Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Power of the Press

Speaking of Press bias, my favorite example of the power of the press is the "Crime Wave" chapter from the Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens. Read the whole thing. It’s only a short seven pages in the original.

The media and politics

In talking about the media and politics, two questions come up all the time. Is the media biased? If so, is the bias influential, does it change the way people think? The November 1 issue of The Economist, to which I cannot link, reported on some recent economic research that bears on these questions.

If you start from the assumption that readers and listeners like to have their beliefs confirmed, as two economists did, you end up with the conclusion that the media slant their reporting right and left in order to increase market share. Two other economists, according to The Economist, have recently added evidence to support this conclusion. They measured political slant by indexing key phrases (“estate tax” vs “death tax”) used in Congressional debates and their frequency in the media and correlated this with readership bias as determined by voting patterns in media markets and contributions to Democratic or Republican organizations.

The economists concluded that “newspapers tended, on average, to locate themselves neither to the right nor to the left of the level of slant that [the economists] reckon would maximise their profits. And for good commercial reasons: their model showed that even a minor deviation from this “ideal” level of slant would hurt profits through a sizeable loss of circulation.”

This economic analysis adds to the evidence that, stated simply, the media does not influence public opinion as much as it reacts to it (to make money) and that public opinion or at least the terms of our political discourse are set by opinion makers, in this case, congressmen and senators.

Sobering Thoughts From Mark Helprin

The novelist (A Soldier of the Great War and, most recently,Freddy and Fredericka) and Claremont Institute Senior Fellow denounces Bush’s foreign policy record and fears the worst from Obama, in yesterday’s
Wall Street Journal

A sample:

The counterpart to Republican incompetence has been a Democratic opposition warped by sentiment. The deaths of thousands of Americans in attacks upon our embassies, warships, military barracks, civil aviation, capital, and largest city were not a criminal matter but an act of war made possible by governments and legions of enablers in the Arab world. Nothing short of war -- although not the war we have waged -- could have been sufficient in response. The opposition is embarrassed by patriotism and American self-interest, but above all it is blind to the gravity of the matter....

The pity is that the war could have been successful and this equilibrium sustained had we struck immediately, preserving the link with September 11th; had we disciplined our objective to forcing upon regimes that nurture terrorism the choice of routing it out with their ruthless secret services or suffering the destruction of the means to power for which they live; had we husbanded our forces in the highly developed military areas of northern Saudi Arabia after deposing Saddam Hussein, where as a fleet in being they would suffer no casualties and remain at the ready to reach Baghdad, Damascus, or Riyadh in three days; and had we taken strong and effective measures for our domestic protection while striving to stay within constitutional limits and eloquently explaining the necessity -- as has always been the case in war -- for sometimes exceeding them. Today’s progressives apologize to the world for America’s treatment of terrorists (not a single one of whom has been executed). Franklin Roosevelt, when faced with German saboteurs (who had caused not a single casualty), had them electrocuted and buried in numbered graves next to a sewage plant.

The Man Behind the "Ponzi Scheme"

This portrait is for our Julie. It seems the original Ponzi gave not just the shirt but the skin off his back for his bride-to-be. He evidently began his financing scheme quite legitimately....

The Astute Obama

I’ve pretty much decided not to praise or blame the new president until he actually becomes the new president. But I have to save his skill is revealed in the wholly symbolic Rick Warren thing. The only job the megapastor has been given is praying once! Of course Obama can’t side with those who believe that those who have religious objections to same-sex marriage have no place in respectable American political life. That would include, of course, casting out a majority of his black supporters. Obama himself has said--and perhaps sincerely--that he himself has such religious reservations. Arousing the anger, in a very predictable way, of gay-rights activists to make that point to mainstream America--including basically sympathetic evangelicals suspicious of his cultural agenda--is all gain, no loss. Meanwhile, Obama will do nothing to stop the Court from, soon enough, proclaiming a right to same-sex marriage, and he’ll say, at that point, that we gotta respect the Court. Remember that both Warren and Obama are proud of being uniters, not dividers.

Gay Marriage, a Question

I have been listening to two lawyers debate gay marriage, particularly the litigation over Prop 8, on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. The heart of the the argument for the repeal, and hence for constitutionally requiring gay marriage in California, is that gays are a "suspect class." Like blacks in America, they have been mistreated, and therefore the Court ought to take particular steps to ensure equal rights, even against the will of the majority.

But that raises an interesting question. The argument presumes that homosexual relationships are the same as heterosexual relationships in all respects, except for the object of attraction, just as blacks are the same as whites in all respects except for skin color/ African heritage. But is that true? Are the two groups completely analogous? The whole point of the anti-racial discrimination campaign is that race is a fiction that has no real basis in reality. That’s not the premise of the gay rights community.

If, as gay marriage proponents contend, homosexuality is largely biological, why is it not possible that the kind of relationship homosexuals want is different from that which heterosexuals want? And if that is true, isn’t it possibe that a law designed for the one might not suit the other. As far as I can tell, science has yet to come up with a solid answer to that question of whether the difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality is nothing more than a difference of objects of attraction. Anecdotes cut both ways, and human history has no experience with the experiment of treating both kinds of relationships the same way. It is an interesting experiment that we are starting.

Gaze Into Obama’s Soul

They were expecting Rev. Wright to deliver the inaugural invocation? Joe K is correct about the politics here: With Rick Warren, Obama will project a veneer of cultural conservatism, but a "compassionate" cultural conservatism that will be open to cultural radicalism.

In the meantime, Obama nominates leftist Member of Congress Hilda Solis for Secretary of Labor, a third-rate pick for this second-rank Cabinet post. This allows me to note one of the best books on Washington politics ever is by Solis’s Clinton Cabinet predecessor, Robert Reich, Locked in the Cabinet --available used for the price of 1 cent (plus s&h). Its description of the chaos of presidential transitions makes it a must-read for those insights alone. His confrontations with union bosses are painful and hilarious.

By the way, anyone keeping an eye on the number of Catholics Obama has picked for positions, starting with Biden?

Rick Warren and Barack Obama

I’ve finally dug myself out from under a massive pile of bluebooks and final papers, the inspiration for a Culture11 piece that should appear shortly. I’ve got one more pressing task, with a deadline tomorrow, but I couldn’t resist commenting on the news that Barack Obama has asked Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his Inauguration. Our friend Jordan J. Ballor summarizes the reaction, especially from the secular (and gay) Left, which is none to happy about the attention being given to a vocal opponent of Proposition 8.

I have three quick thoughts, beginning with an obvious one: Rick Warren couldn’t turn down the invitation.

If they’re political, as they doubtless are, Obama’s motives for issuing the invitation are twofold. One is not to repeat the "gays in the military" mistake that Bill Clinton made early in his first term. He’s signaling to this staunch Democratic constituency that they need him more than he needs them. A smart political move; it’s not like they’re going to run to the GOP. And there’s plenty of time to make nice before he has to raise money from them again (not to mention the fact that now’s not a good time to be raising money anyway).

Second, Obama is making a symbolic appeal to evangelicals. They’ve often had to be satisfied with symbolism from Republicans. Perhaps, he’s thinking, he can satisfy them in a similar way, using "respect" and lip service to peel a few more folks away from the GOP, some of whose members would like to see them gone anyway.

I may have some more thoughts on this later, but I must return to my more pressing task.

A Classic for the Season

"You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch," now playing on yourtube.

More on Civil-Military Relations

My friend David Tucker claims that I did not address his points regarding Shinseki and Rumsfeld. The real problem is that we just don’t agree. My purpose is not to defend Rumsfeld. As I said, he made plenty of mistakes. But the fact is—and this is where David and I seem to disagree most—no one did better than he when it came to predicting what would transpire in Iraq.

Did Rumsfeld foresee the insurgency and the shift from conventional to guerilla war? No, but neither did his critics in the uniformed services. Tom Ricks observed four years ago in the Washington Post that Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the campaign and later as a war planner in Iraq, placed the blame squarely on the Army. Ricks wrote:

Many in the Army have blamed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon civilians for the unexpectedly difficult occupation of Iraq, but [Army Major Isaiah Wilson] reserves his toughest criticism for Army commanders who, he concludes, failed to grasp the strategic situation in Iraq and so not did not plan properly for victory. He concludes that those who planned the war suffered from "stunted learning and a reluctance to adapt."
Army commanders still misunderstand the strategic problem they face and therefore are still pursuing a flawed approach, writes Wilson, who is scheduled to teach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point next year. "Plainly stated, the ’western coalition’ failed, and continues to fail, to see Operation Iraqi Freedom in its fullness," he asserts.
"Reluctance in even defining the situation… is perhaps the most telling indicator of a collective cognitive dissidence (sic) on part of the U.S. Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people’s war, even when they were fighting it," he comments.

Wilson’s observations were forcefully seconded not too long by an Army lieutenant colonel, Paul Yingling, who blasted Army leadership for not preparing for small wars in the pages of Armed Forces Journal.

Rumsfeld was also famously charged with shortchanging the troops in Iraq by failing to provide them with the necessary equipment, e.g. armored "humvees." But a review of Army budget submissions makes it clear that its priority, as is usually the case with the uniformed services, was to acquire "big ticket" items. It was only after the insurgency and the IED threat became apparent that the Army began to push for supplemental spending to "up-armor" the utility vehicles.

As I observed in an earlier post, while it is true that Rumsfeld downplayed the need to prepare for post-conflict stability operations, it is also the case that in doing so he was merely ratifying the preferences of the uniformed military. When it comes to post-conflict stability operations, the real villain is the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, a set of principles long internalized by the US military that emphasizes the requirement for an “exit strategy.” But if generals are thinking about an exit strategy they are not thinking about “war termination”—how to convert military success into political success. This cultural aversion to conducting stability operations is reflected by the fact that operational planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom took 18 months while planning for postwar stabilization began half-heartedly only a couple of months before the invasion.

David asks why the military shouldn’t be expected to “push back” against plans they oppose. They should, but within the proper context. I really object to the sentiment expressed in this comment on an earlier post.

Why should generals or anyone in uniform, who are in a sense super-citizens, be subject to more restrictions on their civil right to speak and publish than are regular, secure citizens like Bob Woodward or Victor Davis Hanson or the barber down the street? I am not talking about UCMJ Article 88 infractions here, only opinions about policy.

Why should not the highest military officers -- possessing education and war experience far superior to Bush and most Americans -- get to say so vigorously (if not necessarily on page 1 of the Washington Post)?

The answer is that such practices would completely undermine civilian control of the military and drag the uniformed military into partisan politics. The exemplars of respect for civilian control of the military are Washington and Marshall. Both understood the dangers of what this writer is proposing. And as I argued earlier, it presupposes that the military is always right about even purely military issues. The historical record makes clear that they are not.

Under the American system of civilian control, the uniformed military advises the civilian authorities but has no right to insist that its views be adopted. Of course, uniformed officers have an obligation to stand up to civilian leaders if they think a policy is flawed. They must convey their concerns to civilian policymakers forcefully and truthfully. If they believe the door is closed to them at the Pentagon or the White House, they also have access to Congress. But the American tradition of civil-military relations requires that they not engage in public debate over matters of foreign policy, including the decision to go to war. Moreover, once a policy decision is made, soldiers are obligated to carry it out to the best of their ability, whether their advice is heeded or not.

I am concerned about the state of US civil-military relations. They have been out of balance for a while. In part this reflects the sort of “renegotiation” of the civil-military bargain that occurs periodically in the Republic. But as I argued in this Wall Street Journal piece, things might be more serious than we imagine.

And this applies to the media as well. As I see it, they have contributed to poor civil-military relations out of Bush derangement syndrome. People who in the past would never have thought to say a good word about the military now routinely bash Bush for not listening to his much smarter military guys.

The Media

In response to Steve’s comment below: As far as I know, Braestrup’s account is entirely accurate. Press reporting on Tet was inaccurate, wildly so in some instances. Again, as far as I can tell, press reporting on Iraq has been more accurate than it was during Tet. It is also the case that the media has biases. My favorite example of this is the story that ran in the New York Times in the early 1980s at the height of the controversy over the role of the Russians and Warsaw pact countries in supporting international terrorism. A PLO member connected to terrorism was assassinated in Warsaw and the Times reported that Poland was known to be a favorite vacation spot for Palestinians.

But the key point is not the accuracy of press reporting or media bias. The key point is that the media does not lead public opinion. The media actually follow what key opinion leaders say. If there is unanimity among these leaders, then there is no controversy and no press feeding frenzy, no destruction of the administration’s policies.

Some post-9/11 examples: A Pentagon agency was going to fund something called Total Information Awareness that was going to collect and analyze lots of information on Americans. Various public policy organizations and Senators and Congressman objected. The escalating controversy and media frenzy forced the Bush administration to give up on the project.

The press reported (from leaked information?) that the military was increasing its role in the collection of human intelligence and was beginning to do some things that had been traditionally reserved for the CIA. The press smelled a scandal involving unauthorized activities, rogue agencies, violations of law, etc. Following the first reports in the Washington Post, the Post and other media followed up. They interviewed Democratic Senators on the intelligence committee. The Senators all agreed that they had voted for the change and that it was a good one. The media frenzy died.

Following hurricane Katrina, President Bush mentioned the possibility that the military should take over domestic disaster relief. When the media checked with various authorities, most importantly elected officials at the Federal, state and local levels, they found out that this idea was controversial. The story didn’t die, although the proposal did.

These examples are mine but the explanation for how the media works (which I have greatly simplified) is from a variety of different academic studies on the media, public opinion and politics. As far as I can tell, it is accurate. It means that the media and their prejudices do have influence but are much less powerful in forming public opinion and affecting public policies than is often assumed. What the academic work shows is that Presidents have significant advantages and more power than the media with regard to shaping public opinion. That’s why I don’t think the media or media bias is the problem.

Really Big Shows

James Ceaser is amazed by how BIG everything is getting, bigger than ever before. That might not be all bad, but it’s scary, if you think about it. It’s a sign of our aging and generally unerotic society that it takes so much to stimulate us these days.

Re: Civilian-Military Relations

I’ve decided to abuse my privilege as a keeper of the NLT posting codes to bump a comment of mine on David Tucker to the main thread, because I think Mac and David have started an important discussion:

David, David, David (as they used to say on Saturday Night Live):

I’ve largely come around to your point of view on the imprudence of the Iraq War and other aspects of the GWOT, as you know, but I think you go to far here in suggesting that the climate of elite media opinion is not a significant factor in government decision-making. Maybe I am taking your post too far (please amend and correct if I am); to be sure, a determined and confident government would rebuff the media (as Reagan did to some extent in the 1980s). But to depreciate the role of the media in the course of Vietnam seems too far to me. Case in point: Peter Braestrup’s book on media coverage of Tet. Do you think he was fundamentally wrong? I have been saying for a while now that Braestrup’s case study can be re-written for Iraq. Let us continue this debate. Mac?

Civil-Military Relations

Although he mentions me at the beginning of it, little or nothing in Mac’s long post below addresses the comments I made on his original post, except what appears to be his grudging acknowledgement that Rumsfeld’s judgment was perhaps not perfect.

Having reached agreement on that point, there are lots of things that could be said in response to Mac’s long post. Here are two. 1) If good civil-military relations in a democracy mean that ultimately civilian preferences prevail, it does not follow that the military should not push back, as Mac put it, against civilians or that civilians should not "interfere" in military matters. 2) Regardless of how we apportion responsibility among civilians and the military for what has happened after 9/11, the media was not the problem. Nor was it the problem in Vietnam. That the media was and is the problem is a point of view that surfaces repeatedly in this blog (e.g. see the comments to Mac’s long post). I think both Mac and I agree that this is not the case. The problem is decisionmaking within the government.

Headlines We Never Thought We’d See

In today’s Wall Street Journal (p. A13) a real man-bites-dog story:

"France Credits Deregulation for Cushioning Its Economy"

The lede: "PARIS—France, long a champion of a heavy government hand in its economy, credits recent deregulation for its ability to grow in the third quarter while other economies shrank." Memo to Washington: Even the French get it, so shut up about "deregulation" being the cause of our current slump.

What next? Maybe the headline: "France Hails Jerry Lewis as Comic Genius."

Oh, wait. . .

Belt Tightening in New York

By now, many of our readers may have seen an article about the all the new fees and other taxes that New York’s governor is asking for in order to balance the state budges. I was struck by this bit: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the budget cuts would deprive the city of about $1 billion, potentially forcing him to order layoffs beyond the 500 he has already announced." New York City has roughly 250,000 employees. Are there really no more than 500 jobs to cut?

Gen. Shinseki, the Silence of the Generals, and the State of US Civil-Military Relations

My last post on Gen. Shinseki stirred things up. That’s good and I have a few more things to say. In response to David Tucker, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, arguing that Rumsfeld’s judgment was on the mark. He certainly got a lot of things wrong. But contrary to the accepted--and incorrect--narrative, the uniformed military got them wrong as well.

Despite its prominence later, the real issue concerning what went wrong in Iraq was not the number of troops for the invasion, but what they would be doing later. Here the Army was as wrong as the civilians. Both Rumsfeld and the uniformed military had imbibed the Weinberger Doctrine, which teaches, among other points, that one of the first things the military shoudlbe doing is developing an "exit strategy." But if you are doing this, you are not thinking about "war termination," i.e. how to translate military success into a good peace. That’s why post-war planning for Iraq was almsot non-existent, and to the extent is was done at all, it focused on humanitarian operations and not counterinsurgency.

Humanitarian operations and counterinsurgency both require more troops than were initially committed. But the two are different and require different approaches. The fact is that the Army decided in the 1970s that the best way to ensure that it would never again get bogged down in anything like Vietnam was simply not to prepare for small wars. Thus the Army was not prepared for the insurgency that emerged in 2003-2004. It was not only Rumsfeld who outlawed the term "insrugency." Sanchez did as well. As I argued in the Wall Street Journal in September of 2007, the Army has never been comfortable with counterninsurgecny, but you don’t always get to fight the war you want to fight.

At this point it might be useful to remember that Turkey would not permit the US to launch an attack by the 4th Armored Division from the north. Such a strike could very well have changed the dynamics of the Sunni Triangle, where the insurgency first materialized. But we’ll never know.

Here are some observations from a forthcoming AEI article of mine that get to some of the point others made re Vietnam etc.

Criticism of Rumsfeld by uniformed officers is predicated on two questionable assumptions. The first is soldiers have the right to a voice in making policy regarding the use of the military instrument, that indeed they have the right to INSIST that their views be adopted. Exacerbating the woeful consequences of this assumption is a misreading of the very important book by my friend, H. R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. The subject of Dereliction of Duty is the failure of the Joint Chiefs to challenge Defense Secretary Robert McNamara adequately during the Vietnam War. Many serving officers believe the book effectively makes the case that the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have more openly voiced their opposition to the Johnson administration’s strategy of gradualism, and then resigned rather than carry out the policy.

But the book says no such thing. While McMaster convincingly argues that the chiefs failed to present their views frankly and forcefully to their civilian superiors, including members of Congress when asked for their views, he neither says nor implies that the chiefs should have obstructed President Lyndon Johnson’s orders and policies by leaks, public statements, or by resignation.

This serious misreading of Dereliction of Duty has dangerously reinforced the increasingly widespread belief among officers that they should be advocates of particular policies rather than simply serving in their traditional advisory role. For instance, a survey of officer and civilian attitudes and opinions undertaken by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies in 1998-99 discovered that "many officers believe that they have the duty to force their own views on civilian decision makers when the United States is contemplating committing American forces abroad." When "asked whether military leaders should be neutral, advise, advocate, or insist on having their way in the decision process" to use military force, 50 percent or more of the up-and-coming active-duty officers answered "insist," on the following issues: "setting rules of engagement, ensuring that clear political and military goals exist, developing an ’exit strategy,’" and "deciding what kinds of military units will be used to accomplish all tasks." In the context of the questionnaire, "insist" definitely implied that officers should try to compel acceptance of the military’s recommendations.

This assumption is questionable at best and is at odds with the principles and practice of American civil-military relations. In the American system, the uniformed military does not possess a veto over policy. Indeed, civilians even have the authority to make decisions in what would seem to be the realm of purely military affairs. Eliot Cohen has shown that successful wartime presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt "interfered" extensively with military operations—often driving their generals to distraction.

The second assumption is that the judgment and expertise of soldiers is inherently superior to that of civilians even when it comes to military affairs and that in time of war, the latter should defer to the former. But the fact is that when it comes to military affairs, soldiers are not necessarily more prescient than civilian policy makers. This is confirmed by the historical record. Abraham Lincoln constantly prodded George McClellan to take the offensive in Virginia in 1862. McClellan just as constantly whined about insufficient forces. Despite the image of civil-military comity during World War II, there were many differences between Franklin Roosevelt and his military advisers. George Marshall, the greatest soldier-statesman since Washington, opposed arms shipments to Great Britain in 1940 and argued for a cross-channel invasion before the United States was ready. History has vindicated Lincoln and Roosevelt.

Similarly, many observers, especially uniformed observers, have been inclined to blame the U.S. defeat in Vietnam on the civilians. But the U.S. operational approach in Vietnam was the creature of the uniformed military. The conventional wisdom today is that the operational strategy of General William Westmoreland emphasizing attrition of the Peoples’ Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces in a "war of the big battalions"—sweeps through remote jungle areas in an effort to fix and destroy the enemy with superior fire power—was counterproductive. By the time Westmoreland’s successor could adopt a more fruitful approach, it was too late.

During the planning for Operation Desert Storm in late 1990 and early 1991, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. Central Command presented a plan calling for a frontal assault against Iraqi positions in southern Kuwait followed by a drive toward Kuwait City. The problem was that this plan was unlikely to achieve the foremost military objective of the ground war: the destruction of the three divisions of Saddam’s Republican Guard. The civilian leadership rejected the early war plan presented by CENTCOM and ordered a return to the drawing board. The revised plan was far more imaginative and effective.

The public acrimony that has characterized so much of post-9/11 civil-military relations is a particular manifestation of the idea that the uniformed military should “push back” against civilian leaders when the former disagree with the policies of the latter. But this is a dangerous idea that is at odds with the theory, if not always the practice, of the U.S. civil-military tradition.

If the shoe fits . . .

James Taranto considers the Iraqi shoe-throwing episode in its proper context by comparing it to a similar exhibition offered by a flea-bittenhippie student in 2005 at a debate between Howard Dean and Richard Perle at Oregon’s Pacific University. Engaging in a bit of comparative anthropological analysis, Taranto notes the similarities in rich intellectual penetration, manly eloquence, and (of course) athleticism in these two examples of high political expression and concludes that American university culture is, essentially, of a piece with this deepest expression of Arab political culture.

Meanwhile, Jonah posts a link to the response his readers think Bush ought to have had to the episode. Who throws a shoe, indeed?!

And Yet More on Gen. Shinseki

My two earlier posts on Gen. Shinseki elicited comments from David Tucker and Joseph Kippenberg (the Elder). This piece by Larry Di Rita does a pretty good job of addressing the points both gentlemen made.

Di Rita makes the case more strongly than I did that if Gen. Shinseki objected to the war plan for Iraq, he didn’t say so when offered the opportunity to demur.

I can tell from the the dearth of comments on this topic that this stuff is boring to most NLT readers. But the fact is that the Shinseki episode and the recent Woodward book say a great deal about the sad state of US civil-military relations.

Now if I were to say something about LINCOLN or the Civil War, well then I would get an earful, no?

Rat Choice Theory: Once Again, It’s Magnificently Right

According to our pope, moral criticism in the absence of the technical knowledge of markets isn’t morality, it’s moralizing. But the truth is that market-based thinking isn’t enough to sustain markets, and so morality is part of the true science of politics and economics. That’s why Ratzinger makes more astute predictions than either our economists or our political scientists. (Thanks to Rob Jeffrey.)

Bobby Jindall

Newsweek thinks that Jindall may become GOP’s Obama (whatever that means, but there is plenty of room for re-creation and re-invention). Still, worth reading.

The Health of the State

As our health care system grows increasingly nationalized, either through direct government management, or through back-door government-imposed regulation, is it any surprise that we are starting to face a shortage of doctors? Whenever students tell me that they are interested in medical school, I suggest to them to think twice about it. Why spend seven or more grueling years of training for a job that does not pay all that much, relatively speaking? More and more, it seems, our young men and women are figuring that out on their own.

And then there’s this item. New York, it seems, wants to place a special tax on non-diet soda. Why do that? Because the state is on the tab for so much health care, obesity costs money. The logic, however, extends well beyond fatty foods. The logic of government run, (or sponsored or mandated) health-care the logic of government regulating our lives in great detail, in order to minimize the likelihood that we will impost additional costs on the system. Why stop with soda. What about fois gras (is this a class thing?). Etc.

In the Jewish tradition, the law told us what to eat and when to eat it, and other things much more personal. Nowadays, the law is starting to do something similar. The difference is that purpose of the law in Jewish tradtion was to promote holy living. Nowadays, we are starting to get similar regulations, in the name of physical health. But is physical health the greatest good? If so, what separates men from beasts?

Not So Extinct

This article about the discovery in Thailand over the last decade of more than 1000 new species of life--including some that scientists had believed to be extinct for over 11 million years--is more up Steve Hayward’s ally for commentary than mine. But even without his expert testimony, it is interesting (and humbling) to note how much we really don’t know about this planet . . . even when we think we do.

Is The Honeymoon Over Already?

What’s this? Liberal historians such as Sean Wilenz and Eric Foner deprecating Obama’s comparisons to Lincoln? (Now they tell us--Ed.) As the Politico reporters sum it up: "That kind of preening highlights a risk that many presidents have encountered as they gaze in history’s mirror. . . if the self-comparisons go too far they can come off as vanity or self-aggrandizement."

In related news, as I was predicting around the office at AEI last week, the Green Left doesn’t like Obama’s pick to head the EPA. More to say in due course about the huge infighting Obama is guaranteeing for himself with his hybrid picks for so many different energy-enviro slots.

Was HELLER Judicial Activism?

Conservative experts Wilkinson and Posner say it was. Wilkinson, in fact, says it looks a lot like ROE. Did Scalia deviate from his pretty consistent ethic of judicial restraint here? My own view (and I’m willing to be convinced otherwise) is that Wilkinson’s noteworthy article is full of exaggerations, but his big point might actually be right.