had it been Antwep, it would have been diamonds, so let me count my blessings). It’s a great place.

I lived in Belgium during a good part of my youth and speak both French and a “passable” conversational Flemish (dialect of Dutch), which eases discourse with the locals. French is the language of Belgium’s southern (Wallonia) region and Brussels, while Flemish is the language of Flanders. The two peoples are like oil and water: due to a long, complicated and unfortunate history mired in injustices, the two groups dislike each other intensely and refuse to speak each others’ languages. (something that those that promote balkanization and bilingualism in America should try to understand). Memories are long: a rallying cry of Flemish independence is a successful battle waged against the French Bourbon (no, not the drink) governor in 1302 AD, a battle memorialized in the charming provincial town of Kortrijk. Yes, it is unfortunate that Europeans remain so imprisoned by history, which is something else that our own Democrats should keep in mind as they rub salt into historic wounds to divide and conquer for cheap political gain.

To try to define a Belgian national character is to frolic in oxymorons: grumpy and friendly; rumpled and dignified; regulation-obsessed scofflaws; cheerfully pessimistic and gloomily optimistic.  They can be both unassuming and single-minded. My wife, though, has one word for them: “solid”. Good word. “Tell a Belgian he has to go in one direction and it will guarantee that he go in the opposite way,” a Belgian family friend told me. As a confirmed Midwesterner and libertarian conservative, I can relate to that.

I like Belgium and the Belgians, but sadly, far too many Belgians don’t. They have been beaten down for years into well-honed self-loathing. I can’t tell you how many times I have relayed my admiration for Belgium to Belgians, only to receive expressions of embarrassment, shock or sneers. Once, speaking to two young students at a trade show, I went through my list of reasons for why I liked Belgium. After a shocked pause, one of the girls turned to the other, “You see? Maybe our country is worth saving after all”. I hardly think Belgians are alone in this.

Today, the country, created from the ruins of Napoleon’s depredations, is on the verge of dissolution. Belgium’s Leftwing bureaucrat-laden government is totally dysfunctional, unable to cobble together a working coalition of competing Flemish and Walloon factions. The Belgian national psyche has been under assault for years from non-stop disclosures of government perfidy and corruption, a stifling bureaucracy, breakdowns in the social order and, more recently, paedophilia outrages by the Catholic Church. Most Belgian transplants that I have met in the U.S try to disclaim their national origin out of sheer embarrassment.

Grim as this portrait may appear, though, I did see rays of bright sunshine breaking through the ever-present clouds in Flanders.

Europeans like to comment about how we Americans like to fly our flag all the time and everywhere. Rather jingoistic, wot? I say it’s healthy. A French niece once gave me a very puzzled stare when I explained to her that “we Americans tend to be very proud of our countries and communities”. Love of place: what a curious concept! Well, one of the things one notices in Flanders is love of place. There is a) a near absence of Belgian flags and b) a total profusion of Flemish national flags, everywhere, depicting a black, rampant lion on a field of gold. There is, today, a fierce and rising Flemish pride in their heritage. As Belgium’s long under-represented industrial dynamo, the Flemish are fast approaching a state of open revolt against the Belgian government and, as I also suspect, the EU. Nationalism and tribalism, in other words, are on the rise. I say, “hooray!” I know, this requires an explanation and herein I finally get to the point of this post with another segue.

In Brabant, a region that spans from the southern Netherlands well into central Flanders, there is a popular balladeer by the name of Guus Meeuwis who writes songs about Brabant and his fellow Brabenders. They are love songs. To get a flavor of his famous hit “Brabant”, view this video here: .

You don’t need to know Flemish to understand it, as the imagery pretty accurately conveys the lyrics. If you want to see and understand how real people in Brabant (Flanders and the Netherlands) react to this song at a live performance, then visit here:

(Dank je vel, Jan!).

What you see here, folks, are the sparks of a European awakening. And not just in Brabant, but all throughout Flanders, Netherlands and Northern Europe. I think it will spread. This is nationalism at its best, a love of one’s fellow citizens, community, region and, maybe eventually, nation. This is where it starts: in the dorp (village). There is nothing dark grey or threatening in this movement except, perhaps, the typical Flemish weather. These are people who, perhaps like that Belgian girl, are awakening to the realization that there is much worth saving. And this, in a part of the world for so long beaten down by a paralyzing helplessness in the face of the encroaching super-State. I detected no anger in Flanders, no gloominess, but instead a resolute optimism among a fundamentally decent people combine with a rising pride in their heritage. If this movement takes, things will change for the better and good things will get done. It is a transformation that I don’t think the ruling classes in Europe can ultimately withstand.

I truly believe that you have to be able to love yourself before you can love others. I’m not speaking, of course, of a narcissistic kind of self-love, but rather a love and appreciation of one’s place in the greater scheme of things. It comes through grace, through a sense of harmony with one’s neighbors and citizens. This engenders thankfulness for all that we have been given by the sweat, labor and suffering of those that came before us. With thankfulness, comes respect. And it begins with one’s immediate community. Look around us…do we see this same sense of harmony, grace and peace among the Ruling Class and the Left? How can anyone spout nonsense about saving the world if they lose their family and community in the process?

This what I read in Guus’ lyrics, what I saw in the faces of the concert crowd and what I detected among the people of Flanders. These are people that will defend that which they love. I never saw this before. I see it now. This is how Europe will save itself.

I have never understood how such a large faction of people in this country could fail to be thankful for all the blessings their country and forebears bestowed on them and would instead prefer to self-righteously wallow in its perceived shortcomings.

I see this same awakening happening here. Perhaps it took the anger, bile, bitterness and self-serving corruption of the Left to bring us to this point. If so, that’s been a good thing.

So, that is what I saw in Flanders.

I know that I promised to address the issues of Europe, Islam, anti-semitism and Americans, too. Next post. Promise!


Can Europe Save Itself? What I Saw in Paris

Bookworm recently asked, “is Europe trying to save itself?” To that question, I can only offer anecdotal evidence from family and business visits made to France and Belgium this summer, shortly after the Greece-precipitated financial crisis.

Europe (witness the EU) is an uber-bureacracy. For centuries, Europe’s forms of governance have devolved into top-down, centralized governments that control virtually every aspect of individual life while disenfranchising the connections between citizenry and the ruling classes.  These trends metastasized under the EU and, following adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon in May, a treaty that cemented the supra-national power of the unelected EU authority. “Europe” effectively ceased being democratic. In tandem with this trend, European citizens have been conditioned to think less as “citizens” and more as “subjects” of their governments. Today, the only real power of dissent left to them has been to riot destructively in the streets or to paralyze their countries in strikes (France maintains a separate police force 100% dedicated to dealing with social disturbances). Setting parked cars on fire (car-b-cues) is a charming French tradition of civic protest that is now spreading to other European countries.

In this Bismarkian state model, the trade-off for political disenfranchisement has been a guarantee that the social welfare state would take care of all its citizens’ needs: retirement pensions, joblessness benefits at a high fraction of one’s previous salary, “free” education, public safety and health care. In France, this compact is proudly referred to in Orwellian terminology as “Solidarity”.  The EU compact also offered an end to Europe’s perpetual war and tribalism. As one of my elderly relatives put it to me, “my grandparents lived through three wars, my parents live through two and I lived through one. With the EU, I could hope that my children would never know war”. It’s an appealing vision.

Thus, for the greater perceived good, the vaste majority of citizens in France and other EU countries passively accepted what was handed to them, be it political correctness, Islamic migration, or economic and tax policy: why waste time worrying about what one cannot change? Such issues were best left for the ruling elites to address. Unfortunately, such also generated a toxic blend of cynicism, pacifism and lassitude laced with a nihilistic hedonism. Europeans stopped caring, partied on and stopped having babies. When government strips life of meaning, what’s the point of meaningful living, right? The Euros lost pride in self and pride in their own nations and cultures. They also lost their sense of civic responsibility. Whenever disaster struck in Europe (floods, heat waves, violence), I could not help but notice how passively Europeans deferred to authorities for help, rather than helping themselves. Rampant theft and vandalism is accepted as part of normal life: car windows are routinely smashed. In the nicest neighborhoods of Paris, the bottom floor windows of homes are paned in bullet-proof glass to discourage home invasions, which are accepted as quite normal occurrences…even in daytime. The cops seldom respond. In Europe, the victim is often treated as the perp while the criminal is perceived as the victim. One seldom if ever sees ordinary citizens sandbagging during floods the way we do in the U.S., for example – everyone looks out for themselves and leaves the heavy lifting to the “authorities”. Pacifism and passivity go hand-in-hand.

When visiting my relatives in France in the past, I could be assured that most (not all) had only vague ideas about what was happening in their country, their economy and the world. Most accepted the dispositions of the (mostly government controlled) media at face value. Moreover, why worry about the present and future (e.g., why save for retirement) when the government’s “Solidarity” will take care of it for you? And, while my focus in this discourse is on France, be assured that these observations apply also to Europe in toto.

All this has changed.

The Greek crisis, which closely followed the international banking crisis, caused a severe crisis of confidence and with it, an awakening. As a Dutch business associate remarked to me, “how can it be that we must work hard to pay taxes in the North until the age of 68 so that people in Greece can work hardly at all, pay no taxes and retire at the age of 60?”. Europe, like the U.S., is broken and broke.

The Greek crisis forced average Europeans to realize that the entire economic and political structures upon which their “solidarity” depended was about to collapse as the economic and political contradictions of the EU socialist state came to a head. An elderly gentleman I know – a world renown attorney, a member of the French Resistance, a former advisor to French prime ministers as well as to a U.S. president and an ardent supporter of the EU – looked at me and said, “it’s all finished, now”. I asked him “what”, exactly, was finished. He replied, “The EU, our peace and our prosperity”. The people, for the first time, were realizing that there was no money to pay for it all. For the first time ever, I saw fear and doubt in my relatives’ eyes. For the first time, I saw graffiti (most European towns are plastered with graffiti) and posted flyers denouncing the EU along with EU policies toward immigration. For the first time, I saw a steely flintiness in peoples’ eyes (not just in France) when the subject of Islamic immigration into Europe was raised. I saw also a new appreciation by Europeans of their heritage and values. Nationalism is on the rise. I saw more pride in France and its history, especially among the young. My daughter, who had been studying in France on an exchange program, remarked that many of the college students with whom she studied were returning to the Church and expressed a new-found resolve and pride in their country and heritage.

Before one can solve a problem, one must first recognize and define the problem. Europeans are still far from ready to take charge of their destiny. I just don’t know if average EU citizens have the wherewithal to resist and upend the uber-State and its entrenched ruling classes. A Tea Party movement would be inconceivable to Europeans, for example.  However, I do believe that average Europeans are waking up to the crisis and beginning to define the problems…all problems, including the one of Islamicization. This trend will continue, especially as new economic and political crises inevitably appear. In Europe, as in the U.S., the entire “solidarity” compact between State and Subject is about to go humpty-dumpty as reality sunders its foundations.  I suspect that the consequences will be very, very ugly. I saw evidence of this on my visit to Flanders, but that will have to await another post.

I do know that what eventually happens in Europe will have profound consequences for our country as well. This is not a crisis of European civilization but of Western civilization. We all face the same abyss.

Is Europe trying to save itself?

I don’t have a link yet (it was tweeted), but it appears that the Swedes elected a center-right government.  I see this as a good thing, although I haven’t lost sight of two facts:  (1) Europe is so far Left that, as we know from England, even center-right is Left; and (2) the cancer of antisemitism has managed to permeate most of Europe, irrespective of Left and Right.  Only if/when the Europeans realize that, in their efforts to preserve their culture against Islam’s latest assault, they are on the same side of the battle lines as the Jews will they be able to eradicate this vile disease.

Never underestimate the power of a homogeneous society when it comes to prolonging socialism *UPDATED*

One of the frustrating things about conversing with liberals is that, even as they’ll concede that socialism in Russia and China and Cuba and North Korea is not, or was not, a good thing, they’ve always got Europe to fall back upon.

European socialism works, I am told.  Europeans have assured housing, assured medical care, assured retirement, assured maternity leave, assured vacations, etc.  It is everything that America could be, if only we’d stop our ridiculous parochialism.  Even the economic disasters in Greece and Spain don’t dent this liberal belief in the validity of European-style socialism.  After all, we’ve seen market collapses before, and ships of state have still righted themselves.

Any arguments I make to counter the claim about the almighty wonders of Europe are dismissed.  The fact that Europeans have had for decades more money because the U.S. largely handled their defense is just a picayune detail, unrelated to the larger picture.  The fact that Europe has been in a slow economic decline for decades is a sour grapes statement, unrelated to the reality that all those Europeans get six weeks paid vacation a year!

The fact that the overwhelming bureaucracy necessary to run a socialist Europe increasingly deprives people of rights and freedoms we take for granted is viewed as a small price to pay for a life free of worry about job security, health care and retirement.  And finally, the fact that traditional morality declines in socialized countries, as people move ever further away from personal responsibility (since the government will clean up all their messes, whether those messes are myriad illegitimate children, or disasterous personal habits that leave one unable to to hold a job), is chalked up to a general, and worldwide, societal decline unrelated to a Nanny State.

No matter what I say, my liberals always fall back on two fundamental conclusions:  (1) they like what they see in Europe and (2) they believe that we can replicate the system.

So I’m going to take my friends at face value for a moment, and ignore what are, to me, the glaring problems with socialism (the economic unreality; the failures arising from that financial fantasy; the loss of freedom; and the breakdown of a stable, moral society).  Instead, I’ll accept that it can happen here — or can it?  I suspect that the huge chasm between European society as it existed at the end of WWII and American society as it exists now will prevent European socialism from ever taking hold.  (By the way, I’m not saying that socialism cannot be foisted on us; I’m just saying it won’t be European and, if we’re very unlucky, it will be something infinitely worse and more energetic even than that in the old USSR, China or North Korea).

When European socialism began, each European nation was a remarkably homogeneous.  The post-war English were still quintessentially English, whether one thought of Colonel Blimp, louche Bright Young Things, or Angry Young Men.  Not only was it a distinctly British culture, it was also a surprisingly non-acquisitive one.

I remember one of the best professors I had at Berkeley (yes, even Berkeley had some decent teachers), talking about the way in which the Industrial Revolution stagnated in England by the end of the 19th century, even as it continued to roar through America.  “It seems,” he said, “that the British working class had lower aspirations than Americans.  Once they achieved a certain economic level, they stopped working and innovating.”

Alan Jay Lerner, channeling George Bernard Shaw, put it perfectly:  “An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him.  The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.”  Just as nobody should remodel a house in excess of the neighborhood (you’ll never get your money back after having created a mini-Versailles in a block full of boxy 50s tract homes), English workers knew that no amount of money would ever let most of them rise above their backgrounds and education.

I know Britain best, but I don’t doubt that the situation was similar in other European countries.  I do know that, in Holland, the Dutch moved on a similar timetable, with good housewives all scrubbing their stoops every morning, doing laundry on the same day, and generally doing as their neighbors did.  The Dutch, too, had a class system, with even a single word uttered being sufficient to give away someone’s place in the hierarchy.

Indeed, rather than try to prove homogeneity for all the socialized European nations, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, I’ll do something different:  I defy you to name for me a single European nation in the years between the end of WWII and, say, 1985, that wasn’t homogeneous in terms of culture, and rather stagnant in terms of social aspirations.  (I suspect all the aspiring citizens had already run away to America.)

This homogeneity wasn’t just cultural.  It was also genetic.  Bloodlines in European countries went back straight and far.  Sure the British were amalgams of Celts, Saxons and a few Normans (themselves Nordic in origin), but that genetic influx ended in 1066.  The Brits then spent almost 1,000 years being genetically British.  On the continent, the Romans had seeded continental Europe pretty well, as did the Celtic and Germanic tribes, but those blood lines had also settled for several hundred years by the time European socialism rolled around.

And so we have a continent in which each separate nation has the same genes, the same belief systems, and the same habits of living.  In this, Europe is as distinct as can be from America, and that despite America’s clear European ancestry.

Whether one views America as a melting pot or a salad bowl, we Americans comprise a genetically and culturally diverse nation.  Within a single neighborhood, the Wongs are eating different food from the DiMarcos, who have different work habits from the Hansens, who don’t share the same genetic disease predispositions as the Goldbergs.  And then, of course, you get the Wong-Goldberg wedding, with a second generation emerging with an entirely new set of values, genetic diseases, and food habits — although I suspect the Goldbergs will follow the Wongs when it comes to food.  Chinese food, after all, is pretty much a wonderful thing no matter how you look at it.

Thinking about America’s cultural ebullience, and comparing it to Europe’s resemblance to a single cell organism, it’s easy to see how socialism might have worked, and worked successfully, for many decades in Europe.  A working class accustomed over the centuries to taking orders from a ruling class would adapt easily if the orders came from a drably dressed government worker, as opposed to a splendidly dressed courtier.  Likewise, a working class that never aspired too high wouldn’t complain too loudly when it was told that, in the search for economic equality, people simply couldn’t have things available in economically freer countries.  Nor would it be difficult to direct a culture that, Borg–like, had always functioned in unison.

If people share the same views on everything from the appropriate size of vegetable marrows, to the right age for marriage, to the propriety of abortion, it’s easy to enact legislation enforcing such values, or to use social pressure to force people away from those same values.  The tight communal living of Europe, after all, has always demanded a certain level of conformity.

The fact that people had the same lifestyles and genetics also helped when it came to socialized medicine.  You can allocate limited resources much better if you know that, by diet and genes, the majority of your people will die from heart attacks, not colon cancer.  Allocating medical resources in a country in which people have a huge mish-mash of hereditary diseases and lifestyle habits is infinitely more difficult (if not impossible).

So, contrary to my optimistic liberal friends, I don’t think European socialism can ever happen here.  Our petri dish is wrong.  Instead of a nice, clean agar solution that invites the healthy growth of socialism, we have a teaming fish pond that, with luck, will kill any invading socialist bacteria.

Lastly, if you’re wondering about the importance of homogeneity to the success of European socialism, think about what’s been happening in Europe since the mid-1980s, when the European countries stopped limiting immigration, and opened their doors to a flood of Eastern Europeans, Africans, East Asians, and Muslim Middle Easterners.  These people did not view the socialist welfare system as part of a social contract.  Instead, they viewed it as vast treasure house to be pillaged.

I can’t say that I blame them.  If you’re innovative, and you see a system that’s ripe for the plucking, you pluck.  But many countries now find that their lovely socialist high rises have become dangerous enclaves with values alien to the host country, and that a welfare system that depended on everyone playing the game (“from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”), doesn’t work if you have an alien horde thinking “me, me, me.”  Instead of harmonious European equality, you end up with French banlieues in flames, Greek anarchists throwing fire bombs, London subways and buses blowing up and a dawning chaos that will not sustain any political or economic system for long.

UPDATE: I couldn’t resist appending to this post I picture of the three party leaders in Britain (Brown, Clegg and Cameron).  Although each is easily distinguishable from the other, there is a remarkable sameness to their looks.  Trace their profiles and you’ll see what I mean.  You probably won’t find that in America, even if, as a liberal, you’re castigating a room for being filled with “white men.”  They’ll still have different features, whether it’s high bridged noses, square chins, receding foreheads, or whatever.  These guys are the same gene pool:

Gene pools