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Contemporary Arrogance is the Perfect Fodder for Human Evil

irancouple

At this present moment there are three Australians sitting in Iranian prisons. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Jolie King, and Mark Firkin have all been charged (and, in Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s case, convicted) with espionage. Jolie King and Mark Firkin have been accused of flying a drone over a military installation without a permit whilst the charges against Kylie Moore-Gilbert remain unclear.

To say that Jolie King and Mark Firkin were naïve would be an understatement. The couple, who raise money for their global adventures on Patreon, stated on their vlog that their ambition is to “inspire anyone wanting to travel and also to try to break the stigma of travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media.”

Some countries have a bad reputation for a reason, a fact Jolie King and Mark Firkin seemed unwilling to comprehend. Iran, in particular, has a bad reputation for political repression, human rights violations, and corruption. Iran has been noted for using excessive violence against political dissidents, suppressing the media, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and using inhumane punishments.

No wonder Amnesty International has stated that the human rights situation in Iran had “severely deteriorated.” Iranian prisoners lack access to adequate medical care, trials can hardly be described as fair, and confessions obtained using torture are freely admitted in court. It was even reported in June 2018 that defendants accused of breeching Iran’s national security laws were being forced to choose from a list of just twenty state-approved lawyers.

There is nothing new about Jolie King and Mark Firkin. History is filled with people who deny the existence of evil. And many of them have paid the ultimate price. Jay Austin and Lauren Geogehan claimed in their blog that “evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives that are not our own.” This beautiful sentiment didn’t stop them being stabbed to death by Islamic State jihadists in Tajikistan.

A large part of this problem comes from the social disease of moral relativism. We have lived with peace, prosperity, and freedom for so long that we’ve forgotten what it is like not to have them. Our complacency has led us to believe that all moral beliefs are equally valid. And it has led us to believe that there is no such thing as evil.

The problem with moral relativism is that it is not true. Actions have consequences and some consequences just happen to be bad. Saying that all moral beliefs are equally valid is no different than saying that one cannot make judgements about the behaviour of others because there is no absolute standard of good and evil. It’s a rather convenient argument when people are doing the wrong thing and know it.

There are two fundamental problems with moral relativism. The first is that it is a self-defeating argument. By saying that there is no absolute morality you are, in fact, making an absolute claim. The second is that hardly anyone actually believes that morality is relative. If they did, they would regard rape and murder as being equally acceptable behaviour as charity and kindness.

Rather, people use moral relativism to justify their own immoral behaviour. It gives people an easy way out by allowing them to behave in whatever manner they please without moral justification. And this, when you think about it, is precisely what people want: the freedom to do whatever they please without having to feel guilty about it.

Socially progressive people like to see themselves as so sophisticated that they can do away with good and evil. Jolie King and Mark Firkin bought into such a worldview. They now find themselves sitting in Iranian prisons for their troubles. Such is the price of modern arrogance.

OUR OBSESSION OVER FOOD IS RIDICULOUS

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Sometimes a civilisation can become so sophisticated that it believes it can overcome truth. We have become one of those civilisations. As a consequence of our arrogance, we have come to believe that we can circumvent some of the most fundamental truths about reality. We blame inequality on the social structure even though most social animals live in hierarchies. We believe that primitive people are noble even though mankind in its primitive state is more violent than at any other stage. And we believe that we can change the way human beings eat despite the fact that it is making us unhappy.

It is our modern obsession over diet and exercise that I would like to focus on. This obsession has arisen from a society that is too safe, too free, and too prosperous for its own good. This is not to say that safety, freedom, and prosperity are bad things. Indeed, we should get down on our knees and thank God every day that we live in a country that has these things. However, it is also true that too much safety, freedom, and prosperity breeds passivity and complacency. The hardships our ancestors faced – war, poverty, disease – are no longer problems for us. Therefore, we lack the meaning that these hardships bring to our life. As a result, we have come to invent problems. Among these has been a tendency to render the consumption of certain food as something unhealthy, unethical, or both.

Our modern obsession with food is causing significant personal problems. On the one hand, the ease in which food, especially that which is laden with sugar, is causing a rise in cases of obesity. (Note: I am using the word ‘obesity’ as a blanket term for people who are overweight). It is a uniquely modern problem. Our ancestors never battled weight gain because they were only able to find or afford enough food to keep them and their families from starving. Now the quantity, cheapness, and, in many cases, poor quality of food means that the fattest amongst are also often the poorest. But obesity is less a problem that arises out of food and more of a problem arising from laziness and gluttony. (Naturally, I am excluding health problems and genetic disorders from this conclusion).

On the other hand, however, our obsession over being skinny or muscle-bound is also causing problems. I have seen plenty of people who are clearly overweight. In rare cases, I have even seen people who are so morbidly obese that it can only be described as breathtaking. However, I have also seen women (and it primarily women, by the way) who can only be described as unnaturally thin. It is as though our society, having realised that being overweight is healthy, has decided that its opposite must be good. It isn’t. Just right is just right.

And it’s not just individuals who are subjecting themselves to this kind of self-imposed torture. And it’s not limited to people in the here and now, either. In 1998, The Independent reported that many doctors in the United Kingdom were concerned that well-meaning parents were unintentionally starving their children to death by feeding them low fat, low sugar diets. These children were said to be suffering from the effects of “muesli-belt nutrition.” They had become malnourished because either they or their parents had maintained had become obsessed with maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diet. The article reported: “Malnutrition, once associated with slums, is said to have become an increasing problem for middle-class families in the past fifteen years. The victim of so-called ‘muesli-belt nutrition’ are at risk of stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, heart disease and diabetes.”

Our obsession over diet is really a sign of how well-off our society is. Our ancestors had neither the time nor the resources to adhere to the kind of crazy-strict diets that modern people, in their infinite stupidity, decide to subject themselves to. It is high time we stopped obsessing over food and got a grip.

SMALL GOVERNMENT MATTERS

 

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(This is derived from an old essay I wrote for university)

The size of government is an important yet seldom discussed issue. This is a peculiar phenomenon as the size of government is integral to our freedom. When government power is not limited those with power are able to encroach upon the freedoms of the people. However, when the powers of government are limited people are able to live in peace, freedom, and prosperity.

The Age of Enlightenment (c. 1685 – c. 1815) represents a period in history where the principles of the old world were replaced by new ideals. It was during the Enlightenment that the concepts of modern democracy (democracy originated with the Ancient Greeks, albeit in a rather primitive form), liberty, and inalienable rights began to emerge. One of its key concepts, limited government, came about during the High Enlightenment (c. 1730 – 1780). The English philosopher John Locke (1632 – 1704), perhaps the greatest defender of limited government, believed civil power should be derived from individual autonomy and that the separation of powers was necessary to protect people from tyranny.

Limited government works on the idea that governments should have a little interference in people’s lives as possible. Supporters of small government believe that big government destroys human creativity and innovation because. As the Austro-Hungarian philosopher, Friedrich Hayek (1899 – 1992) stated: “the more the state plans, the more difficult planning becomes for the individual”. Numerous supporters of democracy and liberty had held limited government as an important, and necessary, ideal. The American statesmen, founding father, and President, James Madison (1751 – 1836) sought institutions which would limit the scope of government and give more rights to the individual. Similarly, the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser (1930 – 2015) argued that “the power of the state should be limited and contained”.

In no other area is this been clearer than the economy. The economist, Adam Smith (1723 – 1790) argued that regulations on commerce are not only ill-founded but also counter-productive as countries depend on capital accumulation . According to James Madison, guarding persons and property would: “encourage industry by securing the enjoyment of its fruits.” Nations with small governments create their own fortune by allowing the people to participate freely in the marketplace.

Small government makes them master of their own destinies rather than making the government master of them. The people should never forget, as Ronal Reagan put it, “we the people are the driver, the government is the car.” Only small government can continue to survive into the future, only small government can protect the rights of the individual, and only small government celebrates human achievement. This is why small government matters.

REFERENCE LIST

  1. Adam Smith Institute, ‘the Wealth of Nations’: http://www.adamsmith.org/wealth-of-nations. [23/03/2014]
  2. Australian Greens, ‘the Greens’: http://greens.org.au/. [23/03/2014]
  3. Australian Greens, ‘the Economy: We Live in a Society, Not an Economy’: http://greens.org.au/economy. [23/03/2014]
  4. Australian Greens, ‘Standing Up for Small Business’: http://greens.org.au/small-business. [23/03/2014]
  5. Australian Government, ‘Australian Constitution,: Australian Politics, http://australianpolitics.com/constitution-aus/text [23/03/2014]
  6. Australian Government, ‘Australia’s System of Government’: Australian Government: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, https://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/sys_gov.html. [23/03/2014]
  7. Australian Government, ‘Australian Government Taxation and Spending’: 2011-12 Budget Overview, http://www.budget.gov.au/2011-12/content/overview/html/overview_46.htm. [23/03/2014]
  8. Moran, ‘Economic Freedom Delivers Results’, Review – Institute of Public Affairs, vol 59, no. 3. 2007.
  9. Australian Labor Party, ‘Australian Labor Party’: http://www.alp.org.au/. [23/03/2014]
  10. Australian Labor Party, ‘Labor is for Growth and Opportunity’: Growth and Opportunity, http://www.alp.org.au/growthandopportunity. [23/03/2014]
  11. Eltham, ‘Size of Government: Big is Not So Bad’: the Drum, http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3912918.html. [23/03/2014]
  12. Bonner, ‘the Golden Rule: He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules’: Daily Reckoning Australia, http://www.dailyreckoning.com.au/golden-rule/2008/03/05/. [23/03/2014]
  13. Bowen, ‘Economic Statement August 2013: Joint Media Release with Senator the Hon Penny Wong Minister for Finance and Deregulation’, Australian Government: the Treasury, http://ministers.treasury.gov.au/DisplayDocs.aspx?doc=pressreleases/2013/016.htm&pageID=003&min=cebb&Year=&DocType. [23/03/2014]
  14. Cracked, ‘Australian Greens’: http://www.cracked.com/funny-6522-australian-greens/. [23/03/2014]
  15. Boaz, ‘Remembering Ronald Reagan’: Cato Institute, http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/remembering-ronald-reagan. [23/03/2014]
  16. M. Cooray, ‘More About Limited Government and the Role of the State’: http://www.ourcivilisation.com/cooray/westdem/chap6.htm. [23/03/2014]
  17. Western, ‘Big Government is Good for You’: the Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/oct/13/obama-healthcare-economy-socialism [23/03/2014]
  18. W. Younkins, ‘John Locke’s Limited State’: Le Quebecois Libre, http://www.quebecoislibre.org/06/060219-4.htm. [23/03/2014]
  19. For Dummies, ‘How the Enlightenment Affected Politics and Government’: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-the-enlightenment-affected-politics-and-govern.html [23/03/2014]
  20. History, ‘Enlightenment’: http://www.history.com/topics/enlightenment [23/03/2014]
  21. Indiana University Northwest, ‘Two Enlightenment Philosophes: Montesquieu and Rousseau’: http://www.iun.edu/~hisdcl/h114_2002/enlightenment2.htm. [23/03/2014]
  22. A. Dorn, ‘the Scope of Government in a Free Society, Cato Journal, vol 32, no.3. 2012. Pp: 1 – 14
  23. Novak, ‘Small Government Means Better Governance’: the Drum, http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4147992.html. [23/03/2014]
  24. P. Sommerville, ‘Limited Government, Resistance and Locke’: http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/283/283%20session10.htm. [23/03/2014]
  25. Liberal-National Coalition, ‘the Coalition’s Policy to Increase Employment Participation’: http://lpaweb-static.s3.amazonaws.com/13-08-27%20The%20Coalition%E2%80%99s%20Policy%20to%20Increase%20Employment%20Participation%20-%20policy%20document.pdf. [23/03/2014]
  26. Liberal Party, ‘Our Plan for Real Action’: https://www.liberal.org.au/our-plan. [23/03/2014]
  27. Liberal-National Coalition, ‘the Coalition’s Policy for Trade’: http://lpaweb-static.s3.amazonaws.com/Coalition%202013%20Election%20Policy%20%E2%80%93%20Trade%20%E2%80%93%20final.pdf. [23/03/2014]
  28. Lobao and G. Hooks, ‘Public Employment, Welfare Transfers, and Economic Well-Being across Local Populations: Does a Lean and Mean Government Benefit the Masses?’, Social Forces, vol 82, no. 2. 2003. Pp: 519 – 556
  29. R. Cima and P. S. Cotter, ‘the Coherence of the Concept of Limited Government’, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management¸ vol. 4. 1985. Pp. 266 – 270
  30. Baird, ‘The State, Work and Family in Australia’, the International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol 22, no. 18, 2011. Pp: 1 – 14
  31. New Learning, ‘Ronald Reagan on Small Government’: http://newlearningonline.com/new-learning/chapter-4/ronald-reagan-on-small-government. [23/03/2014]
  32. Parker, ‘Religion and Politics’, Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, vol 7, no. 1. 2006. Pp: 93 – 115
  33. Public Interest Institute, ‘A Short History of Economic Theory Classical Economic Theory: From Adam Smith to Jean-Baptiste Say’: http://limitedgovernment.org/ps-12-9-p3.html. [23/03/2014]
  34. Hollander, ‘John Howard, Economic Liberalism, Social Conservatism, and Australian Federation’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol 53, no. 1. 2008. Pp: 85 – 103
  35. Kelman, ‘Limited Government: an Incoherent Concept’, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 3, no. 1. 1983. Pp. 31 – 44
  36. Pryce, ‘the Thatcher Years – Political Analysis: Putting the Great Back into Britain?’: Margaret Thatcher: 1925 – 2013, http://www2.granthamtoday.co.uk/gj/site/news/thatcher/analysis.htm. [23/03/2014]
  37. Dunlop, ‘Small Government Can Equal Big Problems’: the Drum, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-28/dunlop-small-government-can-equal-big-problems/5287718. [23/03/2014]
  38. US Government, ‘Bill of Rights’: the Charters of Freedom “a New World is at Hand”,http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html. [23/03/2014]
  39. US Government, ‘Constitution of the United States’: the Chapters of Freedom “a New World is at Hand”, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html. [23/03/2014]
  40. Various Authors, ‘Social Issues and Political Psychology’, International Journal of Psychology, vol 47, no. 1. 2012. Pp: 687 – 697
  41. We the People, ‘Principles, Priorities, and Policies of President Reagan’: Ronald Reagan and Executive Power, http://reagan.civiced.org/lessons/middle-school/principles-priorities-policies-president-reagan. [23/03/2014]
  42. Voegeli, ‘the Trouble with Limited Government’, Claremont Review of Books¸ vol 7, no. 4. 2007. Pp: 10 – 14.
  43. W, ‘Size of Government: Brooks and Ryan’s False Choice’: the Economist, http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/09/size_government. [23/03/2014]

THE PROTESTANT WORK ETHIC

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This is our weekly theological article.

If there is any philosophical or moral principle that can be credited with the prosperity of the Western capitalist societies it would have to be the Protestant work ethic. This ethic asserts that a person’s success in this life is a visible sign of their salvation in the next. As a result, the Protestant work ethic encourages hard work, self-reliance, literacy, diligence, frugality, and the reinvestment profits.

Prior to the Reformation, not much spiritual stock was placed on labour. The Roman Catholic Church placed more value on monastic prayer than on manual labour. Much would change when the German monk, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. Luther railed against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences as a way of avoiding purgatorial punishment. Luther asserted faith over work believing that a person could be set right with God through faith alone. It was Luther’s opinion that an individual should remain in the vocation God had called them to and should work to earn an income, rather than the accumulation of wealth. This belief stood in stark contrast to the Catholic Church’s philosophy that relief from eternal torment came from Godly rewards for good works. By contrast, the second great Protestant, John Calvin (1509 – 1564), believed that faith and hard work were inextricably linked. Calvin’s theory came from his revolutionary idea of predestination, which asserted that only certain people were called into grace and salvation. It is from this that the Protestant work ethic is borne.

As a consequence, many Protestants worked hard to prove to themselves that they had been preselected for a seat in heaven. A result of this extreme predilection towards hard-work was an increase in economic prosperity.

The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917), believed that capitalism was built on a system that encouraged a strong work ethic and delayed gratification. Similarly, the German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920), argued in The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) that America’s success boiled down to the Protestant work ethic. It was asserted as the key idea that would encourage individuals to move up the social ladder and achieve economic independence. Weber noted that Protestants – particularly Calvinists, were largely responsible for early twentieth-century business success.

The Protest work ethic is credited with the United States’ economic and political rise in the 19th and 20th centuries. As the political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859), wrote in Democracy in America (1835):

“I see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on its shore. They will to their descendants the most appropriate habits, ideas, and mores to make a republic.”

A study in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology found that nations with a majority Protestant population enjoyed higher rates of employment. The economist, Horst Feldman, analysed data from eighty countries and found that countries with majority Protestant populations – America, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – had employment rates six-percent higher than countries where other religious beliefs were practised. (Furthermore, the female employment rate in Protestant countries is eleven-percent higher). Feldman explained how the legacy of Protestantism led to increased prosperity:

“In the early days, Protestantism promoted the virtue of hard and diligent work among its adherents, who judged one another by conformity to this standard. Originally, an intense devotion to one’s work was meant to assure oneself that one was predestined for salvation. Although the belief in predestination did not last more than a generation or two after the Reformation, the ethic of work continued.”

The Protestant work ethic is one of those Christian ideas that have helped create Western capitalist democracies in all their glory. It is yet another example of the influence that Christianity has had on the modern world.

The Qualities That Build Society

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Everyone versed in culture and politics understands the truth in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s (1792 – 1822) argument that creators of culture are the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Our view of the world is derived from our religious beliefs, the stories we read as children, the movies we watched, the cultural customs we become accustomed to, and so forth. It is not that culture constructs the physical edifices of civilisation per say, but that culture forms the values and philosophies upon which civilisation is founded.

In the west, the prevailing cultural narrative champions wholesome virtues: kindness, compassion, love, fair-play, and so forth, as being the only way to achieve prosperity and success. The individual must avoid combat with others, and be polite, civil, pleasant, and diplomatic to all. To be seen using aggression or wanting power leads to social isolation. This has certainly been the message in culture. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, the title character is a corrupt, twisted, and Machiavellian prince who schemes his way into power. By contrast, the future Henry VII is seen to be fair and humane. By the end of the play, Richard dies hated even by members of his own family, whereas Henry is celebrated as a noble hero.

This worldview bears little resemblance to reality:

“The manner in which we live, and that in which we ought to live, are things so wide asunder, that he who quits the one to betake himself with the other is more likely to destroy than to save himself; since anyone who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything, must be ruined among so many who are not good. It is essential for a prince who wishes to maintain his position, to have learned how to be other than good, and to use or not to use his goodness as necessity requires.” (Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532, Chapter 15, page 114)

Bubbling just below the surface are the real, amoral virtues which foster prosperity and success. In Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) puts forth the following proposition:

“Suppose nothing is given as ‘real’ except our world of desires and passions, and we could not get down, or up, to any other ‘reality’ besides the reality of our drives.”  (Beyond Good and Evil, page 59).

Maybe we aren’t as driven by morality and Godliness as we like to think we are. Maybe we are driven by lust for power, material wealth, and sex. (This, of course, brings forth the possibility that the purpose of wholesomeness is to temper our real desires).

Even though we loathe having to admit it, all of us want power. Power gives us greater control and makes us feel more secure. But since it is socially unacceptable to be seen wanting power we are forced to rely on subtlety. We are forced to become honest on the one hand, and duplicitous on the other, congenial yet cunning, democratic yet devious.

In chapter twenty-one of the Prince, Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) wrote: “Nothing makes a prince so well thought of as to undertake great enterprises and give striking proofs of his capacity.” Our civilisation was built through ambitious and power-hungry individuals. Not by the wholesome virtues presented to us.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S UNITED NATIONS SPEECH

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President Donald Trump delivered his first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

President Trump reminded the UN that their purpose was not that of a bureaucratic-style world government, but an amalgamation of sovereign states whose power was based on the “individual strength of its members.”  “The whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free”, the President told them.

“The whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free”, the President told them. He then went on to ask those present if they were patriots prepared to work for a “future of dignity and peace for the people of this wonderful earth.”

Speaking at the opening luncheon, President Trump praised the UN’s ability to maintain peace in the world:

“There is no better forum, there can be no better forum and certainly, there can be no better location where everybody comes together.”

The President continued:

“The potential of the United Nations is unlimited. You are going to do things that will epic, and I certainly hope you will, but I feel very, very confident.”

However, the President also criticised the UN for its record of allowing countries with atrocious human rights records on their human rights council:

“It is a massive embarrassment for the United Nations that some governments with egregious  human rights records sit on the UN Human Rights Council.”

The President also turned his ire towards Venezuela, the Middle East, and North Korea.

Commenting on the situation in Venezuela he said, “the problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”

Speaking on Afghanistan, President Trump stated the US’ policy would be dictated by circumstances, not arbitrary deadlines:

“From now on, our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operations, not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians. I have also totally changed the rules  of engagement in our fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.”

He also indicated that the US may be backing out of the Iran nuclear deal, which he referred to as a national embarrassment:

“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve  heard the last of it, believe me.”

Finally, President Trump condemned North Korea’s record on human rights and nuclear weapons. He warned that their “reckless” pursuit of nuclear weapons threatened “the entire world with unthinkable loss of life.”

Echoing Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, President Trump went on to warn “rocket man” (the President’s nickname for Jim Jong Un) that the US would wipe the rogue communist state off the face of the earth if it attacked the US or one of her allies:

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide  mission for himself and for his regime.”

Senator minority leader, the Democratic Senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, commented that it was dangerous for President Trump to refer to Kim Jong Un as “rocket man”:

“If I were giving the President advice, I would have said, avoid using ‘rocket man’. “If I were giving the President advice, I would have said, avoid using ‘rocket man’.  We know the leader of North Korea is erratic to put it kindly. That kind of language is risky.”

On a more positive note, many are praising the President for his no-nonsense speech. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted:

“In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech.”