Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Clear Message About Civil Rights

In the summer of 1957, New York's Madison Square Garden was filled nightly, as famous preacher Billy Graham delivered his encouraging messages. Graham was already famous as a spiritual mentor, but this summer added a new twist: he boldly advanced the cause of civil rights. To the amazement of many, he invited the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at his events. Rice University's William Martin describes the impact:

The implication was unmistakable: Graham was letting both whites and blacks know that he was willing to be identified with the revolution and its foremost leader, and King was telling blacks that Graham was their ally.

Billy Graham represented the hopes of millions of American Christians, both African-Americans and whites. They wanted more than racial equality: they wanted to live and work together with people of various races. Graham gave concrete form to what millions were thinking:

his voice was important in declaring that a Christian racist was an oxymoron.

Graham's working partnership with Martin Luther King angered many racists. The racists, in turn, maligned Christians and their desire for racial harmony.

This action led many southerners to turn against Graham, but he did not waver. Instead, he subsequently traveled to Birmingham, Little Rock, and other strife-torn cities in the South, calling on Christians to recognize that the ground at the foot of the cross is level and that God is no respecter of persons.

The Christians in the 1950's would not be deterred by the anger of the bigots, and Graham travelled to those cities which were the epicenters of civil rights activities. Graham and King supported each other until King's death in 1968.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How the U.S. Got Involved in Yugoslavia

The country of Yugoslavia was formed in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles. Several small countries were glued together to become one larger state: Bosnia Herzogovina, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo. These smaller countries weren't exactly happy about begin merged together, and it took the ruthless grip of dictator J.B. Tito to keep the citizens part of one country against their will. When Tito died, and Communism in eastern Europe began to disintegrate, Yugoslavia dissolved itself into the smaller nations again. Fighting also broke out, as the animosities which had been held back since 1919 erupted again. As these small nations warred with each other, President Bill Clinton had to decide if, and how, the United States would be involved. Harvard's Thomas Woods explains:

"Throughout the 1990's," writes correspondent Srdja Trifkovic, "the U.S. government aided and abetted al-Qaeda in the Balkans, long after [Osama Bin Laden] was recognized as a major security threat to the United States." The Clinton administration, which should have stayed out of the conflict in the first place, consistently supported the cause of the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs, a policy whose end result was "the strengthening of an already aggressive Islamic base in the heart of Europe that will not go away."

The word 'Balkans' refers collectively to the six small states because they are nestled in and around the Balkan mountains. President Clinton was giving money, weapons, and other assistance to al-Qaeda at the time that the plans for the attack on the World Trade Center were being formulated.

In the course of assisting the Bosnian Muslims, moreover, Clinton aided in transporting thousands of mujahideen - radical Islamic fighters - to the region from the Middle East. When the fighting was over, most of them refused to go home, disappearing into the local population instead. U.S. officials from Clinton's day to the present have identified the mujahideen as a source of instability and terrorism in Europe, and European diplomats of all stripes have complained that Bosnia has become an important terrorist staging ground. Greece has declared that al-Qaeda agents in Bosnia are a threat to its national security.

Although Clinton was aiding (wittingly or unwittingly) an enemy of the United States, it turned out that much of the damage was done to European nations: attacks on subways and trains in England and Spain, assassinations in Denmark, and other strikes were organized in Bosnia.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Unintended Consequences

History teaches us repeatedly that governmental actions often have the very opposite of the desire consequences: attempts to reduce drug use result in more drugs being abused; attempts to improve education lead to lower student achievement. So also with poverty, as Harvard's Thomas Woods explains:

The classic study of 1960's social policy, which practically defined the terms of welfare reform in the 1990's, was Charles Murray's Losing Ground. That book advanced the provocative thesis that the Great Society programs, as well as increased AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) availability, were themselves largely to blame for the stagnation of the poor. These programs, in short, were not only expensive, but they were also counterproductive.

President Johnson had used the slogan "The Great Society" in presenting his welfare programs, which prompts Woods to ask: "The truth about welfare: Did Johnson's programs make poverty worse?"

Poor people have the best chance of getting out of poverty when the government does not try to help them!

Harmony in Progress Toward Civil Rights

In narratives about the advancements made in the 1950's as America sought to give civil rights and legal equality to all its citizens, conflict and violence often appear. There is, however, another side to the story: friendships between Blacks and whites, camaraderie between African-Americans and those of European heritage. These relationships were both the fruit of, and the means to, advancement in the area of civil rights.

One example of such collegiality is the cooperation between Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. This collaboration was natural, because they were both professional clergymen, and agreed on both civil and spiritual issues. Historian William Martin, at Rice University, writes:

Leaders of the New Evangelical movement had urged evangelicals to revive the 19th-century practice of active involvement in social reform. Graham had not only spoken out on the major domestic issue of the time, racial segregation, but since the early 1950s had refused to allow segregated seating in his meetings. He went a step further in New York, persuading a young African American preacher, Howard Jones, to join his team as an associate evangelist.

Billy Graham often spoke in large public facilities (sports arenas, movie theaters, and auditoriums), and in some southern cities, these buildings were clearly segregated, with a "white" area and a "colored" area. Graham took a bold step by announcing that he would allow no segregated seating in his gatherings. This made a Graham the target for anti-Christian hate groups, like the KKK. But he didn't stop with that:

More dramatically, at a time when sit-ins and boycotts were stirring racial tensions in the South, Graham invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to discuss the racial situation with him and his colleagues. Then, before a capacity crowd at the Garden, he invited the black leader to join him on the platform and to lead the congregation in prayer. In his introduction, he said, "A great social revolution is going on in the United States today. Dr. King is one of its leaders, and we appreciate his taking time out of his busy schedule to come and share this service with us tonight."

In some southern cities, a black man and a white man speaking together to a mixed audience was truly revolutionary. King and Graham, however, worked together in a way which was natural and comfortable. Their collaboration proved powerful.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freeing Citizens from the Control of Government

One way to analyze any political situation is this: to ask, of any action, candidate, or legislation, does this represent a step toward more control from the government, more interference and regulation of everyday life, or is it a step toward more freedom? Columbia University's Professor Thomas Woods writes:

In this respect, Ronald Reagan, elected to the first of his two terms in 1980, was different. As he memorably observed, "Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem." Reagan's popularity, coupled with his support for privatization, his confidence in the American entrepreneurial spirit, and his belief in the moral superiority of the free market went a long way toward making these positions, ridiculed and despised during the 1960's and 1970's, intellectually respectable again.

Economists have documented situations in which deregulation has generated lower prices for consumers: telecommunication, travel, energy, and agricultural commodities. Prosperity for ordinary Americans is created by reducing government interference in private activity.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ike Brings Civil Rights

The turbulent and formative events of the civil rights movements in the United States took place during Eisenhower's presidency, and he was central in many of them. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was organized by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1955. The famous supreme court decisions about school integration were handed down in this era (notably, Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954), and President Eisenhower took steps to implement them. Eisenhower also introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to Congress, and signed it into law. He did the same with the Civil Rights Act of 1960. Eisenhower also protected and promoted the "Little Rock Nine" in 1957. Oxford's Michael Korda writes:

The year 1957 began with what was in the 1950's and 1960's a familiar problem: trying to get a civil rights bill passed in some meaningful form. Ike has received very little credit for his efforts on behalf of civil rights.

Korda suggests that Eisenhower received little credit for securing civil rights for the Black community "because he avoided rhetoric and dramatic gestures, and instead quietly insisted on enforcing the law." It should be noted that Eisenhower and the Republican majority in the Senate and in the House of Representatives had to overcome the resistance of the Democrats in order to pass this legislation and ensure civil rights for African-Americans. As a Republican,

he had always believed in "the right to equality before the law of all citizens ... whatever their race or color," and during World War II he had moved to desegregate Red Cross clubs in his theater of command, and taken the even more radical step of sending "Negro replacements" into "previous all-white [combat] units," four years before Truman's order to desegregate the United States armed forces. He was firm in his belief that black citizens' right to vote had to be enforced; he had no doubt that the Warren court's decision on schools desegregation was right, and that Supreme Court decisions must have "a binding effect ... on all of us if our form of government is to survive and prosper"; and he was impatient with senators (including Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy) who were slowing down and compromising the passage of his civil rights bill by "interminable speeches" and amendments intended to disembowel it.

Note well that LBJ and JFK first opposed the civil rights legislation directly, and when that failed, took up the tactic of attempting to water it down with amendments. Ike demanded full legal equality for African-Americans. Korda writes that

he wanted the desegregation of the schools to proceed surely.

Note also that Ike integrated the soldiers under his command years before Truman requested integration. Civil rights were to be assured to all citizens

("with all deliberate speed," as the Supreme Court itself had ruled), with due regard for the feelings of everybody concerned, and without causing a constitutional crisis. In this he was to be bitterly disappointed - he underestimated the strength and the anger of the segregationists in the South, and perhaps also the determination of blacks to have a showdown on the subject of schools.

As Eisenhower began to perceive how the leaders of the Democratic Party (Governors like George Wallace of Alabama and Orval Faubus of Arkansas, Senators like LBJ, and Party leaders like "Bull" Connor) were opposing integration and civil rights, he raised the stakes, and used the full force of the federal government to ensure legal equality for African-Americans in the south. Ike would eventually send the famed 101st Airborne Division to protect Black schoolchildren in Little Rock's Central High School. He would allow nothing to stop the the U.S. Constitution's promise, in the 14th amendment, of full and equal citizenship.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Who's to Blame for the Electric Car?

By mid-2011, several companies have introduced either pure electric cars or hybrids. Some observers condemn President Obama for these vehicles, saying essentially that it's his fault that such items are on the market. But former GM executive Bob Lutz sees it otherwise:

The Chevy Volt — which we started on in 2007, so it was hardly a product of the Obama administration

has been criticized as a result of Obama's takeover of General Motors. But as Lutz is here pointing out, that is impossible, given the chronology of events. Lutz characterizing the public's reception of the Volt as

‘See, that’s what you get when the government owns an automobile company. They produce this silly little electric vehicle that nobody wants and then, to make people want it, they have to put a $7,500 tax credit on it. Isn’t that just exactly what you would expect from a left-wing, socialist government?’

This perception, both of the Volt, and of the tax credit, says Lutz, is fundamentally wrong:

Well, a couple things wrong with that. The Obama administration had zip to do with the Chevrolet Volt, and the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles was put in by the Bush administration.

Understanding what Lutz says, then, we see that Bush carries some of the blame - if not for creating the tax credit, then at least for allowing the tax credit to be created. As is common in such situations, there is enough blame to share: Bush, the Congress, and Obama. Because, although Obama created neither the Volt nor it tax credit, Obama's demands for higher fuel efficiency will warp market dynamics:

Now, with the upcoming very severe fuel economy regulations, there will be, of course, government-mandated pressure to adopt these technologies and they’re going to have to be sold to customers whether they want them or not. So that presumably will help battery companies.

Of course, it is overly-simplistic to blame either Bush or Obama for much of this: the Congress has done the majority of the damage. Too often, presidents become targets and are blamed for actions which they did not perform, which could not stop, and which were conditioned by circumstances beyond their control.