Thursday, August 18, 2016

America in 2016: Is Democracy Broken?

Disclaimer: I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It has been a long time since I have had ample time to organize my thoughts on any political issues and as such, I may tend to ramble a bit more in this post than I had intended. However, I feel that the issue discussed here is something that is certainly worth at least a cursory glance and consideration. I hope my attempts to express my thoughts are at least mildly stimulating, albeit exhaustive. – Evan
           Every election year has its share of challenges and disappointments. I want to make sure I am clear on that point before I go any further, because I feel it is something that many individuals tend to forget in the midst of the bloodbath that arises as we enter Q3 of a general election year. Elections are messy. They’re brutal. They’re full of misdirection, lies, and attack ads. Good ideas are discussed. Bad ideas are discussed. Democrats blame Republicans for our nation’s problems and Republicans blame Democrats. The media chooses favorites and feeds the horse race, not only in the primary but also in the general election. None of this is new.

        But something about 2016 is different than past elections – at least the ones that I can clearly remember. I admit that my own memory is rather foggy. Honestly, I can recall only vague details about the 2000 race between Gore and Bush. Most of what I know of elections, historically, is from my studies in college rather than from firsthand experience. Still, I find that I am not alone is calling 2016 a litmus test year for our nation.

        Only last year the GOP was positioned extraordinarily well - walking into this year secure in
the knowledge that Obama’s approval ratings were plummeting. Republican legislators had swept the House and Senate in the last midterm election, and we had strong Republican figures positioning themselves for the White House race. Jeb Bush, the clear establishment favorite – ideally groomed for the position and riding off of the success of not only a father but also a brother who had served in our nation’s highest office. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina joined Jeb as key figures that seemed to grasp the importance of winning. As Marco Rubio put it in an early GOP debate, “People are starting to understand very clearly that this election is going to be a turning point. That 2016 is not just a choice between Republican or Democrat, it is a referendum on our identity as a nation and as a people…we’re going to bring this party together and we are going to defeat Hillary Clinton.” I was optimistic. I liked the majority of the candidates on the stage. Oh. Except One.

        Donald Trump. It’s funny to think back to last fall. I honestly am stunned by how far he’s come. Sure, he was leading in the polls from the beginning, but that’s normal. Plenty of commentators expected Jeb or Rubio to rise up as the “real” candidate once the novelty of the brash and offensive business tycoon died down. The problem was – that never happened.

PC: Michael Dwyer/AP
        Donald Trump swept the rug out from beneath the Republican Party. He rose on a tide not dissimilar from the momentum seen in the Democratic Party, with a relatively unknown and open socialist, Bernie Sanders. Donald, like Bernie, appealed to the frustrations of the American people with the duplicity of politics. They didn’t speak the same language as the other candidates in either party. They called out political correctness. They pointed out the problems that existed: rising cost of living paired with more and more minimum wage earning adults. Rampant illegal immigration. Apparent discrimination against LGBT communities. Debt. International terrorism. “The System is Broken,” they cried. And Americans rallied behind them.

        Now, as much as I would love to explore the factors that led to a choice of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as our two front running candidates, I will refrain. There are plenty of fantastic political commentators who have analyzed the specifics of this election cycle in more detail and provided far better data than I could ever hope to present. But I want to look at one particular topic that I continue to hear echoed among my peers – that the system is broken.

        It’s not unique to Trump or Bernie. It’s a common message this year all around. Earlier in the election, candidates like Cruz and Rubio condemned the established party leadership as an obstacle to true conservative reform. Democrats also point to a broken system – rigged by powerful corporations and businessmen and special interest groups that fight for profit at the expense of “everyday Americans.” Honestly, I thought for a while that this was just the candidates attacking competitors (Jeb was an establishment candidate, Trump is a powerful businessman, etc…). Then about a month ago, I was chatting with a friend on social media, and I heard that phrase again – the system is broken.

        The only thought that I can offer is – Really? Is “the system” really to blame for this election year? For the political issues that exist in our nation and around the world? I would seriously question that premise. In fact, I would argue that our system is as near to flawless as sinful man is capable of crafting.

Our Founding Fathers crafted a system of government that combined the best of all worlds, as near as they could find. They rejected the authoritarian monarchy of Great Britain and looked instead to classical political concepts from the Greco-Roman world. They crafted a constitutional republican democracy where the American people have the ability choose representatives who would tackle the difficult issues of their communities at local, state, and national levels. The constitution was crafted as a way to prevent the expanse of government regulation from strangling the liberties of the American people. However, nothing about this era was particularly pure or perfect. There were many issues that presented themselves for representatives to debate. One of our earliest presidents pushed for radical legislation known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, which garnered massive opposition and support. In addition, there was the looming issue of slavery that would later erupt into violence less than a century later.

However, the founding fathers were clever enough to plan for all eventualities. The three branches of government, vying over conflicting interests, slow the gears of government action to a crawl to ensure that bad policies are exposed and stopped before they can root themselves in established jurisprudence and legal code. Government in the United States was designed to be inefficient, messy, and overly complicated – it’s the entire purpose of constitutional “checks and balances,” which most Americans will recognize as a good thing for our nation. Unfortunately, the
structure of American society is only as strong as its foundation – the American people themselves. This is the “problem” with democracy. When voters abdicate their role, political elites reign supreme. Parties coalesce and build up their own members. Healthy compromise between ideas turns into quid pro quo exchanges between lawmakers seeking to create their own careers and legacies.

I think this is why many Americans see the system as broken. It’s normal and natural and all democracies eventually reach this point, throughout history. But the issue really isn’t the system, here. It’s the American people refusing to engage in the process. Whether through party alienation, indignation at corruption, or just plain apathy.

If a clock stops working, it doesn’t mean that it’s broken. It just means that no one has wound it for a while. The clock is not to blame – it’s only natural for the gears to stop turning eventually. All it needs is for a person to come and wind it up again and it will work just as well as before. The same is true with the American system of government. It isn’t broken. The gears have just lost momentum and have bogged down from the complexity of the mechanism. However, if the American people step up and engage in the political process, the momentum will return and the “clock” will start telling time again.
Now, you might object and say that “I haven’t disengaged. I’m not a part of the problem.” Well good for you. If you’re communicating regularly with your representatives on how you want them to vote, walking precincts, engaging in civil political debate of ideas, and making an informed decision at the ballot box, good for you! Most of us, however, are busy with our day to day lives. I’m a political junkie – I love to discuss American politics, weigh ideas, and consider alternatives. I try to remain an informed voter. But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve contacted my representatives and urged their vote on a political issue this year. However, as responsible adults and voters, we cannot continue to lie to ourselves and shift responsibility onto “the system,” when we refuse to even participate. It’s time that we take responsibility for our own failure and take steps to repair the damage we have done.

Come on, America! We’re better than Trump and Hillary. Let’s be optimists again. Let’s fight for our nation, instead of tearing it down. Let’s be that shining City on a Hill that shows the world that Democracy works, when you hold each other accountable.

Let’s actually Make America Great Again. 

-        ~  Evan Gillespie, copyright 2016. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Land of the Free

Veterans Day provides a special opportunity in our nation. It's a time for us to take a moment and thank the veterans of the United States Armed Forces and the service that they have offered in defense our nation and the American way of life.

As I sit here today, I find myself reflecting on the sacrifices that many of my friends and colleagues have made to serve our nation - time with their families, career opportunities, recreation, and even their own health and safety. Granted, it isn't always a dangerous way of life - many find successful careers in military service - but it's a lot to ask of anyone even so.

Unfortunately, veterans of foreign wars - like Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq - often face criticism for their actions "over there." It's a reality that has garnered backlash by many and rightly so. I would encourage anyone who reads this post to remember that regardless of personal feelings about individual practice of American foreign policy, our servicemen deserve the highest respect for their defense of the American way of life.

That's an interesting expression isn't it? The American way of life. What does it really mean? Undoubtedly it has something to do with Freedom, but beyond that, it's a bit difficult to define.

In the early days of our nation, revolutionaries fought to free their families and nation from a tyrant that taxed them into poverty, without allowing them any representation. Later, our nation faced an existential crisis over states' rights and human slavery - resorting to a brutal war between brothers for the future of the nation. the United States of American shifted from a collection of free states into a unified nation - and firmly rejected the slavery of any human being as being immoral and totally unacceptable in America.

The 20th Century saw another series of wars that ravaged our world - and these wars propelled our nation to unprecedented heights - as the economic, military, and moral leader of the free world - and a strong opponent of the Communist threat of Eastern Europe. The various military engagements for the remainder of the century largely were proxy wars between our nation and the Soviet Union - as we fought to contain communism. The century closed to a new world - the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of globalization and the genesis of today's technical revolution - America won. Freedom won.

Now, the 21st Century hits. We see a new rise of radicalism in response to American imperialism, "Western" promiscuity, and ideological reform in many religious and political groups. Today, we find ourselves facing a presidential election cycle that is almost unprecedented in the degree of cynicism and disinterest by the American people. I think that it is fair to say that, today, more than ever, it is important for us to take some time to remember what it means to be an American.

I recently watched the new Tom Hanks film, Bridge of Spies, and his character made a stunningly simple point on that subject, that I think is dead accurate:

"I'm Irish, you're German. But what makes us both Americans? It's just one thing...the Rulebook. We call it the Constitution. And we agree to the rules. And that's what makes us Americans." 

In the end, the only point I would make this Veterans Day is - remember who we are as Americans.  A large mess of people with different interests, passions, and ideas. But people who are united in our respect and love for our founding documents - the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

These documents - no matter how old or "out of date" they may seem, still shine as the one example of what it means to be an American. These documents are the reason that thousands upon thousands of American servicemen have sacrificed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor at home and abroad.

So, yes, I hope we all thanked a veteran today for their service. But more than that, I hope we all take the time to consider what that service really means and resolved never again to underestimate their sacrifice in defense of our freedom as Americans.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Globalization & Protectionism

The development of the global economy is perhaps one of the most controversial topics in economics, while also the most inevitable. Very few economists would argue that resisting
globalization is a wise idea, or even possible. However, there are definite advantages and disadvantages to a global economy. This blog simply weighs the positives and negatives of how globalization has impacted the United States and the international market as a whole in regards to specialization of economies, protectionism, and international trade.  
 The American system was designed around an understanding of the free market – where supply
and demand determine the prices of various good and services. This allows scarce resources to flow to their most efficient uses, since capitalist producers will not continue to waste valuable resources on failed experiments, if there is no economic incentive. As competition increases due to more countries and businesses having interaction with each other – the international consumers will have a greater quality and quantity of product.

Gas lines resulting from OPEC Embargo, 1973
There are a number of factors that impact the degree to which developing nations are capable of competing with more prosperous nations. First, some countries simply maintain an absolute advantage in a particular sector of the economy. An absolute advantage is when, “one country, for any of a number of reasons, can produce some things cheaper or better than another” (Sowell, p. 503, Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy). Whether this advantage comes from climate, technology, or even the culture of society – it can cause other nations to become incapable of competing in that sector. Comparative advantage is where specialization in national economies allows countries to divide their resources to produce the most efficient amount of goods, despite possible absolute advantages exercised by one country over another. This can allow for massive increases in productivity – but it also has the potential for abuse by one country toward another. In 1973, due to the comparative advantage that Saudi Arabia and OPEC held over the oil industry, Arabs “imposed an embargo against the United States in retaliation for the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military and to gain leverage in the post-war negotiations” (“Oil Embargo” Office of the Historian). The globalization of the economy, then, can have both positive and negative consequences on the growth of national wealth. 

One of the biggest problems with specialization resulting from globalization is that countries can reduce or even eliminate entire sectors of their economy – for example, the US now imports most factory-made goods from overseas in China or Taiwan – countries that have specialized to focus on industrialization. This makes for cheaper products, but costs the US blue-collar factory jobs. When workers lack expertise outside of a particular sector, job losses in factories can destroy their livelihood and lead to vast homelessness in certain communities.

It must be understood, though, that this does not mean that the entire economy suffers, as a result. If blue-collar jobs are lost to overseas corporations – it will usually result in more white-collar jobs domestically. Thus, an economy might experience rapid growth, through specialization, while still seeing entire sectors lost and radical increases in unemployment rates. At this point, however, labor unions historically will arise to protect the rights of workers to have full employment. If a large enough union can mobilize a grassroots campaign against the government of a nation, it can easily prevent the export of economic sectors, causing entire sectors to be “protected” from outsourcing. This is known as protectionism – and it results in a country favoring domestically produced goods and services – often going so far as to place tariffs and quotas on foreign imports.

It is fair to note that protectionist policies are effective at accomplishing their chief objective – they artificially preserve the jobs they seek to protect, and insulate these workers from potential job loss. This can benefit a country domestically, as issues of joblessness and homelessness are not as rampant, despite changing technology. However, protectionist policies have the unintended consequence of harming foreign nations, by blocking or limiting the amount of goods and services that these countries can export. Organizations like the World Trade Organization exist to address the rules of international trade, and to ensure that protectionist policies remain limited, to avoid unnecessary disputes between nations. The area where protectionist policies become the most problematic is in regard to the commanding heights of the economy – large industries like coal, oil, and steel.

Finally, the globalization has had a profound impact on the development of international trade agreements. As the global market has expanded to allow more rapid trade and more international business, many nations have sought to establish freer trade agreements with each other, in the interest of bilateral economic growth. One key example of this is the formation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. This agreement “reduced barriers to commerce and business among the three nations (Weidenbaum, p. 193, Business and Government in the Global Marketplace). NAFTA was viewed by Canada and Mexico as a great achievement toward more equitable trade between themselves and the United States. When NAFTA was under debate in the United States, many conservative politicians objected to the adoption of the agreement due to potential harm to the economic stability of the U.S. economy, by allowing lower skill jobs to transition toward Mexico and forcing unionize labor to suffer. While ultimately, politicians voted in support of NAFTA, in light of recent developments, the success of this agreement is questionable. As Weidenbaum points out, “Overall, the changes resulting from more open trade are turning out to be much less than forecast by either NAFTA’s supporters or opponents” (193). Thus, even with strides being taken toward freer trade, the globalization of the market still creates difficulties for successful trade between developing nations and more prosperous countries.  

In conclusion, the globalization of the market is essentially a neutral phenomenon. There are both negative and positive consequences – but it is an inevitable result of free market capitalism. While there are certainly potential complications, through protectionist and punitive trade policies, as well as unbalanced trade between nations, there are many advantages as well. It is important to understand that, whatever fears or dreams that economists may express in regard to globalization, it has certainly benefited economic and human rights advances in developing nations. It is vital that politicians – and the general public – understand the essentials of the global market – and ensure a healthy respect and fear for the potential consequences of manipulation of the markets by national or international government agencies.

- Evan Gillespie
Copyright April 2014

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bibi & 'Bama - What it Means

This morning, something HUGE happened. Some of you may have missed it, or heard about it but failed to grasp its gravitas. Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel spoke to Congress on the dangers of U.S.-Iranian nuclear talks. This wasn't a simple speech on something we all agree on - this wasn't something designed by the President to make Congress look bad. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

The Head of State of a foreign nation made an unprecedented address to the U.S. Congress - bypassing the President of the United States, entirely. That's massive. 

The state of Israel has long (since 1949) been a close ally of the United States of America - a nation that we have defended in the UN, provided weapons & technology to, during the Cold War years, and publicly defended as a beacon of democracy in the midst of the chaos of the Middle East. While Presidents & Israeli PMs have certainly had their share of differences over the years, our two nations have enjoyed a mutual respect and kindness toward each other, for decades.

Now, in light of talks between the United States and Iranian diplomats, over Iran's nuclear program, Congressional Republicans - and many throughout the nation, on both sides of the isle, fear that the United States is willing to make far too many concessions to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the name of compromise. For this reason, House Majority Leader, late in January 2015, John Boehner (R) invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington to share his concerns --------------- without consulting the President. In Boehner's words,

"In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again."

To clarify, Israel has a serious concern with the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran, as Iranian leaders have vocally condemned the existence of the Jewish state for years. Many fear that if Iran possesses nuclear weapons, they will almost certainly use them to attack the state of Israel - which could have dire consequences not only for these two nations, but for the entire world. Preventing such an outcome, is clearly a desirable objective.

The White House was less than enthusiastic about this revelation, when Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, "The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he's traveling there." From the initial announcement it was clear that the President felt personally insulted by this breach of protocol, and for months there has been speculation over the impact of this speech.

Shortly before the speech by Netanyahu, President Obama spoke briefly on the speech, in an interview, calling it a "distraction" from the larger concerns with Iran, and deflecting to queries about how destructive this breach of policy would be to the U.S.-Israeli relationship in the future. His tone - as is frequently the case with President Obama - seemed calm and unconcerned - which is even more concerning in light of the seriousness of the issue.

Bibi's speech was fantastic, in my opinion. He steered a careful course - remaining respectful and supportive of the United States and even President Obama, while condemning the Iranian nuclear talsk as "a bad deal." He was careful to condemn Iranian leaders as "zealots" pursuing "jihad" and referring to the nation at large as the world's "foremost sponsor of terror" - breaking from the recent rhetoric of President Obama, who has painfully sought to disassociate the acts of Islamic terrorists from the religion of Islam. Netanyahu's speech was a polite slap in the face to the President and his administration - reminding the American people that just because Obama says something is true, it doesn't mean the rest of the world agrees.

The most stunning part of this entire situation, however, is the tone of President Obama, in light of everything. While he may be trying to come across as "above the fray" and even presidential - it simply isn't working. The entire nation - both nations in fact - recognize that this speech was no distraction - it was a serious address by a foreign head of state to the American people, on U.S. soil - in direct opposition to the policies of the American President. James Oliphant wrote today, in the National Journal, that

"Obama, in an interview with Reuters, had dismissed the speech as a "distraction," and aides made sure everyone knew he would be too busy to watch it. But if the president didn't cast an eye at a TV, he might have been the only person in Washington not to. And that's the problem. 
For weeks, the White House has worked steadily to write the speech off as a thinly veiled Republican ploy to undermine the delicate negotiations with Iran. But network coverage treated it for what it was: the head of state of a critical ally delivering a controversial address on American soil. That served the interests of both House Speaker John Boehner, who was the impetus behind the speech, and Netanyahu, elevating both of them while key Democrats such as Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren stayed offstage."

I couldn't have said it better myself (ya, I know - don't even say it). While Barack Obama wants to write this off as a small blip on the radar - the American people aren't buying it! And frankly, Obama's coolness in light of this insult is hurting, rather than helping him.

So yes - something big happened in Washington this morning. Bibi threw down the gauntlet to Barack, in his own town, and I am excited, frightened, and generally fascinated to see what the coming weeks will bring us.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Melting Pot

Have you ever heard the analogy that the United States of America is a "melting pot" - where different cultures, religions, ethnicity, and personalities come together to create something unique and special? I've always appreciated this analogy for its simple depiction of what makes America great - our pragmatic assimilation and appreciation of the good ideas in the world. This "melting pot" approach to American society and government can be traced all the way back to the original colonies in this nation. While many were British, there was also a great deal of influence Dutch, Spanish, and French society, as well. Settlers came to have opportunity, land, and freedom from the "old country." As time went on, the predominantly Protestant Europeans also began to be diversified among different denominations, and even Catholicism and some non-Christian sects, as well. By the time America declared independence, there was already a great deal of diversity of culture, religious denomination, and ethnicity represented.

Our political philosophy also traces through centuries of thought - ranging from John Locke to Thomas Hobbes to Aristotle and even Plato.

Something else that we Americans often forget is that even our own government system is a "melting pot" of sorts - at least at its foundation. Democracy was not unique to America. The ancient Greeks actually practiced a form of pure democracy, and the Roman Republic sported a Representative Democracy, something that the USA later mimicked. Even the bicameral nature of our Congress hearkens to back to the British Parliament with a smaller, more elite upper house and a larger, more "common" lower house.

Thus, diversity in our nation is not a bad thing, at its core. However, in order for America to properly function as a melting pot there are three key conditions that must first be met:

1. There Must be Mutual Respect for Individual Rights (Libertarian's excel at this)
2. There Must be a Desire to Unite as a Nation (Democrats are good at this)
3. There Must be a Foundation of Morality & Ethics (Conservatives are good at this)

I'll tackle each of these three in turn, to explain why this is so vital the America's melting pot.

1. There Must be Mutual Respect for Individual Rights

This is perhaps the most universally touted condition, but in many ways the least understood. It is also the most "American" of the conditions. In order for there to be any hope at progressing to Condition #2, individuals must be willing to respect the rights of other individuals in their communities, states, and nation. This is at the very core of the ideology on which our nation was founded. Just because one individual makes choices another disagrees with does not necessarily mean that someone has the right to interfere. Libertarians tend to excel at depicting this condition in society. At its core, it is very Lockean because it depends a respect for an individual's Life, Liberty, and Property.

One of the weaknesses of this condition, however, is that it does very little to encourage a melting pot - in fact, it segregates society into small, confined units of individuals that have little interaction. Many times, this is the weakness in matters of civil rights and diversity because it doesn't allow the full integration and growth of a community that is all-encompassing. It works in small communities, but there is little to no national identity.

2. There Must be a Desire to Unite as a Nation

The second condition is an uncomfortable transition from the first because now there arises the problem of competing values. It depends an element of compromise in the interest of unification. Conservatives (GOP & Libertarians) hate this. Democrats thrive on this. As frustrating as this condition is for many conservatives, it is actually fairly uncontroversial at its core - and it is the very basis of representative democracy. In a society of individuals, there will be differences. In order for the society to protect Life, Liberty, and Property there must be a universally respected structure that encompasses the nation-state.

There are many different political theorists that offer different views of government, but I hold most strongly to the Social Contract view which describes government as a conceptual contract to which individuals agree to uphold, whether consciously or subconsciously. Individuals grant to government the ability to make and enforce laws, and agree to abide by laws that are created in accordance with the social contract. In the United States, the government system is Republic in which individuals elect Representatives that pass laws, make treaties, and perform the functions of government. They can tear down "unjust laws" by replacing their representatives with new ones that more accurately represent their values.

The problem with unification and Social Contracts is that there will always be dissenters. Some individuals in
a society will simply refuse to abide by the contract. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they will operate in deviance from the norm. Governments historically create police forces that control crime and deviance by punishing those that are in violation of the law. Not all views, then, can be tolerated in a united society. Thus, a nation must balance competing values in a way that provides the best protection of liberty while also remaining united.

3. There Must be a Foundation of Morality & Ethics

This is the least palatable condition in contemporary America. I list this condition last, due to its controversy, but in reality, it is the very foundation of a just society.

Allow me to explain...

John Adams, one of America's founders once wrote, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people, it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." This is not an extreme statement. I will temporarily divorce this discussion from religious undertones (don't worry, I'll incorporate them later).
First, let's define "morality" and "ethics" before jumping to conclusions. Merriam-Webster should do fine:
Morality (n): Beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior.
Ethic (n): Rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good or bad.
 Morality and ethics, at there core, are the glue that holds a society together. Without them, there is no way for a free society to function. The fundamental difficulty in any free society, though, is establishing whose morality and ethics will be followed. This problem isn't as pronounced in smaller societies. However, as any society begins to grow - whether intellectually, culturally, or geographically - the resulting plurality of beliefs and rules of behavior among the body politic begin to diversify at an alarming rate.

This is essentially why any great society - be it ancient Greece, the Roman Republic, the Catholic Church in the middle ages, the United Kingdom, and even America - all shift toward authoritarian government. There are other factors in this slide, to be sure. In fact, I could probably spend pages on the other factors, but I'll restrict myself for now. Fundamentally, though, this has been a consistent factor throughout history.

Now, the touchy subject is that I firmly believe the Judeo-Christian tradition - which is the the foundation of Western society - is the most stable and just model for an ethical and just society. Now, I'm not saying this because I am a Christian (okay, that's probably part of it) but for a few key reasons:
 - It emphasizes freedom and justice
 - It gives legitimacy to governmental authority while providing accountability.
 - It has proven the most revolutionary and successful philosophy.
 - It sees human nature as fallen and depraved - and therefore government as fallen and depraved.
Historically, the Republican Party has had the greatest impact in holding to Judeo-Christian values in society - largely a result of Reagan's ability to draw the Moral Majority into his coalition.

The great difficulty in America, however, is preserving this framework of morality and justice - despite the reality that many citizens do not hold to the basic tenants of Christianity - or even Western thought - whether through sheer ignorance or ideological differences. There are a few choices on how to approach this, ranging from forcing "Christian values" on a pluralistic society to abandoning religion-based morality to abandoning objective morality altogether. As terrifying as the third option may appear, in many ways tyrannical law is the only way to sustain a diverse population.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why America Should Support Israel

In light of the past month's crisis in Gaza, there has been a great deal of argument about how America should view the nation of Israel. Some feel that they are guilty of human rights abuses against their Palestinian neighbors, some feel they are attempting to capture more of Gaza, and still others believe they are simply responding to terrorism from the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

A while ago, I wrote an entry with my own perspective, looking at the history of Palestine and how Jewish-Arab relations have evolved, and why I feel Palestine and specifically Hamas is actually the instigator in this crisis. I stand by this conviction (though I am open to debate in the comments section). 

This time, however, I would like to dodge the entire question of "who's right" and simply explain why I believe US support of Israel is so critical to American foreign policy.

1. We have a longstanding relationship with Israel 

Ever since the UN plan was drawn in 1947, the United States has stood behind Israel, despite an incredibly controversial start for the small nation. Risking damage to our own reputation, we have supported the nation of Israel from aggression around the world and provided funding for a great deal of their infrastructure (including the Iron Dome). Withdrawing our support from Israel would send a message to the world that America can be pressured to break alliances, if enough of the world disapproves. Our stance should be that of John F. Kennedy: 
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

2. They're our one Democratic Ally in the Middle East

This one follows from the last, but it simply cannot be overstated. Regardless of what your views are about Israel specifically and their policies, it is undeniable that they are a stable democracy in one of the most unstable and hostile regions in the world. Any attempts to replicate this success by other nations in the region (think Egypt), have failed miserably. Whether you like them or not, Israel is a strong ally of the Western World in a region that has radical contempt for the West and what we represent.

3. The Leadership in Gaza is a known Terrorist group

While it is true that a great deal of innocent life has been lost during Israel's Operation Protective Edge, much of this is due to the nature of their enemy. The leadership in Gaza, and the ones responsible for bombing Israel and digging an extensive, tactical tunnel system into Israel is an internationally known terrorist group (Hamas) that declares their unwavering desire to destroy Israel, the Jews, and everything that opposes the spread of Islamic Sharia law and a Muslim Caliphate. 

The United States has a longstanding tradition of not negotiating with terrorists. This doctrine was established to ensure the international and domestic respect for the rule of law and legitimate authority. Israel is a sovereign state. Gaza, and particularly its current leaders, is not.

4. Israel is showing respect for civilian life, Hamas is not

Hamas is using their own people (Palestinians) to protect their weapons. They use civilians, public places, and tunnels to hide their weapons and command stations, to ensure a high body count when the IDF advances. Israel, on the other hand, has repeatedly called and dropped fliers to Palestinians to inform them of incoming attacks, to allow for evacuation. 

America, as a beacon of liberty and justice in the world, should support nations that uphold the value and sacredness of human life. In this situation, it is certainly not the leadership in Gaza. 

5. The spread of Radical Islam is a Threat to Freedom

The spread of Sharia law in the world is diametrically opposed to the spread of democracy. As the leader of the free world, the United States must stand up in support of freedom of religion (for all faiths), human rights, and right to freely choose one's elected representatives. Hamas does not believe in freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, or freedom of assembly. They radically mistreat and abuse women and they kill those they despise. Palestine, and the world, deserves better than this. 

If America really seeks to establish peaceful relations between Israel and Palestine, then we must support Israel's efforts to defeat Hamas and free Palestinians from their leadership and violence. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Israel Is 'The Bomb'

I’m sick and tired of hearing friends complain about how horrible the nation of Israel is with regard to the current conflict in Gaza. While I can understand that people would object to violence in the world and the unpleasantness of war, it frustrates me when citizens – and Christians in particular – jump into judgment of conflict without taking the time to consider the context of the situation.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is without doubt one of the most controversial issues of international policy, today. In fact, it has been one of the biggest issues of modern foreign policy since Israel's sovereignty was recognized by the U.N. in 1948. Since the establishment of the Israeli state, the government of Israel has received harsh criticism from the international community, with steadily declining support over the years. Today, the United States remains one of the few nations that publicly supports the legitimacy of Israel's sovereignty and we continue to publicly support them as a vital ally in an incredibly unstable region of the world.

The current military incursion by Israeli forces into the Gaza strip is a matter of extensive criticism by many of the left as well as many conservatives. In order to fully understand the situation, though, it is important to consider some of the history of the region - starting in ancient times and continuing until today. Let me be very clear - I support the nation of Israel. My hope is that following this entry, my readers will have clearer understanding of the complexity of the issue and maybe come to appreciate the importance of this current conflict and its implications for the stability of the region.

The Jewish people trace their history in the region to the calling of Abram by God, which is recorded in the book of Genesis in chapter 12:
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3)
The religious branches of the Jewish community, believe that the Palestinian region was granted to them by God. As Christians, we also believe this. On the other hand, the opposition within the Palestinian Authority and groups like Hamas are Sunni Muslims who are religiously and ideologically opposed to the existence of Israel. Both religious groups view Israel, and specifically Jerusalem as a holy site.

The contemporary debate stems over whether or not the secular state of Israel has a legitimate right to the region, since the U.N. chose to draw the boundaries lines in order to establish the Jewish state in the 1940s. Palestinians reject the legitimacy of this decision. The seriousness of this debate is a little absurd to me. The international community has established the boundary lines of countless nations across the world - look at the geographical boundaries of the African states. These lines were established almost entirely without the support of the native people, but are still recognized by the international community without much more than some minor intellectual debate over the wisdom of the decision - the actual authority of the decision is rarely questioned, at least in in regard to its legitimacy today. Israel remains the state that should not exist, to most other nations.

Following the establishment of the Jewish state, Arab opposition attacked the nation the next day in a tragic war. Surprisingly the nation of Israel survived and repelled the opposition. In 1967, Israel was again attacked in the Six Day War where Israel fought back Arabs who sought to destroy the nation - again. The objective of the Arabs? "No recognition. No peace. No negotiations." - Sounds reasonable, right? Israel held them off and gained territory in the West Bank and Gaza - territory claimed after an unprovoked attack against the Jewish sovereign state.

Then, in 1973 the Yom Kippur War broke out - with Syria and Egypt both attacking Israel on their holy day. This conflict was also responsible for the oil embargo that impacted the United States in the 1970s. In 1978, the Camp David Accords were signed between the Israeli Prime Minister and the Egyptian President, later responsible for the 1979 peace treaty between these nations.

Then at the turn of the century, modern terrorism reared its ugly face in the region. Palestinian terrorists began to attack the nation again through repeated suicide bombings across the nation and later through continual surface-to-surface bombing from border countries. To avoid unnecessary escalation of the violence, Israel constructed a complex and expensive missile defense and interception program, called their "Iron Dome." The United States has also contributed millions of dollars to this program. Israel has confirmed that this system intercepts 90% of missiles that threaten military or civilian targets. This systems has been used to intercept the vast majority of missiles deployed by Hamas - a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, which is now working with  the Palestinian Authority. This relationship has allowed Hamas to receive foreign aid assistance from the United States. See the acknowledgement of this situation from US Senator Rand Paul.

Israel has been forced to be overly strict and militaristic toward refugees and opposition within Gaza and the West Bank, out of need to preserve their own existence in light of the constant threats from Palestinians and other Arab opposition. Yes, there have been abuses and missteps by Israel and its leaders. Yes, the Palestinians have reason to feel slighted from the UN acknowledgement of Israel in 1948. Yes, Israel does treat Palestinians harshly. But spending millions of dollars on a defense system to avoid war with those that initiate the conflict should be a good testimony to the intentions of this nation. I seriously doubt that the United States or any other developed nation would go so far to avoid war with an aggressor that has declared their desire to destroy us. And remember - Israel has always spoke out in favor of peace with Arabs. Arabs have responded by demanding the complete destruction if Israel and the Jewish people.

Israel is the bomb. Why is it that such a small speck of land should be such a villain? Just consider the human rights abuses against women, Christians, and Jews by Palestinians, Hamas, and other Muslim groups. Read about them. Study them.

 It is embarrassing when Americans criticize the treatment of Palestinian Arabs out of an American context. Israel has been fighting for their own existence since 1947 - whether right or wrong, is it really so extreme that they would distrust those that openly oppose their existence? Why are American Christians so willing to side with the misogynistic and religiously-extreme Sunni radicals over the only stable democracy in the Middle East?

America must stand behind our ally Israel and be willing to defend their right to exist as a sovereign state.

- Evan Gillespie

Please check out this video for a great summary by Jewish American and Conservative leader Dennis Prager.