Monthly Archives: August 2016

IS OUR COUNTRY AS GOOD AS OUR ATHLETES?

Amid all the cries of doom from Bernie Sanders, and our two party nominees, it pays to take a more reasoned overview of why America still stands out.  David Brooks, writing in the N.Y. Times, does that quite well in this excerpted article.

“Pessimism has flavored this election campaign.  America is in decline.  The country is on the wrong track.  We’re getting our clocks cleaned in global trade deals.  We’re still suffering from the humiliation of Iraq.

“The share of Americans who say that democracy is a ‘fairly bad’ or ‘very bad’ system of government is rising sharply.  A quarter of young Americans feel that way, according to data drawn from the World Values Survey.  A majority of young Americans believe that the United States should stay out of world affairs, according to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs report.

“Yet when you watched the Olympics, we didn’t seem like some sad-sack country in terminal decline.

“American Olympic performance has been astoundingly consistent over the years.  Our 2016 team won 121 medals, an outstanding accomplishment.

“America doesn’t win because we have better athletes (talent must be distributed equally).  America does well because it has such great systems for preparing athletes.  Medals are won by institutions as much as by individuals.  The Germans have a great system for training kayakers, equestrians and throwers—the discus or javelin.  The U.S. has amazing institutions to prepare jumpers, swimmers, basketball players, gymnasts, runners and decathletes.

“The big question is:  Is the greatness of America’s sports institutions reflective of the country’s strong institutions generally, or is it more like the Soviet Union’s sports greatness, a Potemkin show masking national rot?

“Well, if you step outside the pall of the angry campaign rhetoric, you see that America’s institutions are generally quite strong.  Over the past decades, some developing countries, like Brazil, India and China, posted glitzy economic growth numbers.  But those countries are now all being hampered by institutional weakness and growth is plummeting.

“But America’s economic success is like our Olympic success, writ larger.  The nation’s troubles are evident, but our country has sound fundamentals.  The American dollar is by far the world’s currency.  The Food and Drug Administration is the benchmark for medical standards.  The American patent system is the most important in the world.

“Nine of Forbes 10 most valuable brands are American (Apple, Google, IBM and so on).  The U.S. is the leading energy producer.  We have 15 (at least!) of the world’s top 20 universities, while Hollywood is as dominant as ever.

“The newer technology is the more the U.S. is likely to dominate it—whether it’s the cloud or the sharing economy.  According to The Economist, 91 percent of online searches are done through American companies’ services, and 99 percent of smartphones run on American-made operating systems.

“Some American industries have declined, but others are rising.  American fund managers handle 55 percent of the world’s assets.  American businesses host 61 percrnt of the world’s social media users.

“On the campaign circuit, global trade is portrayed as this great national disaster.  We’re being destroyed by foreigners!  The Trans-Pacific Partnership was the central dominating boogeyman at the Democratic National Convention, especially among people who have no clue what’s in it.

“In fact, America succeeds in global trade about as well as at the Olympics.  We rank third, behind Switzerland and Singapore, in global competitive rankings put out by the World Economic Forum.  When trade is leveled by international agreements, American firms take advantage and win customers.

“As Robert B. Zoellick, former president of the World Bank, noted recently, in the first five years after the U.S. concluded free-trade agreements, the country’s exports to those places have risen three times faster than overall export growth.

“Over the past five years, Zoellick wrote, the U.S. has run a $320 billion trade surplus in manufactured goods with its free-trade partners.  The country’s farmers and ranchers boosted exports to free-trade partners by 130 percent between 2003 and 2013.

“In one important way sports is not like economics.  In Rio there were only three medals in each event.  Global trade is not zero-sum game.  It spreads vast benefits across societies, while undeniably hurting some businesses in narrow fields along the way.

“Of course, we have to take care of those who are hurt, but the biggest threat now is unmerited pessimism itself, and the stupid and fearful choices that inevitably flow from it.”

I agree with David Brooks—we are definitely as good as our athletes.

ArtSchwartzSig

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THE ROAD TO MY PERSONAL OLYMPICS

Since this was going to be an Olympic year in Rio, I decided to recommit to my personal goal of running (jogging) a 5K in August.

But, let me begin at the beginning:

I have had some trouble with my back on/off starting about 1975, when I was a mere lad of 44.  In May 2005, I slipped and fell hard on my back in our condo.  No one to sue and things got worse from there.

At about the same time, I was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage between the toes and the knee).  This manifested itself with poor balance and cold extremities.  No cure and it will probably get worse I was told.

September 2008:  I had decompression surgery on my back (L4/5).  Unfortunately, it got worse.

2009-13:  Pain management kept me going pretty well ameliorating the severe right leg pain with various epidurals and other shots.

June 2013:  None of the shots or radio frequency to burn the nerve ends worked anymore.

January 2014:  After visiting four surgeons and hearing four different ways they each felt they could resolve my problem, I decided on using Dr. Humility (real name, Bae), who did fusion surgery to separate the disc from the nerve (L4/5).  Surgery was 100% successful.  Pain all gone!  Recovering from the surgery, however, was quite difficult.

Tried physical therapy (which is a torture of patience) and working out on my own at the gym.  I walked painfully slow like a drunken penguin.

Both before and after surgery, I had occasion to have a few conversations with Julie Wilhoit (MA in exercise physiology and 20-year basketball coach).  She was one of the trainers at the gym and she was friendly and encouraging.

November 2014:  I decided I needed more help.  Started training with Julie two times a week.  I weighed 216 pounds and told her my goals:

  1. Walk better, longer
  2. Increase stamina
  3. Jog a 5K under 16 minutes/mile
  4. Get more fit
  5. Lose some weight

Doing pretty well over the next six months on all counts until a day before a trip to the Canadian Maritimes.

June 2015:  I accidentally fell in the gym.  Broke my right ankle and tore two tendons chasing a ball I should have caught.

August 2015:  Got the big boot off my right leg and blew out my left knee (arthritis mostly).

October 2015:  Right after coming back from Upper Amazon (outstanding trip), got pneumonia (slight) and a strange rash (turned out to be a bug bite).

November 2015:  Infected toe and trouble with orthotics

January 2016:  Returned from a cruise through the Panama Canal back to L.A. with a terrible pain on my left side.  Turned out to be “12th Rib Syndrome.”  No one ever heard of it!  A rib poking into my side right above the hip causing inflammation.  Pain management doctor did his magic needle routine and it slowly left the premises.

Tried to keep up the gym and training between all the setbacks.

April 2016:  Developed bursitis in my right shoulder area.  Had to cut back on upper body training.

It’s been a rocky road with obstacles every two months, but being a bit stubborn I recommitted to my goal of jogging a 5K in August and to do that I set up the following schedule:

Sunday, Tuesday (with trainer Julie) and Friday – mobility, strength and cardio

Monday, Thursday (with trainer Julie) and Saturday – jog for time or distance

During this time we had advice from track coach Tommy and Physical Therapist Sung.

By the end of May, I was 206 pounds and jogging up to two miles; but then the two-month curse reappeared.  During the first three weeks of June, I had two episodes of vertigo and although I’ve had the V occasionally over the years, these bouts seemed to leave some after affects; low energy—back ache—lifeless legs—and all that got worse on our trip to Amsterdam and Iceland in early July.

In the middle of June, at the end of the vertigo, it was clear, even to me, that trying to do a 5K in August, or at any time, was not going to happen.

So, here we are in August and watching the Rio Olympics has been a bit trying because of having to give up my personal Olympic goal.  Oh well, so much for goals that become beyond reach.

Truth be told, my jogging was kind of terrible and was causing undue strain.  My times were nowhere near the goal I set and my posture was really bad.

I’ve learned I can’t jog a 5K and probably can’t travel again the way I used to—no more land tours and no more cruises that start with an overnight plane ride.

Back to Hawaii, that can’t be too bad.  I just never thought about what age 85 would be like.  Isn’t life interesting!

ArtSchwartzSig

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AT THE COURT, EIGHT MAY BE ENOUGH

The following comments made by Jaime Sneider in the Weekly Standard define the whole argument about the Senate not confirming President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination.

“Since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, the Obama administration and its allies have insisted that a failure to confirm D.C. circuit judge Merrick Garland to replace him would result in chaos.  In the absence of an odd number of justices, the story went, the Supreme Court wouldn’t be able to exercise oversight over the decisions of state and lower federal courts, which would end up promulgating inconsistent interpretations of federal law.

“The reality has not matched the apocalyptic rhetoric.  The justices tied in a whopping four cases in the Supreme Court term that just concluded, and they agreed unanimously in 39 of 81 decisions, nearly 20 percent more than in the preceding term.

“If you assumed the Obama administration would welcome this consensus building and dial back its bombast, you would be mistaken.  One of the four ties occurred in the immigration case brought by 26 states challenging a pair of executive actions President Obama took in 2014 to prevent nearly 5 million illegal immigrants from being deported.  The tie left in place a court of appeals decision that held the president had exceeded his constitutional authority.

“Following the Court’s decision, President Obama declared, ‘Republicans in Congress currently are willfully preventing the Supreme Court from being fully staffed and functioning as our founders intended.’  No doubt the speechwriter who wrote this line—throwing the purported intentions of the Framers in the face of Republicans—patted himself on the back.

“Certain legal academics joined the hysteria.  ‘The Supreme Court sits to provide uniformity of federal law and the supremacy of federal law,’ said Susan Low Bloch, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.  ‘When a case comes to it, and it decides it—or doesn’t decide it—4-4, then it hasn’t performed its function.’

“Never mind that even if the Senate had immediately taken up the president’s nomination of March 16, there was no chance the vacancy would have been filled by the April 18 argument in the immigration case.  Never mind that ties and vacancies are nothing new for the Supreme Court, and that President Obama and legal academics did not perceive them to be a threat to constitutional principles when Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from 28 cases, one-third of the total, in her first term.  And never mind that Congress is free to alter the number of justices on the Supreme Court, that there is nothing special about having an odd number of justices, and that the Supreme Court is not under any obligation to resolve disagreements among the courts over federal law.  Obama has weighed in, and he and his allies have intoned that the Senate’s failure to promptly confirm a ninth justice to the Court is not just dirty politics, but contrary to an original understanding of the Supreme Court’s role.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told the New York Times in her recent interview that in the best case scenario, the Senate would confirm Judge Garland during the lame-duck session after November’s election, but he would still miss most of the term’s arguments.  While President Obama may rue this result, there is no need to pretend the Senate’s failure to act somehow abrogates the historic province of the Court.”

According to Sneider, once again, the hue and cry of partisan politics tends to obscure the reality and practical consequences of the issues.

Did the Senate have the right to do what they did?  Absolutely!  Was our constitutional law professor in the White House right about the consequences of their action?  Apparently not!

I’m not sure where our president got his credentials to teach constitutional law.

On at least two or three occasions, more than any other president, he has attempted to regulate what Congress would not legislate.  He has also criticized the Supreme Court for two or three of their decisions.  I can’t remember any other president doing that.

One by one, the eight or nine black robes are saying, “You should know better.  You are overstepping your constitutional authority.”

ArtSchwartzSig

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ISLAM AND JIHAD – PART III – FACTS OR DREAMS? AN INFORMED PERSPECTIVE

Andrew McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.  He was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York for 18 years, and led the terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 others in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The following is adapted from a speech he delivered at Hillsdale College.

“In 1993 I was a seasoned federal prosecutor, but I only knew as much about Islam as the average American with a reasonably good education—which is to say, not much.  Consequently, when I was assigned to lead the prosecution of a terrorist cell that had bombed the World Trade Center and was plotting an even more devastating, simultaneous attacks on the London and Holland Tunnels, the United Nations, and the FBI’s lower Manhattan headquarters—I had no trouble believing what our government was saying:  that we should read nothing into the fact that all the men in this terrorist cell were Muslims; that their actions were not representative of any religion or belief system; and that to the extent they were explaining their atrocities by citing Islamic scripture, they were twisting and perverting one of the world’s great religions, a religion that encourages peace.

“Prosecutors don’t get to base their cases on assertions.  They have to prove things to commonsense Americans who must be satisfied about not only what happened but why it happened before they will convict people of serious crimes.  And in examining the government’s claims, I found them false.

One of the first things I learned concerned the leader of the terror cell, Omar Abdel Rahman, infamously known as the Blind Sheikh.  Our government was portraying him as a wanton killer who was lying about Islam by preaching that it summoned Muslims to jihad or holy war.  Far from a lunatic, however, he turned out to be a globally renowned scholar—a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence.

“I immediately began to wonder why American officials from President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno on down, officials who had no background in Muslim doctrine and culture, believed they knew more about Islam than the Blind Sheikh.

“Defendants do not have to testify at criminal trials, but they have a right to testify if they choose to—so I had to prepare for the possibility.  Raised an Irish Catholic in the Bronx, I was not foolish enough to believe I could win an argument over Muslim theology with a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence.  But I did think that if what we were saying as a government were true—that he was perverting Islam—than there must be two or three places where I could nail him by saying, ‘You told your followers X, but the doctrine clearly says Y.’  So my colleagues and I pored over the Blind Sheikh’s writings.  What we found was alarming; whenever he quoted the Koran or other sources of Islamic scripture, he quoted them accurately.

“Now, you might be able to argue that he took scripture out of context or gave an incomplete account of it.  In my subsequent years of studying Islam, I’ve learned that this is not a particularly persuasive argument.  But even if one concedes for the purposes of discussion that it’s a colorable claim, the inconvenient fact remains:  Abdel Rahman was not lying about Islam.

“When he said the scriptures command that Muslims strike terror into the hearts of Islam’s enemies, the scriptures backed him up.

“When he said Allah enjoined all Muslims to wage jihad until Islamic law was established throughout the world, the scriptures backed him up.

“When he said Islam directed Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as their friends, the scriptures backed him up.

“You could counter that there are other ways of construing the scriptures.  You could contend that these exhortations to violence and hatred should be ‘contextualized’—i.e., that they were only meant for their time and place in the seventh century.  Again, I would caution that there are compelling arguments against this manner of interpreting Islamic scripture.  The point, however, is that what you’d be arguing is an interpretation.

“The fact that there are multiple ways of construing Islam hardly makes the Blind Sheikh’s literal construction wrong.  The blunt fact of the matter is that, in this contest of competing interpretations, it is the jihadists who seem to be making sense because they have the words of scripture on their side—it is the others who seem to be dancing on the head of a pin.  For our present purposes, however, the fact is that the Blind Sheikh’s summons to jihad was rooted in a coherent interpretation of Islamic doctrine.  He was not perverting Islam—he was, if anything, shining a light on the need to reform it.

“Another point, obvious but inconvenient, is that Islam is not a religion of peace.  There are ways of interpreting Islam that could make it something other than a call to war.  But even these benign constructions do not make it a call to peace.  Verses such as ‘Fight those who believe not in Allah,’ and ‘Fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war,’ are not peaceful injunctions, no matter how one contextualizes.

“Now, understand: there was no doubt what the Blind Sheikh was on trial for.  And there was no doubt that he was a terrorist—after all, he bragged about it.  But that did not disqualify him, in the minds of these moderate, peaceful Muslims, from rendering authoritative opinions on the meaning of the core tenets of their religion.  No one was saying that they would follow the Blind Sheikh into terrorism—but no one was discrediting his status either.

“Habitually, I distinguish between Islam and Muslims.  It is objectively important to do so, but I also have a personal reason: when I began working on national security cases, the Muslims I first encountered were not terrorists.  To the contrary, they were pro-American patriots who helped us infiltrate terror cells, disrupt mass-murder plots, and gather the evidence needed to convict jihadists.  We have an obligation to our national security to understand our enemies; but we also have an obligation to our principles not to convict by association—not to confound our Islamist enemies with our Muslim allies and fellow citizens.

“What about Islamic law?  On this topic, it is useful to turn to Robert Jackson, a giant figure in American law and politics—FDR’s attorney general, justice of the Supreme Court, and chief prosecutor of the war crimes trials at Nuremberg.  In 1955, Justice Jackson penned the foreword to a book called Law in the Middle East.  Unlike today’s government officials, Justice Jackson thought sharia was a subject worthy of close study.  And here is what he concluded:

“‘In any broad sense, Islamic law offers the American lawyer a study in dramatic contrasts.  Even casual acquaintance and superficial knowledge—all that most of us at bench or bar will be able to acquire—reveal that its striking features relative to our law are not likenesses but inconsistencies, not similarities but contrarieties.  In its source, its scope and its sanctions, the law of the Middle East is the antithesis of Western law.’

“Sharia law rejects freedom of speech as much as freedom of religion.  It rejects the idea of equal rights between men and women as much as between Muslim and non-Muslim.  It brooks no separation between spiritual life and civil society.  It is a comprehensive framework for human life, dictating matters of government, economy, and combat, along with personal behavior such as contact between the sexes and personal hygiene.  Sharia aims to rule both believers and non-believers, and it affirmatively sanctions jihad in order to do so.

“Even if this is not the only construction of Islam, it is absurd to claim—as President Obama did during his recent visit to a mosque in Baltimore—that it is not a mainstream interpretation.  In fact, it is the mainstream interpretation in many parts of the world.  Last year, Americans were horrified by the beheadings of three Western journalists by ISIS.  American and European politicians could not get to microphones fast enough to insist that these decapitations had nothing to do with Islam.  Yet within the same time frame, the government of Saudi Arabia beheaded eight people for various violations of sharia—the law that governs Saudi Arabia.

“This is political correctness on steroids, and it has dangerous policy implications.  Consider the inability of government officials to call a mass-murder attack by Muslims a terrorist attack unless and until the police uncover evidence proving that the mass murderers have some tie to a designated terrorist group, such as ISIS or al Qaeda.  It is rare for such evidence to be uncovered early in an investigation—and as a matter of fact, such evidence often does not exist.  Terrorist recruits already share the same ideology as these groups: the goal of imposing sharia.  All they need in order to execute terrorist attacks is paramilitary training, which is readily available in more places than just Syria.

“The dangerous flipside to our government’s insistence on making up its own version of Islam is that anyone who is publicly associated with Islam must be deemed peaceful.  This is how we fall into the trap of allowing the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Islamic supremacist organization, to infiltrate policy-making organs of the U.S. government, not to mention our schools, our prisons, and other institutions.  The federal government acknowledges the Brotherhood as an Islamic organization—notwithstanding the ham-handed attempt by the intelligence community a few years back to rebrand it as “largely secular”—thereby giving it a clean bill of health.  This despite the fact that Hamas is the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, that the Brotherhood has a long history of terrorist violence, and that major Brotherhood figures have gone on to play leading roles in terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda.

“To quote Winston Churchill:  ‘Facts are better than dreams.’  In the real world, we must deal with the facts of Islamic supremacism, because its jihadist legions have every intention of dealing with us.  But we can only defeat them if we resolve to see them for what they are.”

ArtSchwartzSig

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THE FITH DIMENSION IN THIS ELECTION

The fanfest comic opera we call political conventions are now over and gone.  Each party’s candidate got the usual bump in the polls at a cost probably of $100 million each.  Now it’s on to the ugly war we call the election.

Oh, if it were only over next week, we could avoid all the black-belt smear talk and life would be grand again.

Conventions in the past have usually signaled a pivot in the part of the candidates from the primary rhetoric to a more centrist position for the main event.  It has not seemed to happen yet that way this year—and maybe it won’t.

The over-reaching shout-out at the Rep confab was Trump’s declaration and emphasis on being the “Law and Order” candidate—perhaps overplayed a bit to the exclusion of other vital issues.

A recent Gallop poll indicated that only 17% of the American public are satisfied with the way things are going.  That leaves a whopping 83% who are dissatisfied.

The take on the Dem lovefest is that Clinton, Obama, all the speakers and all the delegates must be in the 17%.

Our president told us Hillary will be the keeper and continuation of his legacy.  Not sure I’d like to run on that platform.  And spouse Bill told us she is the agent of change.  The conflict of those two directives is likely to be a tough sell.

Hillary’s fifth dimension will be convincing us of how she resolves this conflict.

Obama’s legacy, in my opinion, includes a first-ever Pulitzer Peace Prize for giving great speeches, not for the usual criteria of accomplishments.  With the prize in hand, he has helped manage the widest divide and polarization our country has ever seen, as well as an unsustainable 2% or less growth rate per year.

We have the two most flawed and disliked candidates we have seen in our lifetime.  Nothing we saw on the TV-infomercials, known as conventions, did much, if anything, to change that.

In my blog on 6/22, I told you the table was set for our November election and I suggested four issues that would be important in our lives during the next four years.

I said that the best way to decide your vote this year would be to choose the candidate who offers the best solution(s) to at least three of the four significant issues I outlined:

  1. The Economy – jobs, wages, increased growth, the national debt and tax code revisions.
  2. Immigration – to remain a country of laws, we have to enforce them and do away with sanctuary cities, while encouraging more HBI visas.
  3. Terrorism – here and abroad. ISIS must be eliminated to help resolve the refugee crisis and make us safer.
  4. Appointment of Supreme Court Justices – there could be as many as three needed in the next few years.

Everything else is just political filler conversation to pander to niche groups.  These four are the crux of this election and we have to hear from both candidates what they propose.

In order not to confuse the issues I outlined in my June blog, I did not include a fifth dimension I believe will be crucial for both candidates in this election as well.

Trump is still being the bombastic flame-thrower with sound-bite barbs on what he thinks about any/all issues, leaving us all to wonder if and when we’ll get some studied detail on what he wants to do.

He faces formidable election odds in the country’s demographics, far behind in fundraising, a predicted low turnout election and a total lack of government operational experience.

His selection of Mike Pence as VP adds a person with diverse government experience.  It’s a good choice but may not be enough.

I believe unless he can come up with some credible names to be Secretary of State, Treasury and Defense, his chances of winning will be slim.  He will only be acceptable to a majority of voters if he makes up for his lack of governmental knowledge with a strong, well-respected cabinet that he must announce by September.  Never done before, so the odds are he won’t either, but that’s his fifth dimension.

There is also the question of whether he can attract and work with these high caliber people.

It should be clearly noted that I, among many others, didn’t give the Donald a chance to win the primaries, so my batting average isn’t too good.

From comments I hear, it appears most of you continue to think I’m a staunch Republican.  Believe me folks, it’s not true.  I am a fiscal conservative and a social moderate.  That means I have no party.  It’s true I often vote with the Rep elephant because the Dems have abandoned any semblance of fiscal restraint and the social issues today are mainly decided by popular acceptance rather than legislative leadership.

The Repubs are the lesser of the fiscal restraint evils.  I voted for Jerry Brown (D) in 2014 because he’s done a pretty good job of restraining the Democratic legislature.

In this election, I will ignore all the things I don’t like about each candidate and decide who I can vote for based on what I can discern from each candidate on what they want to do about the four critical issues I’ve outlined, as well as the fifth dimension I just outlined.

ArtSchwartzSig

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