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Works and Days

Pajama Boy Nation

December 22nd, 2013 - 11:11 pm


Will Kane of High Noon Pajama Boy wasn’t. Somehow we as a nation went from the iconic Marlboro Man to Pajama Boy — from the noble individual with a bad habit to the ignoble without a good habit — without a blink in between.

There are lots of revolting things in the Pajama Boy ad. After all, how can you top all at once a nerdy-looking child-man dressed in infantile pajamas while cradling a cup of hot chocolate with the smug assurance that he is running your life more than you his?

The Liberal Body-Snatchers

Still, there are one or two even scarier thoughts.

One, did the Obama appendage, Organizing for Action, really believe that such a sad-sack image might galvanize anyone about anything?  And two, did they really think that Pajama Boy would resonate with any young people outside of the New York-DC circus, as if to assume he would be persuasive: stay cool with retro geek glasses, pajamas, and hot chocolate like Pajama Boy, and then, presto, rush out to buy an Obamacare policy?

Out here in the rural middle of California — or most anywhere 30 miles inland from the coasts — Pajama Boy would last about two seconds pruning vines, or walking about the local Wal-Mart parking lot with his hot chocolate. Yet put him where his foot-padded pajamas bring dividends and for the last five years we all have lived out the consequences of his ilk’s ideological dreaming.

The great mystery of America today is how many of us have joined Pajama Boy nation — 20%, 40%, 60%? — and how many want nothing to do with such metrosexual visions of a huge state run by a nerdocracy, incompetently doling out other people’s money. How many were on board for Obamacare, more entitlements, and lectures from the apartheid elite on inequality and fairness, versus how many turn the channel at sound of His voice.

Sharpton Good — Duck Dynasty Not?

This past week the question of two Americas seems to be playing out even in the trivial psychodramas of bastardized popular culture. If Michelle Obama photo-ops and consults with Al Sharpton — of Crown Heights riot, Freddie’s Fashion Mart, and Tawana Brawley notoriety — is anything off-limits?

As I understand liberal popular culture as expressed in television and entertainment, David Letterman — cynical, dry, raised eyebrows at each ironic smirk — can pun on air that Sarah Palin’s 14-year-old daughter had sex with a baseball player in the dugout.Or Martin Bashir rails that Mrs. Palin should have excrement and urine inserted into her mouth, or Chris Rock suggests that the 4th of July is “White People’s Day,” or Jamie Foxx jokes about  how fun it was to play a character killing white people. Fine, free speech is free speech. To each his own. Let the seller and buyer establish their own codes of speech. Live and let live and all that good stuff.

But, on the other hand, you must not, as a real-TV celebrity, dare to suggest off-camera that male sodomy is somehow less “normal” or perhaps less  ”moral” or hygienic than is heterosexual intercourse. (The downside of sodomy in this Miley Cyrus age of anything goes rawness is oddly a taboo subject).

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Obama’s Ironic Foreign Policy

December 15th, 2013 - 10:19 pm


In the old postwar, pre-Obama world, the United States accepted a 65-year burden of defeating Soviet communism. It led the fight against radical Islamic terrorism. The American fleet and overseas bases ensured that global commerce, communications, and travel were largely free and uninterrupted. Globalization was a sort of synonym for Americanization.

It was neither a particularly pleasant nor popular task. To keep the Soviets out of the Persian Gulf, we made unpopular deals of convenience with odious dictators and monarchs to keep the oil freely flowing to global consumers. In return, the billionaire and authoritarian sheikdoms often used cartels and monopolies to jack up the price of oil, while subsidizing on the sly anti-Western Islamic terrorists. The United States almost had to beg those in the Middle East for the costly privilege of protecting them and buying their $100-a-barrel oil. What a strange world the U.S. created: we found Saudi oil; we protected Saudi Arabia; we kept the Persian Gulf open and secure; and we earned embargoes, OPEC, and 15 Saudi mass murderers on 9/11.

America for forty years has also been railing against the supposedly unfair protectionist trade policies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan — to no avail. That we protected all three countries, first from the Soviet Union, and then from China, was a given, as was their periodic outbursts of anti-Americanism.

Europe followed the same paradox of the angry teen railing against his parent. In the last half-century, two themes predominated in our transatlantic relationship. One was total reliance on the U.S. military and American-led NATO alliance to protect it from an expansionary Soviet Union and its eastern European Warsaw Pact. On occasion, we took out anti-Western lunatics like the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, or Slobodan Milosevic.

The second theme was a fashionable European anti-Americanism. Without too many obligations for their own national security, Europeans could afford to invest in cradle-to-grave social programs. It was just as easy to assume a secure globalized world was a natural occurrence, rather than the result of the huge American investment in a worldwide military.

As in the case of the Middle East and the Pacific, the Europeans just figured that the U.S. commitment to their security was both ironclad and timeless — allowing them the luxury to dream of utopia and occasionally to ankle-bite their pestering American overseers. We were caricatured as efficient though unimaginative Romans; our European betters were the far more brilliant but other-worldly Greeks.

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Learning through Pain

December 8th, 2013 - 6:03 pm


What will history make so far of our five-year voyage with Barack Obama? What will it make of hope and change — other than a sort of hysteria of 2008 that was a political version of the Pet Rock or the Cabbage Patch Doll derangement? Did we really experience faux-Greek columns and Latin mottoes (vero possumus) as Obama props to usher in the new order of the ages?

What exactly made David Brooks focus on trouser creases, or Chris Matthews on involuntary leg tickles? How could any serious person believe a candidate who promised to change the very terrain of the planet? Why would sober critics declare a near rookie senator “a god”?

Only as America slowly sobers up from five years of slumber can we begin to fathom Obama’s likely legacy — which is mostly wisdom acquired only from pain.

Liberals always had thought a right-wing bully president would erode civil liberties. How ironic that a charismatic, post-racial, self-described “constitutional law professor” has done more damage to our Constitution than has any president since Richard Nixon. Had the AP, IRS, or NSA scandals occurred during the Bush second term, congressional Democrats would have been calling for impeachment.

The old controversial presidential signing statements of the past are mere misdemeanors compared to Obama felonies of declaring settled law null and void, from the employer mandate to the implementation guidelines of Obamacare to exempting pet businesses and congressional staffs from the requirements of the law. A president can now decide not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, or grant pre-election, de facto amnesties. Why, then, pass laws in the first place? The idea of political opponents being audited by the IRS or critical journalists having their phones monitored will be Obama’s Nixonian legacy. After Obama, one of two things will happen: either the presidency will be redefined as a sort of super-executive that can both make and enforce statutes, or a constitutional reaction will set in, and Obamism will be cited as a danger to the republic that we wish in the future never to repeat.

Another legacy of Obama is the notion that there is no such thing anymore as a scandal. Obama labeled the IRS corruption as “outrageous” and then recently backtracked and berated progressive journalists for even thinking that the Tea Party was treaty unfairly by his administration’s IRS appointees. No one yet in the administration has confessed that a video did not cause the deaths of Americans in Benghazi. Nor is anyone contrite about the AP monitoring. That the president of the United States serially lied over Obamacare earns a “duh.”  The NSA mess warrants a “whatever.” Each time we witness something akin to the NSA, IRS, AP, and ACA machinations in the future, the supporters of the next untruthful or immoral president will no doubt offer in defense, “But Obama did worse and nobody cared.” Obama’s ethical legacy is the doctrine of medieval exemption: declaring that he is seeking exalted ends excuses the tawdry means of obtaining them.

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Obama and the Suspension of Disbelief

December 1st, 2013 - 10:43 pm

Trust, or the lack thereof.


Adding straws of scandal — Fast and Furious, the Associated Press monitoring, the IRS fiasco, and the NSA spying — on any presidential back except Barack Obama’s would have long ago broken it. Watergate ruined Richard Nixon. Iran-Contra earned a special prosecutor and nearly destroyed the Reagan second term. Katrina’s incompetent local and state reactions, coupled with a tardy federal effort — and the insurgency in postwar Iraq — ended the viability of George W. Bush in his second term.

Second, well apart from scandal, the perception of presidential lying usually ends presidential agendas. Richard Nixon resigned after never telling the truth about the Watergate cover-up. “Read my lips: no new taxes” cost George H.W. Bush his reelection. “I did not have sex with that woman” made Bill Clinton’s impeachment likely.

Yet Barack Obama on more than 20 occasions assured the American people that they could keep their existing health care coverage and their present doctor — and still save $2,500 a year per family. He knew those fables were absolutely untrue when he repeated them serially in the reelection cycle of 2012. Yet Obama has not faced any of the fallout of the sort that greeted his predecessors, even as the wreckage of the Affordable Care Act will affect the health of Americans in ways that transcend taxes or Oval Office sex.

Instead, the healthcare falsity — in the manner that the NSA disclosures were just more of the same old IRS and AP scandals — joins a litany of other untruths: the constant insistence that the Benghazi deaths were due to a video, dissimulation about ending the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols, the closing of Guantanamo, the “summer of recovery” after the stimulus, halving the national debt by the and of the first term, and the promised plunge in unemployment. Again — so what that the president does not tell the truth?

Third, the public is also indifferent to incompetence. Lying is not just what should sink Obamacare. Instead, its premises — young people will rush to sign up for something at higher costs that they rarely use to subsidize those who pay less and use it a lot, along with more coverage for more people at less cost — are contrary to basic logic.

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A Culture in Ruins

November 24th, 2013 - 11:19 pm

Lady Gaga reportedly spent $25 million on pop art to jazz up her new and apparently underwhelming album. In contrast, Miley Cyrus’ sexual twerking at the MTV Music Video Awards earned her more millions by exposing her rather unimpressive anatomy. Both make the once vulgar Madonna seem like June Cleaver, but at least raise an existential question: how much lower can we go?

Meanwhile, hip-hop artist Kanye West is promoting his own new music video. He seems to be having sex with his girlfriend Kim Kardashian while riding a motorcycle. If you did not know that Kanye West was the singer of the background music, by the quality of the lyrics and beat, you might think that a fourth grader was spewing rhymed obscenities, in the fashion that Gaga and Cyrus make up with obscenity, both spoken and visual, what they lack in musical, dance, and artistic talent.

In the two-second attention spans of our app culture, a bare nipple, a potty-mouth obscenity, or a multimillionaire’s flippant reference to a “ho” earns followers and thus big money in a way that even once cutting-edge Elvis Presley’s melodies or an against-the-grain Van Gogh impressionistic painting or a T.S. Eliot poem could never quite seem so shockingly profitable.

Professors know that bored students do their Facebooking rather than listen to lectures. Commuters fear that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving. Pedestrians are hit by other strollers whose heads are glued to iPhones. No one believes that such fixations arise from watching the History Channel, googling the Renaissance, or reading the Economist. No matter — in our therapeutic culture, in theory millions of students could do all those things, so the next new fad for our broke universities and trillion-dollar indebted college students is to provide them all with free iPads. Only the absence of an iPad robs us of future Edisons and Einsteins.

The radically egalitarian ethos demands always the descent to the lowest common denominators of taste. A world without requisites is the fairest. To capture the most attention of the masses requires a Cyrus, Gaga, or West. Once classical canons of artistic, literary, or musical expression were torn down, and once those classically trained rebels who ripped them apart have passed on, we are left with the ruins of trying to shock what is perhaps beyond being shocked. What more could Miley Cyrus do — wear two foam fingers? Could Mr. West mount his girlfriend, and sing and dance while riding backwards?

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The World of the Coliseum

November 17th, 2013 - 6:53 pm


I woke up one morning not long ago, and noticed that the world that I was born into no longer exists. It was as if I had once lived in Republican Italy, took a nap, and awoke to the Roman Empire, AD 200.


Let me explain. All the farms in these environs that I grew up with — 40-80 acres with a farmhouse and family — have simply vanished.

Where did they go?

I suppose when I meet someone with 5,000 acres that I am supposed to think that spread represents the old, and now recombined, 100 50-acre farms under new management. Yet where did the 100 farm households go — and what replaced them?

When I ride around the rural landscape, I see the old skeletons of farmhouses; but they are mostly rented to farm workers.  Are the social circumstances of renting a house and working on a 5,000-acre farm different from 100 agrarian households doing it — in terms of local PTA, Little League, the regional hospital board, or city council?

I leave it to you to decide. I can attest only that in terms of agricultural productivity, today’s 8,000-acre almond operations look far more efficient, up to date, and savvy than what 100 80-acre almond orchards used to seem like: old barn, clunky tractors in the yard, kids out in the orchard not up on the latest scientific approaches to fertilization, mom doing the books in a way the computerized corporate whiz kid would laugh at, tight-fisted gramps hobbling about looking for loose tire-popping nails in the alleyway while giving sermons about avoiding a mortgage.

The Tech Ghettos

The new pyramid is not just agricultural. Go to Silicon Valley. In all the old quaint homes of Menlo Park, Mountain View, and Palo Alto that I remember visiting in the 1960s, there is only a small middle class. The houses, true, are almost preserved in amber, appearing just as they did on the tree-lined streets a half-century ago. But what is in them now?

Strapped $400,000 a year-income couples paying $10,000 a month in taxes and mortgages for $800-per-square-foot old frame cottages are not what I remember. Even a far greater number of residents are renting $2,000 a month apartments, while a vast underclass of families in Redwood City and East Palo Alto quadruples up in rented 1,000 square-foot houses.

A few tech and financing geniuses live in splendor in Woodside or Portola Valley (well, not quite in splendor: air lift their multimillion-dollar castles to Fresno or Merced and their square footages and design would suddenly be considered no more than mere $500,000 nice, big houses).

What drives the new madcap California rush to the high-priced coastal strip? The weather has not changed since 1960. Stanford is still Stanford; Berkeley remains Berkeley. Is it the destruction of the old interior muscular world and the new high profits of the cerebral coastal? Does one pass up a $150,000 house in Madera to go into life-long debtor status to buy something smaller for $1 million to escape the dividends of illegal immigration and vast entitlements in the interior?

The small dry cleaner and his wife the teacher do not buy a nice 1,500 square foot home in San Carlos, start their 3-children family in their twenties, and join the middle class. More likely the future bridegroom is still single, living at home until he is 30. His would-be wife is still renting. And at 35 they might marry and have one child with a $600,000 mortgage. There is no room there for the middle-class family starting out youthful, with visions of a ranch house, kids, good jobs, and upward mobility.

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America’s Wilderness Years

November 11th, 2013 - 2:39 pm

Help! Is there anybody out there?!

Most two-term presidents leave some sort of legacy. Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. George W. Bush prevented another 9/11, and constructed an anti-terrorism protocol that even his critical successor embraced and often expanded.

Even our one-term presidents have achieved something. JFK got Soviet missiles out of Cuba. LBJ oversaw passage of civil rights legislation. Jerry Ford restored integrity to the White House. Jimmy Carter finally issued the Carter Doctrine to stop Soviet expansionism at the Persian Gulf. George H.W. Bush won the first Persian Gulf War and got Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

And even our impeached or abdicated presidents at least left some positive legacies. Richard Nixon went to China and enacted détente. Bill Clinton through compromise balanced the budget and incurred budget surpluses.

But Barack Obama?

The economy is anemic. We have never seen unemployment dip below 7% in the last five years. Real jobless rates that include those who have given up on working are perhaps double the official figures. By 2017 the national debt will have doubled. The stimulus did not lead to a “summer of recovery.”

Near zero interest rates, vast expansions in the money supply, and huge increases in federal redistributive payouts have not jump-started anything — except to end entirely the cherished American idea of receiving a modest interest rate on lifelong passbook savings accounts. The middle class has been squeezed as never before, lacking the administration’s romance of the poor and its crony-capitalism connections of the rich.

Even with new taxes on top incomes, the end of the war in Iraq, sequestration, and a supposed recovery, the 2013 annual deficit will still near $700 billion — a bragging point for Obama, given that this is the first year of his administration that we did not borrow over $1 trillion. To the degree that Obama has made headway — the sequestration forcing cuts and reducing the 2013 budget deficit somewhat, or gas and oil production soaring on private lands — success has come despite his opposition, not because of his advocacy.

Not since Richard Nixon have we seen such a record of scandal. The disclosures of wrong-doing and cover-ups now come so often that they become mind-numbing — Fast and Furious, Benghazi, and the IRS, AP, NSA, and ACA messes. After the president’s flips and flops over Syria, confusion about Egypt, and leading from behind in Libya, no one believes him — which is why also that no one was surprised at home about the untruth about Obamacare. In such a context, misdeeds like the Pigford payouts or Solyndra do not even raise an eyebrow.

Foreign policy is likewise in shambles. No one in the administration brags of “leading from behind” in Libya, or of “reset” with Russia, or of “red lines” and “game changers” in Syria. On most foreign policy issues, Obama is to the left of the current French socialist government. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s legacy is trying to bypass the UN about Syria, exceeding the UN mandate in Libya, and now ignoring it with Iran.

I know of no major Democrat figure who claims a foreign policy success for this administration — unless estrangement from Israel, or the courting of Islamists in Turkey and Egypt, or open mic promises to go easy on Russia after the election count. The irony is that the more the Obama administration has courted our enemies — Venezuela, the Islamist Middle East, Iran — the more they have disliked us, as our appeasement earned contempt rather than appreciation of magnanimity. There is no longer an American-led West. Germany is becoming the world’s fiscal arbitrator, France the Western bulwark against radical Islam, Japan the impediment to Chinese expansionism, Israel and the Persian Gulf the last chance to stop an Iranian bomb.

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The Double-Dealing Middle East Is Double-Dealt

November 4th, 2013 - 7:02 pm


Boo-hoo, Middle East

About every day or so, a throat-clearing Middle East pundit weighs in to warn us of the Obama’s administration’s dereliction of traditional American engagement. They rightly lament “lead from behind” in Libya. After Benghazi, Libya has turned into something like Somalia. Far more are dying there from sectarian chaos than during the latter years of the hated Moammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship.

The Sunni reactionary establishment of the Gulf is right to deplore Obama’s incoherent flip-flop-flips in Egypt and Syria. The oil lords logically conclude that a directionless president will do nothing to stop Iran’s race to get a bomb — and all the subsequent Middle East WMD catch-ups to match it.

Even Obama’s pet Turkey seems confused that its favorite administration is now nowhere to be seen. The Iraqis were given a fresh start after the surge and hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. aid — and still claimed that they wanted the U.S. out. Obama gladly called their hand. Now, left to themselves, they are reverting to the pre-surge violence, whining about security and sectarianism — and back asking us for even more money. Rule One: never bluff an isolationist to yank all his forces from your country.

After twelve years, it is clear that triple-dealing President Hamid Karzai never made the reforms in Afghanistan that he promised. Now he will soon be on his own too, as Kabul comes to resemble the disaster of Saigon, 1975. He is correct in lamenting U.S. withdrawal, and yet about the most unsympathetic of the many unattractive dependents American has acquired in the Middle East.

Visitors from an alien planet might conclude of the region that Saddams come and go. Arab Springs and Cedar and Green Revolutions rise and fall. Socialists and fascists, Islamists and Baathists all wax and wane. All the while, the Middle East — statist, authoritarian, anti-democratic, religiously intolerant, tribal, misogynist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and exploitive — stays mostly the same and so in a way earns the wide varieties of awful government that it suffers from.

In response to complaints of American retreat, National Security Advisor Susan Rice doubled down on the Obama neo-isolationism. She shrugged that, other than worries over an Iranian bomb, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and free commerce in and out of the Persian Gulf, the U.S. can no longer be all that bothered about regional violence, much less think it can push down reluctant throats Western-style consensual government. She at least hit upon one point, in the sense that U.S. abdication was a sort of payback for past ingratitude.

Such retrenchment may be disastrous. Indeed, the region, in response, is certainly heating up as the U.S. backs off.  Vladimir Putin seems eager to fill the void. The Shiite-Sunni wars escalate. Al-Qaeda has spread and multiplied. China will come in to protect its own huge oil appetites. Christians will vanish from the region.

The Obama administration most likely is pulling in its horns for a variety of practical reasons. In general, in the era of sequestration and still massive deficits, it is cutting back on lots of defense and forward deployment. Obama believes that every dollar spent on defense abroad comes at the expense of a lost food stamp or one less disability check at home.

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Questions Rarely Asked—and Never Answered

October 28th, 2013 - 7:27 pm


It Can’t Happen Here?

What does it take to warn Americans about unchecked pension growth, socialized medicine, vast increases in entitlements, higher taxes, and steady expansion of government? In other words, what is it about Detroit, Italy, or Greece that we do not understand?

In the last five years, the Obama administration has raised taxes on the top income rates, implemented Obamacare, added millions to the disability and food stamp roles, grown the size of the federal work force, run up the national debt, and vastly expanded the money supply, along with insuring near zero interest rates. Are there any historical examples where these redistributive efforts have brought long-term tranquility and prosperity?

To put it another way, does anyone ask basic questions about human nature anymore? If one gives more incentives to obtain government support while unemployed, why would not fewer people be working? If the food stamp, unemployment, and disability rolls are markedly up, and if it is almost impossible to verify that recipients are also not working for unreported cash wages (we hear mostly of government efforts to add more to these programs, rather than to audit those already on them), why would one seek a “regular” job that would lose such subsidies and make all one’s income reportable? (We know two basic truths about the IRS in the age of Obama: first, it goes after political opponents in partisan fashion, and second, it gives away billions of dollars in federal income tax rebate credits to those who did not deserve them.)

If you allow illegal immigrants to enjoy full government subsidies, driver’s licenses, in-state tuition discounts, sanctuary cities, participation on juries, and all without fear of deportation, then why (a) would people not flock here illegally from Mexico, and (b) why after arriving would they go through the hassle of seeking citizenship when residency provides almost all the same benefits?

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The Launch of the Freedom Academy

October 28th, 2013 - 6:23 am

Today launches the Freedom Academy®, a project some 18 months in the making. In the present age, we need a meeting place where people can rediscover what freedom entails and appreciate the origins and role of liberty. The majority of Americans yearn for a rebirth of these values that have sustained Western civilization, and birthed the American experiment. Such reverence for our heritage and origins is why we at PJ Media will offer a variety of ways to understand our present dilemmas through an appreciation of past ideas and events.

Despite all the contemporary upheavals in Washington—whether over the government shutdown, debt-ceiling increase, or Obamacare—we can be certain that history remains both our gateway to the future and our window to the past. The political strife we are witnessing is not new, but a continuance of the age-old struggle between the tragic and therapeutic views of the human condition, over the collision of history and humanities with the social sciences, and the liberty of the individual pitted against the coercive power of the collective.

We cannot fully understand and appreciate the magnitude of our current challenges if we do not study the world around us through learning from past events and the contributions of earlier minds—both the ordeals and triumphs of people of action, and the thoughts and ideas of others who tried to make sense of such events through literature and philosophy.

The Academy is the online home for the intellectually curious. They can draw on a book club that encourages reading and discussion of the principles of freedom and liberty, e-books, discussion guides, and a video lecture series that bring to life the ideas, people and states that shaped Western civilization.

Anyone can read, listen, or watch the current news. Yet if you want to place the present noise in a larger context of understanding modern civilization, then the Freedom Academy Lecture Series and its Book Club can aid your odyssey of intellectual and political discovery. While we have created the content of the Academy especially for those who love freedom and liberty—and are worried over the present endangerment of both—we were also mindful to make our offerings appealing to all generations through videos, written texts, and web formats.

Beginning with the first lecture series, the Odyssey of Western Civilization, I will guide viewers on a 2,500-year journey across the landscape of Western civilization, from its origins in the Greek city-states to its most affluent and free expression in modern America. The second series, The Western Story, explores the many connections between the classical Greek and Roman worlds and the present era, and how our contemporary experiences are explicable through the knowledge of our classical culture and civilization. My final series, History in the News, also correlates the present with the present by showing how present controversies are best understood through drawing on historical precedents.

The Freedom Academy also features a fourth video lecture series created and narrated by Scott Ott. Called Freedom’s Charter, this 20-episode video series takes you behind the scenes of the creation of the U.S. Constitution.

Comprised of four-lecture series, the Freedom Academy’s online video lectures and companion e-books can be purchased on its website The Freedom Academy Book Club is free and a veritable intersection where those who cherish freedom and liberty can explore books that can shape our common destiny.

President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history…[we] will be remembered in spite of ourselves.” I fully agree with Lincoln and I so also believe “we know how to save the Union.” If we do not educate ourselves on our past—and the past of other nations—then we fail. The choice is ours to make, or break, the “last best hope of earth.”