Freedom Vs Islam — A War Of Ideas

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By savagely attacking and murdering writers and cartoonists as well as Jewish shoppers, French Islamists clarified something that many in the West have deceived themselves about: that the war we are engaged in is a war of ideas. Islamists have once again reminded us that freedom itself is their target.

This discomfits the left. They prefer to pretend that Islamist violence (when they acknowledge it at all) springs from unemployment, poverty or, most frequently, colonial oppression. Most leftists, and some on the libertarian right, believe that American responses to Islamists’ attacks — ranging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to NSA wiretapping — are the causes of the murderous rage that has claimed thousands of victims on every continent (10,000 in 2013 alone) and has in the past three months plunged Australia, Canada, Israel, Pakistan, and now France into agonies as civilians (including children) have been coldly massacred in the name of Allah.

George W. Bush was mocked for saying, “They hate our freedom.” Salon magazine sneered, “The utter absurdity of people halfway around the world being angered by another nation’s self-proclaimed ‘freedom’ further adds to the meaninglessness of Bush’s statement.”

At the Paris demonstration, protesters carried enormous pencils and pens, symbols of the press freedom these Islamists would extinguish by law if they could, and through murder and intimidation in the meantime. Bush’s statement doesn’t look “meaningless” today, does it?

Liberals and the left similarly disarmed themselves morally and intellectually during the Cold War. That was a battle of ideas between two post-Enlightenment ideologies: the freedom-embracing democracies versus the tyrannical Marxist/Leninists. Throughout that 75-year struggle, the left consistently failed to defend the values of the West (including freedom of thought and speech), preferring to see the conflict as a “misunderstanding.”

Just as they frequently gave the Soviets and other communists the benefit of the doubt during the Cold War, the left today refuses to grapple with the meaning of Islamist ideology. They see only bigotry in Western concern about such fanaticism. This blinds them to the struggles within Islam.

Islam has been ravaged over the course of the past century by the rise of radical extremists. Such views always existed, but the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928 transformed the ideas into a movement, while the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia permitted that regime to proselytize similar radicalism worldwide. Extremist Islamists (those who reject the separation of mosque and state) now comprise significant minorities in every Muslim country on the globe, rule Shia Iran, and have friendly governments or quasi governments in Turkey, Gaza, Tunisia, and many other nations.

Islamism is a paroxysm of rage by extremist Muslims determined to make war on all (including Muslims) who believe differently. They’ve attacked Christians throughout Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East, Jews worldwide, Hindus in India, and Buddhists in Thailand, Myanmar, and China, among other places.

What are self-respecting democratic pluralists to do in the face of this threat? In the first place, acknowledge the reality of the problem rather than making it politically incorrect to mention it. Second, make common cause with Muslim people and leaders who are battling the Islamists. As the Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes has argued for decades: “Radical Islam is the problem. Moderate Islam is the answer.”

Rather than align with the forces in the Muslim world that reject extremism, President Obama has seemed eager to ingratiate himself with extremists. He lent support to former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has alienated his successor, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, though Sisi has taken the most significant step of any Muslim leader in the world, calling for a “religious revolution” and cautioning that radical Islam, “that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world!”

Queen Rania of Jordan, too, has spoken up, urging that moderate Muslims create “a new narrative.” A group from Morocco has founded “Not in My Name,” a website that condemns ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. The Kurds are on the front lines fighting ISIS. Israel battles terrorists on a daily basis. All need and deserve vigorous U.S. support.

Instead, the Obama administration waits, hat in hand, in Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s anteroom, hoping for a nuclear deal. Robert Frost said it best: “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Dodd-Frank: A Bad Law And A Big Mess

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During the 2012 campaign, President Obama often resorted to his favorite substitute for thinking: ridicule. Before enthusiastic audiences (who were assured his reelection would spell a thriving economy and a revived middle class), the president would mock Republicans by suggesting that “they have the same prescription they’ve had for the past 30 years. … Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.”

Obama’s prescription, which we are now in a position to evaluate for effectiveness, was the most massive increase in regulation of modern times. There is no industry or economic sector that the Democratic Party does not believe would benefit from badgering interference from Washington. Adding insult, every new regulation is trussed up and presented as “being on the side of the middle class.”

Sometimes, as in the case of Obamacare, that required lying to voters about what the law contained. In the case of Dodd-Frank, it required insulating regulators from democratic accountability. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a creature of Dodd-Frank, is not even funded by our elected representatives, but instead gets financed directly from the Federal Reserve. Translation: If the “middle class” ever decides that Congress should relieve it of the CFPB’s ministrations, they will be unable to exert any influence. Like HAL in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the CFPB has a life of its own.

It’s odd that Democrats are so rarely challenged on their claim to speak for the broad middle class, because the story of Democratic policy over the course of the past century has been to withdraw more and more power from ordinary people and place it in the hands of the unelected. They’ve succeeded very well with the judiciary and with federal agencies. Dodd-Frank, however, marks a new milestone. Not only does it empower new regulators to police an already heavily regulated industry, but it insulates the bureaucrats from congressional oversight. A number of states have sued, calling the law unconstitutional.

As for how the middle class is faring, The Wall Street Journal provides some useful statistics. The bottom 60 percent of American income earners were worse off in 2011 than in 2007. Two years after the official end of the recession, middle-class Americans got more government checks than they had in the previous decade (transfer payments were up 25.9 percent over 2007), but after-tax income fell by 1.9 percent.

There are other ways to examine the record: Poverty has hit a 50-year high. The wealthiest 10 percent saw incomes rise during the Obama years, while everyone else’s incomes declined or remained stagnant. With interest rates effectively at zero, capital searched for higher returns and found them in the stock market. Income inequality, that great bugbear of the Democratic left, has increased, not decreased, under Obama’s policies.

Dodd-Frank is the poor stepchild of Obama-era enactments, receiving far less attention than Obamacare, but its contribution to the stagnant economy deserves more recognition. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was 31 pages long. Dodd-Frank weighs in at 2,300 pages, not counting 13,789 pages of regulations as of 2013. Here is how a defender of the law described it: “Sure, Dodd-Frank is a mess; sure, the statute is unwieldy and inefficient; sure, the statute takes power away from citizens and states and transfers it to the federal government. However, it’s not unconstitutional or otherwise illegal for Congress to pass a bad law. And this is what Dodd-Frank is.” Remind me never to ask Jonathan Macey, of Yale Law School, for a testimonial.

While big Wall Street houses can tolerate the added burdens of Dodd-Frank without breaking a sweat, smaller banks, like the ones that routinely issue personal and business loans, are being squeezed. A study by the Mercatus Center found that 83 percent of small banks reported that their compliance costs had increased by more than 5 percent. Most planned to hire more compliance staff and cut back on mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and other services in order to cover those costs. Employment at small and medium-sized banks has been slow or negative, while large banks have seen robust growth.

Obama mocked concerns about regulation, but his embrace of it has successfully put sticks into the spokes of the economic wheel. The price, Democratic talking points notwithstanding, is being paid by the poor and the middle class.

 

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

The Equal Pay Delusion

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Voters are souring on the Democratic Party. Apparently, all it takes are six years of economic torpor; the disastrous debut of the biggest new federal program in two generations; record levels of federal debt; revelations of scandals and malfeasance at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret Service and the Justice Department; Russian revanchism on the march; a rampaging army of (literal) cutthroats gobbling up territory in the Middle East; and the feeble and patronizing government response to a modern plague.

Truly, it says something about the reputation of the Democratic Party that even now, 50 percent of those responding to a CBS News poll said the Democrats are the party that “cares more about the needs and problems of people like” them. Only 34 percent chose the Republicans.

On other matters, the Democrats have lost a lot of altitude in recent months. An October CBS poll found that Republicans enjoy a 9-point lead over Democrats on the question of which party can better handle the economy. Republicans are 11 points ahead on foreign policy and 21 points ahead on terrorism.

A Pew Research Center survey found that Republicans scored better than Democrats on most of the issues that voters care a lot about — specifically the economy, jobs, the way the federal government works, the Islamic State, and the federal budget deficit. Democrats scored better on matters that voters don’t find all that compelling, such as climate change, abortion, and access to contraception.

The one outlier on the Pew survey was “equal pay for women.” That issue is the only one that voters both care about and think Democrats are better at handling.

This is a triumph of spin — a solution in search of a problem. Are there women who face pay discrimination? Sure, but a) not that many, and b) they have access to a slew of remedies in state and federal laws. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other Democrats are proposing that we adopt a federal statute making it illegal to pay men more than women for performing the same work. It’s such a good idea that it was passed — in 1963, the Equal Pay Act.

That’s not all. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also contains penalties for wage discrimination. As Gerald Skoning explained in The Wall Street Journal, those include, but are not limited to, “back pay, attorneys’ fees, injunctive relief, prejudgment interest, $300,000 in punitive and compensatory damages, an additional $10,000 in penalties, and a prison sentence of up to six months for an employer who willfully violates the law.” What will Democrats think of next? How about a law outlawing price fixing? Oh, wait; the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed in 1890.

Well, all these laws may be on the books, yet women still earn less than men, right? Women certainly appear to believe so. Sixty percent of millennial women, for example, told Pew that “men generally earn more for doing the same work,” and 75 percent of millennial women believe that society must continue to make the changes needed to bring about gender equality in the workplace.

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Barack Hussein Obama: A Prickly Narcissist

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“Oh, it’s a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than ‘don’t do stupid things.’” So griped President Obama to a select (and loose-lipped) group of dinner guests the other night. The president is annoyed that critics cannot see the wisdom in his prudence. “I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater.”

Obama’s tendency to caricature his critics — in this case suggesting that they’re looking for “theater” rather than solid accomplishment — may be remembered as one of his most damaging traits. It betrays a prickly narcissism that precludes honest self-assessment.

In fact, the president’s failure in Iraq is not the result of being unwilling to act militarily. His failure lies in setting up a situation in which “kinetic military action” (to use the Obama administration’s actual euphemism for intervention in Libya) is the only choice. The president who came into office scorning the use of military power and boasting of his diplomatic prowess did not just fail by military weakness, but also by diplomatic malpractice.

Obama withdrew all U.S. troops from Iraq when their continued presence would have facilitated the growth of democratic institutions and prevented the upwelling of extremism. As Dexter Filkens of The New Yorker explained in a recent interview:

“Every single senior political leader … said to them privately, we want you to stay. … We don’t want combat troops. We don’t want Americans getting killed, but we want 10,000 American troops inside the Green Zone training our army, giving us intelligence, playing that crucial role as the broker and interlocutor that makes our system work.” But Obama wanted bragging rights about “ending” the war.

What is even more striking for the president who prides himself on non-military solutions is his diplomatic failure.

After a free election in 2010 gave a plurality to Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, Nouri al-Maliki, a close second-place finisher, staged a coup backed by Iran. The U.S. remained silent about this clear violation of Iraq’s constitution. Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart quotes the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack: “The message” that America’s acquiescence “sent to Iraq’s people and politicians alike was that the United States under the new Obama administration was no longer going to enforce the rules of the democratic road. … (This) undermined the reform of Iraqi politics and resurrected the specter of the failed state and the civil war.”

Maliki set about harassing and arresting leading Sunni politicians, but the Obama administration, “eyeing the exits” in the words of Vali Nasr, a foreign service officer at the time, gave tacit consent. On a visit to the White House, Maliki tested the waters with Obama by denouncing Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the highest-ranking Sunni government minister, as a supporter of terrorism. Obama responded that this was an internal Iraqi matter. A week later, a warrant was issued for Hashimi’s arrest. He fled the country, but 13 of his bodyguards were tortured. This was followed by a wave of arrests and murders of Sunnis.

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Here’s How We Build Better Teachers

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For the past half-century, and particularly since the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report, Americans have been heaving great sacks of money at schools. Federal spending alone has tripled since the 1970s. The New York Times calculates that the federal government now spends $107.6 billion on education yearly, which is layered over an estimated $524.7 billion spent by states and localities (source: National Center for Education Statistics).

Reformers have urged — depending upon where they stand ideologically — smaller class sizes, more accountability, merit pay for teachers, and educational choice. Each year seems to bring a new fad: child-centered learning, new math, cooperative learning, and so forth. The No Child Left Behind reform focused on testing. There have been proposals to repeal teacher tenure and to provide every child with a laptop. And always, there are fights over curriculum — Common Core being the controversy du jour.

But perhaps the most promising thinking about education arises from the discovery from economist Eric Hanushek that the most important factor in student performance is the quality of the teacher. Not class size. Not spending per pupil. Not even curriculum.

Our system produces some great teachers, but only by luck. Each year, 400,000 new teachers enter American classrooms, many knowing little about the nuts and bolts of teaching. As Elizabeth Green argues in her new book, “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach it to Everyone),” our education schools do not teach the mechanics of teaching: how to control a classroom, how to engage students’ imaginations, and how to check for understanding. They’ve been sidetracked by educational psychology and fads at the expense of teaching how to teach.

Green cites “education entrepreneurs” including Doug Lemov, author of “Teach Like a Champion,” and Deborah Loewenberg Ball, now dean of the University of Michigan’s school of education, who focus on helping ordinary teachers to become great.

Lemov, an education reformer and consultant, was struck by something he found by poring over statistics from the state of New York. While the correlation between zip codes and educational success was notable, there were always outliers: schools or classrooms in which even kids from impoverished backgrounds were doing well. Lemov zeroed in on those schools and those particular teachers.

The result is found in the subtitle of “Teach Like a Champion”: “49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.” Some of the techniques are inspired; others are quotidian but still important (like how not to waste time pleading for responses). The point is that teaching is a performance every day, which is not easy. Teachers must engage the interest and attention of their students (who bring all kinds of troubles from home), encourage the weak ones along with the strong, maintain discipline, and build a sense of team spirit. Lemov doesn’t believe that anyone can be a great teacher; but he does think that with coaching and mentoring, good teachers can become great.

Some of Lemov’s proven techniques will not surprise educational traditionalists. He believes in drill, though he calls it “muscle memory.” A great teacher will drill arithmetic skills, for example, until they are second nature so that students needn’t stumble over the easy stuff when they get to algebra and geometry. (Education schools had disdained this as “drill and kill.”) Another technique Lemov suggests is “cold calls” — that is, having the teacher choose students randomly rather than just those who raise their hands. Each child, knowing he might be called upon, must be ready. (It works in law schools). A companion technique is “no opt out.” If the child says he doesn’t know, the teacher asks a related question to another student to narrow down the possible right answer and returns to the first child for a second chance.

There are broad suggestions about classroom management and more subtle and difficult challenges like maintaining “emotional constancy”–that is, refraining from showing anger when a child gets the wrong answer. Anger will teach a child to try to hide his ignorance rather than accept it as a normal part of the learning enterprise.

Teaching is a craft. It may be among the hardest to master. Renewed attention to teaching teaching seems long overdue.
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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom