23 December 2015

The Case for Trump: Trump vs. the Establishment on Amnesty, Interventionism, and Collaboration

Stephen Kershnar
Why Should People Consider Donald Trump?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
December 21, 2015

Donald Trump is well ahead in the national polls for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump is an undisciplined, unfocused, and unpredictable, so it is worth considering whether voter support for him makes sense. While Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are better choices, support for Trump makes sense for three reasons.  

The argument is that if one’s values freedom, respect for the Constitution, and a non-interventionist foreign policy, Trump’s positions are likely better than his competitors, aside from Cruz and Paul.

First, Trump will likely oppose amnesty and in the long term without such a position most, if not all, of the other libertarian and conservative positions will lose. The argument is that in every recent national election, Hispanics have voted for leftist (Democratic) candidates. Amnesty will result in many more Hispanic voters, enough to result in leftist positions winning across the board. Leftist positions include more government spending, taxes, and regulation, fewer civil liberties, and race preferences, policies that libertarians and conservatives oppose.    

Amnesty will permanently change the country. Even the pandering George W. Bush got no more than 40% of the Hispanic vote in the two elections. Other polling results, show that Hispanics are ideologically committed to the left's agenda. Their voting pattern is similar to that of blacks and Jews. The estimate for the number of illegal aliens is usually 11 million, but is plausibly 20-30 million. Even the lower number will likely be enough to flip Texas, Florida, and a number of state legislatures. Voting for a pro-amnesty candidate, then, is in effect voting for Barack Obama’s and Chuck Schumer’s long-term vision for America.

Democrat support for much larger government can be seen in Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s opposition to any attempt to reduce the size of government and their rabid opposition to tax cuts, a flat tax, tax simplification, etc. Despite his reputation as a moderate, Bill Clinton tried to increase the size of government, but ran head-on into the Republican Congress in 1994. Consider, for example, the Hillary-led attempt to further socialize medicine and how he had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into signing welfare reform.  

Democratic opposition to civil liberties (social freedom) can be seen in that despite the high profile activities on the Michael-Brown-type cases, neither Clinton and Obama, nor the Democratic Congressmen and women have done much to restrict data collection, warrant-less searches, highly aggressive policing (reputation aside, Obama backs the police in most of use-of-force and forfeiture cases), eminent domain, or restrictions on free speech on campuses and in political contexts. With the important exception of abortion, they almost always support expanding government power.

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Lindsey Graham all have supported or would support some type of amnesty. Why they do so is unclear. Illegal aliens are not especially poor compared to tens of millions of people across the globe would love to live in America. There is little to no indication that they identify with America and even less reason to believe that they would make current American citizens freer or wealthier than they would be were the aliens to leave. They’re not even assimilated to American life as can be seen in their differences with much of America in terms of language, education, and family values.    

Second, Trump also shows some indication of avoiding the fanatical interventionism of other candidates. Candidates who backed, or likely would have backed, most of the following: overthrow of Libya, Egypt, and Syria and boots on the ground to combat ISIS have a Woodrow-Wilson-type view of foreign policy. The view is that foreign policy and the military need not serve American interests, but should instead serve ideals, such as democracy. In the past, this view can be most clearly seen in the United States’ participation in World War I and the Vietnam War, as well as the two U.S. wars against Iraq. Support for the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is a particularly good tests for the Wilsonian view as he was neither a threat to American interests at the time he was overthrown, nor a threat to slaughter civilians.

The candidates’ war against all monsters is arguably inconsistent because the pursuit of the various policies: aggressively confronting Russia, overthrowing Syria’s Bashar Assad, and defeating ISIS conflict with one another.  

This Wilsonian view can also be seen in candidates who want to aggressively confront Russia. Consider, for example, interventionists who want to set up no-fly zones over Iraqi and Syrian airspace when both have given permission to Russian to fly its planes there and who, in the past, supported expanding NATO to include the Baltic States, thereby threatening U.S. involvement were hostilities to erupt.  

The interventionist program can also be seen in candidates who so value the military that they are willing to eliminate the budget sequester, thereby trading increased military spending for allowing Obama to increase domestic spending. It can also be seen in candidates that want to continue NSA dragnet collection of email and cell phone data that violates the Fourth Amendment. 

Establishment candidates such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich generally have the Wilsonian view of foreign policy, support the breaking of the sequester, and the trampling on the Fourth Amendment. They support ever deepening military involvement in the Middle East. For someone who thinks American policy should serve American interests, opposes deepening involvement in the Middle East, and prioritizes liberty over military prowess, Cruz and Paul are the best bets. Trump is unpredictable, but shows some signs of being less interventionist. Voting for establishment guys is setting the country up for more wars similar to George W. Bush’s Iraqi and Afghanistan wars and accompanying nation-building.  

Third, the Republican Congressional leadership (John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell) has repeatedly signed off on funding and thereby authorizing the commanding heights of the Obama economic platform (Obamacare, amnesty, debt increases, spending increases that broke the sequester, and increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy). It is reasonable to think that establishment candidates would do the same in office. They likely would value approval from Republican donors, mainstream media, and the other prissy types who get offended at every Trumpism more than cutting government down to size. Were the establishment candidates chosen, this sends the Republican leadership that they should keep on selling out the Republican base. Trump sends the opposite message.

09 December 2015

Professors run and hide when the race-circus comes to their campus

Stephen Kershnar
Why the Faculty Remain Silent
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 21, 2015

The protests at University of Missouri and Yale University have spread. Campus protesters demand that university positions be handed out in a racial spoils system, blatant nonsense be accepted as fact, and free speech be curtailed. An interesting issue is why the faculty have remained silent.   

At the University of Missouri, black students and their allies demanded quotas (10% of faculty and staff must be black), mandatory diversity training, and fewer black students flunking out or leaving.

At Yale University, a protest over two married professors’ suggestion that decisions about adult students wearing Halloween costumes are best handled by the students themselves rather than the administration quickly led to Yale promising to spend $50 million to hire more black and Hispanic faculty, implement mandatory diversity training for supervising professors and staff, and so on.  

Ivy League competitor Brown University had previously announced a $100 million dollar plan to diversify its campus. It will double the number of black and Hispanic faculty and implicitly lower standards to attract and retain them. Already, 33% of Brown students and 20% of its faculty are not white, but administrators and protesters think that this diversity includes the omnipresent Asians and they add the wrong sort of diversity. The percentages also don’t include the large number of Jewish faculty and students, but again they add the wrong sort of diversity.

Other universities are being hit with similar protests. An elite and traditionally Jewish University (Brandeis University) has been hit with protests demanding quotas (10% of faculty and staff and 15% of students must be black), mandatory diversity training, and increasing funding for black student organizations and programs. Hamilton College protesters demand 13% of the faculty be black and that the next college president and the chairs of certain departments not be white. Similar protests and pressured resignations have occurred at Amherst, Claremont-McKenna, Dartmouth, Duke, Hamilton, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton.

The protests have consistently demanded that a racial spoils system be imposed. This despite the fact that the Supreme Court has clearly and repeatedly held that quotas are unconstitutional. The courts have never held that even race preferences for faculty and staff are constitutional, let alone quotas, and likely would not do so (given its narrow holdings on race preferences). Nevertheless, the protesters demand quotas and preferences and some of the best universities meekly comply and hope no one sues them.

The protesters claim that blacks and Hispanics face unbelievable amount of racial hostility. This is blatant nonsense and the protesters know it. Overt expressions of rare hatred are incredibly rare and with surprisingly frequency turn out to be done by black or Hispanic students trying to get sympathy for their cause. There are no studies that I am aware of showing that such students face regular hostility and anecdotes supporting such claims are few and open to interpretation.  

The protests have also been surprisingly hostile to free speech. At Missouri, protesters at a state university repeatedly shoved a reporter. A Communication professor called for violence to remove a reporter she surely knew was acting within his rights. At Dartmouth, protesters aggressively insulted, pushed, and shoved students in the library. Sit-ins (also known as trespasses) have also occurred at several campuses, including Princeton. At UCLA, protesters demanded that a professor be punished for an article of his that appeared in a top-flight academic journal.   

At almost all of the campuses hit by protests, students have demanded mandatory diversity-education classes. These classes consist of little more than propaganda and are devoid of academic content. They limit free speech by mandating a correct view on race, gender, and sexual orientation much as would a mandatory pledge of allegiance.  

The faculty at these universities know all of this. They do the hiring and promoting and are well aware that they are not discriminating against blacks and Hispanics and in favor of Jews and Asians. In fact, they go out of their way to favor black and Hispanic applicants (and often women) and do so openly. They know full well that quotas are illegal and that free speech is central to what they do and yet hide quietly when the race-circus comes to town.   

Why have the faculty stayed quiet? Some likely agree with the movement and don’t care that the racial spoils system is illegal, the claims of victimization are false, or free speech is being disrespected.

Others likely disagree, but don’t want the howling mob or their colleagues turning on them. No faculty member wants to get pounded in the way the Yale professors did. The fact that administrators can and do quietly punish faculty members who bring controversy to their campuses makes it wise to stay silent.  

Also, faculty seem to be increasingly quiet people, removed from public life. This can be seen the surprising absence of academics (aside from lawyers) in Congress and especially the Congressional leadership. Also, in the recent past, no major presidential candidate has been a legitimate academic.   

On a side note, SUNY-Fredonia is ripe for protest. At Fredonia, black students had, and likely still do have, SATs that are, on average, much worse than those of white students and are far less likely to graduate in four years. As the percentage of the student body that is black or Hispanic has roughly tripled and doubled respectively (2005-2014), the lower graduation rate is increasingly noticeable and relevant to the college. Some minority faculty claimed to have faced a hostile climate and left. There has even been a protest and tense meeting on racial matters involving a previous president (Dennis Hefner) and a controversy involving speech on racial issues (disclosure: It involved me). Some of this led to the hiring of a full-time diversity officer. It is an interesting question how Fredonia faculty would respond to protests or demands like those faced by its elite counterparts.    

25 November 2015

A Campus Protests About Nothing: Racial grievances used to lever quotas and money

Stephen Kershnar
Missouri and Yale: Race-Based Takings
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 21, 2015

The academic world is focused on recent protests at University of Missouri and Yale University.

At the University of Missouri, black students and their allies claimed the administration was racially insensitive. This led to protests, a threatened boycott by the football team, and a single student going on a hunger strike, which in turn led to the resignation of the chancellor of the university and the president of the University of Missouri system. The movement was led by a group (Concerned Student 1950) that demanded quotas (10% of faculty and staff must be black), mandatory diversity training, and fewer black students flunking out or leaving.

At Yale University, a protest over two married professors’ mild replies to the university’s sensitivity hectoring on Halloween costumes led to students angrily confronting one of them over his strong support of free speech. In response to the confrontation and related protests, Yale decided to buy off the protesters. It promised to spend $50 million to hire more black and Hispanic faculty, implement mandatory diversity training for supervising professors and staff, increase financial aid to low income students (they already pay little to no tuition), and put more money into its racial and ethnic cultural centers.  

Other universities are being hit with similar protests. An elite and traditionally Jewish University (Brandeis University) has been hit with protests demanding, you guessed it, quotas (10% of faculty and staff and 15% of students must be black), mandatory diversity training, and increasing funding for black student organizations and programs. Similar protests and pressured resignations have occurred at Princeton, Dartmouth, and Claremont-McKenna College.

The overall pattern is stunning. First, even if all the alleged acts of race hatred at Missouri did occur, they are so few and minor as to not warrant much attention, let alone a panicked response, by top-level administrators running massive universities (their budgets and resources are sometimes in the billions).  

Second, many, if not all, of the high profile acts of race hatred probably didn’t happen. Over the years, many of the high profile acts of alleged race hatred, and probably most, have turned out to be hoaxes. By this I mean that the perpetrator was black, Hispanic, or a liberal white trying to make a statement rather than an expression of white hatred.

As Ashley Thorne writing for the National Association of Scholars points out, there have been a series of documented campus hoax crimes in recent years, such as those at Trinity International University (2005), George Washington University (2007), the University of Virginia (2007), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2011), Central Connecticut State University (2012), University of Wisconsin at Parkside (2012), Montclair State University (2012), and Vassar College (2013). Overreactions and hoaxes have also occurred at elite institutions, such as Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Williams.

Third, some of the protests have been accompanied by thuggery. Witness, for example, the shoving and physical intimidation of reporters at the University of Missouri and the violence that broke out at Dartmouth. The toleration of thuggery to intimidate faculty and students and lever the administration is an ominous sign.  

Fourth, the hypocrisy is troubling. As Victor Davis Hanson in National Review points out, the black Missouri football threatened to boycott games based racial underrepresentation when blacks were 50% of the team, roughly four times their percentage of the population. Apparently, overrepresentation of blacks in football is not an issue but overrepresentation of whites and Asians in theoretical physics is.

The real issue, though, is the attempt to use dubious racial grievances to replace white and Asian students and faculty (and especially Jews at elite institutions) with blacks.  

It is uncontroversial that, on average, black (and Hispanic) students at elite institutions have significantly less academic ability than their white and Asian counterparts. Consider, for example, University of Michigan. In 2005, University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot reports that the average black student had SATs roughly 200 points lower than the average white student and 250 points lower than the average Asian. Were a white or Asian student to have the scores of the average black student, he would have a 1% chance (if white) and 0% (if Asian) of being accepted. This matters because IQ scores correlate with SATs and are a strong predictor of academic and job performance. Having (on average) lower scores predictably leads to black students having worse grades, lower graduation rates, and switching from rigorous majors (for example, hard sciences) to easier ones.   

UCLA law professor Richard Sander and others have shown that ratcheting up black students into schools in which their competition outclasses them hurts them. It leads to their failing or dropping out more often than they would were they to attend schools in which they were better matched with their peers. It also leads to their being unable to pass professional entrance exams (for example, medical boards and the bar) more often than would occur if they were better matched.  

For example, Sander showed that the average black law student was in the bottom 10% of his class. This is entirely unsurprising given that they had an academic index score more than two standard deviations below their average white competitor. How would you do in a race in which your best times going into the race were well below those of most of the other runners? Is it any wonder, then, that black students get discouraged and firms and clients are wary of black lawyers and doctors?

The lowered standards also lead to executives, engineers, doctors, and lawyers who perform worse than would a white or Asian who would otherwise have received the educational slot. This leads to worse decisions in these fields and thereby hams consumers and employers. For example, putting a subpar teacher in the classroom, on average, harms decades of students. The same is true for subpar executives and doctors. The ratcheting effect also leads to wasted resources as black law and medical students flunk the entrance exams with disturbing frequency and sometimes never end up passing, thereby wasting the resources that went into educating them.

Perhaps the harm is outweighed by the benefits that come about through role-modelling, diverse ideas, or improved interracial relations, but I am unaware of any study that shows these benefits outweigh the costs. In addition, it is implausible that this is true. No one thinks that the New England Patriots would do better if they replaced black and Hispanic players with less meritorious Jews or Asians. There is little reason to think that boardrooms or operating rooms are different.

The protesters are trying to use racial grievances, dubious and in any case infrequent, to implement quotas and to shift money, educational spots, and jobs from whites and Asians to Blacks. This is not good for the country or academia and probably not even good for blacks. 

11 November 2015

2015 Budget Deal: Republicans Betray Conservative Voters

Stephen Kershnar
Republicans Stab America in the Back
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 7, 2015

In passing the recent two-year federal budget deal, the Republican Party leadership stabbed America in the back. Every year, Republicans run for office promising to reduce the size and scope of the government and yet every year, like Lucy with the football, they fail to deliver.

The spending cap (budget sequester) is a multi-year limit on spending increases that was put in place in 2011 to prevent the flood of spending that childish Democrats seek each and every year. Because Republicans did not otherwise attempt to cut government spending, the cap did a lot of work. It played a central role in tamping down the growth of government from the piggish levels that occurred during Obama’s first few years in office and in reducing the deficit to less obscene levels.

Writing in Investor’s Business Daily, Stephen Moore points out that even with the cap in place, the federal budget was scheduled to rise by 6% in 2016. In contrast, he notes, inflation is less than 2% and incomes have stagnated for a decade. So what did the Republicans do? They signed off on a deal that in effect destroyed the cap and increased federal spending by 8% next year. So while incomes haven’t increased much in a decade, the Republicans gave the government an 8% raise. What the hell?

Thrown in for good measure by the Democrats and their Republican collaborators was a further raiding of social security revenue and a $32 billion increase in off-budget war spending. The latter is especially galling because labelling spending off-budget is just more dishonest budgeting. The off-budget war spending complements the $40 billion increase in military spending because where would this country be if we couldn’t continue our foreign adventures in Afghanistan and the Middle East and edge ever closer to war with Iran, Russia, and China?

The Republican leadership also raised federal debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion dollars to a total of nearly $20 trillion. During the Obama presidency, the debt has nearly doubled and the Republican collaborators greenlit much of it. The debt is now larger than the economy and more deficits loom ahead.  

What have we gotten from this spending orgy? A number of taxes on the middle class and rich have gone up and the economy stagnated. From 2009-2014, the economy grew at a pathetic average of 1.4% per year and this is with immigration swelling the population. We’ve seen a litany of scandals involving the IRS (targeting of TEA party groups), ATF and Justice Department (Fast and Furious cover up), Veteran’s Department (unnecessary deaths due to incompetence), State Department (Benghazi-related mess), and so on. We’ve also see the Obama administration trample on the Constitution by amnestying millions of illegal aliens, ignoring the law on Obamacare and bankruptcy involving the car companies, starting an illegal war in Libya, and so on. Nothing here merits an 8% raise.

The left loves the raise. They have become completely unhinged from economic reality. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to jack up income tax rates on the rich to 70%. Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton wants to tax capital gains (investment income) at 44%. One can only imagine the damage such policies would produce. 

To be fair, most Republicans did not vote for the spending orgy. Roughly two-thirds of Republican senators and representatives voted against it. Republican Congressional leadership, specifically, Paul Ryan (R-WI), John Boehner (R-OH), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), broke their campaign promises and passed a far left spending deal using Democrat votes. Of course, the shame of New York, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), voted for it, but so did our representative: Tom “RINO” Reed. In so voting, Reed is begging for a primary challenge.

How conservatives and libertarians should respond to this betrayal? There aren’t too many options. First, they can keep on voting Republican and hope that adult legislators (for example, Freedom Caucus) gain influence. The problem is that there is little indication that this will happen. The beltway Republicans have not been made to relinquish power and there is little reason to think they will do so in the near future.

Second, they can vote for a new party. This runs the risk of splitting the right’s vote.

Third, they can sit out an election and snap their wallets closed when Republicans show up hat in hand. This risks empowering the left as their voters will still show up.

These are bad choices. Were the U.S. not approaching a point of no return in terms of the size of government, the debt, and, most importantly, the importation of many far left voters (legal and illegal immigrants), the second and third options might be the way to go. Unfortunately, the importation of new voters makes these options less viable, so conservatives and libertarians will have to go with the first. Perhaps a middle ground can be found where the right refuses to fund the national party and RINOs like John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Reed get primary challenges.

The gloves in national discussions have to come off. If the left wants to make elections a battle of identity-politics, the right should welcome this development. The left can explain how its candidates are the right choice for blacks, Hispanics, unmarried women, and poor people. The right can explain how its candidates are the right choice for whites, married women, the middle class, and rich people. With the parties increasingly appealing to different sectors of the population, Republican candidates can focus on energizing their base rather than reaching out to groups that haven’t and won’t vote for them, in large part because they like socialism. Not only will focusing on turning out the base work better (see, for example, Reagan’s success and Newt Gingrich’s and the TEA party insurgencies), it will prevent the core beliefs of Republican voters from being ground into the dirt. 

28 October 2015

The Global Warming Crusade and Philosophy

Stephen Kershnar
The Climate Change Crusade and Philosophy
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 25, 2015

The 2015 United National Climate Change Conference is coming up in about a month. The conference aims to put a legally binding and universal agreement on global warming (that is, climate change). Manmade global warming (that is, climate change) refers to the claim that the climate system is warming and that it is caused, at least in part, by human activity. Among the solutions that various groups have suggested are taxing, regulating, or punishing people to reduce the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). Other suggestions include reducing consumption and travel, moving to more efficient cars, buildings, and appliances, and promoting vegetarianism. If these goals are adopted, governments will likely pursue them through coercion.    

The scientific consensus is that that the earth’s surface and oceans are warming due to in part to the emission of greenhouse gases. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that it was more than 95% likely that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other human activity is causing global warming. Various scientific models predict that in the 21st century, the global surface temperature is likely to rise anywhere from 0.5 to 8.6 °F, depending in part on how much greenhouse emission occurs. That there is manmade global warming is the consensus view of most, if not all, of the major scientific bodies.   

If these models are correct, the question becomes what, if anything, should be done about climate change. Among the possible responses are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, learning to live with its effects, and climate engineering. The American and European left want to reduce greenhouse emissions via higher taxes, more regulation, and various criminal punishments and civil fines. The philosophical problems that accompany these solutions are worth considering.    

First, policies that aim to lessen greenhouse emissions not to prevent harm from pollution-related harm today, but to combat global warming decades from now might not be the best use of charitable resources. One group (Copenhagen Consensus) tried to rank the effectiveness of various types of altruistic policies and found that lessening global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emission is not the most efficient type of altruistic spending. More good was done by other programs, such as ones that lessened malnutrition and hunger, combatted chronic and infectious diseases (such as malaria and HIV), and funded research and development for green technologies that combat climate change and increase agricultural productivity.

Even if manmade global warming is bad for mankind, this does not mean it should receive priority if there are more pressing problems. For example, if a dollar spent on reducing malnutrition or malaria does more good than reducing greenhouse gas emission, this should guide our spending of scarce charitable dollars.  

Second, at least in the near future, the costs of lessening greenhouse emissions through the left’s programs might exceed their benefits. Arguing in the New York Times in 2013, Bjorn Lomborg argues that in the near future, the increased use of coal and other fossil fuels is crucial to helping the poor in the third world escape poverty. He argues that over the last 30 years, China lifted 680 million people out of poverty in part by giving them access to more modern energy, mostly through the burning of coal. He notes that this resulted in terrible air pollution and a huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions, but argued that this is a tradeoff many developing countries would welcome (for example, those in sub-Saharan Africa). Perhaps this is incorrect, but it is incumbent on environmentalists to show why.   

As a theoretical matter, the benefits of added wealth might exceed the costs of depletion. Consider this cartoonish example. For example, if depleting various natural resources allows the economy to expand at 5% rather than 0% for 25 years, the per capital income of the average American will go from $55,000 to $186,000 (in 2015 dollars). Future generations might do better with more wealth and technology than a pristine environment.  

Third, if a policy leads to the creation of different people than otherwise would be created, then the policy does not harm anyone. More than a decade ago a controversy erupted when a deaf lesbian couple intentionally had a deaf child by using the sperm of a man from a multi-generational deaf family. Their action did not harm anyone because there was no one whom they made worse off (leaving aside taxpayers). Their child would not have existed were he not (partially) deaf. Similarly, if the left’s changes in the economic system are large enough, this might affect the people who come into existence in the same way that industrialization, world wars, and the computer economy have a large effect on who reproduces with whom. If such a large effect occurs, then, over the long term, it is hard to see who would be harmed by large-scale greenhouse gas emissions. People are not harmed by the emissions if they would not have existed were the emissions not to have occurred. Whether the left’s programs are large enough to affect reproductive patterns is an empirical question.   

Fourth, even if greenhouse gas emissions make the world a better place, it is not clear we have a duty to make the world a better place. For example, it might well be that the world would be a better place if wealthier couples donated their money to famine-relief programs rather than going on European vacations, but they don’t have a duty to do so. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with happier and smarter couples having two children rather than five even though this makes the world worse because there are fewer happy people.

These economic and philosophical concerns about some of the proposals to lessen greenhouse gas emissions as a way of lessening global warming are well-known and serious. If climate change crusaders do not address them, then their solutions should be rejected. 

14 October 2015

The Pope is not a moral authority

Stephen Kershnar
Why Do People Take the Pope Seriously?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 12, 2015

With tremendous fanfare, Pope Francis recently visited the United States. President Obama lavished him with praise, “Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example.  … You shake our conscience from slumber.” He became the first pope to address a joint session of the United States Congress. He spoke there because House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Catholic, invited him.  

In his speech to Congress and other dignitaries, the Pope lectured Congress and the American people on immigration, poverty, capital punishment, and climate change. In particular, he lectured Congress on the need to keep the immigration floodgate open, especially with regard to Latin America. The Pope doesn’t give new, and sometimes not any, substantive arguments for his position. If his pronouncements deserve serious consideration, it is because he is a moral authority.

A moral authority is one who is an expert on what we ought to think and do. If a person’s beliefs are awash in metaphysical nonsense, then he’s probably not a moral authority. Metaphysical theories address the nature of the world, especially people. Morality depends on metaphysics because most theories of morality depend on issues such as whether people have free will, are essentially sinful, and have duties to God. It also depends on issues such as whether gay people are disordered. Metaphysical error often leads to moral error in the same way that, in the past, mistaken beliefs about the human body led to mistaken medical treatment.   

When a person asks a country to adopt controversial moral positions on the basis of his moral authority, it is fair to ask whether he is such an authority. This is analogous to how a judge should consider whether someone is an expert prior to allowing him to give expert testimony in court. To see whether the Pope’s beliefs are awash in metaphysical nonsense, consider the following Catholic doctrines.   

Consider the Trinity. The Pope and the Catholic Church believe that there are three people [Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit] who together are God and God is also a person. This is supposedly explained because the three are one substance, essence, or nature. It is unclear whether it is possible for multiple people to constitute another person, but even if it is possible, there is little reason to be think it occurs with regard to God, angels, or people. Nothing about substance and essence makes this position respectable.  

The Pope and the Catholic Church believe that Jesus died for people’s sins. Because the Romans tortured and then killed Jesus, the Pope and the Catholic religion tell us that his suffering substitutes for the punishment or pays the debt of ordinary human beings, thus, in part, allowing them to avoid the wages of sin and go to heaven. This conflicts with a widely held principle in morality and law that one person does not cease to deserve punishment when someone else is punished. It also conflicts with the idea that one person can pay another’s debt without the latter’s permission.

Catholic Church services involve transubstantiation. This occurs when the bread and wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist literally become the body and blood of Christ. The change occurs because the bread and wine get changed into the essence of Christ even though their properties remain the same. For example, the wine is still red and tastes like normal wine. What’s more, all of Christ is present in each piece of bread even though they are scattered around the globe. It is as if Barack Obama were campaigning in person in Manhattan, Washington DC, and San Francisco at the very same time.    

Catholicism asserts that the Pope is infallible when he makes certain types of statements on faith and morality to be held by the whole church. It is not merely that he is not mistaken on these issues, the church claims, he cannot be mistaken. The Pope’s infallible pronouncements concern matters such as whether Mary was conceived in a way that made her free from original sin and whether she (body and soul) ascended into heaven. On some accounts, this infallibility includes Pope John Paul’s statement that men alone can be priests. On this picture, then, when someone is chosen to be the Pope, God confers infallibility on him with regard to some issues.   

The Catholic Church claims that people get sent to hell for refusing to love God and hell involves eternal fiery suffering. On this picture, a loving creator imposes this treatment or, at least, does not mitigate it, even though he loves those going to hell much as a mother loves her child. The Catholic Church believes that even newborns have to be inoculated against their sinful natures through baptism, even though they have not yet committed any sins and, in fact, cannot do so.   

These and other doctrines rival the strangest doctrines of Scientology or Mormonism and, in some cases, make no sense. A person whose belief system is awash in this sort of confusion is unlikely to be a moral authority.   

Consider, for example, the Pope’s demand that Congress continue to accept the flood of immigrants from Latin America. The Pew Hispanic Center found that since the 1965 Immigration Act opened the immigration floodgates, the country has added 72 million immigrants and their descendants, but the Pope demands more. He adamantly opposes gay adoption despite the many children who would greatly benefit from being adopted by loving gay couples. He is strongly critical of capitalism, despite its incredible historical record. Congress shouldn’t take his recommendations seriously any more than it would take seriously the recommendations of Scientology’s leader. The same is true for the Pope’s views on the environment, capitalism, gay adoption, and capital punishment.

The emperor has no clothes.

30 September 2015

Should Voters Vote for Religious Muslims for President? No.

Stephen Kershnar
Ben Carson on Muslim Presidential Candidates
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 27, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson asserted that he would not support a religious Muslim for president and all hell broke loose. Chuck Todd of Meet the Press asked him whether voters should consider a presidential candidate’s religious faith, he said the following, "I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem." When the interviewer asked whether Islam is consistent with the Constitution, Carson responded, "No, I don't -- I do not." He later added that, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that." He later noted that he had a different view of Muslims running for Congress.

The president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations immediately demanded that he withdraw from the presidential race and labeled him unfit to be President. Most of the presidential candidates piled on. Establishment hacks, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, joined the chorus of critics. So did Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio. Sanders analogized Carson’s comments toward Muslim presidential candidates to bigotry against Catholics and blacks. One wonders whether these pompous asses would be willing to vote for candidates who were Scientologists or members of Mormon polygamous sects.   

The Obama White House, Clinton, and National Public Radio argued that Carson’s assertion is unconstitutional. Their argument reflects a profound misunderstanding of the Constitution. Article VI says, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Because Carson did not support a law that puts for that puts forth a religious test or establishes a religion, his position is consistent with the Constitution. The Constitution does not require voters ignore a candidate’s religion or values and were the government to do so, it would violate other parts of the Constitution.

Other things being equal, a voter should support a candidate for President only if the voter is confident that the candidate does not have beliefs about the government that are false and conflict with American freedom. A significant percentage of religious Muslims have such beliefs. In addition, because candidates so often lie or misrepresent who they are, voters can’t be confident as to which Muslim candidates have such beliefs.

On the topic of lying, consider that George W. Bush ran against nation building and claimed that Iraq was linked to al-Qaeda and had weapons of mass destruction. Barack Obama said that Obamacare would reduce the deficit, people could keep their doctor, health insurance premiums would go down, etc.

No one thinks that people who reject basic freedoms deserves to be elected. For example, doctrinaire communists and Nazis don’t deserve our votes because their values are at odds with our basic freedoms. The same is true for those who are leaders of a criminal enterprises (for example, Mexican Mafia and Hell’s Angels).   

Given that some people’s ideas make them a poor choice for the presidency, the question is whether religious Muslims have such ideas. To see they do, consider Muslim countries. Far too often Muslim countries make it clear that the Muslim leaders have little to no respect for freedom. Consider the Middle East. A 2015 Freedom House study found that only one out of twenty-two Muslim countries in the Middle East is politically free. The study assumed that freedom is a function of political rights and civil liberties. Only Tunisia was found to be free and this is a recent development. The study found that only four are even partly free and the best of these, Turkey, has a constitutional firewall between the Muslim religion and its government. Similarly, the Cato Institute ranks countries and regions by freedom (personal and economic) and the Muslim countries consistently score badly, especially powerful ones such as Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

As National Review’s Andrew McCarthy points out, where sharia law is in place, countries fail to separate religion from political life and are hostile to freedom, suspicious of reason, backward in economics and education, and treat women and gays poorly.  

One objection to this is that even if Muslim leaders in other countries act disgracefully, we should not assume the same will be true of American Muslims. However, one of the best tests of how a belief system works is to see what happens when it is systematically implemented.  

A second objection is that the Muslim religion does not support the gross contempt for civil liberties and economic freedom. Rather, it has been twisted beyond recognition by foreign leaders. This objection is odd. Even if it were true, a voter should fear that a Muslim presidential candidate would have an equally twisted understanding. The content of the religion itself is beside the point if its members regularly misinterpret it and we can’t predict who will do so.

In any case, I doubt Carson’s critics want to rest their case on whether the real Muslim religion permits wife-beating, allows women to be confined to the home, permits child marriage, and requires the burqa. Nor do they want their position to rest on whether the real Muslim religion requires that gays be flogged or killed and Jews and Christians be treated as second-class citizens. They likely don’t want their position to rest on whether the real Islam requires Muslims to wage war against non-believers. They don’t know enough about it and, in any case, there are experts on both sides of these issues.  

Islam is also blatantly irrational in asserting that Muhammad is a prophet and that God exists as depicted in the Quran, and he wants us to obey sharia law, but irrationality isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s the incompatibility with American freedom. Carson is on the money. 

16 September 2015

Pro-Lifers and Killing Abortion-Doctors

Stephen Kershnar
Pro-lifers and Killing Abortion-Doctors
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 31, 2015

Over the summer, the Center for Medical Progress released secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials that appear to capture a criminal conspiracy by the organization to sell fetal body parts. Several states responding by cutting Planned Parenthood’s funding. Congress tried to defund it, but the attempt died in the Senate. While embarrassing, and perhaps criminal, the videos are less intellectually troubling than the pro-lifers implicit commitment to violence.

There is a history of violence by pro-life forces against abortion providers. The New York Times reports that between 1978 and 1993, there were over one hundred bombings and arsons of clinics, more than three hundred invasions, and over four hundred incidents of vandalism.

Pro-life violence has also resulted in eight people being killed, including four doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort. Two examples are worth considering. On October 23, 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death with a high-powered rifle at his home in Amherst, New York. On May 31, 2009, Scott Roeder shot and killed Dr. George Tiller as the latter served as an usher at a Wichita, Kansas church. The leading pro-life groups publicly reject this violence.

The problem is that if the pro-life position is true, then the above killings and some of the other violence are justified. The argument is straightforward. Lethal violence may sometimes to be used to defend innocent parties and, if the pro-life position is true, then, sometimes, assassinating abortion-doctors is an instance of such defense.

By analogy, consider the following case. A Nazi worker drives his truck to his job at the death camp, Treblinka. His job is to drop Zyklon B into the shower-like rooms that are used to kill Jews. A Jewish resistance group kills the worker with an anti-tank round when he is a mile away from the camp. They do so in order to save Jewish lives. Under German law, assassinating death camp workers is illegal and punishable by death.

It intuitively seems the resistance group can permissible assassinate the worker. On the pro-life position, the Nazi worker is analogous to an abortion-doctor, the Jews who would otherwise be killed by the worker are analogous to fetuses, and the Jewish resistance is analogous to the pro-life resistance.

To deny this analogy, the pro-life opponent of assassinating abortion-doctors has to deny that the Nazi worker may be assassinated or show that, on pro-life assumptions, assassinating him is different from assassinating an abortion-doctor. The pro-life position blocks both moves.

The pro-life argument for assassinating abortion-doctors makes the following assumption: Abortion is as wrong as killing adult people and is wrong for the same reason. On different accounts, abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent, infringes the fetus’ rights, violates the Golden Rule, conflicts with God’s prohibition on such killing, deprives the fetus of a valuable future, or brutalizes the killer. The reason one of these wrong-making features is present depends on further assumptions concerning whether the fetus is a person or human being, is loved by God, has a valuable future, and so on.  

The pro-life commitment to violence can be seen in that on almost every pro-life view, killing a fetus is as wrong as killing a newborn. If defending a newborn’s life warrants lethal force, then so does killing a fetus. This can be seen in the above case in that the resistance may kill the Nazi worker if his job consisted of gassing Jewish newborns.

One objector might claim that assassinating doctors is illegal. This objection is weak because morality and legality are distinct. Slave-owning was immoral even though it was legal. Helping slaves escape was moral even though it was illegal.

A second objector might argue that it is always wrong to kill someone, intentionally kill someone, commit violence, intentionally commit violence, and so on. If this is a commitment of the pro-life position, then it is rather implausible. This would rule out defensive war and lethal protection of children being slaughtered. For example, the Catholic Church is pro-life but holds that some wars are permissible.

A third objector might claim that pro-life assassination is justified only if benefit of the killing exceeds its cost. From the pro-life perspective this is likely the case because assassinating and harassing abortion clinics reduces their frequency and each additional life saved is likely to add a happy person to the world. It is also reasonable to think that having children will even add to the lives of mothers who are prevented from getting an abortion. This rests on psychological studies of the effects of motherhood, including unwanted motherhood.

If we have to trade off a fetus for an abortion-doctor, then, in terms of costs and benefits, the tradeoff is worthwhile. The happiness the fetus gains by not being killed likely outweighs that lost by the doctor and his grieving family members. This is because, on average, the fetus has more years of life ahead of her than does the doctor.   

This fetus’ being more important is further evidenced by the fact that, in many cases, the abortion-doctor completed some or all of his reproduction and the fetus has not yet reproduced. Also, because, on average, aborted fetuses have demographic features (for example, black and poor) that suggest that they will have more children than abortion-doctors and will reproduce at a younger age (thus shortening reproductive cycles), there is even more reason to believe that in terms of producing happy people, a fetus’ life is more valuable than that of an abortion-doctor.

In short, consistency requires that if those who accept the pro-life position also accept assassinating abortion-doctors. If you think such assassination is crazy, you’re no pro-lifer, despite your protestations on Sunday. The reason almost no one believes that it’s okay to kill abortion-doctors is that they really don’t think that a fetus has a right to be in the woman’s body when she doesn’t want it there.

LOCATION             a:  DFOKershnar190.mat; Art. Sum. Set #60: Disc #1; Box #13-99; 08/31/15

02 September 2015

Keep Women Out of Ground Combat Units

Stephen Kershnar
Women Rangers: Against Gender Integration of Ground Combat Forces
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 30, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, the first two women ever graduated from Ranger School. Ranger school is part of the Army’s special operations unit and an extraordinarily demanding program. Some consider it the most physically and mentally demanding course in the U.S. Army. Predictably, the Obama administration plans to allow women into the Rangers as well as other ground combat units, such as infantry, armor, artillery, and special operations. This is a mistake.  

Having women in ground combat units will likely make them less effective and we don’t know about the wider costs and benefits of such gender integration on the military as a whole or society. In general, if a change carries has significant cost and if we don’t know the net balance of other costs and benefits, then the change is best avoided. This is true here. 

Ground combat units (for example, infantry, armor, and special operations) are designed to close with and kill enemy combatants. Close combat units use guns, grenades, bayonets, or hand-to-hand fighting. To be effective the members of such units need strength, endurance, and to work well with teammates. What lessens these features threatens to degrade the team’s performance and increase the chance that members will get hurt or killed.

The notion that admitting women would make ground combat units less effective rests on the fact one way in which the sexes differ. On average, men have more strength and aerobic capacity than women. They are also less susceptible to injury. A British study of whether women should be in combat units found that, women performed 20 to 40% worse on various strength- and aerobic-based tests. The lesser performance is in part because, as the British Ministry of Defence found, in general, women have 30% less muscle as well as smaller hearts and skeletal structures.   

Even for women with the same aerobic fitness and strength as men, the British study found, women have a greater risk of musculoskeletal injury. According to the Center for Military Readiness, U.S. Army data indicates that in some areas (for example, artillery), women had double the injury rates as men. The British found that women are five times more likely than men to be injured when carrying heavy loads (consider, for example, stress fractures) and that these loads are less than what are carried in some ground combat units.

This rate of injury is distinct from women’s expected absences due to pregnancy and the extended recovery time that follows it (up to 24 months). Unsurprisingly, strenuous training with heavy loads undertaken before full recovery from pregnancy increases the risk of injury. The British also found that women in the military are also more likely to have mental health issues than men and that is before they being serving in ground combat units.

The problems here are threefold. First, introducing women into ground combat means more combat teams will operate shorthanded and have more turnover. When a team member gets injured, a unit operates with fewer people or has to get a replacement. Small combat units such as tank crews, infantry rifle squads, and artillery gun crews, the Center for Military Readiness points out, consist of 4-12 people. Injuries are a problem because, during combat, evacuating injured soldiers is impractical and operating shorthanded can endanger the crew. The same is true for pregnancy.

Second, on average, introducing women into ground combat crews will result in team members performing worse. There is no question that when pressure to achieve gender balance is applied to the military, standards will be lowered. This might be done by having different standards for men and women, lowering the minimum standard, or replacing higher scoring men with lower scoring women. Anyone who has watched the way in which affirmative action at universities has led to the admission of worse students knows how this will play out.   

Third, it is unclear whether introducing women will reduce cohesion among combat teams. The British study found that unit cohesion plays a significant role in determining how well units perform. The literature does not show whether introducing women will affect unit cohesion. For example, will the different perspectives outweigh tensions caused by courtship and jealousy, two sets of standards, and chivalrous concern? Studies of race and gender on unit cohesion were inconclusive, but in any case, the British claim, they are likely weak and fleeting. Given the greater turnover, it is hard for me to imagine that cohesion won’t take a hit, but this is armchair speculation. 

Other effects of gender integration are harder to assess. Among the expected benefits of gender integration are that more people are eligible to work in ground combat units, the cost of labor for such units will lessen, and there will be more equality of opportunity and more role models. There are also expected costs. These include the significant retraining costs for women who try but fail to qualify for ground combat units. When the injury rate climbs, so will medical costs, both short-term and long-term. There is also the smorgasbord of costs that will accompany separate gender facilities, diversity training, increased adjudication and punishment costs for sexual misbehavior, extra personnel to compensate for maternity leave, and so on.

The balance of these wider factors is unclear. One thing is for sure, American political leaders can’t be trusted to give an honest accounting. Consider the recent Presidential liars and bullshit artists. Obama, for example, lied about whether Obamacare will allow you to keep your doctor. George W. Bush lied, or was unformed, about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When it comes to sex and race, our leaders will be even more likely to lie or mislead than normal. 

In short, integrating ground combat units will likely cost money and lives, cause large numbers of preventable injuries, and degrade combat performance. It is best avoided.   

11 August 2015

Confederate Flag: Blood in the Water

Stephen Kershnar
Confederate Flag: Imprudent to Take It Down
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
July 21, 2015

On July 10th, following the Charleston church shootings, South Carolina took down the confederate battle flag. Barack Obama and the rest of the American left demanded its removal as did establishment Republicans such as Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Mitch McConnell.

South Carolina’s removal followed a mad rush to dump the flag. Walmart led the charge when it stopped selling items with it. Walmart was followed by Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Kmart, and Target who did the same. TV Land stopped showing reruns of the “Dukes of Hazard” because the car featured on it had a confederate flag on its roof. Corporate America had decided the flag was like used toilet paper.

This is yet another step toward cleansing the country of symbols of the confederacy. It is only a matter of time before military bases named after confederate military leaders (Fort Hood and Fort Brag) are renamed and statutes of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Richmond are removed.

There is the problem of inconsistency. No one wants to ban the sale of the Chinese flag. This is odd given that China’s flag flew during Mao’s dictatorship. His government starved and killed more than 60 million people as part of his attempt to shoehorn China into communism. A similar thing is true of current flags, t-shirts, and other displays of the Soviet flag despite its having flown during Joseph Stalin’s regime that starved and killed 20 million people. Few even seem to want to eliminate President Andrew “Indian Killer” Jackson from the twenty-dollar bill, despite his aggressive military campaigns against Native Americans. Apparently, contemporary Native Americans will have to rest content with changing the name of the Washington Redskins.  

Leaving inconsistency aside, the argument for removing the flag is unclear. It appears to be that governments and people should not cause offense to others when it is unreasonable to do so. For example, posters and t-shirts with the swastika, Princess Diana’s head superimposed on picture of a porn star performing oral sex (an Irish group’s taunt of England), “God hates fags” posters (Westboro Baptist Church), and pictures of partially dismembered fetuses (assorted pro-life groups) might violate this principal. The issue is whether flying the confederate flag is similarly offensive.   

It is not clear that flags and other symbols have a meaning in the sense that they express declarative sentences. Consider, for example, Israel’s flag. What does it mean? Israel exists. Israel is strong. Israel is a Jewish state. It is not clear which of these sentences, if any, are expressed by the flag. This is not true for symbol that focuses on an idea (for example, the peace symbol), but the confederate battle flag is not a symbol that focuses on an idea.

Rather than express declarative sentences, flags and similar symbols often have emotional content. Consider, for example, the emotions Marines feel when they fly the Marine Corps flag or see their grown children in Marine Corps uniforms. The problem here is that the emotional content of the confederate battle flag is different for different people and it is unclear whether, in this context, the emotions of one group are more reasonable or virtuous than another. 

Many Southern whites see the battle flag as symbolizing their ancestry and history. This is similar to a family coat of arms. The emotions they feel are those they associate with a band of brothers fighting against impossible odds. They’re offended when people want to take it down much as former Marines would be incensed were peaceniks to burn the Marine Corps flag. To many blacks, leftists, and establishment Republicans, the confederate battle flag is associated with bigotry and race-hatred that has its roots in American slavery and the antebellum Southern way of life.  

In general, there is no right against being offended or even unreasonably offended. People have a right to do what they want with their property and this right includes using it to express ideas. A pro-lifer’s ownership of her t-shirt includes the option to put a graphic pictures of fetuses on it even if it makes people uncomfortable. Even if there were a right against being offended, it wouldn’t solve the issue here as you have one group who will be offended if you leave the flag up and another that will be offended if you take it down.

Leaving rights aside, I think it is probably a bad idea to take down the flag. Nations and other political entities are often specific peoples with shared histories. Consider, for example, England, Germany, and Japan. I don't think it is a good idea to whitewash a people’s history any more than it is a good idea to airbrush out relatives from family photos. Knowing one’s family history, whether good or bad, is important for identity and a shared identity is often a good thing.  At the very least, we should have good evidence that airbrushing out the Confederacy is good for people or morally required before we do so. I don’t see any evidence that this is the case. 

More importantly, the movement to remove controversial historical figures and symbols will likely spin out of control. Not only because it has no natural stopping point, but also because once easily offended groups smell blood in the water, they’ll go on a feeding frenzy. Today the flag is lowered from South Carolina. Tomorrow statutes to confederate generals (for example, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson) and money with a murderous leader (for example, Andrew Jackson) are removed. Later, we’ll remove still more references to other historical leaders or events that retrospectively offend people. Perhaps the right will get in on the act and target horrible Presidents (for example, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt) and stupid wars (for example, World War I). No thoughtful adult trusts the Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, the NAACP, and their ilk to know when to stop dismantling historical symbols. Better to keep our connection to the past in place and be honest about where we came from.