Andrew Jackson vs. Donald Trump

I’ve been delaying this post because I felt uninspired to write about America’s seventh President – Andrew Jackson. Jackson is a big name in history for good and bad reasons. His face adorns the $20 bill and his name is often compared with our current President – Donald Trump. I am not going to write a dry list of all Jackson’s accolades, but instead, I just want to focus on three major components of his presidency. First, however, I must mention that the biography I read was American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham. My lack of inspiration with Jackson may partly stem from Meacham’s style of biography which was disjointed and a little heavy on 19th-century gossip. I like biographies which start from birth and end at death – American Lion focuses primarily on Jackson’s presidency – making it difficult to follow a timeline.

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Upon the completion of a book, I always have a few key takeaways that stick in my mind. For Jackson, I have three major points that I want to discuss. First off, Jackson was easily caricatured by politicians but in reality, his personality was far from the public imaginings. Jackson is responsible for the powerful presidency we know of today and this shift in thinking made him appear as a despot. Behind the scenes, Jackson loved his country and wanted to protect it like a father – he was highly successful in this arena. My second takeaway was that Jackson was a stubborn man who had conflicting philosophies. This was most pronounced with his views towards Native Americans and slaves. Jackson is responsible for the Trail of Tears which forced Native Americans to move “yet again” from land in the South to the West. This policy was due to Jackson’s belief that different races of people could not cohabitate together – separation or subjugation were the only solutions. My third takeaway was that this erroneous philosophy did not apply to the States in the Union. During his tenure, Jackson prevented South Carolina from succeeding and held the States accountable to federal laws; preventing a civil war and strengthening the power of the Supreme Court.

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As one can see, Jackson was a complex man who had conflicting philosophies which resulted in policies with negative and positive outcomes. Is the country better off because of Andrew Jackson? Like most Presidents’ track record, this is a hard question to answer. I think overall, Jackson did benefit the country by keeping it together during a time when it was falling apart at the seams. His policies with the Native Americans were disastrous, and that is why I have a hard time liking Jackson. This brings me to my comparison between Jackson and Trump. Donald Trump is a complicated man who is easily caricatured. He is either vilified by the left or overly praised by the right. Jackson changed the strength of the Presidency and Trump is continuing that tradition. I believe just like Jackson, Trump loves his country. But I also think that just like Jackson, Trump has some philosophies which cause contradictions – both helping and hurting the nation.

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For a long time, I caricatured Trump in my mind. After reading Jackson’s biography, I have changed my mind about our current President. Trump is a very intelligent man and in my opinion a political mastermind. He knows exactly how to rally his base and precisely what to Tweet – ensuring his message is spread throughout the internet. Many on the left think he is an idiot for his comments just like intellectuals thought Jackson was mad for some of his statements. Trump and Jackson are strategists. Some of these strategies have good outcomes for the country while others do not. The point I want to make is that both Trump and Jackson have flaws, but they also have strengths. It is our job not to caricature and be petty but rather to be rationale and discerning. When we caricature we dehumanize. When we dehumanize we become a caricature ourselves. Does that mean I support Trump? Yes and no. Just like Jackson, I have my critiques, but just like Jackson, I think Trump’s biography will give us a more complete picture. At this point in time, however, I am unenthused to write about Trump.

PS – The more I read, the more I see myself as an Independent in the realms of politics. I think party politics close ourselves off from seeing the other side. Thoughts, comments, or questions on anything I said…please send me a message.

James Madison vs. Donald Trump

How would you rate Trump in his presidency? I don’t watch the daily news, but I do hear about the significant events through the grapevine; the most recent “Shit Hole” remark is not entirely surprising and falls in line with Trump’s previous propensity to say unpresidential remarks. But what does it mean to be “presidential?” Since I am fully immersed in Plato right now, my brain is constantly scanning for the root definitions of words. According to Plato, to be “presidential” would require one to be a “statesman” – a position of power which disseminates the knowledge of the “good.” What is the knowledge of the “good?” In a sense, it is the correct understanding of human morality and virtues.

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The question, however, gets more complicated because Plato argues we can never entirely obtain knowledge of the “good;” we have to try our best to seek out knowledge throughout our lives through dialogue and personal revelation. So does Trump seem to be on a lifelong journey of wisdom? To follow Socrates example, we’ll leave that question unanswered. Another component of understanding true “statesmanship,”  is to understand past examples in history. How can people honestly know what a good President looks like if their only comparisons are those of living memory: Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr, Ronald Reagan, etc. To further add to the conundrum, how many of these Presidents have been personally studied – what do you actually know about their intrinsic virtues and morals? In an attempt to get to the base of understanding “good” leadership, I am reading all the United State President’s biographies. My most recent is on James Madison – James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney. Next week I will post on James Monroe.

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James Madison was born on March 16th, 1751 to the Virginian planter class. He grew up accustomed to slavery and didn’t do much to further its abolition – less than George Washington and John Adams. Madison suffered from epilepsy at a time when epilepsy was thought to be a personal weakness, and he was a frail man in general – barely breaking the 5-foot barrier. Because of his health conditions, he took to erudition and became a prominent Virginian politician after attending modern-day Princeton. He was mentored by Thomas Jefferson and was close to leading figures of the Revolutionary War.

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Madison championed religious freedoms in the Virginian Constitution and cherished Enlightenment ideas. He was the father of the United States Constitution which was his political Magnum Opus. To push ratification of the Constitution, he partnered with opposite party member – Alexander Hamilton – to publish the famed The Federalist Papers.  Madison straddled party lines for the sake of his country and in the end, helped America form a stable central government while maintaining individual freedoms through the Bill of Rights. He would go on to serve in Congress, as Secretary of State, and as the 4th President of the United States.

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Madison was by far a not a perfect President and did not make satisfying decisions with respects to the War of 1812. His leadership skills were weak when it came to acts of force, and he had difficulties inspiring fellow cabinet members. By the end of his presidency, his successor James Monroe was practically running the government in his place. Madison’s gifts were behind the scenes, and he is most responsible for the United States withholding the Constitution we hold dear today. A Constitution which he designed to be changed according to ultimate liberties – the abolition of slavery to name one. Without Madison, the United States would never have had a Government which could defend itself from foreign attack while simultaneously preserving the rights of individual citizens.

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While in office, Madison had many opponents and is actually credited with forming the first political party with Jefferson. He was a scholar who believed in himself even though many people pushed him to the side because of his physical impediments. Was Madison “Presidential?” He is by far not the best President I have read about, but I do appreciate his quest for compromise and his pursuit of genuine liberty – a liberty that had to balance between the British Monarchy and French Jacobins. His virtues seem to be cooperation, determination, flexibility, and idealism. So how does Madison compare to Tump? I’m going to pull a Socrates again and let you ponder that question.

Thomas Jefferson – Donald Trump Please Read

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
-Thomas Jefferson

Who is your favorite president? I always ask this to random people on President’s Day and usually get responses like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, or George Washington. My favorite president by far is Theodore Roosevelt but I think Thomas Jefferson might make my All-Star Team.

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Jefferson is a complicated man and the only thing I knew about him was that he authored the Declaration of Independence. I wanted to learn more about this formidable founding father so I read his biography – Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia on April 13, 1743 and was the son of a popular local leader. Jefferson, from birth was raised to be a leader of men and to control the world he lived in. As a youth he was educated in the manners of the South: well learned with a cool, calm, and collected demeanor.

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He quickly took to all the sciences and was able to absorb Enlightenment philosophy during his first year at college. He was an insatiable learner who believed knowledge was a valuable possession which raised man from his “self-imposed immaturity.” By his 20’s he was the epitome of the renaissance man – farmer, violinist, scientist, philosopher, politician.

He was elected to the House of Burgesses at the age of 25 and lived a paradox as a politician – drawn to the spotlight but distraught by criticism. He was not a vocal man like John Adams but rather expressed himself best through writing. In 1774 he published the Summary View which argued for colony rights and became a rallying cry for the rumbling revolutionaries. The Summary View brought Jefferson to the Continental Congress and he quickly became the prime candidate to author the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33.

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The revolution quickly unfolded and Jefferson was elected as Governor of Virginia. As Governor, he trumpeted religious freedoms but fell short as a military hero – fleeing from the British when they came knocking. Nevertheless, with the end of the Revolutionary War, he was still esteemed and was sent to France as a delegate to promote the interests of America. While in France, he furthered his Enlightenment beliefs and helped Lafayette write “The Rights of Man.”

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Upon his return to America, he became the first Secretary of State and almost won the second presidency – ending up as the Vice President under John Adams. It was during his Vice Presidency that party politics first took a stronghold among the American public. John Adams and Alexander Hamilton (Federalist) were open to a stronger “monarchical” government while Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (Democratic-Republicans) were against anything that mirrored the old structure of hereditary power. With rising distrust of Federalist power, the people elected Thomas Jefferson as President.

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As President, Jefferson was a pragmatic philosopher who understood the need to compromise. He wanted a limited government except when the nation was best served by a more expansive one. In 1803, Napoleon sold Jefferson the Louisiana Purchase which more than doubled the size of the United States. Jefferson was extremely popular for this and was reelected to a second term. During his final four years in office, there was the high potential for war with Britain but Jefferson pushed for peace at all costs. By the time he had left office in 1809, Jefferson had put in place a heavy embargo which began to cripple the American economy and eventually the United States would go to war with Britain in 1812.

The Rotunda with a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia.

Jefferson, throughout his career, fused Federalist and a Democratic-Republican ideologies – realizing that different tools were required for different jobs. In retirement, he would go on to found the University of Virginia and build his estate at Monticello. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams,would end up dying on July 4th, 1826 – 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was a man with flaws but he was a man who left America and the world a better place. I especially like him as a President because he saw the merits of knowledge and was always on an eternal quest for wisdom. Jefferson for sure made bad decisions – he owned 600 slaves in his life and did little to fight for their freedom; siring many children with his mulatto slave – Sally Hemings.

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He was a man of his time in many ways but in other ways he was far ahead of the field – pushing for education, religious freedom, and  democracy when many wanted a King to rule. The United States would not be the same without Jefferson and I respect his beliefs of compromise that helped a country move through it’s precarious infancy. 

 

Should We Rape a Rapist?

Around the world, only one-third of all countries still allow the death penalty; the majority of executions occur in the United States, Iran, China, North Korea, and Yemen. Since 1973, over 140 death row inmates in the United States were found innocent and released because of wrongful conviction – during that same time 1,200 people were executed – a 12% rate of error! The death penalty was found to not be a deterrent to crime and states with no death penalty have homicide rates at or below national rates (Amnesty USA). A recent Pew Research Poll found that support for the death penalty has dropped in the US: 49% support and 42% oppose. There were 20 executions in 2016 which is a significant drop since a peak of 315 in 1996. These facts are both sobering and encouraging – depending on one’s particular viewpoint. I think the best way to understand the death penalty is to examine the lives of the people on death row. A great resource for this examination is by reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a non-profit lawyer who fights for inmates on death row who were wrongfully convicted. To put it simply, death row is many times a political tool that propagates racism, injustice, and systemic bias against those who cannot pay for a proper defense lawyer. My question is why does the United States still have the death penalty?

The logic of the death penalty is all wrong. Why is it right to kill a killer? The action of writing a wrong with another wrong seems like an archaic practice right out of the Medieval Ages. Is the “eye for an eye” mentality the best usage of justice. Is any single action greater than the sum of our parts? Why does the death penalty differ from all other sentences? Why don’t we rape a rapist? Why don’t we abuse an abuser? Why don’t we steal from a thief? All of these scenarios sound ridiculous but don’t they fall under the same logic? We’re killing a killer because it is an equal reaction. Putting this obvious inequity aside, just think of the 12% rate of error that was earlier mentioned. Court systems are inherently flawed because of politics and implicit biases; the axiom “guilty until proven innocent” comes to mind. Defense lawyers are overworked and resources for the poor are stretched so thin that many go to court via Skype. How can we sentence people to death – the ultimate final verdict – in a system that has so many problems? Finally, the death penalty doesn’t deter killers. In many cases, murder is done without premeditation and rational thought is completely absent. The death penalty is an afterthought to a murderer because most people who murder never thought they would in the first place.

So what is the argument for the death penalty? Most people who support it usually overly trust the justice system and believe all convictions are perfect. Also, they believe that it deters crime (disproven above) and that it is not “cruel or unusual punishment” (Over 2/3 of all countries believe it is). What about the revenge component – if someone killed my loved one wouldn’t I want them to experience the same fate? This may sound logical but when victim families are interviewed they many times wish for a life sentence over the death penalty. Why is this? Fist off, it is a long process to execute someone. There are years of appeals and the total amount of court appearances continue to open up wounds for the bereaving victims. Secondly, revenge killing is never as satisfying as one thinks – just reference any major religious text or psychology journal to understand this more. Life in prison is a far greater punishment than any expedited death. Not only does the prisoner have to live locked up, they have to ruminate about what they did. Guilt and rumination are almost always universal (except in some mental-illnesses). Being conscious of wrong doing is the whole point of the criminal justice system – why would we cut that short for the worst crimes? Just think about your own regrets – what felt worse – staring at the ceiling with guilt or falling asleep to escape?

MLK Day as a White Man

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Let’s be honest for a second. Have you ever done anything to celebrate Martin Luther King Day? I for one have done squat nothing. Usually for me, MLK Day in the past entailed no school and a visit to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet with my Mom. As a privileged white youth, I didn’t have a lot of personal connection with a black pastor from the 1960’s. To me it was difficult to relate to the struggle of African Americans throughout the history of the United States. I was taught that after the 1960’s, everything was essentially peachy in respects to race relations. There was no longer slavery. There was no longer “separate but equal.” There was no longer systemic institutions that oppressed a race. What made my ignorance worse, was the fact that I thought racism only existed in the south. Michiganders weren’t racist. We helped free slaves during the Civil War. We never had Jim Crow Laws. We were the safe haven- Pure Michigan.

Of course, you are probably thinking to yourself, “…what the frick, this guy is the whitest man alive! Did he really think that racism was over? Was he that obsessed about the Pizza Hut buffet that the hate of the world never hit him in the face? I for one was not ignorant and always watched Roots on MLK Day.” Yes, I was a sheltered fat kid who had rose-tinted glasses of the world. Please refrain from your Roots ego trip to hear me out for a second. My ignorance has been decreased through my journey of seeking wisdom. Racism is still an ever-present thing in America. Racism was not reversed after the Civil War. Racism had no borders between North and South. Racism was not extinguished by Martin Luther King Jr. I know now that the United States has systematically targeted the black population through policing measures and mass incarceration (click here). I know now that there were and still are policies in place that keep black and white children from intermingling in schools (click here). I know now that we are psychologically predisposed to fear black men because of cultural imagery (click here). To put it another way, I know now the importance of MLK Day.

As a white man, I feel responsible to acknowledge these wrongs and to do my part in identifying ways to reduce racism in today’s world. How can I personally reduce racism? I think one key way is to educate others about the systems in place that oppress African Americans. As a white man I do not fear getting pulled over by a police officer (click here). I do not fear imprisonment because I lack the money for a reputable lawyer (click here). I do not fear for the quality of my future child’s public education (click here). These systems are in the spotlight currently and I am glad that people are talking about them. What I think we shouldn’t do is downsize them and imagine that all things are equal. Growing up as a white male in a suburb, all things being equal, provides a much greater advantage in life compared to growing up as a black male in the ghetto. Is it possible to become a doctor as a black woman raised in Detroit? Of course it is. But the path to get there is so much harder because of the general environmental differences between white and black. That woman may not have had access to the college prep high school because of her address. She may not have had a Dad because of “search and frisk” quotas. She may not have had access to summer education because a lack of funding.

The individual is always responsible for decisions but the United States is responsible for making the playing field fair. My aim today is to inform everyone that there is still a lot of work left to do on a system wide level. We shouldn’t be like my younger Pizza Hut self and think everything is just dandy. We should never say, “I overcame challenges so they should stop whining and work harder.” It is that logic that was once used to argue for “separate but equal.” It is that logic that makes people passive observers to everyday racism. So, as a White man I for one thank you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for making the world more understanding and fair for all Americans. To celebrate this day, I honor you through this post and will make it a goal to educate those about the present-day inequities of the world so that one day a Pizza Hut boy may be correct in wearing his rose-colored glasses.

 

The Upside of Down

What makes America great? Is it the people? The beautiful landscape? The election process? I think a lot of citizens define the greatness of America through her economic and military prowess. Over the past 10 years there has been a lot of news about America’s dominance fading in the world. I hear things like, “China owns half of our country!” “Their is a new Cold War with Russia!””There are going to be taco stands at every corner!” “All of our jobs are being shipped overseas!” I never really looked into these claims before so I wanted to read a book about the true economic status of the developed world compared to the developing. I picked up The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West by Charles Kenny. Kenny was previously a senior economist at the World Bank and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and writes for Bloomberg Businessweek and Foreign Policy magazines. To put it simply, this guy knows his stuff.

First off, China is definitely going to surpass the United States economy very soon – some economists argue that is has already happened. The math is simple: China has 1.3 billion people and the United States has roughly 350 million people. That is a billion more workers and consumers with an ever widening middle class that is ready to spend.

“…by 2030 the world will have four major economic players. China will be the heavyweight, with a share of global GDP around 24 percent (measured at purchasing power parity). Next will be India, the European Union and the United States – each with 10 to 12 percent of the global output. Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan will each control a little more than 3 percent of global GDP.”

Should this fact worry the United States? Not at all. It is great news. For one, the average Chinese or Indian will one day be able to buy more products from the United States. With more money flowing into America, there will be more jobs created and more services needed. Second, countries with large economies love trade agreements – allowing them to easily import and export. This increases alliances and decreases the risks of wars. Thirdly, with greater partnerships with other countries, the United States can reduce military spending and focus more on improving quality of life measures for her citizens (health care, infrastructure, worker benefits, etc.).

Now what about all the worries of immigration and jobs being taken by the “rest” of the world.

“…US offshoring may have been responsible for a 1.6 percent decline in manufacturing jobs over the period 1997 to 2007, but the impact on long-term productivity may actually increase employment (which may also be better paid). The idea is that firms save money by offshoring, which, by allowing them to sell more for less, increases both their own revenues and the revenues of those that purchase the goods they sell. As a result, they can hire more people, or their shareholders have more money to buy goods and services from other Americans.”

Yes, America has lost jobs overseas but the economy as a whole has benefited immensely from affordable goods and greater domestic purchasing power – the result being a net increase in job creation. So what about jobs at home being taken by immigrants? The United States attracts some of the best and brightest students from around the world. Our universities, with the help of foreign students, foster innovation that continues to make America a leader in patents and technology. Immigrants are vital to our growing economy, because as earlier explained, the number of people in a country is one of the biggest factors in economic health. With an aging population and a decreasing birth rate, the United States should be happy to take all the skilled labor she can get. What about the “illegal” immigrants? Shouldn’t we build a wall? It was found that immigrants from Mexico do not take jobs from Americans but rather help create new jobs (click here for clear example). By paying less for labor, businesses have more money for investments, purchases, and new job creation. Furthermore, between 2009-2014 there was net loss of Mexicans leaving the United States. This is due to an improving Mexican economy and better family reunification programs. It was found that increased border control actually increased the number of illegal immigrants in the country; due to the fact that it was harder for Mexicans to reenter their country.

All of this points to the need for more investment and economic teamwork throughout the world. We should not become a isolated country that is afraid of immigrants or the success of other countries. We need to remember that immigrants founded this country and that the rise of the rest is good for the west. If you liked this article please a related post, The World is Flat.

 

Abraham Lincoln vs. Donald Trump

The wise old owl lived in a oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why aren’t we all like that old bird?

What do Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump have in common? Almost nothing besides them being white-male republicans. Lincoln grew up in poverty, Trump grew up in wealth. Lincoln was self educated, Trump was ivy-league educated. Lincoln became a lawyer and politician, Trump became a real-estate investor. Lincoln took moderate stances on issues, Trump currently takes extreme stances on issues.Lincoln took great efforts to avoid political hostilities, Trump takes great pride in politic incorrectness. My mind has been comparing these two men because I just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Lincoln by David Herbert Donald. Throughout this read, I marveled at how Abraham Lincoln was able to walk the precarious tight rope of politics to achieve extraordinary goals. Lincoln had to appeal to Radical Republicans, Conservative Republicans, War Democrats, and Peace Democrats all while orchestrating a Civil War. He was elected in 1860 on a platform that supported the institution of slavery but not its expansion. Between 1861-1865 he slowly implemented policies that eventually abolished slavery through the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. Lincoln never made decisions lightly and would contemplate every outcome with the utmost detail. Many times, Lincoln would sit back and listen instead of jumping in and making a rash decision. Lincoln’s talents of compromise and patience are what I most admire about our 16th president. People don’t realize that Lincoln was not always popular throughout his presidency and at some points had lower approval ratings than George W. Bush. He was constantly racked with stress and by the end of war he looked as though he aged 20 years. He had to deal with a divided country, a war that resulted in 600,000 fatalities, the reconstruction of the devastated south, mounting federal debt, political rivals, and a crazy wife. Through all of this, he still managed to make great decisions that were moderate and in the end brought the country back together. The United States would not be the same without Abraham Lincoln and I am so grateful that I was able to learn about him in a in-depth manner.

So what about Trump?  Trump is currently the front runner for the Republican Party which ironically Lincoln helped found back in 1854. The Republican Party is quite different today than it was in Lincoln’s time but United States politics is not. As in Lincoln’s time, there are rival parties and a lot of bickering over how best to run the country. Trump unfortunately is far from one to compromise and is very quick to respond to opponents via the media. He spouts hate and reminds me of a bully with a lot of money. Lincoln never ostracized and downgraded members of his own party; Lincoln especially never offended others publicly with the intent to draw publicity. These contrasts make me sad because I want the next president to be like Abraham Lincoln and I want Americans to remember what works and what does not work in politics. Politics requires compromise and nothing can be accomplished without careful consideration of all perspectives. We should not base our vote on whether a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat but rather on their character and their ability to work with others. Can anyone honestly tell me that Donald Trump will unite our country and make it better through his graceful character? Lincoln was one in a trillion but we can at least look for a candidate that mirrors him in at least some manner. Let’s learn from the past and remember that great leaders are those who are humble, not those who hold themselves higher than everyone else…Trump Tower anyone?

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 1 of 3

ISIS is front and center in the news and the acronym itself is now synonymous with fear. This terrorist organization is extremely violent, radical, and is responsible for many recent attacks which resulted in a multitude of innocent deaths. Where did ISIS come from? What do they believe? Are they any different then previous terrorist groups? I wanted answers to these questions so I read ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. This book was published prior to the Paris and San Bernardino attacks but it eerily predicted that events like those would occur. Let’s take a journey in time and look back at the birth and development of the worlds most famous terrorist group.

Our journey begins in 2003 when former President George W. Bush commanded the United States military to invade Iraq. Bush said “We’re taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don’t have to face them here at home.” This statement proved to be half true-we brought the fight but instead of decreasing the number of terrorists, the invasion became a lighting rod for jihadists. Before the invasion, Jihadist’s had a difficult time operating in Iraq and were in severe decline after the destruction of al Qaeda’s primary base in Afghanistan. Jihadists used the American presence in Iraq as a recruiting tool and Abu Musab al Suri, the jihad’s most prominent strategist, said that the war in Iraq single-handedly saved the movement. Numbers wise, following the invasion, terrorism within Iraq rose exponentially; “There were 78 terrorist attacks in the first twelve months…in the second twelve months this number nearly quadrupled, to 302 attacks. At the height of the war, in 2007, terrorists claimed 5,425 civilian lives and caused 9,878 injuries.” The US occupation would also rekindle fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims (think different theological beliefs like Protestants and Catholics). This created a civil war and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a little known jihadist who would use this sectarian violence to his advantage. Zarqawi would found Al-Qa‘ida in Iraq (AQI) which was responsible for several attacks on Shiites and Iraqi civilians. Osama bin Laden would chastise Zarqawi for these attacks on fellow Muslims but Zarqawi believed in a very strict interpretation of Takfir. Takfir is the pronouncement of someone as a nonbeliever and gives jihadists the permission to kill subjects as apostate (no longer believers in Muslim). Zarqawi (who hated Shiites) believed that all Muslims which did not support his beliefs were fair game to kill. This radical ideology was beyond al Queda and even bin Laden thought it was crazy.

Zarqawi’s philosophy was influenced by a few key works. The Management of Savagery, which was created by the research and analysis division of al Queda, outlined stages of jihadist struggles: Disruption and Exhaustion (keep the US fighting to destroy its image of invisibility, Management of Savagery (carry out highly visible violence intended to send a message), and Empowerment (establish regions controlled by jihadists to re-create the caliphate). A Call to a Global Islamic Resistance, cited the need for leaderless resistance and effectiveness of lone wolf attacks. Furthermore, it extensively spoke about apocalyptic prophecies (many of which supported Shiite hatred), which needed to be fulfilled.  Zarqawi’s library was seriously twisted but his reign of terror would end in 2006 when the US killed him in a targeted airstrike. The Defense Department would soon post a picture of the Zarqawi’s corpse, which turned him into a martyr, and led the leader of al Queda to post a eulogy in which he encouraged the AQI to establish an Islamic state. Within a few months, a group of AQI insurgents announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The new leader of the ISI was Abu Omar al Baghdadi who was eventually killed in 2010. Enter, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the second leader of ISI and the current leader of ISIS. Stay tuned for more on Baghdadi and the continuation of our fascinating story.

Our Inner Insurgent

Is there any scenario in which blowing a person’s head off is not a bad thing? Maybe if you were playing Call of Duty, but I would say that 99% of the time killing someone is not the right thing to do. What about the other 1% of the time? This sliver of justified killing occurs during war and is talked about in American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle. Chris Kyle, as most people know him, was played by Bradley Cooper in the box-office hit American Sniper-directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie was sweet and I would recommend watching it. The book, that Chris Kyle wrote, went much more in detail about his experiences in the military and the culture of the Navy Seals. In total, Chris spent 10 years in the military where he experienced several tours of duty in Iraq. During those 10 years he accumulated 11 medals and 160 confirmed sniper kills-the highest number in American history. He was a fiercely patriotic man who cared about his country more then his family; being in battle for him was the ultimate experience. Reluctantly, not wanting to give up service to his country, he left the military to take on the role of husband and father to his two children. In civilian life, he started a business that trained police and security organizations how to hone their sniper skills. In his free time Chris volunteered to help veterans with PTSD and other war related injuries. In 2013, he and his friend were killed by a former soldier who was suffering with schizophrenia and PTSD.

Chris was no angel and there has been a lot of controversy about his alleged experiences. Some of the things written have been found to be lies but these lies related more to his personal life than his service in Iraq. I believe he got a little to enamored by the spotlight and started to go overboard with his storytelling. The thing that fascinated me most about Chris was his black and white view of the world. He said in the book that he feels no guilt from killing all the people in Iraq and feels confident that he can stand before God and justify himself. He describes the Iraqi insurgents as “evil” and that they were “savages” that deserved to be killed; every shot he took was done to protect his fellow service men and his country. Were the insurgents truly evil? The insurgents were trying to defend a way of life that they believed in and eject a foreign invader-the United States. Would we classify ourselves as evil if Iraq invaded the US and we tried to defend our way of life? Is there justification to kill an “evil” person outside the realms of war? Why does a declaration of war by a country make killing acceptable? I have a ton of respect for the men and women who fought in the Middle East and they did kill a lot of people who would gladly hurt Americans. I think we need to understand that we are very similar to the insurgents. We have strong opinions, we want to protect our way of life, we believe in a cause, we would defend ourselves, and a large proportion of us would take advantage of others if allowed the opportunity. Why am I drawing these similarities? I think the more we see ourselves in our enemies the more we can understand that human nature is universal, that we need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and we need to think about how war creates hate. I commend Chris because he did his job but I don’t commend the US for going to war in the first place. Sadly, for every insurgent Chris killed a new insurgent was born because hate breeds hate-perpetuating a never ending cycle of division between groups.

The World is Flat

When I was a 9 year old kid my Mom bought me a Y2K clock that counted down the days, hours, minutes and seconds before the calendar read 1/1/00. In the months prior to the impending Y2K apocalypse, my Mom and Dad stocked up on bulk spices and bags of water in preparation for society’s collapse (oddly enough they didn’t stock any food for the spices to go on). The Y2K disaster was, as we all know, adverted, but how did we prevent all those computers from malfunctioning? I read the answer to that question in The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman who is a New York Times writer and author of several books on globalization. We were saved from Y2K because of a sequence of technological advances which promoted connectivity around the globe. Firstly, the advancement in the usage and monetary value of the internet in the 1990’s led to huge investments in fiber optic cables. This laying of cable spread all over the world and opened up lines of communication that were never before available. This new communication was tested with the Y2K conundrum because the US did not have enough engineers to fix all the computers because the cost and time investments would have been astronomical. Enter India. India, after 50 years of investing in technical education, had a untapped labor force ready to get their teeth on any technology work available. Since connectivity had increased so much in the 90’s, India was ready to take on all the Y2K work remotely. This was the first time many US companies worked with engineers in India and was the proverbial handshake of friendship for a healthy future of business relations. Shortly after the Y2K scare, the dot.com bubble burst and tech companies that survived the implosion now sought to cut cost as much as possible. Where could they go for reduced labor costs? You guessed right….India. The country of over 1 billion people began receiving contracts for work and the era of tech outsourcing was given running shoes.

Today, the world is flatter then ever with outsourcing occurring not only in India but in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and a whole host of third-world countries. Before I read this book, I thought outsourcing was a bad thing…now I have a different opinion on the matter. Outsourcing is the natural result of a hyper-connected world in which companies are trying to reduce waste and optimize every step of their supply chain. The United States has lost many manufacturing jobs because of these optimizations but in the end it has meant a decrease cost for goods by consumers and a shift in career outlooks. Students are now pushed to get technical or college degrees because they can’t get a manufacturing job right out of high school. A more highly educated society will push invention, creativity, and innovation more than a society based on workers that perform menial tasks. Complex thoughts and ideas cannot be outsourced and a country that is made up of engineers instead of line operators will compete much better with other advanced nations. The flattening of the world has showed how the US has gotten lazy and fallen from its once great educational supremacy-best highlighted during the cold-war space race. We need to push the next generation to excel in math, science, engineering, and my personal favorite…history. Globalization is here to stay and the more interconnected we become the more we will have opportunities to triumphantly succeed or catastrophically be left behind. Let’s stop complaining about jobs getting outsourced and start educating ourselves so our skills can never be cheaply replicated.