Those secret groups that run the world

Imagine what could be done if someone could gather together the most influential people in the world—leaders of industry, finance, academia, government and politics, perhaps even entertainers and members of the media. Imagine what would happen if all these people would speak to one another and—more important—listen to one another. Imagine each of these important people gathering insight into other points of view, other approaches to leadership, and other goals for business and government.

You do not have to imagine. Meetings like this actually happen. In fact, there are three regular gatherings that meet this description. The oldest, founded in 1921, is called the Council on Foreign Affairs. It consists of American leaders, and it clearly was begun in an attempt to ward off the isolationism that was dominating American thought after the Great War was over. The next, founded in 1954, is called Bilderberg. It includes Americans and Europeans, and it dates to the aftermath of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. Along with them is the Trilateral Commission, founded in 1973, and including Japan as well as North America and Europe. Recently other east Asian countries have been included in the Trilateral Commission along with Japan.

The three groups have common interests and goals. They share one other trait: all three are accused of being secret organizations plotting to control world events. Conspiracy theorists regularly invoke one or more of these groups when they try to explain how a hidden elite force is running the world, causing everything from terrorist attacks to the fluoridation of water.

Some years ago, the governor of a certain state was invited to join one of these three groups. After he accepted, he received dozens of letters from alarmed citizens—some from his state, and some from other states. They warned him that he was being sucked into an evil cabal, one bent upon one-world government and other nefarious plots. He was cautioned that known Communists had addressed meetings of this group. (This was while the Cold War was still happening.) The governor’s staff mailed a reply to these letters with his signature. The reply emphasized that the group existed only to listen to different points of view so people would understand one another. The group had no agenda apart from speaking and listening. In many cases, that reply induced a second letter scolding the governor for naivety and recommending a book to the governor, a recently-published book which claimed to reveal all the dark secrets of this particular group.

Conspiracy theorists focus upon these groups because they seem elitist and powerful. Accusing other people of conspiring to run the world reduces one’s own personal responsibility to the world. A person who believes that a secret elite controls the world and that the rest of us are helpless is a person who feels free to ignore the problems of others. Feed the hungry and shelter the homeless? Cut back on littering and on wasting fuel? Be kind to a stranger? Why bother? THEY are in control, and these small gestures cannot change anything. Moreover, doing any of these things might just be playing into THEIR hands.

The Rockefellers and the Rothschilds are wealthy families. They are regarded with suspicion by many conspiracy theorists. But the Rothschild fortune and the Rockefeller fortune were acquired in the same fashion that Bill Gates and Sam Walton became wealthy more recently. Such wealth begins with an idea—a thought about how to give other people what they want and get paid for doing it. Having that idea, the entrepreneur advertises the product or the service. As profits build, they are reinvested in the company. Further investigation of what people want and how to provide it, and continued advertising, bring about a growing business that eventually produces a family fortune. This procedure requires effort, determination, and a little bit of luck. Competition and economic downturns might stifle the company for a while. In the end, the Rockefellers and the Waltons are wealthy today because of a predecessor in the family who worked very hard over a period of time to succeed.

With privilege comes responsibility. Rockefellers and Rothschilds sponsor efforts to improve the world for everyone. They contribute to schools, hospitals, libraries, concert halls, art museums, and other social benefits. They create foundations to continue helping other people. They fund and participate in gatherings (such as the three mentioned above) because they agree that powerful people should speak to one another and listen to one another. Far from conspiring to control the world for their own benefit, they are giving back to a world that made them rich by wanting what their predecessors sold.

Yet these wealthy and powerful people are like everyone else. They are sometimes thoughtful and considerate. They are sometimes petty and self-centered. They can be suspicious of one another. They are neither interested in combining forces to rule the world nor capable of doing so. And, I suspect, they are both puzzled and amused by the countless theories that claim that they are doing such things right now. J.

“Why is populism growing?”

In the fall of 2013 I conducted an unscientific poll in my neighborhood. I asked one question: “If two people were running for Congress, and the only significant difference between them was that one had never been in politics before and the other had been in politics for years, who would get your vote?” The most common answer was, “the one who had never been in politics.” In fact, that position earned some seventy-five to eighty percent of the responses, while the second-most common response was, “I would examine their positions to decide my vote; I wouldn’t pay any attention to whether or not they had been in politics before.”

I was conducting this poll to see whether or not I had a shot at getting elected to Congress. My banker urged me to run; she wanted to vote for me. My barber urged me to run; he wanted to vote for me. The police officer getting his hair cut—a man I had not met until that conversation—wanted to vote for me. One store clerk told me that he would vote for me in the next election, but then he would vote for someone else the next election. “You’ll have been corrupted by then,” he said. Only when I began looking into fundraising did I learn that the wealthy donors in the party had already committed their donations and their votes to “my good friend” (as they described him), a businessman who had been involved in politics for years, although this was the first time his name would appear on a ballot.

Because of this brief experience with populism, I was less surprised than most Americans by Donald Trump’s success in last year’s elections. American voters are increasingly disgusted by the way government goes about its business, and they blame Democrats and Republicans equally for the problems they see. The campaign of Bernie Sanders also drew strength from populism. Both the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Movement were populist expressions of displeasure over the decisions and actions of those in power. For that matter, the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom is equally a populist expression of distrust in government and in those serving in the government. The more recent losses by the Conservative Party are part of the very same package of populism.

Populists distrust the government. They also distrust the news media, although they generally describe their distrust in terms of conservative or liberal biases in various media organizations. Populism is not new—in the twentieth century it led to the direct election of Senators (rather than United States Senators being chosen by state governments) and to laws allowing referenda created by citizens to be placed on the ballot, giving voters power to decide matters usually left to elected officials.

Populism scares the elite. “Why is populism growing?” they ask. The answer is simple: people no longer trust the elite to make decisions for everyone. People increasingly believe that the elite make decisions that serve themselves without regard to whether those decisions help or harm the rest of the people in the country.

Consider this: between the 1952 Presidential election (Eisenhower-Stevenson) and the 2008 election (Obama-McCain), twelve elections were held in which one of the two major candidates was either the incumbent President or the incumbent Vice President. In each case, the opponent was either a Governor, a Senator, or a former Vice President. If that doesn’t sound like government by the elite, I don’t know what does. Campaigners regularly presented themselves as outsiders who were going to fix the government, but somehow the government never seemed to be fixed. Symptoms of populist revolt were felt in the late twentieth century—the campaigns of Ross Perot, for example. Tax protests in the 1980s used the tea party theme well before the official Tea Party movement was organized. Americans have long considered themselves to be populists, even though they generally reelect the same leaders or replace them with extremely similar leaders.

The presidency of Donald Trump has been sponsored by populism. Democrats and members of the media are astonished by the continuing power of populism to support the President. Efforts to maintain a spirit of crisis, efforts to mock and disparage the President, and efforts to show that he is rejected by a majority of Americans all fail to shake his true support. They wanted an outsider in the White House, and they are delighted that President Trump continues to speak and to act as an outsider in Washington.

Talk of impeaching the President is terribly premature. Any attempt to impeach Donald Trump for something less than a blatant and obvious crime will fail, and such an attempt would end the political careers of those who participate in it. Insulting the President’s supporters—calling them racist, out-of-touch, and deplorable—only sharpens the divide between the elite and the populists. As they demonstrated last summer and fall, when challenged and inspired, America’s populists can be a powerful force in politics. J.

The war on information

Ray Bradbury wrote a number of science fiction stories in which a totalitarian government attempted to forbid the preservation of literature and history. The government tried to maintain control over the population by restricting information available to that population, often by forbidding and burning books. In one of his stories, though, Bradbury imagined the government controlling citizens by using the opposite extreme. The government flooded the market with information, producing so much material that no one could receive it all and comprehend it all. Important matters were lost in the flood of information, and the citizens were unable to resist control from the government under that condition.

Contemporary society has, perhaps, reached the point that Bradbury envisioned. The ordinary laws of supply and demand—and not a malevolent government—have overwhelmed people of our time with information of every kind. We have at our fingertips news and history, medical information, the results of scientific research, access to all the fine arts, and many more sources of education and of entertainment.

People use this abundance and freedom in strange ways. Instead of viewing the plays of Shakespeare, or listening to the symphonies of Beethoven, or enjoying the artwork of the Italian Renaissance, the largest number of people has turned to scripted shows that are called, ironically, “Reality TV.” News about current events and about historic events is increasingly being presented in entertainment formats rather than researched documentaries. Satirical news has grown in popularity, in part because many people cannot discern the difference between satire and real news.

From the Baroque era into the twentieth century, modern philosophers assumed that information could be received objectively and communicated objectively. Postmodern thinkers assume that all research and all communication is biased. As a result, contemporary people choose among a variety of news media, selecting those that match the biases already formed within their minds. Some trust The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC. Others prefer the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Breitbart. Each group accuses the others of trusting biased and distorted sources of information while failing to acknowledge that their own sources are also biased.

Some news stories are covered across the spectrum, although they are addressed and described differently in different places. Others are reported only by one side or only by the other. In controversial matters—for example, climate change—contrary studies are presented by different news sources as authoritative. Contrary reports also reveal mistakes or deliberate distortions in some studies, undermining the authority of the other side’s evidence for its position.

In the midst of all this contrary information, a growing segment of the population doubts everything that it hears as news. One day coffee is good for a person and red wine is dangerous; the next day red wine is beneficial but coffee should be avoided. Conspiracy theories prosper precisely because they seem more believable than the news that is being reported.

As to conspiracy theories, they began to flourish in the days of Watergate and because of revelations about conspiracies and crime within the White House and also in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Watergate actually revealed how government conspiracies really work: they are subject to incompetent agents, selfishness of individuals, and a lack of trust within any organization. Human people are fallible; they will not succeed with conspiracies that require large-scale participation, continuing deception, or a possible reward for the first conspirator who tells the truth about what really happened.

The danger in our current condition, this war on information, is that people who believe nothing inevitably begin believing anything. Satirical news frequently is repeated as if it were reliable information. Pity the poor elected leader a few years ago who, on the floor of the state senate, called for regulation to ban or at least limit the use of a certain chemical because it was directly responsible for thousands of deaths each year. (The chemical was water.) Because truth sometimes is stranger than fiction, many strange fictions are accepted as truth.

Doubt any report that relies upon the assumption that all the people of a large group with one common characteristic are working together for a common goal. All politicians, all leaders of big business, all entertainers, all homosexuals, all Christians, all Muslims—none of these groups are united enough to be working together to try to control the world.

Doubt any report that depicts a large number of people keeping grand secrets. Doubt any report that describes some massive hidden technology that is behind some unexplained event. Doubt any report that claims that a hidden group of people (especially one that hides in public with web sites and scheduled meetings) is secretly running the world. Doubt any report that a widely witnessed event never happened but was faked by some group for nefarious purposes.

Fake news existed in ancient times and will continue to exist beyond our lifetimes. What used to be labeled “rumor” is now spread by technology that gives it an added layer of credibility. We can survive the war on information by using a little common sense, checking sources when possible, and remembering to think for ourselves rather than allowing others to do our thinking for us.

 

 

Puerto Rico

This weekend, the residents of Puerto Rico who bothered to vote overwhelmingly endorsed the proposition of statehood for Puerto Rico. Previous elections on the topic have been less decisive, and some opponents of statehood for Puerto Rico boycotted the polls this year. However, only the United States Congress can grant statehood to Puerto Rico. What would happen if Congress responded to this election by making Puerto Rico the 51st state in the Union?

  • Puerto Rico would be the thirtieth state in population, just ahead of Iowa. It would have four or five Representatives in Congress, as well as two Senators. In presidential elections it would have six or seven electoral votes.
  • Based on past voting records, one may assume that most of those officials would be Democrats rather than Republicans. Given this fact, the likelihood of Puerto Rico being offered statehood by the current session of Congress is small.
  • Citizens of Puerto Rico would be required to pay federal income taxes, but they also would be eligible for additional federal assistance programs.
  • The following fact would be altered: Puerto Rico is currently the only region in the world that is neither an independent country nor a fully functioning member (state, province, etc.) of an independent country having more than one million residents. Most such regions are either very small or are sparsely populated. (However, the relationship of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China is ambiguous.)
  • Someone would have to design an arrangement of stars for the United States flag that contains 51 stars and is visually appealing.
  • The residents of the District of Columbia would probably increase their pursuit of statehood. Again, they would be unlikely to succeed during the current session of Congress, based on past voting records.
  • Consideration might be given to balance the four new Senators (likely Democratic) by creating two new states with Republican majorities. The easiest way to do this would be to divide Texas into three states, something which could not be done without the permission of the state of Texas. I consider this event to be extremely unlikely.

The voters of Puerto Rico have spoken. Whether or not the government of the United States answers them remains to be seen. J.

On tariffs–and a proposal

I wrote yesterday about globalization to provide a context for today’s post about tariffs. A tariff is a tax assessed by a government upon imports. Governments assess taxes to gain money, of course, but the purpose of a tariff is often more than income. Tariffs add to the cost of imported items, making it easier for similar items made in the country to compete for buyers.

In theory, if the United States government wants to help wine makers in the United States, the government can place a tariff on French wine, making French wine more expensive than California wine. Some buyers will still prefer the French wine, even if it costs more than the California wine. Others will switch to California wine to save money.

In theory, if the United States government wants to help car makers in the United States, the government can place a tariff on Japanese cars and German cars, making them more expensive than American cars. Some buyers will still prefer the Japanese cars or the German cars, even if they cost more than the American cars. Others will switch to American cars to save money.

As I indicated yesterday, because of globalization it is difficult to measure how American a car is. Manufacturers have headquarters in several cities around the world, and their major shareholders come from various countries. Factories for parts and factories for assembly are also scattered around the world. Writing a tariff law that helps preserve American jobs in the automotive industry is far more difficult than it sounds.

In addition, when one country starts increasing tariffs, other countries often follow suit. Given the above examples, France and Germany and Japan very likely would place tariffs on American products, which would cancel the benefits the United States hoped to gain by its new tariffs.

Meanwhile, I also made the point that building factories in other countries seems to cost America jobs, but that is not necessarily so. At the same time that the company that built the factory is trying to lower its costs and save its customers money, it is also paying workers in that other country, people who might use some of their income to buy products made in the United States.

Why is it less expensive to pay workers in other countries than in the United States? The United States has stricter laws about minimum wages and benefits than most other countries. The United States has stricter laws about safety in the workplace than most other countries. The United States has stricter laws against pollution than most other countries. We cannot force other countries to adopt laws like ours, and we would not want to lower our standards so far that pollution increases, that workplaces are unsafe, or that workers cannot survive on the wages they are paid. Some compromises undoubtedly can be made in these areas—some regulations probably are excessive. But removing all such regulations would be bad for workers in the United States.

Americans generally want to save money. They are happy with stores that keep their prices low. Yet most Americans do not wish other people to suffer for our prosperity. When we hear of sweatshops where workers are abused, underpaid for their work, and forced to endure unsafe conditions at work, we would prefer not to finance those sweatshops by purchasing their products. Yet how can we know which of the things we buy were assembled by suffering workers? And how can we be sure that our boycott of such products will improve working conditions in these other countries? If the factories close, how will their workers find income to stay alive?

This leads me to a proposal. I suggest that the United States Department of Commerce (DoC) create a team of investigators to inspect factories in other countries, particularly factories owned and operated by corporations based, at least in part, in the United States. These investigators could not force their way into factories; they would need to be invited by the owners of the factories. But those factories that passed inspection would be allowed to carry a seal of approval on their products. The inspection would ensure that workers at the factory receive enough money for the workers to live in their communities (which would probably still be far less than minimum wages in the United States). The inspection would ensure that working conditions at the factory are safe. The inspection would ensure that the factory is not polluting the air, the water, or any other part of their environment—not necessarily according to the measures of American law, but still within the capabilities of the company that owns the factory.

Congress then could place tariffs on products that do not carry that seal of approval from the DoC. The lack of a seal of approval would be the result of failing to pass inspection or the result of failing to permit inspection. Using the seal without having passed inspection would result in higher penalties, whether higher tariffs or higher taxes on the United States property owned by the corporation to blame.

Of course the salaries, the benefits, the office space, and the travel expenses of this new branch of the DoC would need to be added to the national budget. I expect some of those expenses would be offset by the new tariff. At the same time, this tariff would benefit two groups of workers. It would benefit American workers, who would have reduced competition from overseas factories that underpay and mistreat their workers. It would also benefit the workers in other countries because corporations would be more motivated to improve their salary scales and the safety of their factories. My suggestion would be good for America and good for the world. J.

Globalization

“Globalization” is a word invented by historians to describe the increasingly interdependent relationship of cultures and nations all over the world. If a factory opens or closes in Japan, the impact is felt by American workers, and vice versa. More and more, our economies rise together and fall together. No nation can stand alone any more.

Globalization results from rapid transportation and instant communication. Centuries ago, when transportation was slow and messages were carried by hand, various cultures could remain distinct, unaffected by others. A few Italians visited China, and a few Chinese visited Italy, but most people never traveled far from their homes. Even two thousand years ago Chinese silk was available in Italy and Italian glass was available in China, but both were very expensive because of the number of merchants who had bought and sold these items and the number of governments who had taxed these items as they traveled.

Globalization is good because we can learn about other people and experience their culture without leaving our homes. Purchased recordings, television, and the internet expose us to music and drama and other forms of art from nearly every culture in the world. Japanese music is performed in Vienna, and the works of Mozart are performed in Tokyo. One old warehouse downtown has been transformed into an eating establishment with a dozen booths selling food. Customers choose from cheeseburgers, pizza, gyros, tacos, Japanese food, Thai food, Indian food, and soul food. Moreover, economic links reduce violent confrontations between nations. Until 2008 (when Russia attacked Georgia) there had never been a war between two nations that both contained McDonald’s restaurants.

One risk of globalization is homogenization of culture. When every city in the world has McDonald’s and Walmart, will local cultures survive? If you were blindfolded and transported to a shopping mall somewhere in the United States, could you guess what city you were in by looking in the various stores? Perhaps the caps and T-shirts in the sporting goods department might give you a hint, but even there you will spot Cubs hats and Yankees hats and Dodgers hats in every part of the country.

Globalization makes it harder to “buy American” in the United States, to quote a movement from the 1970s and 1980s. Most carmakers have headquarters in several countries and are owned by major stockholders in several countries. They have parts factories and assembly factories in various countries. Hours of research would be needed to choose a make and model of car and determine how much it was “made in America.”

When a company based in the United States builds a factory in Mexico, they are hoping to reduce their expenses to increase their profit. However, they are also hoping to pass some of the savings to their customers, beating the competition with their better prices. At the same time, by providing paychecks to Mexican workers, they are increasing the likelihood that more products “made in America” will be bought in Mexico, which increases jobs or enlarges paychecks in the United States.

Globalization is complicated. No easy answers exist for the problems it causes, and those problems are offset in many ways by the benefits of globalization. As long as travel remains rapid and communication remains instant, globalization is unavoidable. The best we can do is work to preserve local customs and manners while we enjoy the fact that nothing is truly local any more—everything is international. J.

Europe and the USA

While Americans were glued to their television sets and devices yesterday, listening to a man talk about the executive who fired him, real change was occurring in the United Kingdom. British voters selected members of the House of Commons, changing the balance of their government in a way that was unexpected. The Conservative Party hoped to maintain their hold on Parliament, perhaps even increase their margin of leadership. Instead, they lost seats—sufficient losses that the party needs now to form a coalition government with another party. Many people speculate that Prime Minister Theresa May will resign as a result of the election.

Bring together a group of leaders—business leaders, political leaders, shapers of public opinion—from Europe and North America. Ask each of them what the voters in their country really want. Watch them scratch their heads and listen to them mumble. Over the past few years, voters have made it plain that they want change, but the same voters have been unclear about the kind of change they want.

In Europe and in North America, dissatisfaction with the status quo is running rampart. Liberals promise change, saying that things can be better, and many voters believe them, agree with them, and vote for them. Conservatives say that the government is already doing too much and that change for the better will only happen when the government scales back and stops trying to do so much. Many voters believe them, agree with them, and vote for them.

In this swirling uncertainty, political leaders would ordinarily pull together and support each other. Instead, within governments polarization increases and anger boils over in heated exchanges of rhetoric. Between governments distrust grows, and cooperative ties are stretched to the breaking point.

From its beginning as an economic agreement among three small countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, who formed a free-trade zone they called Benelux) to the European Common Market and the eventual European Union, the governments of Europe have tried to remain competitive with large countries such as the United States, Russia, and China by working together on a set of common goals. The United Kingdom made big news in the early 1970s when they joined the Common Market. They made big news again last year when British voters chose to withdraw from the European Union. When countries open borders and share resources, they find that they also share the problems of their partners. Governments in Spain and Greece are struggling to keep promises made to their citizens—free education, free health care, and the like. Citizens protest with fervor whenever these governments try to trim the national budget to stay solvent. As Margaret Thatcher quipped, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples’ money.” Fear that their taxes would be spent propping up struggling governments—and fear that the European Union’s open borders was allowing dangerous people to enter their country—caused British voters to reject continued membership in the European Union.

Meanwhile President Donald Trump, during the campaign and also since his inauguration, declared that part of his program to make America great again involves reducing American commitments to European allies. European intellectuals tend to view conservative American presidents—Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump—as reckless, misguided cowboys, whooping and hollering and firing guns into the air, endangering the stability of the rest of the world. They would prefer to ignore such a leader, but at the same time they are more certain than are many Americans that President Trump means what he says.

Isolationism will not make America great again. The nations of the world are too interdependent to ignore one another. However, renegotiating agreements that are not in the best interest of the United States is good for America. Even withdrawing from agreements that weaken the United States is good for America. As new leaders emerge in Europe, they will need to deal with President Trump as an existing reality. They will need to ignore the ongoing dramas—the smoke and the mirrors—and communicate with the real President Trump. Most of all, they will need to understand that President Trump will do what is best for the United States while expecting leaders of other nations to do what is best for their citizens. This is the way leaders are supposed to lead. J.

Defeating terrorism

I intended to write a post about problems in Europe and about its changing relationship with the United States. That topic is so complicated, though, that I shall have to break it into several pieces. One of those pieces is terrorism, particularly as it relates to the Muslim world.

Many Muslims are fleeing war and poverty, seeking safety and a chance for a new life in Europe. Many more have died attempting to reach Europe. The crisis is a humanitarian problem not directly related to terrorism. On the other hand, many Europeans and North Americans have linked the problems of human migration and terrorism, using the religion of the migrants as a linking factor.

Muslim terrorist organizations claim that they are fighting in a war between Islam and western civilization. They view this violence as valid because they have been exposed to the decadence that freedom of expression has allowed in western nations. Fundamental Muslims are not so much opposed to Christianity or the Constitution of the United States as they are opposed to Jersey Shore and the Kardashian family. This decadence is what they believe they are attacking when they explode bombs and engage in acts of violence in public places.

Americans serve no good purpose when we agree that the war being fought is a war between Islam and western civilization. All we accomplish by agreeing with that idea is greater success for the recruiting efforts of terrorist groups. A far better approach is to label terrorism as the actions of a few deranged individuals, actions that are opposed to the principles of Islam as well as to the principles of western civilization. The more North American and European governments cooperate with North African and West Asian governments to battle terrorism, the better all these governments can persuade Muslim populations that western civilization is not at war with Islam; it is combating terrorism, which is the right thing to do.

Ironically, one method for governments to respond to terrorist threats is to reduce human rights—those very rights to which the terrorists object. To catch all the terrorists before they cause harm, governments must closely monitor communication, internet usage, and other aspects of our lives that are not generally the government’s business. European and North American governments have tried to find a balance between respecting personal rights and protecting citizens from harm. Most government decisions—and most government controversies—are a balancing act of this kind, trying to maintain two good things that contradict each other. The governments are probably doing as well as they can when some citizens are complaining that the governments are not doing enough while other complain that they are doing too much.

When President Franklin Roosevelt received letters from Jewish citizens of the United States asking why the U.S. was not doing more to end the Holocaust in German-held lands, Roosevelt said that we were doing everything we could to end the Holocaust. The only way to end it, Roosevelt said, was to win the war and defeat the German government. The same approach is needed today. Eliminating the conflicts that migrants currently flee would relieve a lot of pressure on European governments regarding those migrants. Seeing capable governments established in Libya, Iraq, and Syria would make it easier to eliminate cells and training institutions of terrorists in those countries. Overcoming the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria while cracking down on other terrorist groups would make the world far safer. The United States cannot do this alone, or even with help only from our European allies. Winning the war against terror requires the help of governments in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and their smaller neighbors. Even Israel has a role to play and a strong motive to play that role.

We can and should expect leaders of governments throughout the world to communicate and cooperate in order to defeat terrorism. Complete victory will not happen in our lifetime, or probably any time before Judgment Day. Marginalizing terrorist groups and stifling their opportunities and motives to cause harm will bring improvement, though, and improvement is a worthy goal. J.

Respecting Donald Trump

By mid-November of last year, meetings were being held in Washington DC to plan and organize the impeachment of President Donald Trump. This fact is bizarre, given that he had just won the election that month and would not be inaugurated for another two months.

I did not vote for Donald Trump in the Republican primary election. I did not vote for Donald Trump in the general election last November. If the election was held today, I would not vote for Donald Trump. But Donald Trump is my President. He won the election last year, an election held according to the procedures mandated in the Constitution of the United States.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves….Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience” (Romans 13:1-2, 5). The apostle Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right (I Peter 2:13-14). These apostles were not writing about democratically elected leaders or about Christian leaders. They wrote about Caesar and the Roman Senate. If first-century Christians were expected to honor and respect Caesar, then twenty-first century Christians in the United States should be expected to honor and respect President Trump.

During the campaigns before the election, many media outlets worked vigorously to find and to publish every negative fact or rumor about Donald Trump. Since he became President, the same media outlets have worked vigorously to undermine his authority and encourage his impeachment. Every appointment made by the President was publicly questioned and criticized. His speeches and other communications have been studied, searching for flaws. Nearly every action of the President has been described in the media as if it were criminal. The election itself has been treated as doubtful, as rumors persist that Russian forces somehow influenced American voters. From Presidential executive orders to the recent covfefe kerfuffle, Americans have seen our President mocked and verbally abused, not only by late-night comedians, but by trusted news reporters.

Rumors that Donald Trump entered the primaries as a publicity stunt and that he did not expect to be nominated and elected may very well be true. That does not lessen the legitimacy of his office. He was chosen by the voters to be President of the United States. In 2013, I already sensed the mood of the typical American voter. That voter wanted to get the politicians out of government and was ready to support any outsider who had a chance of winning. In the words of candidate Trump, American voters wanted to “drain the swamp.” Voters who generally support the Democratic Party because of its reputation for helping workers and defending the oppressed regularly reject Democratic candidates for the highest office, preferring Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump. All three men have been despised by the liberal elite but embraced by American voters. All three Republicans were seen as better able to lead the United States than their Democratic opponents.

Donald Trump is a survivor. He will continue to weather the increasingly shrill accusations of his enemies in and out of politics. The media has weakened its effectiveness as a guard upon government ethics by opposing President Trump at every turn. Like the boy who cried “wolf,” the media will be ignored even if President Trump should do something truly criminal, because our ears have already tired of the voices that declare the President to be wrong in everything he does.

Meanwhile, our nation risks judgment from the Lord for the way we have allowed our leader to be mocked and despised. Other Presidents have been treated badly, but President Trump is the victim of a new low in savagery and deceit. The way we speak of our father and our mother, of our teachers, of our employers, and of our government leaders reveals our attitude toward authority in general, including God’s authority over our lives. While “we must obey God rather than men,” we also must honor and respect those who rule over us as pictures of the ultimate authority Jesus Christ has over us. When we do less, we sin against God and his kingdom. J.

Sugar: the spice that changed history–part four

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor; I don’t even play one on TV. I am not qualified to give advice about nutrition or other medical matters. The following is historical information for educational purposes only.

For most of history, nutritional problems have been caused by deficiencies, not by excess. The number of wealthy people capable of overeating has always been far smaller than the number of people facing starvation or malnutrition.

The human body is designed to crave certain necessary foods that are rare in nature. The body needs a certain amount of salt to maintain good health–a completely salt-free diet can lead to difficulty thinking, nausea, muscular cramps or weakness, fainting, and even seizures and coma. Carbohydrates are necessary to fuel the cells of the body. Therefore, most people crave salty foods and sweet foods. In a land in which most sugars are contained in fruits and honey, overdosing on sugar is difficult to accomplish.

The food industry has changed all that. Now sweet foods and salty foods are easily obtainable for meals and for snacks. Makers of our food have no nefarious schemes to damage people’s health. They merely want to make money by giving people what we want. Since we want sweet food, many companies exist for the sole purpose of making sweet food and selling it to us. Control over what we eat belongs to each of us (and, in the case of children, to their parents). Expecting corporations (or the government) to exercise that control on our behalf is just silly.

After the middle of the twentieth century, doctors and nutritionists began recommending a decrease of the consumption of sugar. The only disease directly caused by sugar is tooth decay–even diabetes is a fault in the body making it unable to process sugar; diabetes is not caused by sugar. Yet people who regularly consume more calories than they burn are prone to a number of health problems, and reducing the use of sugar is one of the easiest ways to reduce calories in a person’s diet.

Corporate inventors created several artificial sweeteners during the twentieth century. These sweeteners have no calories, but they still make food taste sweeter. No artificial sweetener is made available to the public before it is thoroughly tested to ensure that it will not cause health problems. However, replacing sugar with a calorie-free chemical does not, by itself, mitigate all the problems that are blamed on sugar.

Recent studies demonstrate that sugar is an addictive drug. It stimulates the same portion of the brain that is stimulated by addictive behavior–gambling, for example. Sugar quickly enters the bloodstream when it is consumed, giving the brain a happy stimulation; four hours later, the brain wants another jolt. People with personalities prone to addiction find sugar far easier to acquire than controlled or banned drugs. Artificial sweeteners stimulate the brain the same way sugar does, producing the same results.

Given the power sugar has over individuals, the power it has exercised over politics and government is unsurprising. Sugar motivated explorers and investors five hundred years ago. Sugar persuaded people to buy and sell other people as slaves. Sugar remains heavily involved in the world economy today. Sweet foods and beverages are constantly advertised on every form of media. Sugary products are packaged in bright, attractive boxes and bags. What would television be like without Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Trix rabbit, or the Lucky Charms leprechaun? What if Santa Claus did not always wear a red suit (inspired by Coca Cola)? For that matter, who would teach the world to sing in perfect harmony?

Like it or hate it, sugar is too much with us. Late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! J.