Public policymakers and political pundits tend to focus on problems — understandably, because if things are going right they aren't thought to need attention. Yet positive developments can teach us things as well, when, for reasons not necessarily clear, great masses of people start to behave more constructively.
One such trend is the better behavior of the young Americans of today compared to those 25 years ago. Almost no one anticipated it, the exception being William Strauss and Neil Howe in their 1991 book, "Generations," who named Americans born after 1981 the Millennial generation and predicted that "the tiny boys and girls now playing with Lego blocks" — and those then still unborn — would become "the nation's next great Civic generation."
The most obvious evidence of the Millennials' virtuous behavior is the vast decline in violent crime in the last 25 years. The most crime-prone age and gender cohort — 15-to-25-year-old males — are committing far fewer crimes than that cohort did in 1990.
Statistics tell the dramatic story. In two decades the murder rate fell 49 percent, the forcible rape rate 33 percent, the robbery rate 48 percent, the aggravated assault rate 39 percent. Government agencies report that sexual assaults against 12-to-17-year-olds declined by more than half, and violent victimization of teenagers at school declined 60 percent.
Binge drinking by high school seniors is lower than at any time since 1976, and sexual intercourse among ninth graders and the percentage of high school seniors with more than three partners has declined.
There has been much ado about rape on college campuses today, with President Obama among others stating that one in five women students will be raped or sexually assaulted. But that statistic is based on a bogus survey, covering just two colleges, with self-selected rather than randomly selected respondents and a laughably broad definition of "sexual assault." A recent Justice Department report showed that the rate rape on campus was not 20 percent but 0.6 percent.
And today's young are better behaved despite what blind statistical trends might seem to hint at. Compared to the young Americans of 1990, their ranks include a higher percentage of Hispanics and blacks, who statistically tend to have above-average crime rates. Today's young are also more likely to come from single-parent households — another high-risk factor. Demographics suggested there would be more bad behavior. Instead, there is much less.
What accounts for this virtuous cycle? I am inclined to give some credit to better police tactics and welfare reform, the great positive conservative policy successes of the 1990s. Others might credit the Clinton administration's increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit or bipartisan-supported education reforms. But partisan explanations, though plausible, seem inadequate.
I think what we are seeing is a mass changing of minds, something like the movement in Victorian England toward what historian Gertrude Himmelfarb described as "the morality that dignifies and civilizes human beings."
My theory is that young people do what is expected of them, in two senses of the word "expected". One is statistical expectation. Americans in 1990 expected young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to commit lots of crimes. They had been doing so, after all, for 25 years. But Rudy Giuliani and others adapting his methods reduced crime dramatically, and statistical expectations rapidly changed.
The other sense of the word "expected" is moral expectation. A parent tells a boy he is expected not to shoplift, bully, rob, rape or kill. She tells a girl she is expected not to sleep around or get pregnant. The parents of the last 25 years grew up in years of high crime, high divorce and high unmarried births. Evidently they wanted — expected — something better from their own children.
It's true that unmarried parenthood has risen. But teen births, like violent crime, have been in sharp decline. Now the latest statistics tell us that birth rates are, unusually, up among married women and down among unmarried women.
There remain stark differences between the experiences and behaviors of high-education and -income and low-education and -income Americans, as Charles Murray showed in his 2012 book, "Coming Apart." But perhaps they are starting to converge.
Liberals and conservatives often assume that moves away from traditional moral rules must inevitably continue. How can you keep them down on the farm once they've seen "Paree?"
But today's America, like Victorian England, shows that virtuous cycles are possible as well. People can learn from experience, and those who have seen the downside of bad behavior may choose to behave better.
(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
J.P. Morgan was recently socked in the wallet by financial regulators who levied yet another multi-billion dollar fine against the Wall Street baron for massive illegalities.
Well, not a fine against John Pierpont Morgan, the man. This 19th-century robber baron was born to a great banking fortune and, by hook and crook, leveraged it to become the "King of American Finance." During the Gilded Age, Morgan cornered the U.S. financial markets, gained monopoly ownership of railroads, amassed a vast supply of the nation's gold and used his investment power to create U.S. Steel and take control of that market.
From his earliest days in high finance, Morgan was a hustler who often traded on the shady side. In the Civil War, for example, his family bought his way out of military duty, but he saw another way to serve. Himself, that is. Morgan bought defective rifles for $3.50 each and sold them to a Union general for $22 each. The rifles blew off soldiers' thumbs, but Morgan pleaded ignorance, and government investigators graciously absolved the young, wealthy, well-connected financier of any fault.
That seems to have set a pattern for his lifetime of antitrust violations, union busting and other over-the-edge profiteering practices. He drew numerous official charges — but of course, he never did any jail time.
Moving the clock forward, we come to JPMorgan Chase, today's financial powerhouse bearing J.P.'s name. The bank also inherited his pattern of committing multiple illegalities — and walking away scot-free.
Oh, sure, the bank was hit with big fines, but not a single one of the top bankers who committed gross wrongdoings were charged or even fired — much less sent to jail.
With this long history of crime-does-pay for America's largest Wall Street empire, you have to wonder why Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan's CEO, is so P.O.'d. He's fed up to the tippy-top of his $100 haircut with all of this populistic attitude that's sweeping the country, and he's not going to take it anymore!
Dimon recently bleated to reporters that, "Banks are under assault." Well, he really doesn't mean or care about most banks — just his bank. Government regulators, snarls Jamie, are pandering to grassroots populist anger at Wall Street excesses by squeezing the life out of the JP Morgan casino.
But wait — didn't JPMorgan score a $22 billion profit last year, a 20 percent increase over 2013 and the highest in its history? And didn't those Big Bad Oppressive Government Regulators provide a $25 billion taxpayer bailout in 2008 to save Jamie's conglomerate from its own reckless excess? And isn't his Wall Street Highness raking in some $20 million in personal pay to suffer the indignity of this "assault" on his bank. Yes, yes and yes.
Still, Jamie says that regulators and bank industry analysts are piling on JPMorgan Chase: "In the old days," he whined, "you dealt with one regulator when you had an issue. Now it's five or six. You should all ask the question about how American that is," the $20-million-a-year man lectured reporters, "how fair that is."
Well, golly, one reason Chase has half a dozen regulators on its case is because it doesn't have "an issue" of illegality, but beaucoup illegalities, including deceiving its own investors, cheating more than two million of its credit card customers, gaming the rules to overcharge electricity users in California and the Midwest, overcharging active-duty military families on their mortgages, illegally foreclosing on troubled homeowners and ... well, so much more.
So Jamie, you should ask yourself the question about "how fair" is all of the above. Then you should shut up, count your millions and be grateful you're not in jail.
From John Pierpont Morgan to Jamie Dimon, the legacy continues. Banks don't commit crimes. Bankers do. And they won't ever stop if they don't have to pay for their crimes.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 January 2015 11:28
Following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that France "is at war with terrorism, jihadism and radical Islamism." This tells us what France is fighting against.
But what is France fighting for in this war on terror? For terrorism is simply a tactic, and arguably the most effective tactic of the national liberation movements of the 20th century.
Terrorism was used by the Irgun to drive the British out of Palestine and by the Mau Mau to run them out of Kenya. Terrorism, blowing up movie theaters and cafes, was the tactic the FLN used to drive the French out of Algeria.
The FALN tried to assassinate Harry Truman in 1950 at Blair House, shot up the House of Representatives in 1954, and, in 1975, blew up Fraunces Tavern in New York where Washington had bid his officers farewell. The FALN goal: Independence from a United States that had annexed Puerto Rico as the spoils of war in its victory over Spain.
What did the FLN, FALN, Mau Mau, Irgun and Mandela's ANC have in common? All sought the expulsion of alien rule. All sought nations of their own. All used terrorism for the same ends as Uighurs do in China and Chechens do in the Caucasus.
Osama bin Laden, in his declaration of war upon us, listed as his casus belli the presence on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia of U.S. troops and their "temple prostitutes." He wanted us out of his country.
What are Valls' terrorists, jihadists and radical Islamists fighting for? What are the goals of ISIS and al-Qaida, Boko Haram and Ansar al-Sharia, the Taliban and al-Shabab?
All want our troops, our alien culture and our infidel faith out of their lands. All seek the overthrow of regimes that collaborate with us. And all wish to establish regimes that comport with the commands of the Prophet.
This is what they are recruiting for, killing for, dying for. We abhor their terror tactics and deplore their aims, but they know what they are fighting for. What are we fighting for?
What is our vision that will inspire Muslim masses to rise up, battle alongside us, and die fighting Islamists? What future do we envision for the Middle East? And are we willing to pay the price to achieve it?
Comes the reply: America is fighting, as always, for democracy, freedom and the right of peoples to rule themselves.
But are we? If democracy is our goal, why did we not recognize the election of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, or of Hezbollah in Lebanon? Why did we condone the overthrow of the elected regime of Mohammad Morsi in Egypt? Why do we not demand democracy in Saudi Arabia?
But hypocrisy is the least of our problems. The real problem is that hundreds of millions of Muslims reject our values. They do not believe all religions are equal. They do not believe in freedom of speech or the press to blaspheme the Prophet. Majorities in many Islamic countries believe adulterers, apostates, and converts to Christianity should be lashed, stoned and beheaded.
In surveys, the Muslim world not only rejects our presence and puppets, but also our culture and beliefs. In a free referendum they would vote to throw us out of the region and throw the Israelis into the sea.
For many in the Mideast collaboration with America is a betrayal. And our presence spawns more terrorists than our drones can kill.
This week Valls conceded there are "two Frances," adding, "A territorial, social, ethnic apartheid has spread across our country."
Have her five million Muslims become an indigestible minority that imperils the survival of France? Have France and Europe embraced a diversity more malignant than benign, possibly leading to a future like the recent past in Palestine, Cyprus, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Ukraine?
T. S. Eliot said, to defeat a religion, you need a religion.
We have no religion; we have an ideology — secular democracy. But the Muslim world rejects secularism and will use democracy to free itself of us and establish regimes that please Allah.
In the struggle between democracy and Allah, we are children of a lesser God. "The term 'democracy,'" wrote Eliot, "does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike — it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God ... you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin."
Germany used democracy to bring Hitler to power. Given free elections from Morocco to Mindanao, what kind of regimes would rise to power? Would not the Quran become the basis of law?
If Charlie Hebdo were a man, not a magazine, he would be torn to pieces in any Middle East nation into which he ventured. And what does a mindless West offer as the apotheosis of democracy?
Four million French marching under the banner "Je Suis Charlie."
Whom the gods would destroy ...
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 January 2015 10:05
Many writers to the media and other pundits claim we are a "Christian" nation and that Judeo-Christian values should inform our political process. Although our Constitution is secular, it is hard to argue with those who think otherwise.
There are actually two types of religious conservatives. There are those who are simply conservative in the theology and practice. Others, however, are politically active in strong conservative movements and their theology informs their politics which in turn informs their theology.
Many think liberalism, or progressivism, are incompatible with Judeo-Christian values without realizing that many liberals and progressives are people of faith themselves. This includes a lot of Christians and Jews.
But, when one considers the values of the ultra-conservatives, it is not really a question of whether the U.S.A. is a "Christian" nation. It is more question of "are their values really Christian?" Of course, they may be orthodox on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. They may believe in the Trinity, the Resurrection, and the Virgin Birth. They may love God. But do they always show love to their neighbor?
Many of the values they espouse are far from "Judeo-Christian." Of course, if one uses "Biblical Quarterbacking" and takes different verses from different parts of the Bible out of context, one could well come to such conclusions. You can justify slavery, flogging, and patriarchy from the Bible if you want to. However, the overall message of the Christian and Jewish Bibles is one of justice, love of neighbor, and fair treatment of all human beings.
A common Christian slogan one hears is "what would Jesus do?" Of course, it is not easy to know what he would do or say in the modern age but it is interesting to think about. If we were to take the general whole of his teachings and their spirit and not take them out of context, many might find him critical of those who promote mean social policies in his name.
What WOULD Jesus do today? Would he tell a 12-year-old victim of incest that she should have her baby? Would he make a 14-year-old girl who was molested by a 40ish married man stand in front of a fundamentalist congregation in Concord and confess "her sin?" Would he cut food assistance to the poor and resist any type of health care reform? Would he support militarism or the death penalty (he did, after all, stop an execution)?
Or, would Jesus, like many extreme conservatives promote "big lies" and fear and disinformation about "death panels" and our president? Would Jesus, like such heroes of the Christian Right as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell support apartheid in South Africa and dictatorial butchers in Latin America? One might surmise that Jesus would not.
Humane and compassionate values are not just in the New Testament. The Jewish Bible has a lot to say about social justice. For example, those religious people who bash immigrants should read the commandment against oppressing "a stranger in the land". The Hebrew Prophets talked a lot about rich people who "eat up the poor".
Meanness, contempt for the poor, and other characteristics of many on the Religious Right are not "Judeo-Christian" values. While many condemn biological Darwinism, they are fine with Social Darwinism which seems contrary to the ideals of justice and mercy mentioned in the Bible. Especially disturbing is the identification of selfish libertarian values with Christianity.
One has to laugh about an interview years ago with Anton LaVey, the late High Priest of the Church of Satan. Of course, LaVey did not believe in a literal Devil but instead saw Satan as a symbol of our human selfishness. He said that his "Satanic" ideas were pretty much those of Ayn Rand! Do these Christian conservatives know she was also an atheist?
Liberals and conservatives generally support anyone's right to practice any religion as long as there is Separation of Church and State and that other people's rights are respected. There is no "war on Christianity" as some maintain. However, many are concerned when meanness, hate, fear, and anger are masked by religion.
(Scott Cracraft is a citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford. He is not a professional theologian.)
Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 09:11
The recent economic crisis hit the American middle class hard. But for the youngest adults trying to gain a foothold in the good life, it's been devastating. So why did so few millennials, the huge cohort of 18- to 29-year-olds, vote last November? Only 21 percent bothered.
Let's dispense with the excuse that they don't feel their elected government cares about them. You don't get served till you enter the restaurant.
The result of this passivity may soon be apparent. President Obama has issued proposals to restart the middle-class escalator in ways that would be especially helpful to millennials. They include free tuition to community college, expanded tax credits for child care and a tax break for middle-income working couples.
Because these things would be paid for with higher taxes on the very rich, many will be a tough sell to the expanded Republican majority. As we know, the conservative electoral gains were a gift from older voters, who turned out in relatively high numbers.
Many of these folks spend their leisure hours marinating in the glow of Fox News Channel, where they are told what exemplary Americans they are and how younger people without jobs or savings are basically bums. The median age of the Fox News viewer is almost 69. For Bill O'Reilly's show, it is 72.
Give these older conservatives credit. Their sense that government doesn't care about them is precisely a reason they vote. They vote whether they like or dislike the president. They vote if it's raining. In sum, they are doing what they're supposed to do. Vote.
Much blame for the voting age gap belongs with the various spokesmen purporting to represent the young, generally progressive electorate. They often sympathize with the group's reasons for not voting rather than telling them to toughen up and dive in.
I wish the TV comics dishing out news kibbles amid the bleeped-out F-words would stop telling the kids not to trust anyone, above all the traditional media. The traditional news media, for all their warts, remain a last holdout for grown-up coverage. Actually, serious government reporting, once you start following it, can be fascinating. Toilet jokes not needed.
This trashing of the more reliable sources drowns news consumers in the chaos of social media, where well-written lies and propaganda swirl among the honest reporting. Ironically, the older folks still read the newspaper, even as they often curse its viewpoints.
A poll of millennials conducted last spring by the Harvard Institute of Politics blamed decisions not to vote on a "decrease in trust" in government institutions and a rise in cynicism. Really? Few distrust government more than the older tea party folks, who correctly see the voting booth as the remedy for their discontent. They understand that you end up voting for the preferable of two choices, not perfection.
The younger voters, the Harvard pollster went on, "need to feel like they're making a difference."
The most obvious way to make a difference would be to vote, would it not? And by the way, it's truly cracked logic to say that once good leaders magically get themselves elected, we'll start voting for them.
There are two coherent ways to deal with unworthy politicians. One is to throw them out of office — or keep them out — through one's vote. The other is to submit to them and not vote.
Too many young Americans choose the submission route. Should the conservative Congress shoot down proposals to help them advance economically, they'll see the price of going limp.
The politically powerful know they need only one reason to vote: It's Election Day.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00