Saturday night marks the midpoint of the 2014 Western Conservative Summit, and attendees from all backgrounds and generations react to speakers throughout the weekend so far:
President Barack Obama, whose power abuses have played a role in the imperilment of tens of thousands of children and earned him slaps by the U.S. Supreme Court and the threat of a lawsuit by House Republicans, has promised more of the same. Continue reading
Imagine a July 4th tradition like Hollywood’s where each year the Oscars pay homage to fallen stars. Liberty-loving Americans would fete public servants who’ve honored Thomas Jefferson’s rule to “leave no authority existing not responsible to the people.” Continue reading
Tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children are streaming across our border with Mexico to escape horrors at home and finding new troubles here. These may be far less heinous than what they fled, but many have endured something akin to torture on the journey, will mostly have to return home anyway and meanwhile have a president of the United States to thank for their predicament. Continue reading
“I’m not young enough to know everything,” Oscar Wilde observed, as if reflecting on the Great Commencement Speaker Flap of 2014. However, Jimi Hendrix was young when he offered advice that today’s college students should heed — “knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”
Unmindful that earned wisdom is derived from asking the right questions — not identifying the wrong answers — too many students graduate into a complex and conflict-riddled world without the insights that come from the clash of opposing viewpoints.
Is it surprising then, that so many intractable problems plague our society, like military veterans dying from government-provided health care?
Real advance, Albert Einstein revealed, requires the creative imagination to Think Again, “to raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle.” We can’t solve problems, Einstein believed, by applying the same “thinking we used when we created them.”
Nevertheless, “tolerance enforcers” wielding moral superiority and a heckler’s veto have transformed campuses into sanctuaries for the close-minded. Cocooned away, students are safe from potential insult, reflective thought, disagreement — and real life.
This year’s commencement castoffs — victims of a war on accomplished and courageous women — include: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, human rights activist; Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state; and Christian Lagarde, International Monetary Fund chief.
Couldn’t Brandeis’ class of 2014 have learned something from Ali, a Somali feminist who overcame subjugation, genital circumcision and forced marriage to become a Dutch parliamentarian, Harvard professor, and internationally acclaimed author, while living under death threats?
Wasn’t it worth Rutgers graduates’ time to listen to Rice, an African-American who emerged out of the segregated south to become the most accomplished black woman in American history, whose foreign policy judgments were shared by Senators Clinton, Biden, Kerry and Reid?
Wouldn’t Smith women have derived inspiration from Lagarde, the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 economy (France) and head of the IMF?
At last week’s Harvard commencement, Michael Bloomberg won applause denouncing the left-wing bias that censors unfashionable voices on campus asking, “Isn’t the purpose of a university to stir discussion, not silence it” in order “to teach students how (not what) to think?”
That’s what I assumed while attending Tufts University where I co-founded a student newspaper deemed offensive by the thought police. They branded me — and my vandalized car — “fascist” for writing dissenting opinions about the nuclear freeze, Reagan’s social security reform, and Jessie Jackson’s “hymie-town” slur.
The problem is not just that “censorship and conformity (are) the mortal enemies of freedom,” as Bloomberg declared. It’s that when “everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking,” as Benjamin Franklin taught, creating a culture that breeds incompetence, indifference, greed, lack of accountability, and corruption — in essence, scandalous behavior.
Consider the latest scandal rocking Washington at the Veterans Administration, the federal government’s largest employer. To meet a patient caseload that’s grown 30 percent since 2003 and address persistent quality-of-care problems, the VA’s budget more than doubled over the period while full-time employees jumped 63 percent to 314,000.
Yet the VA still can’t match the private sector’s standard of care, which is why only 40 percent of veterans are enrolled in the government-run health care system. The just-released VA audit confirms a widespread and “systematic lack of integrity,” as employees prioritized their bonuses over sick and dying veterans.
It’s a story of bureaucratic ineptitude, fraud and potentially criminal conduct that even shocked the now-former head of the VA, Eric Shinseki. Unfortunately, unlike the private sector, the Washington Way is: if you like your government job, you can keep it — except for scapegoats like Shinseki.
The truth is, without the disciplining and invigorating influence of an open and competitive environment, and the innovation and accountability it fosters, otherwise honorable and capable people can be rendered indecent and incompetent. It’s the eco-system — not the people in it — that mostly determines human behavior.
In the frantic circumstances of 9/11, people behaved magnificently, as I learned at the new Memorial Museum. Most moving were stories of the rescued — civilians and emergency responders — who returned to the devastation “to do for others what had been done for us,” explained retired fireman Mickey Cross.
Even amid the confusion and devastation, Cross noted “a real sense of caring for one another …” which “is something we should never forget and never stop doing.”
For those caught in the tragedy, there was no script or easy answers, only difficult questions. Yet the improbably heroic did the right thing, even under duress, which is the definition of initiative. In a more open system, VA employees would likely do the same.
Think Again — We don’t need crises to bring out the best of humanity, just a better environment to produce decent, motivated and wise people.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food stamps have never been more popular, economic growth is in the doldrums, average household income remains in a slump, the work force is still shrinking, a third of everyone between 18 and 34 is living with parents, often as a means of rent rescue, and President Barack Obama wants to make things worse. Continue reading
“Life’s greatest happiness,” Victor Hugo wrote, “is to be convinced we are loved.” As most experienced couples know, love-induced happiness is a year-round triumph, not the outcome of a singular, mass-marketed Valentine’s celebration — the one Jay Leno calls “Extortion Day.” Continue reading
Getting people to quit cigarettes and saving families with children from destitution have nothing in common, right? I think they do, and I think it could be President Obama’s single most significant legacy if he would sponsor something comparable to a surgeon general’s 1964 report on smoking killing people. Continue reading
Suppose you are president, you’ve stumbled, fumbled, slipped and crashed, it’s time to give a State of the Union speech and millions will be watching. What do you do – say you are sorry and will try harder or take credit for good things you did not do, blame the bad things you did do on others and propose solutions that sound good to the gullible even though they will make things worse? Continue reading
More than 100 ski areas in the United States signed a Climate Declaration last year, demanding federal government action to avert “catastrophic” human-induced climate change. Instead of cooling the planet, such an approach is likely to create a real anthropogenic problem for ski resorts: Few people will be left with discretionary income to buy lift tickets. Continue reading