In my continuing education on all-things-Czech, I happened upon the 1918 Declaration of Czecho-Slovak Independence and was delightfully surprised to find an eloquent tribute to America's patrimony of modern democratic principles. Having declared "the Hapsburg dynasty unworthy of leading our nation," denying "all of their claims to rule in the Czecho-Slovak Land," and declaring "a free and independent people and nation," the Declaration continues:
We accept and shall adhere to the ideals of modern democracy, as they have been the ideals of our nation for centuries. We accept the American principles as laid down by President Wilson; the principles of liberated mankind - of the actual equality of nations - and of governments deriving all their just power from the consent of the governed.
We, the nation of Comenius, cannot but accept these principles expressed in the American Declaration of Independence, the principles of Lincoln, and of the declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen. For these principles our nation shed its blood in the memorable Hussite Wars 500 years ago; for these same principles, beside her allies, our nation is shedding its blood today in Russia, Italy, and France.
John Judis is a smart guy, but I think he goes partly wrong in his description of left and right working-class populism - at least when in the context of 2010 politics. Judis describes left populism as resentment of speculators. Fair enough maybe, but his description of right-wing working class populism as targeting primarily "out-groups" who are "seen as trying to deprive workers of their jobs and earning." falls short as a description of conservative working-class populism at the moment.
On the drive home, I sometimes listen to Howie Carr. He is kinda the voice of conservative working-class populism in Eastern Massachusetts. There are alot of digs against illegal immigrants, but not all, or even most of this populist resentment is directed downwards at "out" groups. At least as much hostility is directed at Washington politicians, public employee unions, ideologically biased journalists at prestige outlets like the New York Times and the major broadcast networks, and businesses that stand to benefit from cap and trade. The greatest targets of criticism are upper middle-class liberals - or as Carr constantly calls them, "the beautiful people". They are portrayed as eager to remake society to their liking, but confident in their ability to escape whatever negative consequences their plans produce.
There is alot to criticize in Carr's worldview, but he has found an audience. The expansion of government has created an expanded governing class and ever more client and allied groups - many of them much more connected to power than your average working-class voter. And they too are targets of current populist conservative resentment.
Not every complaint about fairness is really a protest against injustice; and not every complaint about injustice can be satisfied without running some risk that its real motive is the will to power. "Inequality is certainly never to be embraced for its own sake," Lincoln admitted. But that was no sanction for "the pernicious principle . . . that no one shall have any, for fear all shall not have some." Two hundred and one years after Lincoln's birth, it might be well to remind ourselves that the real enemy of both fairness and justice is not weakness of will or an unwillingness to bear "shared sacrifice," but the seeping gas of power.
When it comes to the Ryan Roadmap, I'm with Ramesh Ponnuru (but then thats where you can usually find me). The Ryan Roadmap shouldn't be the GOP's economic platform for 2012. The attack ads practically write themselves, "They'll tax away your employer-provided health insurance, and for when you are older, they'll cut your social security and medicare. But at least they will get rid of the capital gains tax"
Ponnuru is right that people will only swallow so much change. They are also going to want some up-front show of competence from the people who want to reform middle-class entitlements. How about moving the tax code in a more pro-child, pro-parent, pro-jobs, pro-growth direction or making incremental improvements in the health care market. Either of those policies would be the biggest federal level conservative policy change since welfare reform.
The key will be to put together a package of policies that are big enough to matter, but digestible enough not to scare people who know that things have to change, but have alot to lose.
Congratulations to this month's winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:
Rae Jeanne Cunningham
James W. Eilert, Jr.
Kevin B. Barker
Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn't win this month, enter February's drawing.
No doubt everyone reading this blog knows about the fun that conservatives have been having with the recent snowstorm and its implications for the climate change debate--note, for instance, the igloo constructed by Senator James Inhofe's family as a future home for Al Gore. This is probably inevitable, given the sheer amount of snow that has fallen in recent months, and in such unusual places as Dallas and Baghdad. But it's also unwise. Climate change alarmists are right in distinguishing between "weather" and "climate." Moreover, turnabout is fair play; skeptics may be having their day now, but what happens if we get a few days of hot weather this summer?
If we want to have an intelligent conversation over global warming, we need to ask what it would take to falsify it; after all, what cannot be falsified cannot be properly termed science. And while one can make a strong case that an increase in global temperatures can make snowstorms more likely, what are we to make of interpretations to the contrary? Last year environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. complained that, thanks to global warming, "Snow is so scarce today that most Virginia children probably don't own a sled." A study done at Columbia in 2005 noted a marked reduction in snowfall over North America over the past 150 years. The National Resources Defense Council points out that "[s]ince the early 1950s, snow accumulation has declined 60 percent and winter seasons have shortened in some areas of the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington." And while Great Britain is in the midst of the coldest winter in thirty years, the Daily Telegraph helpfully suggests that "the surprise with which we have greeted the extreme conditions only reinforces how our climate has changed over the years"; after all, during the 19th century "extreme weather" used to occur "every five years or so."
In other words, global warming produces more snowfall and snowstorms, except when it produces fewer of them. Of course, the climate change establishment will respond that climate is highly complex, and not subject to such simplistic analyses. I'm certain that it is, which is why I'm not building an igloo in my front yard. But the American economy is complex, too, and I sure don't want to see it thrown into further confusion, and a deeper recession, on the basis of claims that are not apparently falsifiable--and not, therefore, science.
The WaPo headline reads "At war, quiet support for openly gay troops," with a subhead "Tolerance rises with new generation of officers," and would seem to signal a story advocating an end to the ban. In fact, the account, datelined Baghdad, presents argiuments quite to the contrary. Mac and others (with update here) are right that the ban helps preserve military discipline. The response is, we know of gay soldiers who are superb at their job.
But this response, however truthful, does not answer the objection. The WaPo story provides further evidence to the contrary. What happens in the army with high-achieving gay soldiers is what happens with high achievers in any profession who have significant flaws: People cover up for it or look the other way. One officer whose "gaydar went off the screen" concerning one soldier under his command: "I don't think his orientation became an issue, because he maintained a professional appearance and performed like any other soldier."
A senior commander objected, "Are we all going to have to submit to annual gay sensitivity training?" (A Russian emigre who underwent racial sensitivity training at a military base described it as like "life under the Soviet Union.")
Moreover, the WaPo story cites a 2006 Zogby poll concluding that only 26% of the military supported lifting the ban.
Finally, the sentiment about rights or being allowed to be yourself completely misses the key military discipline argument: In the military, contrary to prevailing societal norms, service always comes before self (duty before rights). That drab uniform is a symbol and a reality of conformity, anti-individualism, and professionalism. That is why the Army retained that professional soldier, who was gay.
"Obama came in, talked at us, shook a few hands and left," Felder says. "I was foolish enough to think small- business owners would have some sort of dialogue." [ed.--emphasis mine]
It seems to have become common to say that the government has bailed out Wall Street, but not main street. Is that really true? I was thinking about this as I was looking at house prices. I was thinking about buying a few years ago, but I thought that prices were way too inflated. I was waiting for prices to reach their natural level. They have yet to do so. The problem is something like what businessmen and economists sometimes call "regulatory risk." House prices have declined, and millions of homes are in or near foreclosure, and yet, things would be far, far worse had the government not thrown billions and billions of dollars at the banks.
As a matter of scale, it's clearly very different to prop up the price of a $300,000 home than it is to keep big banks solvent. But in effect, it's the same thing. Countless people who used to work on Wall Street now can't find jobs there. The financial industry has shrunk. We see the big banks that survived, and forget that several large institutions are no longer around. The government clearly played a role in saving several of the banks that are still with us. But the same is true of millions of homes. Without those very same bailouts, home prices probably would have declined much further, and even more people would have lost their homes. (To be sure, home prices may fall further, but they have stabilized for now. The same is true for banks. More of the major banks might yet fail).
In short, we have met the enemy, and he is us. Just as the government saved several big banks, so too has it helped countless home-owners stay in their homes. Without the bailouts the decline of both would have been worse. Personally, I think that would not have been all bad, and I suspect the cost of bailing out American home-owners will be slow economic growth, and an expanded American state for years to come. But it's simply not true that the government bailed out banks but not home-owners.
P.S. I'm talking about TARP, and the other financial bills, for the most part. The stimulus bills of spring 2008 and winter 2009 are a different story. The former gave a tax cut to many Americans, and the latter did the same, plus sent money to states to save unionized, government jobs, plus other things.
Walter Russell Mead on restructuring health care. I'm not sure if things will work out the way Mead says, but we should try to structure the health care market so that these kinds of business model innovations can take place and win in the marketplace. On the other hand, any reform in that direction will have to be gradual enough so that people who basically like their employer-provided coverage (though not necessarily the rising premiums) don't feel like they are being thrown into the deep end. The two goals are in tension, but not, I think irreconcilable.
I think that in the short term, the Levin-Capretta plan is the best strategy, but the next step for market-based reformism will have to focus less on destroying employer-based coverage, than on creating the space for the creation of alternatives that work better for the consumer and thereby pull customers out of employer coverage.
Hi, I'm Pete Spiliakos, but folks who read the NLT comment threads know me as the longtime commenter Pete. John Moser and Peter Schramm were kind and generous enough to offer me a spot to blog on NLT, and I thank them very much. I won't forget that I'm blogging among people much more and better educated than myself.
I hope to contribute something of value, but I can only promise typos, lousy grammar and recycled Simpsons jokes.
Thanks to longtime commenter "Brutus" for alerting me to this gem about what's currently going on in the pages of Captain America. As anyone who's heard my talk on this subject knows, Cap has long been my favorite superhero--mainly because I find him far more interesting than the run-of-the-mill crimefighters. In the late 1960s he ceased to be a New Frontier-style Cold Warrior and became a defender of American ideals such as liberty and justice, even (or perhaps especially) when these ideals came under attack from the U.S. government. I stopped reading Captain America sometime in the 1980s, but my understanding was that the character had remained about the same. From what I'd heard about the "Civil War" arc, he stood up in opposition to a post-9/11 effort by the Federal Government to force all individuals with superpowers to register with the state. Not exactly the old Nazi-fighting Cap (let alone his 1950s incarnation as Captain America: Commie Smasher), but still a character worth admiring.
So now my hero turns his attention not to Nazis, or communists, or terrorists, or the Red Skull, but to...tea partiers, who in Marvel's hands are portrayed as angry racists bent on overthrowing the government. I'm glad I don't read comics any longer; if I had paid money for that issue I would've been livid.
A few weeks ago I gave my Captain America talk at a high school in Florida (and, in case anyone is interested, I'll be giving the talk yet again early next month at OSU-Mansfield), and I prefaced it by asking the students if they'd ever heard of the character. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, at how few hands went up. Now I'm glad. It's now fairly common knowledge that Marvel killed off the character in 2007, but like most such deaths this one was temporary--they brought him back last year. I wish they hadn't.
Forgive me, I promise not to do this too often - but I thought I'd share this little gem:
The Pope and Nancy Pelosi are on stage in front of a huge crowd. The Pope leans towards Mrs. Pelosi and says, "Do you know that with one little wave of my hand, one flick of the wrist, I can make every person in this crowd go wild with joy? This joy will not be a momentary display, like that of your followers, but go deep into their hearts and they'll forever speak of this day and rejoice!"
Pelosi replied, "I seriously doubt that. With one little wave of your hand? Show me."
So the Pope slapped her.
Greece is about to be the recipient of a massive European "bailout." Upon converting its economy to the stable euro currency, Greece took advantage of its newly-padded credit rating (propped up by the reliability of northern neighbors such as Germany) in order to borrow heavily and spend freely. Of course, the economy seemed to flourish as Greece poured funds into the pit of an ever-widening, union-dominated public sector. But then the bills came due, and Greece was found to have spent a shocking 13% of its GDP - more galling still because the government released false financial statements to hide its soaring debt.
Even with a European bailout, Greece's long-term survival "involves painful structural reforms that may mean significant belt-tightening.... To that aim, Greece's new Socialist government is moving to increase the retirement age, cut competition for state workers and overhaul the broken tax system." However, as of today, Greek labor unions have begun to strike in protest of reforming the unsustainable status quo.
Anyone who doesn't see the parallels is not keeping their eye on the ball. Greece is both a subprime mortgage home-buyer and a union-bullied, overspent California. It has dolled out cash on projects it couldn't afford, and likely always expected that someone else would eventually foot the bill. The European nations are just beginning to learn the unpleasant lessons of single-state governance with irresponsible bedfellows - a reality shared by many red-state Americans.
P.S. Europe's PIGS! Beppe Grillo's take on Greece and public debt mentions the derisive acronym "PIGS" being circulated in Europe as a reference to Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain - the defaulting nations which are pulling down the rest of Europe.
Whether out of a sense of self-interest or self-preservation, some are calling for Greece's expulsion from the EU. I doubt that Germany and France would concede to such a financial risk and European embarrassment - but it is interesting that Europeans still see their union as open to disbarment.
Men and Women
What foods produce aphrodisiac effects? Presumably tongue-in-cheek, so to speak, the NY Times surveys the scientific literature. Science (of a sort) casts doubt on traditional favorites but confirms other things we always knew. One study claims it would take 25 pounds of chocolate to produce a euphoric mood in a woman. Homer Simpson to the contrary, donuts won't arouse a man--unless combined with licorice. "For women, first place for most arousing [odor] was a tie between baby powder and the combination of Good & Plenty candy with cucumber." Grilled meat was a turn-off for women, but expect a lot of football season births from all that guacamole consumed during the Superbowl. Anyone have a recipe for a raw oyster and fig appetizer?
For a serious meditation on the meaning of food, see The Hungry Soul, by scientist, MD, and professor of philosophy Leon Kass.
Men and Women
Sometimes the NY Times is beyond parody. This months "Life-form of the Month" in the Liberal "paper of record" are ciliates. The article tells a fascinating story about these one-celled organisms. That's not what caught my eye, however.
What stood out was how the Times chose to frame the story for its readers. The paper focuses on sex. Here's the lede paragraph:
When it comes to sex and reproduction, mammals are ultra-orthodox and, frankly, rather dull. Individuals are either male or female, no one changes sex and there are never more than two sexes in a species. No mammal reproduces asexually -- by budding off a small piece of itself, say, or by splitting down the middle and growing a new individual from each half. Nope: among mammals, offspring are always produced by sex. That is, an egg fuses with a sperm to produce a child that is genetically distinct from both parents.
By contrast with mammals, ciliates are more interesting.
Ciliate sex is peculiar in several ways. For one thing, reproduction and sex do not happen together. When a ciliate reproduces, it does so asexually, typically by splitting in half and growing a complete new individual from each piece. So: where there was one individual, there are now two.
In and of itself, asexual reproduction is not especially strange -- many organisms, from aphids to sea anemones, do it at least from time to time. The weird stuff happens when ciliates get sexual.
In ciliate sex, two individuals arrive, and two individuals leave: no eggs are fertilized, no offspring are produced. But by the time the two individuals go their separate ways, a massive change will have come over both of them: they will both have acquired a new genetic identity.
Fascinating stuff in and of itself. Let's leave aside whether it is proper to call it "sex" when we're talking about one-celled organisms. The way the story is framed, both on the home page and in the story seems to suggest that we humans are missing out on something because, like all other mammals, we have only two sexes, and we reproduce in a routine way. In other words, it's better to be a lower species than a higher one. Writers and editors for the Times, it seems, are not comfortable being human.
Today's lesson in societal decay.
Congressional Republicans have begun talking with top White House aides about an exit strategy -- not from Iraq, but from the winless quagmire of President Bush's campaign to privatize Social Security. Mr. Bush has responded to this new political reality by, first, insisting that the American people do not yet understand the virtues of privatization, and second, blaming the failure of his deservedly unpopular plan on Congressional Democrats.
After listening to Mr. Bush talk of little else during his second term, the American people understand quite well what he is proposing for Social Security, and by wide margins reject it. In fact, the polls show that the more they learn about privatization, the less they like it. And with good reason. The very real risks of privatization -- in terms of retirement security and the enormous budgetary cost to the country -- far outweigh the potential rewards.
So when Congressional Republican leaders tell the president that Social Security private accounts are a nonstarter, they are conveying the informed views of their constituents.
Mr. Bush has reacted by railing against Democrats for obstruction -- as if Democrats are duty-bound to breathe life into his agenda and, even sillier, as if opposing a plan that the people do not want is an illegitimate tactic for an opposition party.
Here is the corresponding 2010 New York Times editorial, which you need not rush to your computer to read:
Congressional "Blue Dog" Democrats have begun talking with top White House aides about an exit strategy -- not from Afghanistan, but from the winless quagmire of President Obama's campaign for sweeping health care reform. Mr. Obama has responded to this new political reality by, first, insisting that the American people do not yet understand the virtues of health reform, and second, blaming the failure of his deservedly unpopular plan on Congressional Republicans.
After listening to Mr. Obama talk of little else during his first year in office, the American people understand quite well what he is proposing for health care, and by wide margins reject it. In fact, the polls show that the more they learn about Obama's plan, the less they like it. And with good reason. The very real risks of the proposed comprehensive reforms -- in terms of the quality and availability of medical care, and the enormous budgetary cost to the country -- far outweigh the potential rewards.
So when Congressional Democrats tell the president that key elements of his plan are nonstarters, they are conveying the informed views of their constituents.
Mr. Obama has reacted by railing against Republicans for obstruction -- as if Republicans are duty-bound to breathe life into his agenda and, even sillier, as if opposing a plan that the people do not want is an illegitimate tactic for an opposition party.
". . . a growing distrust of conservative and liberal ideologies, a growing movement away from the two parties and toward political independence, increases in the racial-minority (which usually means Democratic-voting) share of the population, and a growing inability of the Republican party to bridge the gap between its populist and elite wings."
I-35, near Wyoming, Minn., one finds a billboard of George W. Bush - and the question: "Miss me yet?"
Liberals are apparently steaming mad and on a witch-hunt to find the anonymous sponsor. Such a humorless lot, those liberals.
Yet it may be a relevant question, given that Obama has just hit the lowest approval rating of his presidency. (44% approval, 47% disapproval, with crucial independents breaking heavily against him by 29%-57%).
The answer, by the way, is 44% of Americans say "yes."
Men and Women
A University of Pennsylvania study of sexual behavior published in The Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine has caused quite a stir by concluding that abstinence-only education is the most effective means of delaying teen sexual activity, preventing unwanted pregnancy and avoiding STDs. Even long-time critics of abstinence-only education are conceding that that extensive study (shockingly, the first of its kind) is "game-changing" and provides thorough, scientific evidence that skepticism of abstinence-only education was misguided.
The four educational approaches studied, and the percentage of participants who began having sex within the next two years, are listed as:
Abstinence only education: 33%
Abstinence / safe-sex comprehensive education: 42%
Healthy lifestyle education (i.e., eating well and exercising): 47%
Safe-sex (condom-use) education: 52%
So, the more young people hear the message of abstinence, the more likely they are to choose a healthy, moral lifestyle - and an abstinence-only message reaps dramatically superior results. Even talking about health food and exercise (i.e., not teaching kids about sex at all) proved more efficient than teaching a safe-sex / condoms-use approach. The "comprehensive" and safe-sex message, promoted with disastrous results over the past few decades, is a sexually permissive approach which merely has the effect of portraying sexual activity as entirely innocuous and granting a license to sexual promiscuity so long as condoms are plentifully employed.
The more radical leftist groups are circling the wagons in protest. They have no evidence on their side, but they see abstinence as conservative, religious conduct in opposition to progressive, sexual liberation, and hence oppose such programs out of ideological prejudice - regardless of the collateral harm caused by their recklessness. To wit, Obama has defunded abstinence programs of $170 million, routing the money to "safe-sex" programs. Whether new evidence alters the administration's decision will be another indicator of Obama's alleged commitment to science over ideology.
Men and Women
The Boy Scouts of America are celebrating 100 years. The Scouts have always struck me as a sure standard by which to measure the character, decency and sanity of other elements in society. That is, if you don't like the wholesome, upstanding, impeachably-square Boy Scouts - well, it's probably you, not them.
Despite constant attacks by politically-correct liberal groups (the Boy Scouts don't admit girls or atheists, nor gays in leadership roles), they've stuck true to their foundations through thick and thin. They are a shining example of patriotism and faith working in perfect harmony toward personal and social good.
So, here's to the boys for a job well done! And in case you aren't as savvy as you'd like on all things Scout, here's a primer for a good and decent upbringing:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
If you clear snow for a parking space at your apartment complex, do you have a right to it? Even in socialistic DC, residents seem to demand Lockean justice: labor creates a title to ownership--but for how long? And what about the obligation to clear streets in front of a shop? In front of your house, where you have been holed up for days? Does Tocquevillean self-interest properly understood help us here?
In the California gold rush, such common-sense rules prevailed on staking claims. I am not a "spontaneous order" libertarian, but human nature does point us in a certain direction. Perhaps the snows may teach the Obama Administration a lesson: it's the pitchfork attempting to drive out nature, even more than the peasants with the pitchforks, whose lesson they should heed.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
Along with drug use (recreational drugs) and sex trafficking (prostitution), pornography is often labeled a "victimless crimes." Of course, this assumes that, if the perpetrator and victim are the same person (or family unit), there is actually no victim. Such thinking is a natural consequence of the substitution of an actual morality ("you shall love your neighbor as yourself") with a useful, but limited axiom ("you shouldn't hurt other people"). When self-harm (which will invariably also harm all those who love the "victim") is not seen as an evil, half of morality has already been ceded - and the remaining ground is left defenseless.
FRC's report is good reading for the oft-overlooked consequences of a particular "victimless crime," but its greater worth is in reminding us of the damage caused by well-intended but flawed moral reckoning. One cannot love another until they have loved themselves, and personal degradation will find expression well beyond the privacy of one's own dehumanization.
If, as the EPA recently declared, greenhouse gasses may be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and if methane is a greenhouse gas, then may the EPA regulate our diets? May it tell us not to eat beans and sauerkraut?
I am speaking, partly, tongue in cheek, but I don't see where the flaw in the logic is. Once the principle is established, by statutary construction and not by statute, that the EPA may regulate greenhouse gasses, the right to regulate all activities that produce greenhouse gasses necessarily follows. As Churchill said, we're just haggling over price.
In the recent "Citizens United" case, the Supreme Court threw out a good deal of campaign finance regulation because, in partt, it was impossible to decide who is, and who is not a media organization. Everyone agrees that it would be bad to regulate the ability of news organizations to comment on ongoing political campaigns. The trouble is, that exemption was not, in the language of statute,a matter of right. It was an exemption written into the statute. Once again, it was a matter of haggling over price. Once it is established that the government may tell companies that they may not comment on campaigns, there's no way, in practice, to exempt media organizations, other than the government's arbitrary say so. Hence that part of the statute fell.
Ultimately, I am reminded of Hayek's comment in The Road to Serfdom suggesting that "the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans."