Friday, January 27, 2012

Ameritopia – The Unmaking of America - A Book Review

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Ameritopia – The Unmaking of America
by Mark R. Levin
Threshold Editions, Simon & Schuster

Last week saw the release of Mark Levin's new book, Ameritopia – The Unmaking of America. Mr. Levin has been marketing his book on his popular radio show for months and now that it has been released he has made his show an almost non-stop infomercial for the book. He did the same thing with his last book Liberty and Tyranny, which in my view was a better, more ground-breaking book. What has been proven by radio hosts Mr. Levin, Howard Stern, Glenn Beck and others with a book to sell is that using their microphone and their particular soap box, there is no better tool for selling books than a large radio audience. Unfortunately, Mr. Levin takes great advantage of this fact and rather than mentioning it just a few times and then moving on, his tomes become the centerpieces of his radio show for weeks.

All this said, I am a steadfast fan of Levin's radio show, but I cannot wait until he gets past being an unrepentant shill for his book.

As with his last book, Levin introduces a new term which he uses throughout the book, and ineffectively on his radio show, to describe the people who want to control our lives. Where liberal elite, radical egalitarian, elitist, and even Illuminati might be good enough terms to fill the bill, Levin repurposes mastermind, a term which is used by Napoleon Hill and his followers as a group of people serving as a larger sort of braintrust. Two heads are better than one. Levin's use of the term sort of parallels the use of the term in the sense of the evil James Bond anatgonist or of say, Osama bin Laden, but it doesn't work in the political philosophy sense in which he uses it and it is unnecessary in describing the political elite that want to control us.

While reading Ameritopia, it will be noticed that there is probably more quoted text in this book than there is original text by the author. That said, the quotes are generally enlightening and germane to the subject matter at hand.

In the first chapter of the book, Levin lays the groundwork for his thesis by saying: “Equality, as understood by the American Founders, is the natural right of every individual to live freely under self-government, to acquire and retain the property he creates through his own labor, and to be treated impartially before a just law. Moreover, equality should not be confused with perfection, for man is also imperfect, making his application of equality, even in the most just society, imperfect. Otherwise, inequality is the natural state of man in the sense that each individual is born unique in all his human characteristics.” This statement about equality is one that Occupy Wall Streeters and liberals in general will disagree with.

The author suggests that in the utopian worldview, an individual is just a cog in the wheel of society. This runs counter to what America is all about and, what Levin argues every utopian society offers, that is a loss of individualism, not to mention freedom.

Speaking of labor, property, and freedom Levin says: “...the individual's right to live freely and safely and pursue happiness includes the right to benefit from the fruits of his own labor. As the individual's time on Earth is finite, so, too, is his labor. The illegitimate denial or diminution of his labor—that is, the involuntary deprivation of the private property he accumulates from his intellectual and/or physical efforts—is a form of servitude and, hence, immoral.”

Throughout Ameritopia, Mr. Levin looks at utopian societies as envisioned by political philosophers of the past, starting with Plato from two thousand years ago. He finds that: “Utopianism requires power to be concentrated in a central authority with maximum latitude to transform and control.”

For example, Levin looks at Plato's Republic and de-idealizes his Ideal City. “But in the City, the individual is indentured to the state. Justice is synonymous with the well-being of the City. The classes exist to work as a harmonious collective to ensure order. Dissent, independence, and change are considered destructive. Ironically, it is unlikely Socrates would have survived long in Plato's City, given its totalitarian complexion.”

In his look at Thomas More's Utopia, published in 1516, Levin calls it “...a tyrannical society, destructive of individual sovereignty and free will, with many of the attributes of a communist state.”

The author next turns his critical eye toward Thomas Hobbe's Leviathan, written in 1651. He applies some slippery slope logic to Hobbes' utopian government, saying: “Indeed, is not an all-powerful Sovereign, which is Hobbes' answer, a great and more certain threat to the individual?” And having concluded that Hobbes' model government is sure to be despotic, Levin says, “Hobbes creates a false choice between polar opposites. Either they live in anarchy or live under despotism.” I disagree with Levin here concerning the quoted Hobbes material. He takes Hobbes Sovereign to its ultimate logical extreme, which would not always or often be the case. But Levin is correct that the civil society always needs to worry about who it invests its power in.

Levin then moves on to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' Communist Manifesto, written in 1846. Levin publishes a damning quote from the anti-humanistic treatise which those authors seem proud to expound: “In this sense the theory of Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

First of all, “Abolition of private property” is a phrase, not a sentence. But be that as it may, Levin handily evicerates the Communist utopia calling them “totalitarian regimes” where the people have no “individual liberties and rights”. I think it may be easily said that there is no single document which has resulted in more dead humans than the Communist Manifesto.

Levin then looks at some of the people who had a positive influence on the Founding Fathers. John Locke was one of those, a thinker who had a great deal of influence on the nascent country. Levin points out that Locke believed “that the wealth created and possessed by one individual does not prevent another individual from creating and possessing wealth.” This is a popular belief among conservatives in the U.S. today, and is something that is forbidden in the various utopias.

One of the thinkers that Levin reviews and talks about often on his radio show is Alexis de Tocqueville. In regards to the tyranny of government Levin mentions this: “De Tocqueville then made the profound observation that this dreary existence is accepted by the people, for they go through the motions of electing their guardians, deluding themselves that they and their fellow citizens remain free for they participate in self-government. However, as the administrative state grows, the vote is less effective and the individual is increasingly disenfranchised.”

I agree with Levin and de Tocqueville that the result of elections sometimes seems to result in little change, but voting is all we have when we want change in a representative republic. Revolution in a democracy can be as simple as voting the bums out. And as Levin often espouses on his radio show, it is imperative that if we want to effect change we must vote, not sit at home.

Mr. Levin's brief look at the liberal/statist Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt was instructive to me and I am sure will be to others as well, considering the whitewash these guys are given in the public school system. Of Wilson, Levin points out: “In short, for Wilson, rights are awarded or denied the individual as determined by the government.” And of Roosevelt Levin opines, “Roosevelt repositioned the utopians as enlightened, modern, and futuristic, and, conversely, presented the advocates of civil society and constitutionalism as obstructing individual and societal progress.”

Roosevelt's New Deal increased the scope and reach of the federal government in ways unprecedented since the ratification of the Constitution, some would say in breach of it. And in speaking of Roosevelt's “Second Bill of Rights” Levin says: “There is little space between Roosevelt's premise and the distorted historical views of Marx and Engels.” He goes on to point out how closely Roosevelt's “Second Bill of Rights” mirrors the Soviet Union's 1936 constitution.

Levin argues that America is already well on its way to being Ameritopia, the utopia that statists, liberals, and progressives want it to be. The federal government has burgeoned to an uncontrollable size. Taxing, spending and debt are irresponsible and immoral. Regulations and bureaucracy are leviathans unto themselves, intruding into every corner of our lives in spite of the Constitution, and entitlements burden and provide foundation for the growing utopia.

Levin says that the Constitution “...secures for posterity the individual's sovereignty...” Little wonder then that utopians attack the Constitution as much as they do. Levin states that it is still not too late to preserve the American republic.

Ameritopia is a cogent argument against utopianism. The reader will learn much of political philosophy. It is a fine historical essay as well. It's not an easy read by any means, especially considering all the middle English usage in the quotations, but you can grasp it if you soldier on.

But as far as fighting liberalism, progressivism, socialism, and Marxism, Liberty and Tyranny is the better book and it will have the longer lasting value.

Mark Levin's radio show can be found here.

Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny can be found here.

Mark Levin's Ameritopia can be found here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

President Obama's State of the Union Address - The Egg McMuffin of Speeches

The political stump is where you can hear the real, unadulterated words of President Obama. You hear sound bites of them every day in the news. In the speeches that he gives when traveling the country while fundraising or pushing a particular issue, the president uses Republican bashing, wealth bashing, petulant, blame-everyone-but-himself, fudge-the-numbers, fudge-the-reality language and comes across as little more than a left-wing ideologue.

And then there's last night's State of the Union address. In the televised address to both houses of Congress, President Obama came across as someone who might be willing to cross the aisle to work with the other political party. He and his speechwriters tried to sound more moderate, more reasonable, and more pliable. He spoke well of America and its flag, he spoke well of the military and their successes against bin Laden and in Afghanistan and Iraq. He spoke of liberty and tyranny (!) and of intolerance for Iran's nuclear ambitions. He also spoke almost conservatively when speaking of unfair trade and piracy from countries like China.

Appreciative and appreciated words.

But the president and his speechwriters are liberals and a liberal message can't help but pervade even this attempt at an aisle-crossing speech. He went on to say in the State of the Union address that our relationship with Israel is stronger. It is clearly not. His actions have distanced us from Israel and increased the threat against them from multiple enemies in the region. Egypt, Libya, the Palestinians, Hamas, Syria, Turkey, and Iran are all greater threats to Israel than ever. He said our ties with Europe and Asia are stronger. They are not. He said our ties with South and Central America are stronger. This is true, if the government is left-leaning, or socialist. It is not true of more democratic, or conservative states like Honduras or Colombia.

He said in his speech that our military will be stronger in the years to come, but 500 billion dollars in cuts, a smaller fighting force, and the smallest navy since 1947 counter this statement. All of this in the face of increasing threats around the world. Everything Barack Obama has done since entering office has been aimed at reducing the military's strength (not too mention increasing the size of the budget, and the debt).

In his State of the Union speech, the president (a Democrat) said that he believes what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for the people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. However, his actions for the last three years show just the opposite. He wants government doing any and every thing that people could do better for themselves.

This president once again called for immigration reform so that illegal immigrants can enjoy the benefits of American citizens and not have the worry of being deported hanging over their heads. :`-( I ask again, what kind of country do we live in where our leader wants to sanction the illegal actions of millions of people? Against the will of the majority.

The 44th president also called (yet again) for a tax increase on millionaires. Nothing new there. He and his speech writers know what works with his base, I guess.

He continued on to say that he wants to develop more energy in the U.S. from all sources of energy and even suggested opening up more public lands to drilling. This would be great if it were true, but he has turned down the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada which would have greatly helped reduce oil imports from the Middle East and has continuously been a thorn in the sides of oil companies that want to drill in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coasts. And despite his failed backing of solar energy company, Solyndra, he wants to double down on that type of investment.

My suggestion to those who listened to President Obama's 2012 State of the Union address (hopefully his last)--Forget everything you've heard, because it's the stump speeches where the truth (and more lies) comes out to play. As Rush Limbaugh likes to say, this is nothing more than a State of the Union Show.

Get a free download of State of the Union addresses. State of the Union Address (1790-2001)

Egg McMuffin is a registered trademark of McDonalds Corporation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Republican Presidential Primaries - 2012

What should be clear to anyone of voting age in the United States of America is that there have been way too many debates in this election season. What is it, sixteen or seventeen by now? And the same topics come up over and over. When the eventual Republican nominee is finally chosen, he will meet in a debate just two or three times with President Obama, when the voting public should see five or ten of those debates. How wrong is that?

The debates have generally not hurt Mitt Romney, but have catapulted Newt Gingrich from a low percentage, second tier candidate to a top tier, South Carolina winning candidate. Mr. Gingrich received two standing ovations for answers in two subsequent debates which helped him seal the deal in South Carolina.

To date, Herman Cain, a great conservative candidate has been drummed out of the race due to perceived infidelity problems and a subsequent drop in funding. Michele Bachmann is out, so the only shrill badger left in the race is Rick Santorum. Jon Huntsman is out due to consistently low poll and voting numbers. And the latest dropout is Governor Rick Perry due to his poor showing in the New Hampshire Republican primary (where Democrats and Independents can vote for which Republican should run for president).

Mr. Romney had won the Iowa caucus by eight votes in the first week of January, but now that most of the votes have been certified it appears that Mr. Santorum won the Iowa caucus by thirty-something votes. What further muddies the muddy Iowa waters is that a number of counties or districts' votes will never be certified or counted, leaving the question of who actually won the Iowa caucus an answer that perhaps only God knows or cares about.

Mr. Romney went on to win the New Hampshire primary the next week by a comfortable margin over Ron Paul, Mr. Gingrich, and Mr. Santorum.

And this Saturday, Mr. Gingrich stole the show by defeating Romney in the South Carolina primary, with 40% of the vote after the aforementioned recent debate performances. Mr. Romney took 28% of the vote, Mr. Santorum took 17% of the vote, and Mr. Paul took 13%.

The sunshine state of Florida is the next battleground for the Republican hopefuls. The Republican primary there takes place on January 31. One can only hope that the topics in the coming weeks are more focused on what President Obama has done wrong with his administration and to this country, and less on Republican "vulture campaign" tactics, to paraphrase Mr. Perry.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Wealthy Freelancer - A Book Review

Get a copy from Amazon.

The Wealthy Freelancer - 12 Secrets to a Great Income and an Enviable Lifestyle
by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage, and Ed Gandia. Alpha Books, 2010

I was in Barnes and Noble - one of my favorite haunts - the other night and while browsing the shelves came across a great softcover book whose title jumped right out at me. (Actually the red Corvette on the cover jumped out as well since I have always loved that car.) The title jumped out at me because I am a freelance editor and writer, and there is nothing more appealing to me than the idea of being a wealthy one.

For those who may not know it, a freelancer is an independent contractor or self-employed individual working for various clients or companies, owing allegiance to none of them, and being responsible for all the business trappings that any small business owner must face. Being a freelancer (in any career field) can be daunting. Lack of clientele, lack of income, lack of productivity, and lack of time are just some the problems that freelance professionals may deal with. The pluses are being your own boss, not having a regular commute, no office politics, and more time with family to name a few. My favorite is control of the thermostat.

The subtitle of this particular must-have book - 12 Secrets to a Great Income and an Enviable Lifestyle - is unfortunately a little misleading. The twelve "secrets" actually refer to the twelve chapters of the book, each of which is a broad topic incuding many more secrets (tips, ideas, strategies) for getting the most out of your freelance career. Because there are dozens of great ideas in this book the publisher sort of undersold the book's value to the reader with this subtitle.

Unlike many other career books, this one gives you more than you expect - loads of steps you can take today and tomorrow to grow your freelancing business, make it more efficient, and increase your income.

Steve Slaunwhite is a marketing coach, copywriter, speaker, website creator, and the author of several books. Pete Savage is a marketing consultant, speaker, author, and coach. Ed Gandia is a marketing consultant, copywriter, speaker, author, and coach.

Each of the authors has been freelancing successfully for many years and the reader learns from them about the ups and downs, and dos and don'ts of a successful freelance career. In their engaging and informal style they also use many anecdotes and stories from other successful freelancers to support their many helpful strategies.

The authors set the stage by desribing what a wealthy freelancer is. As you can guess it's about money, but it's also about the perks and benefits of being a freelancer as well. The reader is constantly reminded to remember why he or she wanted to become a freelancer in the first place and to keep that in mind when pursuing goals and clients. They then cover getting and keeping clients, pricing your services for success (you don't want to undersell yourself with your rates), and boosting your productivity.

The authors even include an appendix which can serve as a troubleshooting guide when you run into certain inevitable freelancing obstacles.

If you're a freelance professional you will definitely find some useful secrets to apply to your business once you're done reading this enjoyable and well-constructed book.

P.S. It's cheaper on Amazon than what I paid for it at Barnes and Noble and is available in paperback and for the Kindle.

Monday, January 9, 2012

When Oppression Comes in Round

Round, Iron Manhole Cover
What brilliant civil engineer decided to place manholes and their attendent, round manhole covers in the middle of the road?

Is this ancient Rome's fault (as so many things are), or Thomas Edison's, or is there someone else whom we can blame for persisting in the use of these iron banes to a commuter's existence?

Maybe it didn't matter as much when cars were going 14 miles per hour or when horses were pulling buggies and wagons through dusty city streets, but it matters now.

As if potholes, train tracks, and buckling New Jersey asphalt isn't bad enough, the brain surgeons in charge of roads, sewage, or utilities in New Jersey (and America at large) persist in increasing the wear and tear on our cars and the crappy driving conditions by placing manholes in the middle of side streets, and highways alike.

And not only do they place them on roads where you will hit them every few hundred feet while you are going 50 or 60 miles per hour, but they seem to indent them into the road surface just for a little bit of extra fun -- or at least for maximum discomfort on people and wear to vehicles. (Perhaps this was a deal with auto makers in Detroit to shorten vehicle life.)

Manholes in all cases should be placed under the sidewalks near the street, or at least as close to the edge of the travel surface as possible. How about placing them at the shoulder of the road, whether that shoulder is dirt or paved? It doesn't seem like a difficult requirement, at least going forward. (But then again we'll all be in flying cars soon, right? So the point will be moot. Or will it? Leave it up to the civil engineers and they will find a way to add potholes to the sky.)

I don't appreciate this travel malady, this civil engineering oppression, nor have I ever done so and I think the next president of the U.S. should address the malplacement of manholes.

I think it's an issue we can all support.