Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Technocrats and the Ivy League

So I'm going to talk up William Voegeli's and Wilfred McClay's (it was online Friday but isn't now) articles on the Tea Parties.  They are really good at helping us understand the Tea Parties as a populist reaction to a governing elite that both seeks to expand government past its core functions and claims (or pretends to claim) incompetence at basic functions of government.  Voegeli gets to this contradictions when he writes that this elite both believes that it can transform our health system in a more state-run direction and that securing the border is impossible absent an amnesty first. 

The Voegeli and McClay articles are worth reading in conjunction with William Schambra's National Affairs article on Obama and technocracy.  What the Tea Parties are revolting against could be the view that "government exists not to attend to the various problems in the life of a society, but to take up society itself as a problem," and that "To address social problems this way, the policymaker must put himself outside the circle of those he governs, and, informed by social science, see beyond their narrow clashing interests."  This is especially necessary because "most citizens (and the self-interested politicians they elect) are either baffled by or deliberately ignore social complexity and interrelatedness." 

The relationship between the technocracy described above and Ivy League elitism is complicated.  Schambra's description of the good politician demands impossible standards of both intellect and disinterestedness.  That is why the President character on the West Wing is a combination of Jesus and a nonsatirical Cliff Clavin.  The Ivy League degree can serve as a signal that the possessor has the intellect needed to "take up society itself as a problem."  The problem of course is that one is beginning with unrealistic expectations of both government and politicians.

 But one can be a technocrat or a believer in technocracy (the West Wing had a pretty large audience) without an elite college background.  One can also be a believer in limited but effective government while being a Harverdian (to use Seth MacFarlane's expression.)  Which is to say that one can prefer Ouachita Baptist University's Mike Huckabee over Harvard's Obama and Brown University's Bobby Jindal over the University of Delaware's Joe Biden.

Categories > Politics


Two Memorial Day Speeches

I was just informed by a friend that the Bill Bennett Show read my Memorial Day Speech from 2004.  I gave my talk at the Ashland Cemetery.  He said it was good.  I thank him for his kindness.  But since he mentioned good speeches, let me bring this 1884 memorial Day Speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes to your attention.  He gave it in Keene, NH, in a white painted town hall on the village common.
Categories > Military


Memorial Day

I had a fine ride yesterday, a good long one.  Almost no one driving, just me and Isabella dancing along (and a few other bikers, from time to time).  I was contemplating peace and its pleasures in that easy way her purr allows, visits with my Marine son and other good pleasures, when I came around a bend and there on a flat piece of earth were about a hundred large American flags implanted in the soil of a cemetery.  It took my breath away, the thing in itself and the surprise of it.  A truly lovely moment of somber gratitude and I had to pull over for a bit, much too dangerous to ride with moist eyes.  Later that night I watched parts of The Pacific and my gut was reminded of the horror of war, that terrible waster of men, the brutish and primitive hatred, the guts spilling from once men and now no more.  And of course there was the bravery, the incredible bravery.  And then a different kind of gratitude for those who didn't make it out.  I'll do it again today, it's the least I can do.  In the meantime, here is Mac Owens on Memorial Day from a few years ago.  I will visit the old Marine later this week and tell him how grateful I am for his awful work, and that he made it through.  And then when I come home I will hug my son before he goes back to Okinawa.
Categories > Military


Kagan's Odd Harvard Reform

According to NLT blogger and Heritage Foundation legal scholar Robert Alt, then-Dean Kagan axed Constitutional Law as a core requirement at Harvard Law: 

"My understanding is that she instituted three new courses to the required curriculum and, in so doing, got rid of a requirement to take constitutional law," Robert Alt, senior legal fellow and deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, told

"Currently, at Harvard, constitutional law is not required for first-year law students, or even for graduation," Alt added.

Evidently she felt that law school education should focus instead on public international law, international economic law, and "complex problem solving."  See this Harvard news release.  In defense of Dean Kagan, it might be said that no Con Law is better than terrible Con Law, but this is a peculiar argument to use for a Harvard, is it not?

Categories > Courts


"Mockingbird" Conservatives

It is the 50th anniversary of the Harper Lee modern classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.  A question recently raised is whether the Tea Party movement should make racial preferences/affirmative action an issue.  Whatever they choose to say, they should embrace this book, on school reading lists for almost 50 years. Hero Atticus Finch is devoted to the rule of law in a way foreign to our current oppressors and Supreme Court nominees.  Conservatism, whether of the more traditional sort or the more activist Tea Party variety, is focused on restoring the rule of law--saving it from bureaucracy, command-and-control economics, hijacked Congresses, runamok judges, and idolators of foreign gods.

So, at Tea Party rallies, everyone come with your copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Singing "We Shall Overcome" would not be a bad idea either.

A related item is lefty Jacob Weisberg's distinction between western (property rights-Tea Party) conservatives and southern conservatives--the first he characterizes by Goldwater and Palin, the latter by George Wallace.  The westerners (here he mentions Harry Jaffa) used to have intellectual credentials, but now they are "anti-intellectual."  Of course Weisberg wants moderation on the right.   

Categories > Conservatism


Art for Soul's Sake

DC denizens have just through Monday to take in The Sacred Made Real, an exhibit of paintings and sculpture from the Spanish Counter Reformation.  Wheat&Weeds excerpts Mary Eberstadt's review of the reaction to it.  I've been to the small exhibit twice--and here I thought of Zubaran as a skillful painter of lemons.

Can't make it there?  Then try this W&W-recommended virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel instead.  (Be sure to play with the controls in the lower left hand corner.)  I still like to brag about my Charlton Heston-autographed print of the ceiling.

Categories > Religion


Understanding Radical Islam

Andrew McCarthy introduces his new book on radical Islam at the Heritage Foundation.  Of particular interest is his argument that its efforts flatter left-liberal weaknesses and misunderstandings of religious liberty. 

But Robert Reilly makes an argument of a different order--a serious theological examination of radical Islam that notes its similarities to western philosophic tendencies that have been around for centuries.  Yet the solipsism of even mainstream Islam is difficult for Westerners to fathom, though it has extraordinary political consequences.  In the video of Bob's presentation note in particular the extensive comments from the audience of an Egyptian scholar of Islam who supports this analysis.  His name is Bassam Tibi, of Cornell University, and some of his books can be found here.  Order Reilly's Closing of the Muslim Mind  here.

One story Bob recounts from his time in Iraq relates a chaplain's insistence on wearing his cross--contrary to the official policy that proscribes religious insignia.  The chaplain (regarded as a kind of imam) got the trust of Iraqis, who respected people of faith.

Categories > Religion


Vote for William M. McCulloch!

OK, this is a different kind of vote than we are used to.  I'm asking that you vote for a dead white Congressman!  He died in 1980, but some of his opponents died even earlier.  It is not that his opponents are unworthy of fame (Grant, Stowe, Owens, Edison, et al), but it's that I support the one real politician (U.S. Grant's deserved fame is due to his mastery of war, not politics) in the group of ten vying to be in Statuary Hall.  Good politicians, that is, those with insight and judgment, are very hard to find, as we all know.  And when we find them, we ought to support them.  So I encourage you to vote and you can vote until June 12.  You may do so by voting here

In Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, each state send two statutes to honor notable people in their state's history.  The Ohio Legislature is replacing the statute of former Ohio Governor William Allen because of his pro-slavery views.  Because Congressman McCulloch (R) was so deeply involved in getting the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 passed, in fact he made its passage possible, I testified on his behalf.  This may be of special interest for today's politics because of the recent kerfuffle over the GOP's standard bearer in the Kentucky Senate race (also see Rich Lowry's significant comment on the issue).  Some decisions live on, don't they?  I repeat, vote here.  A statue of him in the National Statuary Hall will be a permanent reminder to all who visit there of his great act of statesmanship on behalf of true recognition of human equality, and its relation to the Constitution, the highest of all American causes.
Categories > History


Noonan's Direct Hit

Peggy Noonan's current piece engages Obama's ideological certainty not only for its political threat to his presidency but also because it now tears at his basic ability to govern.
Categories > Politics

Frederick Douglass on Glenn Beck Show

Courtesy of yours truly.  Shameless self-promotion, here.  Today, Friday (May 28), at 5 pm EST I sing the praises of Frederick Douglass on Glenn Beck's "Founding Fridays" segment.  The other guest is David Barton of WallBuilders, who has a new book about important blacks in American history.  Have a look-see if you're around a TV at that hour.  Sample quotation:  "I know of no rights of color superior to the rights of humanity."  Douglass, "Our Composite Nationality" (1869)


Obama's "Empathy" Standard

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to confirm Judge Robert Chatigny to the Second Circuit of Appeals.  As I explain here, Chatigny provides the perfect example of why Obama's "empathy" standard for judges is extremely dangerous and improper.  In an infamous 2005 case, Chatigny, a federal district court judge in Connecticut, fully displayed the "depth and breadth" of his empathy.  Ignoring his judicial duty to be impartial, he attempted, by asserting bizarre, unprecedented legal arguments and even bullying attorneys, to remove a serial rapist and murderer, Michael Ross, from death row.  Why?  Because Chatigny thought that Ross's "sexual sadism" was "clearly a mitigating factor."  In fact, Chatigny railed, Ross was the "least culpable of anyone on death row" because of his sadistic tendencies.

Obama stated that he would seek judges who empathize with certain groups: the poor and the disabled, for example.  He did not mention sadists. 

Yet there is nothing in his theory that prevents judicial favoritism for this particular group.  In fact, if we take seriously the words of Obama's SCOTUS nominee, Elena Kagan, who stated that judges should have empathy for the "despised and disadvantaged," it would seem that empathy for "despised" murderers would fit neatly within Obama's theory and Kagan's as well.

Bottom line: once we declare that a judge should be guided by the whims of his empathy, we cannot demand that he direct his empathy to the party that we happen to think most deserving of it.  Chatigny's empathy for the "Roadside Strangler" should serve as a resounding reminder of the need for judges to look not into their "hearts" for guidance in a case, but to the law. 

Categories > Courts


Avik Roy informs us that the gold standard isn't just for nutjobs.  I'm not in favor of a return to the gold standard, but I was glad to see an articulate defense of that position on NRO.  In fact, NRO's The Agenda domestic policy blog is terrific.

Jeffrey Goldberg is very fair-minded critic of Israel's less than fair-minded critics.  This selection of his interview with Peter Beinart does a good job of demonstrating Beinart's loss of perspective.  Beinart mischaracterizes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position on Palestinian statehood (which Beinart also distorted in his NYRB essay), but Beinart goes way out on a limb and manages to call Hamas a "nasty movement".  Pitiful.  If you want a go-for-the-throat attack on Beinart there is Noah Pollack over at Commentary.

And speaking of Jeffery Goldberg, he interviews Marcy Winograd, who is running against liberal, but pro-Israel Jane Harman in the Democratic primaries.  Wow.  Here is Goldberg asking her about military options for fighting terrorism:

Goldberg:  Is there anything you would do against terrorism militarily?

Winograd:  I would join the International Criminal Court.  I believe in diplomacy and the rule of law.  When people are perpetrating acts of terrorism they should be tried before the world in the world court or tried in absentia.

Winograd favors an immediate American withdrawal from Afghanistan and increasing aid to women-led NGOs in Afghanistan.  Goldberg asks about the uh... practical problems inherent in this strategy:

Goldberg:  But if we left Afghanistan, wouldn't the Taliban shut down these women-led NGO's?

Winograd:  Well, that would be the point of investing in women-led NGO's, to make them stronger and help women emerge in leadership positions politically.

So we will try terrorists in absentia (or rather hope that the world court does so for us) and hope that women will rise to positions of political leadership in a Taliban-led Afghanistan.  Oh, and she wants to get rid of Israel - though through binationalism (one state for all of present-day Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in which Jews will soon be a minority) rather than extermination.  And she implies Henry Waxman might not be a loyal American.  She now has the support of Howard Dean and got 37.5% of the vote when she ran against Harman in 2006. Maybe Beinart can write an essay blaming AIPAC for Winograd's alienation from Zionism and lack of basic common sense.    

Foreign Affairs

Which Countries Are the Most Pro-American?

Real Clear World asks the question, and finds the nations which most approve of U.S. leadership all located in one spot: Sub-Saharan Africa.

So, why do these poorest of nations exceedingly admire the leadership of the richest of nations? Surely, the election of Obama - an African-American whose father was a Kenyan - has not hindered perceptions of the U.S. But the lion's share of our good graces on the African continent is the legacy of the Bush years.

PEPFAR (AIDS reduction), debt forgiveness, food and health aid packages, recognizing genocide in Darfur and establishing an Africa-oriented military command have been the most significant pro-African policies of any nation in history.

It's refreshing to see foreign appreciation for America's good-will. It is by no means universal.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Capital of the Free World

This from Joe Biden is too clear for me to comment on. It is jarring.  It is beyond humor, it is too revealing of a deep lack of understanding of freedom, the things for which Brussels stands, and the things for which we stand.  I am disposed to swear a good mouth filling oath...I will ride Isabella today, hoping for contentment in the heat.
Categories > Politics


Courtship and Character

President Obama met with Senate GOP in a closed-door meeting yesterday which, by all accounts, turned somewhat testy.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) accused Obama of acting "duplicitous" in calls for bipartisanship. "I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him even showing up today after what had happened with financial regulation." Corker met daily with Democrats on financial reform, relying on promises of bi-partisan compromise, only to be excluded from the final negotiations.

As seems customary to his character, Obama bristled at GOP policy objections. According to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.):

The more he talked, the more he got upset. He needs to take a valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans and just calm down, and don't take anything so seriously. If you disagree with someone, it doesn't mean you're attacking their motives -- and he takes it that way and tends then to lecture and then gets upset.

Obama seems to be the thinnest-skinned president in recent history. Ironically, for a lawyer and politician, he is deeply uncomfortable (even angered) by the slightest disagreement or prospect of debate. 

Categories > Presidency

The Founding

Who's Our Daddy? David Brooks' America

Brooks concludes from Yuval Levin's fine work:

We Americans have never figured out whether we are children of the French or the British Enlightenment. Was our founding a radical departure or an act of preservation? This was a bone of contention between Jefferson and Hamilton, and it's a bone of contention today, both between parties and within each one.

Both Jefferson and Hamilton, whatever their great differences, were in heated agreement on the radicalism of the American Revolution.  We're not Descartes' children, nor are we Hume's.  Brooks is right that European standards have infected our political discourse (e.g., "realism" vs. "idealism" in the study of international relations).  But, as critics of the State Department have long asked, is there an American interests section here?

Categories > The Founding


Many Faiths, Some Truths

The Dalai Lama laments religious intolerance in today's New York Times, seeking a "mutual understanding" among faiths. The theme is neither novel nor controversial, though perhaps always in need of retelling.

But the devil's in the details. The Dalai Lama notes "vigorous signs of [intolerance's] virulence":

In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

He then indentifies "compassion" as a "common ground" among faiths which can bring "harmony" to humanity.

Again, the broad theme is obvious to Western audiences. But are faiths truly equivalent in their offenses of intolerance and prioritization of compassion? Invoking 9/11, the Dalai Lama chastises "those who paint Islam as a militant faith" and "blindly follow the lead of some in the news media and let the violent acts of a few individuals define an entire religion."

While laboring upon the deficiencies of other faiths (to the exclusion of seeking similarities) would prove counter-productive, a simple-minded aversion to reality is equally inadvisable. Muhammad was a military general of many battles. His relics in Istanbul include his sword, shield, armor, horse barding, throne and a letter informing an infidel king that the impending slaughter of his tribe was owed to his refusal to convert.

Surely there is compassion in Islam, but the Dalai Lama reinvents history and insults the intellect by scolding those who recognize militant aspects at the core of Islam which differentiate the faith from other world religions. 

Categories > Religion


Predictably Consequences (Cont.)

Tax incentives have an impact on hiring decisions.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

UPDATE 2: U.S. Chooses Sides

South Korea has halted all trade with North Korea and announced it will seek U.N. sanctions (which N. Korea has previously threatened to interpret as an act of war). The White House responded decisively, promising "unequivocal" support to S. Korea. The U.S. has vowed to back all measures requested of the U.N., bolster S. Korean defenses and initiate joint military exercises.

This is undoubtedly the most resolved and militant posture yet adopted by President Obama. The White House has thrown its weight behind a S. Korean decision which N. Korea promised would lead to war.

The U.S. has thus called N. Korea's bluff. The next play goes to China, which must consider how to vote on a potential Security Council resolution to punish N. Korea. Thus far, every player at the table has upped the ante during his respective turn - and no one has flinched yet.

UPDATE: North Korea has threatened military action in response to the alleged trespasses of South Korean ships into Northern waters during the past week. N. Korea's military is now "on combat alert."

Seems the North doesn't want to wait its turn. I assume calmer minds will simply ignore this fist-pounding, but such likely-baseless claims and temper-tantrum posturing is revealing of the school-yard-bully-mentality governing North Korea.

UPDATE 2: North Korea has severed all ties with South Korea, closing off the country's air and water ways, expelling South Koreans from "a joint industrial complex just inside the North where about 120 South Korean companies employ about 40,000 North Koreans," and "totally abrogat[ing] the agreement on nonaggression between the north and the south and completely halt[ing] the inter-Korean cooperation."

Abrogating the agreement on nonaggression. I believe that makes the third time this week North Korea has declared war on South Korea. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Maybe Sandy Berger Can Help...

Ed Whelan reports that the director of the Clinton Presidential Library says it will be "very difficult" to review and release White House records relevant to Kagan's nomination in time for Leahy's hearing start date of June 28th.  There are 160,000 pages of letters, memos, emails, and other documents.

Terry Garner, the library's director, stated:

"There are just too many things here...These are legal documents and they are presidential records, and they have to be read by an archivist and vetted for any legal restrictions. And they have to be read line by line."

Oh, but this shouldn't be too big of a stumbling block for some senators.  Let us not forget that the current majority leader, Harry Reid, boasted that he had not read a "single one" of Sotomayor's judicial opinions before her hearing, and that he hoped to get through the hearing without having to read any.

But for those Senators who take their role of advice and consent seriously, who know precious little about Elena Kagan given her complete lack of judicial experience, her lack of litigation experience before her brief stint as Solicitor General, and her paltry publications record, this should be a deal breaker for any kind of a rushed hearing and vote.  Senators simply will not have the information about how she has approached legal questions and what this may say about her judicial philosophy without gaining access to these documents with adequate time to review them.  On that count, the statement of the Clinton Library is instructive: even five weeks is not enough time to go through all the documents in an adequate fashion.  Senators should demand the documents, and adequate time to actually review them, before they go forward with a hearing or votes.  To do otherwise would likely assure that the hearing is just the kind of farce that Kagan herself has previously derided.

Categories > Courts

Health Care

Big Drop in Infant Mortality

In one of the best pieces of news I've heard in a long time, a recent study suggests that infant mortality has plummeted around the world in recent years.  In 1990 11.9 million children died before reaching the age of five; today that figure is only 7.7 million.  Even Ethiopia, which had an infant mortality rate of over 2 percent (not .2 percent, but 2 percent) in 1990, has seen that rate cut in half in the past twenty years.

Some have already seized on the fact that the United States now comes in 49th among the world's countries (it was 29th in 1990) when it comes to infant mortality, claiming that this reflects negatively on the U.S. health care systemAu contraire, says economist Steven Horwitz, who reminds us that far more babies are delivered pre-term in the United States than anywhere else in the world, and babies born prematurely have a much higher than normal mortality rate.  "So the next time someone tells you," Horwitz concludes,

...that Cuba's healthcare system is better than that in the US because it has a lower infant mortality rate, the proper response is "yes, that's what happens when your system is so awful that you can't do much of anything for children born prematurely and your only choice is to deliver them stillborn.  If you think a system with more dead babies is better, you can have it."  A lower infant mortality rate doesn't mean you have fewer dead babies.  You just have fewer babies born alive.


Categories > Health Care


Happy Birthday to the Church!

Today is Pentecost, or Whitsunday, commemorating the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ. The event is held to be the commencement of the temporal Church, as the Apostles were thereby commissioned to their pastoral duties.

The ancient Jewish Pentecost - the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot - took place 50 days after Passover and was considered second in importance among Jewish feasts. Passover celebrated the redemption of a nation in slavery, whereas Pentecost focused upon God's revelation of purpose (as through the delivery of the law to Moses).

Here in Italy, it's customary to scatter rose leaves from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues which appeared over the Apostles as they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI's Pentecost Sunday homily is here and his address surrounding the midday Regina Caeli in St. Peter's Square is here.

Categories > Religion


Do We Miss Jim Bunning Yet?

What will would-be Senator Rand Paul say when they ask how he feels about being named after an avowed atheist?  Not that I trust the NY Times account of Republican reticence on what to argue for, but, as one Republican pollster put it, "we have to answer the question, Why us?"  Well, what is really wrong with Obamacare and the means used and contemplated to pass it, Democrat legislators cheering a foreign dictator leader of a chaotic state who denounces an American State, Washington DC owning auto companies...?

American instincts are sound, but passions and opinions need to be refined.   (Palin graps these instincts remarkably well, but she needs to cultivate them, not just cheer them on.) To feel gloom and betray confusion because the Republican didn't prevail in an overwhelmingly Democratic district shows an utter lack of judgment.  (As much as the media now implies Paul is a racist, why aren't they saying the same about Pennsylvania-12--why it didn't vote for Obama and was thus considered by some to be a "swing" district?)

Between the nihilism of the left and the nihilism of the right lies the constitutionalism, rule of law, and natural rights of the American political tradition.  Applying these truths to the current crisis is the challenge. 

Categories > Elections


Czech Gold

The Czech Republic has won the Hockey World Championship. And, to make it all the sweeter, the underdog Czechs defeated defending champion Russia to take the gold. One can only imagine the beer that will flow tonight in sweet Bohemia!

Categories > Sports


Quote of the Day

Montesquieu, in Paul Rahe's excellent book on Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: "The French hardly ever speak of their wives . . . because they fear speaking of them in front of people who may know them better than they do."
Categories > Sports

Hawaii: Insult to Injury

Republican Charles Djou has won the special election for Hawaii's House seat that should have been "a cakewalk" for the Democrats. And, to add insult to injury, "[t]he seat had been held by a Democrat for nearly 20 years and is located in the district where Obama was born and spent most of his childhood."


The Fat (Grey) Lady Has Sung

When you lose the New York Times on social liberalism, there's no more denying it: "Europeans Fear Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits."

Across Western Europe, the "lifestyle superpower," the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt. The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.

Nevermind that capitalists and conservatives have foretold this bit of bad news for half a century now, nor that the Times is far too generous in cushioning the news within the aura of mere "fear." European-style "social democracy" is failing (regardless of whether Europe fears it or not), and U.S. Democrats are on the verge of transforming America into the same unsustainable system.

This isn't a matter of learning from history - it's just a matter of looking out the window and being aware of the world around you. The sky really is falling, the wolves really are among the flock and the writing really is on the wall.

Categories > Economy

Political Philosophy

Obama's Once and Future Diplomacy

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post cover the President's remarks at West Point in an aspirational, rather than factual, manner. Both begin by (proudly) declaring Obama's "new national security strategy rooted in diplomatic engagement and international alliances" which "repudiated his predecessor's emphasis on unilateral American power and the right to wage pre-emptive war."

Except, of course, Obama's obstinate and futile reliance upon "diplomatic engagement" (read: talking even when no one is listening) to the exclusion of practical alternatives is nothing new. It has been tried and found wanting for the past year in China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria, Palestine, etc., etc.

And, of course, George Bush went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the company of UN resolutions and a broad coalition. Media approval is not the measure of multi-lateralism. Support for the wars declined over the years, but this reflects a nation's endurance (which Obama praised) rather than an "emphasis on unilateral American power."

Further, Obama actually seemed to stress the opposite of the media's "repudiation" interpretation. He focused on strengthening the enduring policy and historical legacy of American partnerships with coalition allies.

In truth, the speech could have been delivered by George Bush - though the media would have interpreted it in a wildly different (i.e., more derogatory and critical) light. Obama did not articulate a new strategy, he articulated an old strategy he has failed to live up to. Everyone, especially George Bush, recognized the utility and profit of diplomacy. The difference between the two presidents is their responses when diplomacy has failed.

It's a shame that in those few instances in which I find Obama's vision to be praiseworthy (even if I find his actions pursuant to that vision to be lacking), it is concealed beneath the biased distortions of a media desperately trying to make Obama into the "hope and change" for which they yet despair.


The Politics of Overpromise

Regarding the public pension crisis, Megan McArdle writes, "People have worked for twenty years or more under the expectation of pensions that were calculated this way; you can't just wait until they're 58 and say "Ha, ha, just foolin'." 

I am reminded from some wisdom from Franklin's Autobiography.  Keith, the Governor of Pennsylvania, tells young Franklin:

"Give me an inventory of the things necessary to be had from England, and I will send for them. You shall repay me when you are able; I am resolv'd to have a good printer here, and I am sure you must succeed." This was spoken with such an appearance of cordiality, that I had not the least doubt of his meaning what he said. I had hitherto kept the proposition of my setting up, a secret in Philadelphia, and I still kept it. Had lt been known that I depended on the governor, probably some friend, that knew him better, would have advis'd me not to rely on him, as I afterwards heard it as his known character to be liberal of promises which he never meant to keep. Yet, unsolicited as he was by me, how could I think his generous offers insincere? I believ'd him one of the best men in the world.

Franklin travels to England to get the materials needed to return to America and set up shop as a printer. Franklin learns the lesson:

I found my friend Denham, and opened the whole affair to him.   He let me into Keith's character; told me there was not the least probability that he had written any letters for me; that no one, who knew him, had the smallest dependence on him; and he laught at the notion of the governor's giving me a letter of credit, having, as he said, no credit to give. On my expressing some concern about what I should do, he advised me to endeavor getting some employment in the way of my business. "Among the printers here," said he, "you will improve yourself, and when you return to America, you will set up to greater advantage."

The lesson:

But what shall we think of a governor's playing such pitiful tricks, and imposing so grossly on a poor ignorant boy! It was a habit he had acquired. He wish'd to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious, sensible man.

Categories > Politics


VAT A Vay To Lose

Ramesh Ponnuru notes that seeming to express support for the Fair Tax might have been one of the reasons why Republican Tim Burns was beaten by Democrat Mark Critz in the PA-12 election.  Looking at the ads that both sides ran, it was amazing how Critz was able to outflank Burns on the tax issue (though Critz's ads focused on taxes for "outsourcing" while the DCCC carried most of the water in attacking Burns on the Fair Tax issue.)  I was also struck that Burns had no positive tax agenda that I could figure out aside from simply being against any future tax increases.  Not bad I guess, but could he have come up with something positive?

I think the problem with Burns and the Fair Tax is part of a general problem with moving our federal tax system from one oriented to taxing income to one oriented to taxing consumption.  How do you get to such a system without either a) increasing taxes on middle-income earners while cutting them on the wealthy or b) setting the consumption tax so low that there is not a sharp reduction in federal revenues that will either cause the deficit to grow even more gargantuan or necessitate even larger spending cuts than we currently need to bring the deficit under control.  Any plan that combines tax increases on the middle class and tax cuts for the wealthy is just politically dead.  It becomes a parody of trickle down economics.  It becomes trickle up, then trickle down economics.  You could try explaining to middle-class people that even though taxes on them will increase and taxes on the wealthy will decrease, the resulting economic efficiencies will lead to rising overall living standards for everybody.  Good luck with that.  Any plan that reduces government revenues past their current level will have to contain a politically palatable set of spending cuts alongside the huge cuts we will already have to make to get the government to live within its means at current revenue levels.  Good luck with that too. 

Those problems seem to bedevil both of the best known conservative plans for moving to a consumption tax oriented system.  Ponnuru made the case for why the Mike Huckabee-supported Fair Tax would lead to a middle class tax increase.  I'm not sure I trust every assumption built into this report by the liberal Citizens for Tax Justice, but I haven't seen any evidence disputing the argument that Ryan's plan (which includes a VAT) would amount to a tax increase for many middle-class Americans.  If there is a good debunking of the report's assumptions I would like to see it as I would like to think well of Ryan's plan.

So where does that leave us in our difficult fiscal situation?  Well, I'll bore you by again suggesting Robert Stein's combination of tax cuts for middle-class parents and ending the double taxation of corporate dividends, while ending a series of tax deductions that will mean many high earners will pay more.  The current 35% highest marginal rate will kick in earlier for many of the wealthy, but unlike with Obama's plan, the highest marginal rate doesn't actually go up.   There is alot to be said for a plan that will save middle-class working parents thousands of dollars and encourages investment and growth without increasing the deficit. 


Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

America in Retreat

Charles Krauthammer summarizes a theme on which I've written several times: Obama's devastating foreign policy. A sample:

This is not just an America in decline. This is an America in retreat -- accepting, ratifying and declaring its decline, and inviting rising powers to fill the vacuum.

Nor is this retreat by inadvertence. This is retreat by design and, indeed, on principle.

There's nothing to fear from Obama, and everything to gain by ingratiating yourself with America's rising adversaries. After all, they actually believe in helping one's friends and punishing one's enemies.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Men and Women

Obama's Women-Centered Programs

"Are They Really Good for Women?" That's the question asked by FRC's Jeanne Monahan in an hour-long conference in D.C. which can be viewed here. It's an interesting subject on which I'd not heard a great deal. Monahan has some interesting points, such as the decline of women's self-professed happiness in proportion to their increased civic rights. Her answer centers upon the crisis of anthropology - that is, what it means to be human, and female.

Categories > Men and Women


Socialism and the Vital Center

Quote of the day, from Schlesinger's Vital Center

There is no sign in either nation that the capitalists are putting up a really determined fight against those who would use the state to restrict their profits and reduce their power--even perhaps to take their property away from them. . . .

Britain has already submitted itself to social democracy; the United States will very likely advance in that direction through a series of New Deals. . . .

The failure of nerve is over.  The new radicalism need not invoke Marx at every turn in the road, or points its prayer-rug every morning to Moscow.  It has new confidence in its own insights and its own values.

Categories > History


The Use and Abuse of the Term "Antigovernment"

From yesterday's New York Times we learned that an Ohio man who shot and killed two Arkansas state troopers "had antigovernment views."  The evidence for this?  He was upset over having been stopped by state police in New Mexico--they demanded to see his identification.

"I ran into a Nazi checkpoint in the middle of New Mexico where they were demanding papers or jail," he said. "That was the option. Either produce your papers or go to jail. So I entered into commerce with them under threat, duress and coercion, and spent 47 hours in there."

I wonder, then, whether those who have been outspoken in their criticism of the Arizona illegal alien law could be classified holding "antigovernment" views?  Is Luis Gutierrez an antigovernment activist?  Or is the media using "antigovernment" as a code word for "conservative"?

Categories > Journalism


Time to Move On?

Rich Lowry takes Rand Paul to task for believing "that it's never too late to re-litigate 40-year-old historic milestones."  Paul believes that the federal government may ban racial discrimination by the government, but he's questions its right to impose the same requirements on private individuals, clubs, and corprations.  Paul has walked back from his position, arguing, prudently, that such an expansion of federal power was necessary in the 1960s. 

That raises the question of whether it is still necessary.  America has elected a black president.  Racial milestones in America have become so commonplace that we seldom notice them anymore.  Prejudice still exists, but it's nothing like it used to be.  It is below the level faced by Jews, Irish, Italians, Poles, and other groups who integrated successfully without help from the federal government. Given that reality, it is time, once again, to restore to corporations, clubs, and individuals their right to choose with whom to do business and to spend time with?

(An added bonus of such action is that it would save us a good deal of money, by rendering countless federal, state, and local employees unnecessary. The same would be true at colleges and corporations.  How much money does affirmative action and racial-compliance cost the U.S. economy each year?  Are we post-racial enough to do well and good at the same time?)

Categories > Race

Foreign Affairs

Michael Ramirez Nails it Again

From Investor's Business Daily:

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Me in the NYT

I had a long conversation Wednesday with David Leonhardt of the New York Times comparing Reagan and Obama, I thought for a typical news feature with a bunch of other folks offering their perspectives. But it turned out I'm the sole focus of today's NYT Economix blog post by Leonhardt.  
Categories > Politics


Lincoln the Moderate

In his column today, David Brooks writes: "Once there was a group in the political center that would have understood Ben's [the typcal tea party supporter] outrage. Moderates like Abraham Lincoln believed in the free labor ideology."

I am certainly in the camp that thinks that Lincoln did have the virtue of moderation.  That said, the David Brookses of the 1850s regarded Lincoln and the rentire Republican Party as a bunch of extremists and fanatics.  Going back still further, I find it hard to believe that Brooks, had he been writing in the 1840s would not have thought that Lincoln's spot resolutions were anything more than political showmanship.

Categories > Journalism


Mad Libs

A fine term for most New York Times op-ed writers.
Categories > Journalism


Brave New Word Biology

A landmark in bio-engineering has been announced. U.S. scientists have developed the first living cell controlled entirely by synthetic DNA. In effect, they took a dead bug cell, stuffed it with synthetics and caused it to reproduce in accordance with the synthetic DNA. It isn't exactly bringing a stone to life, but it's the creation of possible new life.

Proponents hail the potential for medical and energy advancements, while critics fear, well, the annihilation of the human species. Hey, no guts, no glory.

The Vatican is cautiously positive, explaining that the breakthrough harbors potential benefits for humanity and knowledge of God's creation. Yet the Church warned against unethical uses divorced from human dignity.

We are catching a glimpse of the future.

Categories > Bioethics

Foreign Affairs

Korea's "All-Out War"

Following a 5-nation investigation concluding that North Korea sank a South Korean vessel, and in anticipation of S. Korea's likely plea for sanctions in the UN, North Korea has threatened to respond to any retaliation - even sanctions - with "all-out war."

Of course, the threat of violence is the only tool truly understood by communist dictators, who have for a century routinely employed fear, oppression and murder. But this threat is aimed not merely at the South, but the United States, who has thus far sided with S. Korea.

This scenario continues to escalate. 

As much as I fear a violent confrontation, I am more afraid that, should one occur, the U.S. and Western nations would fail to defend yet another democratic nation against tyrannical aggression. America has betrayed the Republic of Georgia, the Iranian demonstrators, the legitimate government of Honduras and others since Obama's presidency. I truly hope South Korea will not trust us in vain.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Pope Benedict and the European Question

In a series of lectures delivered at the convent of Saint Scholastica one day prior to Pope John Paul II's death, then Cardinal Ratzinger ranged widely on the present philosophical and anthropological difficulties present in Europe's intellectual makeup. In Meaning and Limits of the Present Rationalist Culture, Ratzinger opined, "let us clarify first if the modern Enlightenment philosophies, considered as a whole, can contain the last word of the cause common to all men. These philosophies are characterized by the fact that they are positivist and, therefore, anti-metaphysical, so much so that, in the end, God cannot have any place in them.... It succeeds in having man no longer admit any moral claim beyond his calculations and, as we saw, the concept of freedom, which at first glance would seem to extend in an unlimited manner, in the end leads to the self-destruction of freedom."

This lecture is well worth pondering during this inherent shakeup of the EU, and perhaps the more ominous signs of the permament shuttering of European prospects for a renewed greatness. Of course, the efficient cause of the difficulties is the split between monetary policy of the EU and fiscal policy conducted by individual member states. Many predicted this result in the late 90s, including Milton Friedman and more senior statesmen in the British Conservative Party. 

PBXVI's analysis ranges to deeper problems in the self-understanding and memory of Europe. Such deformed philosophical understanding on the continent cannot but manifest in the very vivid and yet practical problems of monetary/fiscal policy. Unable to venture much, to believe, to dare that liberty is predicated on more than post-ideological boredom and relativism, the present disrepair of this sort or of another seems inevitable.  

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Enemy of My Enemy

Following his administration's humiliating and indefensible comparison of Arizona's immigration law to the human rights record of China during bilateral talks with the communist country, President Obama has now shared the stage with the Mexican president and joined him in condemning the law as potentially discriminatory.

Members of his staff and congressional Democrat gave the Mexican president's remarks a standing ovation.

Has there ever been an example of a President of the United States inviting a foreign leader to jointly and publically condemn the actions of an American state? And would any leader have previously dared to speak with such incivility and disdain while a guest on our soil?

Does Obama not see that the "change" he has produced by his open-dialogue diplomacy is simply to prostrate the nation sufficiently that foreign leaders continuously feel emboldened to slap us across the face (even on our own land) as a means of garnering accolades back home, often among anti-American jackals, for standing up to us with impunity?

We have shed our mantle of greatness, our presumption of courtesy and demand for respect. And other nations have noticed.

The acquiescence - nay, encouragement - of an American president (and Democratic majority) in siding with a foreign power against an organ of our own political body is unprecedented, unprincipled and a perversion of the most basic instincts of familial and patriotic obligation.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


McClintock: Amnesty for Calderon

It's fitting that our schoolyard bully President invited his soulmate to the south.  I'm surprised the Supreme Court wasn't invited.  Today all Americans were the Supremes.  Congressman Tom McClintock responds, by suggesting President Calderon get on the path to citizenship if he wants to participate in our affairs.   I link to the HuffPo account of the Calderon address.
Categories > Politics


Great Texas Schoolboard Massacre?

David Upham of the University of Dallas Politics Department sets us straight on the alleged curricular mayhem by the Texas Board of Education on the teaching of history in public schools.  Upham wrote in the Wall Street Journal:  "The board did not excise Thomas Jefferson, downplay constitutional religious freedom, or minimize the role of women and minorities. On the contrary, the curriculum is replete with specific references to Jefferson, religious freedom, the civil rights movement, and the achievements and struggles of women and minorities."  Upham speaks both as a scholar, whose dissertation was on the 14th amendment, and an attorney with significant private practice.  See him interviewed here.  The proposed revisions can be found here, in the last section on the page.

A relatively sober example of the criticism can be found here.  It was amusing to read how "Justice Hugo Black of the Supreme Court dug [the expression "separation of church and state"] out of history's dustbin in 1947."  Of course that now in some circles sacred expression was a slogan of the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan, to which Black had belonged.  The history and law are well-related in Philip Hamburger's magisterial Separation of Church and State. 

Categories > Education


Obama's Republican Children?

Among the many reverberations of President Obama's election, here is one he probably never anticipated: at least 32 African-Americans are running for Congress this year as Republicans, the biggest surge since Reconstruction, according to party officials.

So says the NY Times.  But who made Obama possible? What about Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Condi Rice? A succession of prominent Republican black appointments gave Americans the confidence that blacks are up to the task (younger readers will not remember the rarity of black quarterbacks). I submit that Obama could not have been the Democrat nominee without such precedents--from the opposing party.  Hence Obama's 2008 campaign put-down of Justice Thomas--why acknowledge one's dependence on the kindness of the other party?

Moreover, I would argue that baseball star and integration trailblazer Jackie Robinson (a Republican) made Martin Luther King's success possible.

Categories > Race


Statistic du Jour

From the May 24 Sports Illustrated: "In 2000 a manager allowed a pitcher to throw 120 pitches or more in a regular-season game 466 times.  In 2004 that number was 186.  Last season it was 92."
Categories > Sports


Thin Straw of Hope and Change Award

The best line I've read all day concerning yesterday's elections and winner of The 1st Annual Thin Straw of Hope and Change Award can be found in this article:

"The seat was won by Mark Critz, a pro-life, pro-gun former Murtha staffer who opposes health care reform and overcame significant Republican spending. The victory demonstrated that Democrats still have hope for making congressional races local, not national, affairs in the fall."

Well . . . I suppose that upon the election of a pro-life, pro-gun anti-Obamacare Democrat, Democrats can still hope that they can cobble together a few more Critz-like candidates and beat back a tidal wave.  But it seems that, despite hope, they may not be able to change much . . . even when their hope produces a limited success like this.   Critz does, indeed, have a D after his name and, no doubt, he will vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker if that is what he is instructed to do.  But will he vote with the Democrats on any other issue of meaningful import to voters?  If this is their idea of hope, I'm not so much a sore loser as to begrudge them it.  This may be the kind of hope I can believe in.

The basic thing to be learned by all from yesterday's elections is that politicians can only ignore public opinion for so long in a democracy--even when that democracy has been distorted by elites who claim to understand justice better than the people they represent understand it.  It turns out that we Americans will contemplate that argument, but we will not buy it.   Politicians who fail to understand this or who think that they hold their positions by virtue of some personal claim to it, had best learn to respect their sovereign betters.  We will not be governed without our consent.

Categories > Elections

Ashbrook Center

Civic Education and The Ashbrook Center as a Model for Improving It

Few thinking adults now question the assertion that civic education--like virtually all forms of education in America--has arrived at a dismal place.  Yet, if renewed and redoubled efforts to improve the quality of education for Americans in other areas (such as math and science) have seen some limited successes, it seems that this minor triumphs may have come at a cost in other areas such as history, geography, literature and civics.  In a world that seems in every important way to be getting smaller and to demand more knowledge of ourselves and of others, Americans seem--increasingly--to be at sea in their capacity to explain either. 

Ben Boychuk, who is now Managing Editor of School Reform News at The Heartland Institute in addition to blogging for Heartland's Freedom Pub and also over at Infinite Monkeys, did a podcast interview with Ashbrook Executive Director, Peter Schramm for Heartland's website addressing some of these questions.  Specifically, Schramm was asked to consider the question of civic education and what his experience at the Ashbrook Center has taught him both about the need for improving civic education and the possibility for correcting the deficiencies he has noted.  Central to that discussion, Schramm notes, is a question of WHAT rather than a discussion of HOW.  In other words, this is a question of substance more than it is a question of methodology.  There are no easy answers, in any event.  Too often, as public attention turns to the issue of civic education, legislators and citizens alike become afflicted with a serious case of "do something disease" and laws are proposed that purport to address and correct the problem but, in truth, seem really only to add yet another layer of bureaucracy to an already over-burdened public education system.  The truth is that such measures are, more often than not, of limited utility (at best) and, more often, they are beside the point.

Schramm notes that the state of Louisiana has a law on the books that is over 100 years old requiring the study of the Federalist Papers.  This is a noble sentiment and, of course, there is nothing wrong in principle with such a law.  Perhaps there is even something good about it and it could be recommended to the country as a whole. But if there are not sufficient teachers with the capacity to assist students in a meaningful reading and understanding of this work, such a law is very limited in what it can expect to achieve.  Moreover, Schramm insists that when it comes to legislating about civic education there is a fine line between a heavy-handed, agenda-driven, spirit of propaganda and a high-minded spirit of free inquiry into the ideas that formed our nation.  Schramm calls for a civic education that is presented in a manner respectful of the spirit of freedom that informed our Founding--one that recognizes the potential of free men to govern themselves (and this includes their minds).  A serious education is one that is respectful of the freedom of thought that is necessary to preserve real freedom--not one that peddles in platitudes and the force-feeding of pious-sounding but over-thin pablum about it.

In short, Schramm describes the kind of education available to willing students in the Ashbrook Scholar program and in the Masters of American History and Government program.  If you are unfamiliar with the substance of those programs (and grow weary of my poor attempts to impress upon you their unique and lasting value), by all means take the time to listen to this podcast.  If you think you already know a good deal about the Ashbrook Center's programs, I still recommend tuning in to remind yourself of just how engaging and rigorous it can be.  You will make yourself a little jealous of these students . . . but reflect that much of what is available to them is also, by the good efforts of their staff, available to the rest of us through this website.  We can all be (and, really, should be) Ashbrook Scholars of one degree or another.  As Schramm notes, the things they study do not cease to be captivating or diminish in their charm as the years pass . . . indeed, their charm grows in proportion to the degree to which one applies one's mind to the effort of the study.  

A laboratory of freedom, to be genuine, must be respectful of the freedom of thought that produced freedom in the first place.  Freedom is a habit both of word and deed.  Freedom is what is taught at the Ashbrook Center.  
Categories > Ashbrook Center


The New Model Libertarian

In thinking about Rand Paul's rather striking win last night it seems that more is in store than anti-establishment fervor. While I haven't studied Paul II's positions a great deal, he seems to be a clue to some type of recovery within conservatism. Or maybe not. However, Paul is a physician, in a middle class town in the southern part of the state, practicing his profession, raising his family and then decided to contest for the GOP nomination. If a somewhat obscure physician can topple the KY Secretary of State endorsed by all the "right" conservatives, then perhaps a major rethinking not only of American conservatism but also of libertarianism is occurring. If a physician, as obscure as any other professional plying his trade, can win a Senate nomination of a major party, surely something is breaking upon us. 

Perhaps more interesting is that his creditability held even after his views on projecting American power were publicized, which differ from most public conservatives. I'm wondering, however, how far Paul's war policy views are from other voices on the Right like Angelo Codevilla, a critic, similar in some ways to Paul. The victory was also in Kentucky, populated by the one of the most violent tribes of men to ever stalk the earth, the Scotch-Irish. In short, this is not a dovish bunch, unsure of American strength. Perhaps better than most, they sense the need for it be guarded and used only decisively with minimal application to grand progressive objectives like nation building and finding little Lockes in the desert.

If Paul wins in November, provided similar victories are achieved in other races around the country, it just might augur a correction to conservatism that it has not received since the loss in the 1998 elections and the turn the party made to Bush II and compassionate conservatism, i.e., European style Christian Democrat policies.

The implications for libertarianism seem striking as well. In short, Paul might be a clue to a libertarianisn that doesn't strive so much for autonomist liberty, but seeks recovery of vital American political traditions and habits. Comfortable with religion, understanding the foundations of the family to civilization, and yet decisively aware of the dangers posed by the progressive smart set and their federal bureaucracy to our constitution, Paulian liberatarians might be the subtle and powerful change within the coalition of conservatism.


Categories > Conservatism


Nicholas Winton at 101

Today marks the 101st birthday of Sir Nicholas Winton. In 1938, Winton began organizing the transport to Britain of orphaned, mostly-Jewish children in Czechoslovakia (most of whose parents died at Auschwitz). In total, 669 of "Winton's children" were saved from the Nazis.

Winton remained silent as to his noble acts. His wife learned of them from a scrapbook in the attic containing the names of his children, as well as their parents and adoptive families in England. The world learned of him when he was ostensibly invited onto a British television show as an audience member. His scapbook was then revealed, his actions explained, and the rest is really best viewed for yourself.

Categories > History


Missile Amendment

Rebeccah Heinrichs writes in support of a Republican amendment in the House Armed Services Committee that is designed to provide a backup plan if the Iranians develop a long-range missile before we are adequately prepared to counter it.
Categories > Military


Kyl and McCain on Obama's Groveling to China

Taking up theme I invoked in yesterday's post, The Blindness of Relativism, Senators Kyl and McCain have rightly issued a letter to the Obama administration demanding a retraction and apology for the offensive moral equivalency expressed by comparing Arizona's immigration law to the human-rights abuses of China. The letter reads (emphasis is mine):

The Honorable Michael H. Posner
Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Assistant Secretary Posner:

During the recent U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, you reportedly cited the Arizona immigration statute (SB 1070, as amended) as an example of a "troubling trend in our society" that you seemed to imply is morally equivalent to China's persistent pattern of abuse and repression of its people. As the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the bureau of democracy and human rights, your remarks are particularly offensive. We demand that you retract your statement and issue an apology.

According to the 2009 Human Rights Report produced by your bureau, China remains one of the worst human rights offenders, and its record is only worsening. Your bureau's report details how democracy activists, religious groups, journalists, and human rights advocates in China continue to be "targeted for arbitrary arrest, detention, and harassment." The report also describes the brutal tactics the Chinese regime uses to suppress these peaceful groups: "security forces reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings," "officials used electric shocks, beatings, shackles, and other forms of abuse," and "arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems." To compare in any way the lawful and democratic act of the government of the state of Arizona with the arbitrary abuses of the unelected Chinese Communist Party is inappropriate and offensive.

There is no place for moral equivalency in democracy and human rights policy. The United States is the world's leader in defending the rights of all people. Someone in your position should be proud to proclaim that.



Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

The Crisis in Korea

A multi-national investigation (including the U.S.) is soon to conclude that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean vessel. I maintain that this could be the impetus for a regional shift. The U.S. has promised to support the South's plea to the UN for sanctions, which China will oppose. "North Korea's collapse would create hundreds of thousands of refugees and probably lead to the emergence of a Western-leaning united Korea on China's border." 

As may have been the case during the demonstrations in Iran, we are again poised to severely hinder the viability of a nuclear-ambitious, terrorism-sponsoring rogue state. Is there any chance, this time, that Obama will seize the opportunity to oppose tyranny, terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Pirates Walking the Plank

In light of the inadequacies of international law relative to piracy (a serious topic nowadays, thanks to the Somalis), an alternative solution has cropped up in Europe. "Not wanting to involve himself in legal wrangling," the Russian captain who rescued a ship seized by pirates decided to "release" them. "And thus they were 'set free' in a tiny inflatable raft, with no navigation equipment, 350 miles off the coast of Yemen. The raft has disappeared. In the 21st century, this is how pirates walk the plank."

Note that "pirate" is simply the nautical term for "terrorist." Now, if we can only find the land-based equivalent of "walking the plank...."

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Religion and Citizenship

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity opens the 24th plenary assembly tomorrow with the topic: "Witnesses to Christ in the Political Community." Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed a "pressing need" for a renewed commitment from Catholics in political life.

The session will not inspire a return of priests holding seats in Congress, but I suspect an emphasis on lay Catholics voting and participating in open accordance with their religiously-cultivated consciences.

One hopes the focus should spur a dialogue on the role of religion in citizenship. Too long has the left succeeded in arguing that religious morality should be excluded from politics (under the rubric of "separation of church and state" or tolerance for diversity) - while, at the same time, defining their own moral views as "secular" and hence perfectly suitable for politics. Any person whose values or opinions are persuaded by religious faith or morality ought thus be banned from politics - only atheists and de facto faithless believers are sufficiently "secular" to properly influence politics.

Of course, this view was anathema to the Founders and is contrary to every sensible interpretation of a "separation of church and state," properly understood. A robust defense of religious citizenship may soon be due. In contemplation thereof, I offer the preeminent statesman:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. 'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric. 

Categories > Religion

Pop Culture

As We Pass the Evenings

As Peter deservedly passed the last evening in his delightful manner (French environs accompanied by cigars, scotch and worthy banter), I was in Bologna (Italy) enjoying a thoughtful gift in the form of a concert by my greatly admired siren, Elisa.

I count it as a great poverty that American radio, saturated as it is with our own worthy (and sometimes less worthy) artists, has not room for a few more of the most gifted foreign artists. Elisa, Laura Pausini, Fiorella Mannoia, Giorgia, Noemi, Alessandra Amoroso, Dolce Nera, Malika Ayane, Vasco, Tiziano Ferro, Ligabue ... Italy's worthy contributions, all. They are well worth a YouTube perusal. (I'll offer a selection of my favorite links to anyone who requests.)

Categories > Pop Culture


Super Tuesday: A Teaser

Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter will proceed to a run-off election, as neither reached 50% in the Arkansas Democratic primary. "Move-on"-style liberals are celebrating Lincoln's morass as a reprimand to incumbents who opposed Obama's agenda, though broader and more general anti-incumbency sentiments are likely responsible.

Accordingly, turncoat incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter lost to Rep. Joe Sestak. Specter, a 5-term GOP senator, switched parties last year to avoid certain defeat as a Republican. Seems the switch didn't preserve him, after all.

Also, Tea Party candidate Rand Paul (son of Rep. Ron Paul) won the Kentucky primary, giving the movement a taste of legitimacy and institutional presence. Like Specter, endorsed by President Obama and much of the Democratic machine, Paul's adversary, Trey Grayson, was favored by the GOP establishment, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

However, in the only 2-party contest of the night, the late Rep. John Murtha's seat was successfully defended by his former aide. GOP strategist Tom Davis interpreted the result as ominous for the GOP. "If you can't win a seat that is trending Republican in a year like this, then where is the wave?"

Hawaii's special election for the seat vacated by Rep. Neil Abercrombie will be held on Saturday.

Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

Feeling The Funk

There is going to be alot of talk about Peter Beinart's article on the decline of Zionism among young, secular, liberal Jews.  One thing struck me.  Beinart wrote that Zionism was declining among young, secular, liberal Jews due to Israeli policies and the failure of American Jewish organization to criticize those policies.  By Zionism, I take Beinart to mean the belief in the legitimacy of Israel as a majority Jewish state.  I wonder if the actions of Palestinian groups like Hamas causes these same young, secular, liberals to question the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood? Probably not.

I think one way to look at the article is to take the word Jewish out and look how a group of young, secular liberals react to the reality of an American ally under persistent attack and especially the slow delegitimizing and abandonment of that ally.  Several familiar tropes come up:

1.  The relentless focus on (and distortion of) the worst and least attractive elements of the American ally's society.  The article tells you alot about Effi Eitam, but never gets around to mentioning that the current Israeli Prime Minister endorsed a two-state solution (though granted of a problematic kind, though we should keep in mind that the nature of an independent Palestinian state would be a product of negotiation and Netanyahu would not have started with the best offer.)

2.  Shifting the focus away from the nature and tactics of the regimes or groups that are attacking the American ally and focusing on the suffering of a group of civilians with the blame for the suffering placed on the American ally.  Beinart mentions the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, in an article that is a critique of Israeli policy and Israeli defenders, but does not mention what kind of regime Hamas runs in Gaza and how this contributes to the suffering of Palestinians.  This distorts the nature of the crisis and gives no sense of the kind of trade-offs Israel has to make in dealing with a Hamas-run Gaza regime that is formally committed to the destruction of Israel and has targeted Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians.  Maybe the particular trade-offs Israel is making are mistaken, but quoting a college professor comparing Israeli political leaders to General Franco, and talking about Palestinian suffering in a decontexualized way, and quoting the sentiments of presently marginal politicians like Avraham Burg (with no mention of how events led to his marginalzation), creates the impression of (without explicitly asserting), an upside down world in which the Israeli government is fascist, the Palestinians are innocent victims, the real security concerns of Israel are absent or afterthoughts and the internal saviors of Israel are politicians that have been rejected by the Israeli public for no good reason that the reader could possibly discern from reading Beinart's article.

Beinart posits saving Zionism among young, secular, liberal Jews, by crafting a kind of Zionism that is much more critical of Israeli policy.  By all means, let us have fair, realistic criticism of Israeli governance.  But Israel will not be saved by the kind of one-sided criticism on display in Beinart's article or by the strategic deployment of double standards and a propagandistic selection of facts that is merely the preliminary step to abandoning a US ally.



Categories > Foreign Affairs


Psychologists in Robes?

Yesterday's opinion in Graham v. Florida is just one more step down the disastrous path that the Court began to pave in Roper v. Simmons, when it ruled that sentencing juveniles to death violates the Eighth Amendment.  In Roper, the Court relied upon psychological studies to argue that juveniles--including those less than 1 month from their 18th birthday--are less culpable for their crimes than their 18 year-old and 1 day contemporaries, and therefore sentencing anyone under 18 to death is cruel and unusual punishment.  Yesterday, the Court extended that argument to determine that it is also unconstitutional for states to sentence juveniles to life without parole for non-homicidal crimes. 

By creating a categorical rule based on the Justices' own "independent judgment," the Court essentially removed all discretion from lower court judges and juries, who determine these sentences on a case by case basis.  Ironically, the Court opined that state laws that permit juvenile LWOP allow too much subjective judgment on the part of judges and juries: 

"As these examples make clear, existing state laws, allowing the imposition of these sentences based only on a discretionary, subjective judgment by a judge or jury that the offender is irredeemably depraved, are insufficient to prevent the possibility that the offender will receive a life without parole sentence for which he or she lacks the moral culpability."

In other words, judges on lower courts cannot make subjective judgments about individual juvenile criminals precisely because they may be inconsistent with the subjective judgment of these five judges that juveniles have less "moral culpability" for their crimes.  A lower court judge who has thoroughly studied an individual's criminal and psychological record cannot determine that releasing him would pose too great a threat to society simply because these five judges, based on their own opinions about youth, have concluded that juveniles cannot deserve such a sentence.  This is hubris at its best: the only "independent" judgment they value is their own.

Of course, these five judges would contend that their conclusion concerning moral culpability is not "subjective," but based on hard psychological data.  Psychological analysis, however, is simply not in a judge's job description.  By delving into such data, these judges attempt to play psychologist and insert their own views of this extrinsic evidence into the law under the guise of constitutional interpretation.  Elected officials, whose job it is to make state policy, should be the ones to evaluate the psychological data, along with the crime statistics in their respective states, to determine whether this sentence is appropriate and needed as an option.  And, if there really is a growing consensus against the sentence, as the Court's opinion attempts to claim, the citizens of the individual states can abolish it through the political process. 

But, alas, that decision is out of our hands, thanks to the radical expansion of the Eighth Amendment over the last several decades.  What was once a simple prohibition against "cruel and unusual" penalties is now being wielded to relieve criminals of the justice they rightly deserve. 


Categories > Courts

Pop Culture

Where Is Paul Cantor When We Need Him?

Okay, so last night was the season finale of House for this year.  It ended rather ambiguously if you ask me: I say it was another hallucination, setting up a big opening and new story arc for next season.  But what the heck.  At the moment, I'm wondering if there is a super-double-secret esoteric message somewhere we've all missed.

Bear with me here.  So I'm reading the galleys to Peter Beinart's forthcoming book, The Icarus Syndrome, and I came across this opening sentence for an early chapter: "Woodrow Wilson had very few friends, and that bothered him."  But the supremely arrogant Wilson did have one friend and confidante--a guy named House.  Hmmm.  Sounds like the reverse of the TV show: the supremely arrogant Dr. House has one friend and confidante: Wilson.  

Coincidence, like Lincoln having a secretary named Kennedy, and Kennedy having a secretary named Lincoln?  I. Think. Not.  

(Steve--step awwaaaay from the scotch bottle, and start double-checking those mushrooms you're putting on your salad--Ed.  Shut up.  You're no fun.  This is the kind of slim reed Paul Cantor could turn into a book.)
Categories > Pop Culture


Podcast with Robert Alt

I just completed a podcast with Heritage staffer and fellow NLT blogger, Robert Alt. We discussed the Supreme Court, specifically Kagan, her chances for confirmation, and the effect she is likely to have on the Court. Thanks to Robert for a good conversation.
Categories > Courts


Gentlemen, You May Smoke!

Clarence took me, Roger, and Danielle up to the lake last night to have dinner at the best restaurant in Ohio, Chez Francois. I warned them, as we escaped the rain, that this would be like entering Paris from London and that we should remember (to paraphrase Henry VI) that we are in France, amongst a fickle and wavering nation. Still, there were too many people with a truant disposition not to enjoy ourselves. Besides, aside from the great food (and fine drink) we were there because this was also a smoker; we could do all three at once, without committing felonies. The good political conversation at the table was predicted, but then attempts at wit proved so powerful that even the sole lawyer revealed himself to be a jester so the skirmish of wit lasted the whole evening without pause. Soon enough--after much fine food and much too much drink and the fourth cigar--we thanked our host, Matt Mars, for his Declaration in favor of freedom (quoted below), and we told Clarence to take us home. A fine evening altogether, the only surprise is that we all made it to work this morning, we hard-nosed workers on behalf of self-government!

The Chez Cigar Club

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of a good smoke. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new organization, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. We believe that in the right to smoke a Handmade Premium Cigar, sip Single Malt Scotch, enjoy a good Steak with a fine bottle of Red Wine, eat Foie Gras, have our French Fries cooked in trans fatty oils, to discharge firearms for recreational and or self defensive purposes, to invoke Gods name in the public sphere as an acknowledgement of our heritage, to defend our borders and finally to honor America as the sole lynch pin holding Western civilization together! We support our Soldiers fighting terrorism throughout the world, our Police and Firefighters, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Cigar Manufacturers, Square Groove Golf Irons, Citizens for a free Cuba, The Tea Party Movement and Dancers for Democracy. We hold in esteem William Wilberforce, King Edward VII, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, General George Patton, Winston Churchill, Sigmund Freud, JFK, George Burns, Raquel Welch, Peter Falk, Ronald Reagan, Lady Margaret Thatcher and Marvin Shanken.

"Gentlemen You May Smoke"
Categories > Leisure

Foreign Affairs

"Hope and Change" Comes to Czech

Next week the Czech Republic elects their first government since a vote of no-confidence dissolved the former and set up a steward administration. The right-of-center Civil Democrats are insisting on a conservative fiscal policy aimed at stabilizing the economy, whereas the liberal Social Democrats (the only party willing to form a coalition with the Communists) are promising everything to everyone (entitlements, abolishment of medical fees concurrent with expanded healthcare, extended sick leave with benefits, etc.). Asked how they might pay for these welfare state programs, the Social Dems concluded on a direct tax upon the country's successful energy company, CEZ.

Sound at all familiar? The words "hope" and "change" can be found on campaign posters (which litter the country - the Social Dems having spent more than all other parties combined). No constituency is left behind in promises for greater ease and comfort through state-controlled subsidies. Successful businesses are targeted with vilification campaigns and sought to be punished and plundered. And the party is widely identified with a charismatic leader.

Though originally expected to show a solid second finish, the Social Dems are now well in the lead. Limitless promises during an economic crisis have availed them well. Despite having betrayed them for Russia, Obama still seems popular among the rank-and-file of Social Dem supporters.

I wish my dear Czechs good fortune in their plans. They do not all seem to have learned from recent history, to the great reward of the socialist-minded agents amongst them.

Categories > Foreign Affairs



I know I've had previous occasion to mention Malcom Muggeridge describing how he quit doing satire for Punch magazine because real life had gotten so absurd that you can't make up stuff (sort of like The Onion today) as wacky as what goes on.

Well, today comes this news about Rep. Mark Souder, a family values Republican, admitting to having an affair with an aide.  Now, a congressman, even a family-values conservative, having an affair with a staffer is hardly a man-bites-dog story--in fact, it's almost a job requirement.  (At least he likes girls, unlike that dude nabbed with the Rent Boy in Florida--Ed.)  But it turns out Souder has done a video touting abstinence--with the staffer posing as his interviewer!!

The Daily Show writers can safely take the afternoon off.  This sketch writes itself.

UPDATE: Souder's YouTube videos have been taken down.  Surprise surprise.  If YouTube weren't taking down the Hitler "Downfall" parodies, I'd do one entitled "Hitler Learns Mark Souder Was a Buffoon."
Categories > Politics


Crystal Ball Time

Way back in January I went out on a limb and predicted that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, considered a shoo-in for the U.S. Senate this fall, might well lose to a Republican, based on a sense that the guy has a political glass jaw.  (He reminds me of the 1990 shoo-in for Oregon governor who lost: state AG Dave Frohnmayer, whose resume looked exactly like Blumenthal's--Harvard law, distinguished clerkship, hugely positive media buzz and reputation, etc.  Frohnmayer lost to a total nonentity after a truly dreadful campaign.)

Well, this prediction is looking a little better this morning with the NY Times story about how Blumenthal has repeatedly "misspoken" about his "service" in Vietnam.  Yeah, right.  You wonder why he did this. After all, serving in Vietnam didn't help John Kerry very much.  Maybe Blumenthal is trying to Swift-boat himself pre-emptively?  More likely this is the first in a series of missteps.  He's this fall's Martha Coakley in waiting.
Categories > Elections


Not So New A Problem

Great column by Ross Douthat today about the consolidation of power into the hands of an interlocking and not especially competent elite.  Douthat writes "From the Troubled Asset Relief  Program to the stimulus bill, from the auto bailout to health care reform, we've created a vast new array of public-private partnerships - empowering insiders at the expense of outsiders, large institutions at the expense of small ones, and Washington at the expense of state and local governments.  Eighteen months after the financial crisis, the interests of the financiers, CEOs bureaucrats and politicians are yoked together as never before."

The worst part is that even when these elites fail, they manage to turn it into an excuse for another power grab because "This is the perverse logic of meritocracy.  Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesn't matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up.  Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it."

This put me in mind of a statement from a certain wise man who said "From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.  But if no one is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?"

I have only two points to add:

1.  I  hate the term meritocracy.  It concedes too much.  I see credentials and connections, but not nearly as much merit as the word implies.

2.  The job of governing isn't one for a power hungry technocracy, but the problems of governing under present conditions really are complicated and will involve sometimes painful choices.  Are there competent and thoughtful populists who are able to analyze our current predicament and explain to the general public, policies that will lead us to a less corporatist, less statist, less centralized and more market-oriented future? 

Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

The Blindness of Relativism

During human-rights talks with China, the Obama administration equated our human rights records by comparing Chinese forced-abortions, gulags and oppression of basic liberties (expression, religion, association) with ... Arizona's immigration law.

I lack words to express the absurd depths of logic-defying moral relativism into which one must decline in order to conceive such foolishness - either as a political stratagem or practical judgement.

Simultaneously, in a spineless bow to cultural relativism, the American Association of Pediatricians (as in, doctors for children) has amended its opposition to "female genital mutilation." In light of radical Islamic cultural traditions (of horrific, female child mutilation), the AAP has conceded that multicultural tolerance demands their acceptance of the "ritual nick" for female children.

I simply lack words to express....

The Attorney General, meanwhile, has refused to concede that radical Islam may have played any role whatsoever in the Ft. Hood shootings, the "underwear" bombing or the "Times Square" bombing, and Iran is rushing toward nuclear armament in light of Obama's absolute impotence in the face of radical Islam.

Several judgements seem clear of Obama and the moral-cultural relativists who share his ideology: They don't much like America as Obama found it (or as the Founders planned it), their moral judgement is corrupt beyond rationalization and their relativist ideology blinds them to the realities of gravely important matters of diplomacy, security and prosperity.

Jay Nordlinger asks, "Do you ever get the idea that our government is a bunch of left-wing undergraduates come to power?" I opposed Obama's election on policy and moral principles, but I have since rounded the bend that he is intellectually and philosophically unequipped for the responsibilities of the position.

Political Philosophy

Steyn Minds the Decline in Britain

I've previously mentioned several of his examples on NLT, but Mark Steyn sums up the absurd charade of "rights"-based oppression prevailing in Great Britain. It's shamefully ironic that George Bush was consistently denounced for rights-depleting policies by which (as in the "domestic spying program") not a single American can be located who was in any manner harmed in the slightest - yet Democrats merrily seek to silence conservative talk-radio and liberals would arrest pro-life prayer groups as organized crime syndicates without the slightest sense of contradiction or hypocrisy.

Is Nothing Sacred...?

Pizza in Naples may be baked using coffin wood.

(P.S. Mea Culpa, but I was referring to the Napolitan, wood-oven-baked pizza as "sacred.")


Roberts is the Swing Vote

The Supreme Court has ruled that the 8th Amendment's "cruel and unusual" clause prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for minors comitting non-homicidal crimes. That is, teens under 18 who don't kill anybody can't be thrown in jail forever without at least a chance that they can be deemed worthy of another chance.

The Court has previously held that the death penalty can't be applied to juveniles or in cases not involving murder. The present case expanded the Court's examination to life sentences. The "liberal" bloc, as expected, voted to overrule the sentence, whereas the "conservative" wing voted to uphold - except for Roberts, who filed a concurrence with Kennedy's opinion. Roberts would not erect a categorical prohibition, as in Kennedy's opinion, but rather would allow age as a factor in determining the reasonableness of sentences. Thomas dissented: 

Although the text of the Constitution is silent regarding the permissibility of this sentencing practice, and although it would not have offended the standards that prevailed at the founding, the Court insists that the standards of American society have evolved such that the Constitution now requires its prohibition.

The news of this evolution will, I think, come as a surprise to the American people.

The Court does not conclude that life without parole itself is a cruel and unusual punishment. It instead rejects the judgments of those legislatures, judges, and juries regarding what the Court describes as the "moral" question of whether this sentence can ever be "proportionat[e]" when applied to the category of offenders at issue here.

I am unwilling to assume that we, as members of this Court, are any more capable of making such moral judgments than our fellow citizens. Nothing in our training as judges qualifies us for that task, and nothing in Article III gives us that authority

Categories > Courts


God Bless Islam, Michigan, Lebanon...

Words I might never have expected to say, until Miss Michigan Rima Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant, became the first Muslim Miss USA. This is the greatest blow I've seen to the Arizona law cracking down on immigration. Open the gates, I say!

Perhaps her ascension is a matter of political correctness, affirmative action, savvy Trump-style business strategy - but, really, who cares? Though I'm sure her rise speaks to the dynamic and diverse American political something something something.... Here's the picture.

Rima Fakih.jpg

And a cover photo of Miss Michigan and our own Miss Ohio, Amanda Tempel. Go Buckeyes!Miss Ohio, Mis Michigan.jpg

UPDATE: Perhaps it's only fair to note that Miss USA, whose last successful contest was a pole-dancing contest at a strip club, was viewed as a more worthy representative of the USA than runner-up Miss Oklahoma, who may have been penalized for her support of "states rights."

I can't believe this post actually evolved into politics.

Categories > Elections


Who Is Qualified And How Can You Tell?

The recent back and forth over whether Elena Kagan is qualified to be on the Supreme Court bugs me.  Mostly I hate the question about whether someone is "qualified"  because there is no common set of standards as to what qualified means.  The standards tend to shift based on short-term partisan interests.  This can mean that being a first term US Senator and eight-year state senator qualified one for President, but being a six-year mayor, one-year statewide regulator and first term governor did not qualify one for Vice President. 

This reminded me of an old Ross Douthat blog post about Mike Huckabee.  Douthat made what I thought was a very smart distinction between being qualified and being prepared for the office of President.  Douthat made the point that Huckabee was about as qualified as his competitors whan it came to resume, but seemed to be faking it on both domestic and foreign policy.  Douthat defined being prepared as "the hard work of scaling up one's understanding" of national issues and challenges and found Huckabee lacking. 

Maybe Douthat was being too hard on Huckabee, but I don't think that is a bad way of trying to understand if someone is ready.  There are alot of different backgrounds that can prepare someone to be President or on the Supreme Court.  They could include a mix of elected political office, appointed civillian office, business experience, military service and others.  The key is to be able to plausibly demonstrate preparation by showing command of the issues and controversies of the day and the ability to demonstrate how your past experiences will help you deal with those issues and controversies. It doesn't have to go together all that neatly as long as you can make people see the link.  You don't have to explain how being governor of something made you an expert on foreign policy.  You can learn stuff by reading and being advised over a period of years.  If your explanation of world events and your foreign policy suggestions make sense, most people won't care alot that you didn't get your information by being in the general vicinity of Senators.  But people might want to know how your experiences relate to carrying out your goals.  How were you able to get people to go along?  When were you able to stick to a tough but unpopular policy and wait for public opinion to come around?  When did you realize you had made a mistake and changed course? 

If you can handle those kinds of questions with confidence and specificity, the fact that you "only" served one or two terms of office (and all of that out of Washington) probably won't be that much of a problem.  There will be the snobbishness and partisanship of those who insist that everyone close their ears to what they have heard.  Thats okay.  The point of politics is not to win over the Clark Cliffords of the world.

It is a fair to ask "What are the main [foreign or domestic] challenges facing the US?  What specific policies do you support or propose?  How has your career demonstrated that you can handle these challenges?  Who and what has shaped your opinions?  Whose advice would you seek out?"  Such an approach would neither unduly favor nor disfavor those who spent their early adulthoods engaged in Ivy League/Washington Establishment ticket punching (and I wouldn't want to rule out Bobby Jindal) while leaving plenty of room for people from the hinterlands who didn't make politics their first profession, but who made a thorough study of the issues and worked hard to find ways to communicate their opinions to the public. 

And yes, with compliments to Steve Hayward and regular commenter Art Deco, I am thinking or a Eureka College grad who didn't get his first job in Washington until he was in his late sixties.

Categories > Politics


Sovereignty, the Border, and the Law of Nations

Securing one's borders is the responsibility of sovereign states in the modern world.  Those that are unable or unwilling to do so are failing in their responsibilities as nations.  Along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, the people who are failing to keep law and order are not the Americans.  According to the logic of the law of nations, therefore, the U.S. is well within its rights to inform the governent of Mexico that if it is unable or unwilling to secure its own border the U.S. will do it, and, while doing so, it may assert the right to enter what is formally (although not, as the facts make clear, in fact) Mexican territory.   A century ago, that logic would have been clear to just about everyone in the U.S. government.  Nowadays, few, if any, recognize it. Not sure that change is all to the good.
Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

A Dirty Bomb of Another Kind

The latest Commentary contains a fine essay by Algis Valiunas calls Hugh Hefner the father of the modern West:

Hugh Hefner, the inventor of Playboy, has sold his idea of what sex should be with the winning fervor of a true believer, and while not exactly everyone has bought into it, he has enticed multitudes into his fold with the promise of as much pleasure as a body can manage in a lifetime, all of it perfectly innocent, of course. And what sensible person, playboy or playgirl, could possibly want anything better?

He has written, "In this century, America liberated sex. The world will never be the same." Hefner himself is the Great Emancipator and the most influential figure that American popular culture has produced; no actor or movie director or singer or athlete has moved the life of our time as potently as he. Indeed, one is hard pressed to name more than three or four figures from the more serious precincts of our modern public life who have had an effect of comparable magnitude.

Valiunas is always a pleasure to read.  Read the whole thing.

Categories > Pop Culture

Foreign Affairs

A Special Relationship?

For two centuries the phrase "a healthy, mutual ambivalence" might better have described the actual Anglo-American relationship than did Winston Churchill's famous 1946 plea for a special one.  Nevertheless, the question now is whether new British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Conservative head of a coalition government, will look to strengthen that so-called "special relationship."  

If not--that is, if Cameron prefers to orient his foreign policy away from America and toward a more independent role in exerting influence over troubled Europe, where the Greek government has now begun publicizing the names of tax evaders--should Americans object?  After all, who was the last British prime minister to possess both the will and the means to seriously injure U.S. interests through either indifference or hostility?  Spencer Perceval?
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Cleveland Cavs Fans and 2012

My favorite liberal blogger, Joel Mathis makes a good observation today at his blog, Cup O' Joel.  He notes that Barack Obama--in what may be the sincere pining of a serious sports fan, but is also a seriously dumb move for a President hoping to persuade voters in a swing state next go-around--has pronounced upon the great and nagging LeBron question.  The President wants LeBron James in Chicago.  I bet he does!  But, as Mathis notes, Ohioans have yet another reason to wonder how much Obama wants their votes.

BTW:  About Joel Mathis, I am serious.  Take some time to listen to his joint podcasts with Ben Boychuk over at Infinite Monkeys--Ben is always outstanding, but it is Joel's astute and informed questioning of the conservatives they interview that, in my opinion, always brings out the best in them . . . or not, as the case may be.) 
Categories > Elections


Athens on the Pacific? Modern Problems Meet Ancient Wisdom

Such is the appellation former Buckeye and radio talk show host, Hugh Hewitt, gives to the broken (and broke) state of California.   But if we resemble modern Greece in our profligate spending and mounting debt, do we have a glimmer of hope that we might also recur to an ounce of ancient wisdom? 

Perhaps.  Hewitt notes the race least discussed outside of California (but probably the most important to the nation as a whole):  the contest for California Attorney General which features the talented legal scholar, John Eastman.  Eastman's credentials as a constitutional originalist and formidable litigator extend around the block.  With Eastman in the position of California AG, Hewitt argues, Obamacare will find itself up against a most serious and carefully crafted legal challenge.  Serious conservatives from around the country ought to take note of this race and follow it with interest.
Categories > Elections


What Would We Do Without the AP . . .

. . . to inform us that a "grizzly" is a bear?  (see para. 8)  Do they really think the rest of the country is as hermetically sealed in a bubble as their reporters seem to be?
Categories > Journalism


The "Confrontational" Governor of New Jersey

There are at least two reasons I like Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey:  He's right on almost all the issues, and this doer is also a talker.  See how he responds to a reporter who accuses him of having a "confrontational tone."

Categories > Politics

Men and Women

Congress is in the Toilet

Doubt me?  Here's the proof!  Concern (apparently of a bipartisan nature) abounds on the Hill about the disparity of male to female access to toilets in federal buildings. 
But this is no mere matter of counting commodes.  Discerning the meaning of equality here requires the talents of a Solomon.   According to the Washington Times, Americans here display their endless debate about the meaning of equality in its full glory as they take up the ways in which it relates to the great toilet tribulation:  "Some argued that it means equality of opportunity, as judged by the number of stalls, while others said equality of outcome is the key, which could be measured by the length of lines."  So don't laugh.  This is political philosophy at work.

Of course, an uninformed debate over the meaning of equality in American politics often degenerates into an argument for an equality of misery:  "[T]he National Park Service's outdoor concert venue in Fairfax County, had two men's and two women's restrooms, and men breezed through while women waited in long lines. So one men's room was converted to a women's room and now 'today everyone waits in line.'"

Still, if logic prevails (along with those lines) one must consider that at an outdoor venue there is a strong probability that the men's line will shorten itself with a return to nature--if you follow my meaning.  I wonder what the equality police intend to do about that?
Categories > Men and Women


Kagan's Cocoons

Michael Barone writes an interesting piece today in which he opines that Kagan (like her booster, President Obama) has inhabited and grown used to, life in a world apart from the rest of American society.  As a consequence, "[t]hey bring to public service attitudes that are commonplace in the faculty lounge but not nearly so common in the rest of America."

Though generally played close to the chest, these attitudes cannot help but reveal themselves, eventually.  Consider, for example, their modern professorial approach to disagreement.  Both have acquired (it is not quite right to say that they have "earned") reputations for being conciliatory, civil, and exhibiting great empathy for the views of their ideological opponents in debate.  But in recent months, this view of Obama has been tarnished a bit by some unguarded expressions of frustration, and the consequent dulling of the gleam surrounding him has exposed more than a few chinks in his rhetorical armor. Barone astutely points to Obama's recent delivery of a commencement address in which he attacked and lamented the free expression of ideas via blogs, talk radio (read: Rush) and cable news (read: FOX). Though none were surprised to learn that Obama was not a fan of conservative talk radio, blogs or FOX News, there was a discernible amount of disgust with his inability to "suck it up," as a good coach might say. 

Yet to say that Obama contradicts himself when one compares this speech to his infinite calls for civility is to fail to understand the thinking of the modern professor.  Understanding such people as they understand themselves requires a visit to a cocoon--the university campus--which "far from being open-minded forums of opinion, are the most closed-minded parts of our society, with speech codes and something resembling re-education classes for those who violate them."  University administrators, Barone notes, "seem to believe they have a moral obligation to suppress speech that displeases or offends them."  After all, they are the change that they can believe in. 

Kagan is part and parcel of that world, Barone argues, and her record of banning military recruiters from Harvard because of her view that DADT is intolerable, supports the claim.  And it is likely that she will continue to act (and rule) this way on the bench.  I think Barone is on to something, here.

Jules Crittenden, on the other hand, brings our attention to another kind of cocoon Kagan inhabits: that of the childless.  In examining the bizarre (and, apparently, mostly Left-wing) obsession with Kagan's sexuality (inspired by the recent "controversial" printing of a photograph of her in the WSJ that showed her playing softball--gasp!) Crittenden is not eager to engage in the kind of identity politics that would spend time contemplating whether this photo was an intentional gay slur (huh?!) or celebrating the achievement of a country that can elevate a lesbian to the highest court in the land.  But, as long as the identity politics game is being played, Crittenden makes what seems to me to be a reasonable point:

I'd add that President Obama seems bent on packing the court with people who never had children, and would suggest that if you haven't had your sleep disturbed for years on end; haven't subjugated everything in your life to someone else's interests ... as opposed to subjugating everything to your career interests ... and never changed a diaper except, say, as a boutique experience; if you haven't seen your hopes and dreams grow up, charge off in their own direction and start talking back to you; if you haven't dealt with abuse of authority and human rights issues sometimes encountered in dealings with obtuse school officials, class bullies and town sports leagues; then there's a high risk your understanding of life may be somewhat ... academic.

It's a humbling experience, parenthood. As well as an inspiring one that gives life meaning. It also, as a friend of mine once put it, makes you sane. Even while it drives you crazy. Put another way, it's part of the maturation thing. 

Doesn't the president know any soccer moms who went to a state school?

What Crittenden says about parenthood (and about folks from non-Ivy League schools) rings true with me--particularly because it is flattering to my own circumstances.  Also, it is too clever and delicious not to re-print it here.  On the other hand, I'm not sure that the larger point about the problem of cocoons (be they intellectual or circumstantial)--at least taken by itself--is a fair one. 

Here's the thing: I'd be perfectly happy to take a cocoon dwelling Ivy League, lesbian, non-parent, with a professorial (and even worse, an outright snobbish) attitude if that person also inhabited another kind of cocoon--the one where people go to grow when they take the Constitution as it was written and as it should operate (barring changes wrought through the consent of the governed in the Amendment process) seriously.  Or, as Orrin Hatch is reported to have said through a spokesperson when questioned about rumors that Kagan may be a lesbian (snore), "The most important issue for Senator Hatch is whether she is going to follow the Constitution and the laws of the land or whether she will substitute her own views in their place."

Bingo.  Now let's move on, shall we (?), and discuss the substance of THAT.

Categories > Courts


Defining Judicial Activism Down

As pundits debate the merits of Obama's Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, discussion of "judicial activism" takes center stage.  But the accusations of activism are not all being tossed in Kagan's direction.  What has typically been a nomenclature used by conservatives is now frequently being touted by the Left to attack the "conservative" justices on the Supreme Court.  These criticisms are based on all-too-common distortions of the term's meaning.  (I will leave it up to the reader to determine whether some distort it intentionally in order to mislead the American public, who overwhelmingly oppose judicial activism according to its actual definition...)

Among the erroneous definitions of activism is the idea that it occurs whenever the Court strikes down a law.  For example, MediaMatters attempts to debunk the "myth" that "liberal" judges engage in activism more than "conservative" judges by citing studies showing that conservative judges strike down legislation and regulation more than liberal judges do.  But do we really want judges to uphold all laws, even unconstitutional ones?  Would the Court be "activist" if it struck down a statute that, on its face, invidiously discriminated on the basis of race?

Of course not.  This facile view of activism is inconsistent with the appropriate understanding of the judicial review as eloquently expounded by Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury v. Madison: "If then the courts are to regard the constitution; and the constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature; the constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply."  Courts have a duty to strike down laws that violate the Constitution because the Constitution is supreme.

Judicial activism, rightly understood, occurs when judges make decisions not based on what the Constitution requires, but on their own personal or policy predilections.  Contrary to what MediaMatters and many others think, activism does not refer to judges being active in striking down legislation, but being activist in advancing their own policy agenda through judicial decision-making.

Similarly, when we praise judicial restraint, we do not mean judicial passivism---or, reluctance to overturn a law regardless of whether it violates the Constitution.  We simply mean restraint from allowing one's own personal preferences to guide his judgment in the case. 

Indeed, justices who are truly committed to "judicial restraint" must often cast votes that diverge from their own policy preferences.  Take, for example, Justice Potter Stewart's vote in Griswold v. Connecticut, the case in which the Court declared that the "penumbras" formed by "emanations" of certain guarantees in the Bill of Rights grant a right to the use of contraceptives in marriage.  In his dissent, Justice Stewart explained that he thought the Connecticut law banning contraceptives was "uncommonly silly," and that he opposed it on practical, philosophical, and policy levels.  Nonetheless, he would not vote to overturn it because it did not violate the Constitution. 

All judges, including the next Supreme Court justice, should follow the wise example of Justice Stewart in Griswold, who showed great restraint in concluding: "We are not asked in this case to say whether we think this law is unwise, or even asinine. We are asked to hold that it violates the United States Constitution. And that I cannot do."

Categories > Courts

Shameless Self-Promotion

The Professor and the Dean

Yours truly has an article on Kagan's nomination in today's Washington Times. My argument is that the "inexperience" line of questioning which Republicans are bound to pursue will only prove worthwhile if tied to her actual experience at Harvard Law School - particularly her expulsion of military recruiters.

Never mind that "don't ask, don't tell" is a federal law (the military does not make laws) passed by the Clinton administration and a Democratic Congress (Ms. Kagan worked in the Clinton White House) and that Ms. Kagan continues to esteem highly many of the authors of that policy (reserving her "abhorrence" for young recruiters simply following orders). Rather, focus on her unlawful disobedience of a federal statute, her resort to the courts only as an afterthought and her ultimate decision to relent her tempest-in-a-teapot rebellion only when the Supreme Court (which she hopes to join) unanimously rejected her legal objection to the law in an 8-0 opinion.

Of course, at that time, she was a dean and not a judge. But she was the ultimate role model to her students, leading by example as the dean of a prestigious law school. Her blatant disregard for laws that she found personally displeasing and intellectual satisfaction with legal arguments dismissed by even the most sympathetic judges reflect poorly on the adequacy of her judicial temperament and capacity for unbiased rulings.

I hope you will, as they say in the business, RTWT.


The Irony of the Adversary Culture

After years of Hollywood movies, newspapers, and tv and radio news piling on story after story of corruption and misconduct in government, business, and elsewhere, is it a surprise that Americans don't trust the government to do the right thing, and are skeptical about its ability to run the health care system for the public good, and not for the good of the insiders?
Categories > Politics

Health Care

Addicted by Choice?

James Q. Wilson's a review, in the latest Claremont Review of Books, of the provocative book, Addiction: A Dissorder of Choice, is now online.  A sample:

But if attitudes and sanctions affect drug use, how can we explain the familiar claims that people in drug treatment programs are rarely if ever cured and that "once an addict, always an addict"? The explanation is easy: these claims are not true.

Heyman draws on three major national surveys to show the falsity of the argument that addiction is a disease. The Epidemiological Catchment Area Study (ECA), done in the early 1980s, surveyed 19,000 people. Among those who had become dependent on drugs by age 24, more than half later reported not a single drug-related symptom. By age 37, roughly 75% reported no drug symptom.

The National Comorbidity Survey (NCS), done in the early 1990s and again in the early 2000s, came to the same conclusion: 74% of the people who had been addicts were now in remission. As with the ECA, the recovery rate was much higher than in the case of psychiatric disorders. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), done in the early 2000s with more than 43,000 subjects, came to pretty much the same conclusion.

Categories > Health Care


Strom Thurmond: Candidate of the Rising Generation

Maggie Gallagher directs us to a poll that shows young people like socialism more than the rest of the population and just love the progressive label.  That seemed disturbing enough that I followed the link.  She is right, but I found an even more amazing result.  The young are also the group most likely to support states' rights.  In fact they like states'  rights more than they like socialism, capitalism, progressivism or even civil liberties.  Eighty-four percent approve of states' rights and only fourteen percent dissapprove. Now either the Dixiecrats are set to sweep into power, or the poll is telling us that many young people don't know much about the history and policy associations of the labels they are being asked to evaluate. 

Just asking: Was there any word the pollster could have put in front of "rights" that would not have gotten a positive response?

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

David Cameron

The Queen has requested David Cameron to form a new government. He is thus the prime minister of the United Kingdom. But he presides over a hung Parliament, and so must now form a government with the Liberal Democrats. It's sort of like the Republicans needing to form a workable alliance with Ralph Nader and the Green Party. It won't be pretty.

Obama is calling Cameron in order to reach out to the new British government. The Tories have been rather cool toward America, while the Lib Dems border on outright hostility. So, now that Britain is a bit more adversarial and anti-American, perhaps Obama will finally begin treating them with a bit of respect.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Ashbrook Theses

The seniors graduated Saturday.  Although all the theses of all the graduates were fine, we chose the top three Ashbrook Statesmanship Theses for the Parton prize.  In no particular order:  George Alecusan, "The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun: An Argument Worth Refuting";  Ryan Brown, "The British Empire in India"; Timothy Haglund, "'Just as the Corybantes Hear the Flutes:' A Reading of Plato's Crito".  Congratulations to these worthy recipients of the Charles E. Parton Award!

Categories > Education


"Soporific" and "Kind of Disturbing"

These are words that David Brooks (who, let's face it, when he's good is brilliant) uses to describe Elena Kagan's writing and, also, her general attitude toward politics, her career, and the advancement of ideas.  Kagan's record of almost painful carefulness does not inspire--though it does seem to impress a certain kind of political actor.  Brooks reminds us that these are the "Organization Kids"--this soul type that Brooks nails as "kind of disturbing." 

Brooks does not really elaborate upon why he finds this ability to suppress the soul to be so disturbing, but he hints at a possible explanation when he notes her deadly-boring style of scholarship--with its cold, hard, lack of any poetical quality.  I think I know what he means and I share his distaste for such prose.  (The prospect of reading opinions authored by Elena Kagan makes it hard to regret not taking up Constitutional Law as a specialty . . .)  But then, too, this attitude he describes is sometimes couched in poetical, even seductive language . . . think of President Obama's many speeches employing the "false choice" rhetoric and appearing--on the surface--to build bridges.  There is something false in them . . . but it is not the choice he speaks of.

So I'd be careful of allowing distaste alone to color my explanation of what's disturbing in these "Organization Kids."  There is something deeper to it, in my view.  If a soul can suppress itself to this degree, is it not reasonable to assume that this same soul would have little problem with the methodical, cock-sure and robot-like suppression of the souls of others?  If it pleased her teachers and her benefactors, I suppose she might be pleased to do it . . .
Categories > Courts


Thinking about the Tory Surge

One of the more promising aspects of the GOP victories in 2000 and 2004 was the surprising coincidence of the fastest growing counties in the country voting for the GOP. These true progressives perhaps sensed that their economic and familial interests were better protected by a conservative party in power. Bush won something like 97 of the fastest 100 growing counties in 2000. Of course, after the routs in 06 and 08 much of this was forgotten. Just ask Sam Tanenhaus, who still defends his little book.

Michael Barone's recent piece on the Britsh elections suggest that this particular dynamic may have been at work and that it bodes well for further Tory gains. He notes the following:

Brown managed to rally his party's ancient base in factory towns and its more recent base among ethnic minorities and immigrants. But the middle-income suburban seats Blair won are almost all gone, and without them the party has no hope of a majority. In southern England and the Midlands, the majority and more prosperous part of the country, Conservatives won 224 parliamentary seats and Labor only 87.

Certain commentators have observed that the country party/court party dynamic may be a better way to think about our current politics. The country party consists of those who are on the inside and stand reasonably prosperous but are largely not in ruling circles of law, finance, business, government, etc. To be sure, philosophical polarities amongst conservatives and liberals remain, but may not be the best way to explain our current situation. The Tory success in the economically surging parts of Britain while Labor cobbled together a coalition of minority voters and denizes of the old manufacturing age, as well as many elderly citizens, can't bode well for that party's future. One wonders if we will see the return of a similar dynamic this fall and in 2012 in America. It seems likely that the parts of America that are growing will not entrust their future to an Obama dominated party. Also of note in the British elections were the Tory failures to improve their standing in some of the wealthies parts of England. This occurred despite slick marketing efforts made by Cameron. They probably would have been better off reaching to the outsiders who voted for the UK Independence Party.

This same dynamic seems obvious in our country. The conservative electorate and the tea partiers seem willing to change a lot of seats, mostly Democrat, but also entrenched GOP incumbents like Sen. Bennett of Utah. The coalition isn't Bob at the hedge fund and Joe the plumber. It is something very different, more stable, and a better trade off.

Categories > Conservatism


Questions for Kagan

The first questions I would have the Senators ask her involve the unamendable parts of the Constitution, as I have noted a couple times before.  But the particular questions I would ask Kagan involve her love of Jane Austen.  She allegedly rereads Pride and Prejudice every year.  Will some educated Republican staffer know that Pride and Prejudice is not a treatise about affirmative action?

I would ask her about love, manners, vulgarity, censorship, and tyranny--the themes explored by Azar Nafisi in her wonderful novel, Reading Lolita in Tehran, which has a most insightful chapter on Austen--see my initial post and follow-up.  In other words, force Kagan to make the case for civilization and explain what causes the coarsening of a culture--and its relationship to the rule of law.  She might also opine why Tocqueville's notion of the legal profession as America's aristocracy is now something of a lawyer joke.  The Republicans by and large muffed their chances with Sotomayor--they should have used her strengths against her, as I argued:  e.g., force her to repudiate racial/ethnic preferences. 

Proper questioning of Kagan will disperse this preposterous fluff about consensus-building (and ability to seduce Justice Kennedy), and we can get to the core problems, summed up in her defiance of federal law, as Bill elaborates below.  The point here is not to defeat her--likely impossible short of some scandal--but to expose the man who nominated her and those who vote to confirm her as failed guardians of liberty who should be defeated.

ADDENDUM:  Paul at Powerline notes that the three women Justices would come from three boroughs of New York. 

Categories > Courts

Impertinent Voters Challenge Their Superiors

Jonathan Entin, a political scientist and law professor at Case Western Reserve University, is dismayed that political opponents to the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court might not let her credentials speak for themselves.  "It says a lot about the state of American political discourse, that some of these folks want to have a serious debate about whether a former dean of the Harvard Law School who enjoys almost universal respect from colleagues of all philosophies and seems to have done an excellent job as Solicitor General is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court," Entin told the Huffington Post.  "Not that I'm surprised, given the degradation of civic culture these days."

Ah, for the good old days before the degradation of the civic culture.  Think back to the gentility with which the Senate considered the nomination to the Supreme Court of Samuel Alito.  That debate saw the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee try to prevent a vote on Alito's nomination with a filibuster, and the party's 2008 nominee join with all but four of the Senate Democrats to vote against Alito.

One thing the rabble who have the nerve to challenge a c.v. as golden as Kagan's might ask is a question posed by Peter Berkowitz in 2006 after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Congress has the right to withhold federal subsidies from universities whose law schools refuse to permit military recruiters to have the same access to their campus as other recruiters: "How could so many law professors of such high rank and distinction be so wrong about such straightforward issues of constitutional law?"  Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard law school at the time, was one prominent law professor who argued that the schools were justified in refusing to let the branches of the U.S. military recruit on their campus, and still receive uninterrupted and undiminished federal funding, because of the schools' opposition to the "don't ask - don't tell" policy enacted by Congress and implemented by the Pentagon. 

But Kagan was only one of many such professors.  The list includes Laurence Tribe, Walter Dellinger, Harold Koh, and others.  "This dazzling array of eminent law professors," writes Berkowitz, "proved incapable - even after hiring the best Democratic party legal talent money could buy - of advancing a single legal argument persuasive enough to pick off even a single dissent from the four more progressive justices on the court - Souter, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Stevens - or to provoke even a single concurrence expressing a single demurral on a single point of law from Chief Justice Roberts's opinion."

Let's hope that a few senators have the temerity to annoy Prof. Entin and question Ms. Kagan about her involvement in the case of Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Individual Rights.  It would be good to know whether she views the military with a degree of contempt and hostility that is common in Cambridge but would be considered outrageous in most of the country.  It would be good to know, more generally, whether her academic training and credentials have estranged her from the country whose future she may play a decisive role in shaping until the middle of this century.


Judges and Elections

Over at First Things, Rick Garnett writes that "the election of President Obama has turned out to matter a great deal for the future decisions and direction of the Supreme Court."  True enough, but I can imagine a scenario in which Obama loses and we still get two liberal Justices replaced by two liberal Justices.  Even if, by some miracle, McCain had beaten Obama, the Democrats would still have controlled the Senate. It is possible, but not I think plausible, that McCain would invested the huge amount of time and political energy it would have taken to get a Democrat controlled Senate to confirm a Supreme Court pick in the Roberts-Alito mold.  Who imagines McCain sending conservative Supreme Court pick after conservative Supreme Court pick even as the Senate votes them down or filibusters them until at last, worn out, the Senate okays a conservative pick?  I can imagine Huckabee showing such fortitude, but social conservatism (if not exactly constitutionalism) was more at the center of Huckabee's politics.  McCain has a pro-life voting record and he was a solid vote for conservative court nominees, but if McCain had to pick between expending his political energies on a court fight or something to do with foreign policy, does anybody doubt where he would invest his energy?  My best guess is that any Supreme Court picks that got confirmed under a combination of McCain presidency and Democrat controlled Senate would be Anthony Kennedys and the very best, and more likely David Souters.  Which was why, when it became clear that Obama and McCain were going to be the nominees, and that the Democrats would pick up seats in the Senate, I figured it would be a tough four years (at least) when it came to Supreme court vacancies. 
Categories > Courts

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for April

Congratulations to this month's winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Robert Ellis
Denver Higley
Philip Paulette
Howard Akin
Sue Kassulke

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 May's drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center


Monday Morning Musings

First, the economy.  Last Thursday at the office I listened to an alarming lunchtime presentation from two very good economists (Vince Reinhart and Des Lachman) arguing about whether the U.S. and global economy is heading for total catastrophe or merely disaster over the next few years, complete with the Woody Allen gag about hoping we have the wisdom to choose wisely.  Then I went back to my desk to see that the stock market had suddenly plunged 1,000 points, and thought--"Gee, I didn't realize we were webcasting that panel!"  

Now this morning's paper brings news of the $1 trillion bailout of Europe engineered in haste over the weekend.  Wall Street loves bailouts; I note that as of this early morning writing time, stock market futures are way up.  I wonder if the market will hold up all day.  I'm doubtful.

The Supreme Court.  So it's going to be Elena Kagan.  A solid pick from Obama's point of view, and I expect she will be confirmed fairly easily.  I think she may be overrated in her ability to swing Justice Kennedy, and may represent another botched pick in the fullness of time, like Sotomayor.  But it is increasingly apparent that in the Obama administration, the Supreme Court may as well have a sign up: White men need not apply.  What must someone of Cass Sustein's stature think about this state of things?

The Utah Senate.  So Sen. Bob Bennett has been shown the door by the state GOP, with a strong shove from the Tea Partiers, for his heresy of cavorting with Democrats on health care and voting for the TARP program.  Perhaps unfair on both counts, but on the other hand conservatives are right to have lingering disappointment with Republican profligacy in the Bush years, and some new blood is not a bad thing.  What is more noteworthy is the media reaction.  The Bennett ouster is taken as another sign of the dubious dominance of the extreme right wing, don'tchaknow, and obviously bad for America.  This precious line might have more credibility if the media mavens had made the symmetrical point about the left netroots ganging up on Joe Lieberman in 2008 for not toeing the leftist line, or for Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln right now, facing a challenge from the left for her reluctance about the Obama agenda.  If anyone in the MSM made this point about either of those instances I missed it.

Finally, climate.  The Wall Street Journal gives me a nice shout-out in its editorial this morning about the decline in CO2 emissions last year, an artifact of the recession, and goes on to mention the meaning of the Obama/Congressional target of an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2050:

Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute estimates that the last time U.S. emissions were that low, William Howard Taft was President.  On a per capita basis, the U.S. population of 420 million projected for 2050 would be held to the same overall emissions as the 40 million Americans in 1875.

Now, one coda about this factoid is that I have been pointing this out for more than two years now, both in print and in testimony before several congressional committees.  Normally the climate campaigners challenge any claim or fact contrary to the climate narrative, but no one has challenged my conclusion.  Typically the climate campaigners change the subject.  Must be an inconvenient truth.
Categories > Politics


It's Kagan

Obama's pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is, as expected, Solicitor General Elena Kagan. The New York Times and Washington Post already have (generally positive) coverage of the nominee on their sites, including biographies, notable writings and a glimpse of potential nomination issues.

In a break from precedent, Kagan has never been a judge (having withdrawn her name after a lengthy stall by Republicans). Her notable achievements have been as a White House advisor, Harvard Law School dean and present role as solicitor general. She should be considered a "stealth" candidate, as she has produced scant and inconsequential writings by which to determine her jurisprudence.

But, of course, there will be plenty of red meat for the confirmation hearings.

Categories > Courts

Foreign Affairs

Lessons From Britain?

I'm not totally sure what to make of the election results fron Britain in which the Tories just failed to win a majority in Parliament.  I think that one underplayed element is that if parliamentary seats had been reapportioned to account for Tory-leaning, high population growth areas in Southern and Middle England and the population declines in the Labor-leaning industrial North, the Tories would have won a majority and Cameron would be seen as a big winner.  I think.  On the other hand, you would think the main center-right party would be able to win 40% under favorable circumstances against a split center-left opposition.  My main takeaway is that in order to win, a winning agenda (a set of policies that command wide support on matters of high priority to the electorate) is much more important than a tonal change aimed to appeal to the liberal-leaning elements of the upper middle-class and waiting for a favorable environment.


Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Philosophy

Thought for the Day

How does Montesquieu's thesis about climate and character apply to Michigan? 

Men and Women

Happy Mother's Day!

Mother's Day, as a national day of celebration, is largely the handiwork of Ann Jarvis and her daughter, Anna. The holiday grew from women's peace groups following the Civil War, particularly the gatherings of mothers who had lost children on opposing sides of the war. Julia Ward Howe, perhaps most famous for having penned "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," wrote the "Mother's Day Proclamation" in 1870 as a call to celebrate the burgeoning holiday: 

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Categories > Men and Women

Men and Women

UN Bans Mothers' Day

Whenever you hear something so absurd as to defy credibility, always remember that it may be the work of the United Nations. A UN treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in order to protect women, proposes to:

Mandate abortion-on-demand (refuse conscientious objection by doctors)
Legalize prostitution
Restrict religious influences on gender perceptions
Mandate (UN-style) sex-ed and contraceptive proliferation
Eliminate gender roles in textbooks and society
Require a "redistribution of wealth among the population"

On the other hand, the "gender experts" crafting CEDAW demanded a ban on Mother's Day and criticized the Czech Republic for "over-protective measures for pregnancy and motherhood." Motherhood is a distasteful biological throw-back which stands in contrast to female progress, and, thus, laws sympathetic to pregnant women or mothers should be opposed. Women shouldn't be rewarded for limiting their freedom through pregnancy (and refusing to abort), after all.

When you're too radical for the most radical extremists in your own country, and you recognize there's no chance of converting others of your radicalism, you can always find a home in the UN and try to force your views on others through international conventions. The world envisioned by these people is a place few would want to live.

Categories > Men and Women


Ohio's Pro-Life Pride

John Boehner, the House minority leader from Ohio, has been awarded the "Henry Hyde Defender of Life" award by Americans United for Life. Boehner got a bit chocked up during his remarks. Though his status may have been an influence in the decision, Boehner is a worthy recipient of the accolade and a disciple of Mr. Hyde. Paul Mirengoff provides a short narrative of his pro-life credentials here.

Categories > Bioethics

Foreign Affairs

Greek Kristallnacht

Protestors in Greece have now firebombed several buildings and killed several people. Their banners are the communist hammer and sickle. Their leaders have responded to German charity conditioned upon sensible fiscal reform by denigrating them as Nazis and demanding funds as an entitlement.

Any pretense of innocence by Greeks continuing to support the protests has been lost. A rational conversation concerning the extent and shape of reform is necessary, of course - but those now marching in the streets are knowingly countenancing lethal violence as a political tool.

While attentive to our own self-interests, the U.S. and EU should allow Greece to starve until she has again regained her sanity and put her house in order. The lunatics running the asylum must be restrained in favor of a completely reformed perspective of economic leadership.

This is a European country, for God's sake. How far have they fallen? 

greek riot.jpg

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Jefferson's Originalism

Over at Bench Memos Matthew Franck and Ed Whelan are having fun at the expense of Joseph Ellis's attack on originalism. (Follow the chain of links to get all the posts and the original piece).  Ellis highlights Jefferson's comment:

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did beyond amendment. . . . Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs . . . Each generation is as independent of the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before.

Ellis, however, makes no distinction between the idea that we ought not to be afraid to change the constiution and the question of how such change ought to be done.  Jefferson, who wrote in 1776, "Let mercy be the character of the lawgiver, but let the judge be a mere machine" did not think that the Court, the branch of government least accountable to the people was the proper branch to do it. 

If a statute, say New York's Rent Control statute, is clearly an anachronism (it dates from the "temporary emergency" of World War) II, is out of date, that does not mean that Courts may simply say it is no longer in effect since the emergency which led to the creation of the law is no longer with us.  On the contrary, the representatives of the people of New York are the only ones who may change the law.  So too with constitutional provisions.  If, as many Americans (though not a majority) think, the right to bear arms or the death penalty are out of date, it is the job of the people (via the amendment power in the former case) and the legislature (in the latter case. Or the people via amendment again) to change it.  Why liberals find that logic so strange is beyond me.

Categories > Courts


Petraeus as Insurgent

Is Iraq the model for dealing with Progressivism and its fruits?  Gen. Petraeus describes his war of ideas on the army bureaucracy and their results in Iraq, at the AEI annual Irving Kristol dinner:

But [Army Chief of Staff] General Schoomaker wanted even more change, as he, too, was beginning to recognize the urgency of the situation in Iraq. And so, when he sent me to Fort Leavenworth, he gave me some simple, direct guidance. "Shake up the Army, Dave," he told me. I was delighted to salute and help do just that.

So there we were. The Army had just put an insurgent at the controls of its Engine of Change. The Chief of Staff had ordered me to shake things up. And that's what our team set out to do. Irving Kristol would have loved it...

Categories > Military


From the Old Despotism to the New

To add to Andy Busch's anti-Obamacare focus (highlighted by Julie below) read Matt Spalding on the connection between the Declaration's denunciation of the old despotism of Britain and the bureaucracy's new despotism: 

The greatest political revolution since the American Founding has been the shift of power away from the institutions of constitutional government to an oligarchy of unelected experts. They rule over virtually every aspect of our daily lives, ostensibly in the name of the American people but in actuality by the claimed authority of science, policy expertise, and administrative efficiency....  

Either the party of the modern state will unify its control and solidify its centralized model of government, or a new coalition of its opponents -- unified by a healthy contempt for bureaucratic rule and a determination to reassert popular consent -- will gain control of the political institutions of government and begin the difficult task of restoring real limits on government.

Categories > Progressivism


Keep Obamacare Front and Center for 2010 (and beyond)

Andrew Busch makes a powerful case for Republicans to keep the health care reform legislation debate front and center in the coming election and beyond. 

Upon first reading the title of his essay, I thought I was probably going to have to disagree, even if only slightly.  It's not that I disagree with him about the implications of Obamacare or that I don't understand what a problem it will be for the country if fully implemented, but I did wonder how and why this single issue could or should be the focus of GOP efforts.  There are many important issues before voters and this one is getting tiresome . . . Aren't people weary of it, I wondered?  I wondered that because in some ways, I suppose I am weary of it . . . I'm weary of the endless talk of mandates and premiums and the tiresome ideological preening that sometimes accompanies it.  I'm tired of the constant spewing of the mind-numbing details buried within 2000 pages piece of legislation and commented upon by "experts" who claim to understand it (but, one often thinks, maybe don't).  I'm tired of so much talk that seems at once to miss the point and, also, to be able to find it long enough to shroud it in an impenetrable fog.  So I wondered not only how Obamacare could remain front and center but, also, why Busch thought thinks that it should.  Then I read these two paragraphs:

The place to start [understanding how and why the GOP should keep Obamacare front and center] is by understanding what it is that people do not like about Obamacare. The answer here can be reduced to two points: Americans do not like the substance-mandates, taxes, spending, regimentation of health care. And they do not like the process-the way the bill was rammed through in a purely partisan vote against the manifest preference of the nation by members of Congress who made unseemly deals and did not even really know what was in it.

Health care reform is potentially such a powerful issue because it not only featured these flaws but has come to symbolize them. It is now a metaphor for both bloated and grasping government and sleazy, irresponsible government.

Bingo!  Busch goes on further to say, "As a result, it [health care reform] can be brought into the conversation any time either (or both) of those themes are present in other issues."  That's it.  Democrats have successfully created their "meme" and though it may not be the meme they hoped to create, it will be the one that they are forced both to lie and to lie in . . .

That's a good taste of the thing, but you should read all of Busch's article and digest all of his good insights.

Categories > Elections


Cooler Heads Should Prevail on the Question of Off-Shore Drilling

Mac Owens writes a brief, clear, and straight-to-the-point argument calling for reason to prevail in the debate over whether or not we should proceed with plans to allow off-shore drilling.  Without dismissing the tragedy of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, Owens is able to see through the fog of emotion and give us three compelling points--including one previously noted here by our own Steve Hayward--for consideration.  In brief, the costs (in lives, toil, treasure and environmental risk) are too great to permit us to rush to a hasty and regrettable reaction.  We should, of course, do what we can to prevent future large scale disasters.  But the moment we imagine we can eliminate the risk of them from life is the moment we begin the deliberate creation of far greater disasters. 
Categories > Technology


Fencing Arizona

Because the federal government is not doing a good enough job securing the Arizona border, the result has been a rise in crime along the boder and elsewhere in Arizona. Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the U.S.  Since border policing is a federal job, Arizona has chosen to enforce immigration law by checking the residency status of people who law enforcement officers have already stopped and who they have reason to suspect may not be here legally.

Alternatively, could Arizona use the power of eminent domain to take over a patch of land parallel to the border, declare it a state park, and fence the entire thing?  Then they could enforce trespassing laws there if anyone breaks through the fence.

Categories > Politics


Defend Constitutionalism

Joseph Wesley Postell, assistant director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for American Studies and Ashbrook graduate, writes a solid piece in today's Washington Times delineating the difference between constitutionalism and the bastardization of it that is represented in our unthinking adulation of its opposite, the administrative state;  an excellent primer on the both the founding and the progressive turn.  RTWT . . .
Categories > Politics


This Explains Why Half Our Students Can't Read, And the Other Two-Thirds Can't Write

I mentioned last week that the Los Angeles Times ran an article of mine on California's tax-limiting Proposition 13. It is based on a longer essay that appears in the current City Journal.

One point I made in the Times concerned the relation between classroom overcrowding and teachers' compensation:

Make teachers expensive, and schools will hire fewer of them. According to statistics for 2008-09 from the National Education Assn., California's public schoolteachers are America's most highly compensated, with an average salary of $66,986, 24% above the national average. A job that requires nine months of work for $66,986 corresponds to one that pays $89,312 for 12. The majority of California taxpayers not only earn less than $89,312 a year but cannot receive, as Los Angeles teachers can, guaranteed lifetime tenure after a drive-by performance evaluation in their second year on the job.

One of the letters to the editor the Times ran yesterday read:

Voegeli's math regarding California teachers' salaries is illogical and odd. He states that the average teacher's salary is $66,986 for nine months of work, which corresponds to a job that pays $89,312 for 12 months of work. Many teachers work only 9 1/2 months because that is the length of the school year. That $66,986 is all there is.

Some teachers may get additional jobs, but probably few make enough during summer --which is about 10 weeks--to bring their salaries up to Voegeli's fictitious $89,312.

It certainly has never happened in my two-teacher household.

We can only hope neither of the educators in that household teaches English, mathematics or logic.  There isn't anything that tricky about pointing that a job paying $66,986 for nine months of work corresponds to one paying $89,312 for 12, is there?  $7,442.89 per month yields $66,986 over nine months and $89,315 (after rounding) over 12. 

My instructor sounds aggrieved that few people in her line of work have the chance to work during the summer at the same salary they receive during the school year.  It's hard to believe that no one mentioned, as she was going through the certification process, that this country does not have 12-month school years.  Those ten weeks off during the summer - plus two in the winter, one in the spring, and a generous sprinkling of other holidays - seem to be a huge part of the reason so many people start the certification process.  Conversely, a lot of auto mechanics and store clerks would be happy to have the option of taking one fourth of the year off, but it's a package that's rarely made available.

Any questions?
Categories > Education


Sense, Sensibility, and the Art of Conservative Realism

In thinking about criticism that might be rendered of the current social and cultural order, we are, I think, remiss if we immediately translate its finer points into political consequences. Hanson's post and my linking to it was never an exercise in "reclaiming conservative pessimism" or engaging in "conservative whining." Rather, it was an attempt to highlight one of the more unintended consequences of the enormous economic comfort and opportunities that have happened in our country over the last 30 years. This is the complacency of comfort and the endless choices it fleetingly promised so many. American life, characterized from the beginning, as the search for God and mammon, both being held in a delicate balance, seems to have forgotten the former in crucial ways. We wanted endless prosperity. Instead, we might be in a period of reversal of fortune. Of course, American conservatism, with significant exceptions, has for understandable reasons defined itself in terms of offering more choices, opportunites, and comforts if its policies are given an opportunity. This is not to deny the authenticity of the claims, claims that I agree with wholeheartedly. But it must not deny larger consequences that issue from life lived on these terms without contact with firm moral realism and the awareness of how fragile our situation is.

Hanson's thoughts on the dread 20somethings, or on the bobos of Palo Alto, are intimately related because both groups are quite divorced from the moral, philosophical, dare I say religious, and labored grounding of a great republic. I think it obvious that Hanson comes not from a place of "whining" but the cool reasoning and observation that flowers from a life spent in the classics. From his perspective, we are woefully lacking in the firm stuff of civilization, and thus we continue to fretter away our advantages. Cut off from the generational reserves of virtue and mercy, we seem peculiarly unable to insist on the imperatives of a free society. Ms. Ponzi is, of course, exempted from this claim.

We are in the condition of a great freedom but without the moral authority and guidance necessary to its fruitful consequences. To note these glaring instances that exist most prominently in university towns, or in the multiplying instances of economic inpatient care amongst recent graduates, is of imminent value. This does not lead to the "ought" of pessimism and retreat from the public square, but does help the public intellectual understand the evolving terms of engagement. In many ways, the rush to condemn cultural observation because it does not comport with needed political narratives is terribly unwise. Shortened intellectual time horizons are unbecoming in an intellectual movement whose task is to make real in our time the enduring truths of our constitutional order. We must have all the information and be fully aware of the moment. Otherwise, we are doomed, doomed!  

Categories > Conservatism


The Politics of Immigration Reform

I was watching Juan Williams on Fox last night, and he was pointing out, almost certainly correctly, that people with darker skin in Arizona will be more likely to have their immigration status checked than will light skinned people.  He seems to think that because he comes from a minority group and has dark skin that he has a special duty to police such things.  No doubt it is good to have people paying special attention to the issue.  On the other hand, it is wrong for someone to be the sole judge in his own case, which is precisely the position Williams, and minority rights advocates generally seem to take.  They seem to think that their personal interest in the issue gives them clarity, and not bias or interest.

On this point, many people seem to think that merely having officers ask people for their papers makes the U.S. like Nazi Germany.  Hardly.  There's a big difference between checking whether people who have committed crimes are citizens and or of they are here illegally, and sending people whose families have lived here for centuries to gas chambers. Amazing that one needs to point that out.

P.S. Since Mexico is complaining about U.S. immigration law, perhaps we should change our law, to Mexico's.

Categories > Politics


The Go To Article on Election 2010

Bookmark it for reference!
Categories > Elections


Obey to Retire

Chairman of Appropriations, David Obey is to announce his retirement today, according to CNN.  This is a bit of a surprise, although maybe less of one when you consider the low Democratic turnout in yesterday's elections (OH, NC, IN).  GOP turnout was up across the board.
Categories > Elections


Pesuasion and Conservative Whining

With all due respect to the illustrious Mr. Marshall of our blog--to say nothing of the often insightful, witty and perceptive Victor Davis Hanson--I can sum up my feeling about their speculation of a "lost generation"of young people in American politics with one word:  poppycock!

The only thing that might be called a "loser" in the description Hanson and Marshall (with his gloss of "loser" upon Hanson's "lost") offer of the lives and thinking of young people is the inclination in both toward smug judgment and the political resignation that seems swiftly to follow upon the heels of that judgment.  Honestly, I am at a loss--judging solely from these posts--as to how Hanson and Marshall arrived at this "understanding" of the thinking of young people.  Hanson appears more to have examined them under a microscope--as if they were insects . . . or, perhaps, he is a Dr. Zaius figure in a world that has passed by the rest of us with no need of the time travel Mr. Paulette disposes of here?  Hanson eavesdrops on people's conversations uninvited, for example, instead of bothering actually to engage them in conversation . . . you know, as if they were men and fellow Americans, like him, and worthy of the effort.  Marshall appears happy to accept these descriptions on the basis of Hanson's authority.  Or perhaps it confirms his own assessment of reality? 

While I've no doubt that there are plenty of people now happily fitting the descriptions of sloth and disengagement Hanson offers, I have serious doubts about both the newness of this phenomenon (after all, the relative "poverty" of even 40 years ago was something shoulders above what it was 40 years before that . . . and I suspect that there was, at that time, more than a few VDHs around to point out the "problem," pontificate about the disconnect it creates between human beings and the struggle of life, and pronounce it an unsustainable development) and about the depth and breadth of the problem--even if the nature of the thing is exactly as he describes.

How, for example, does he know that he is right about this:
While many were fit, and seem to work out, bike, ski, and hike, none understood the mechanics that lie beneath the veneer of the good life -- the chain-sawing, hammering, drain-unplugging, tractor-driving, irrigating, and welding that allows a pleasant afternoon Greek salad and cappuccino on University Avenue -- the disconnect between those Pennsylvania "clingers" and Obama's arugula-eating crowd.  [emphasis mine]

Did he ask any of them if they'd ever wielded a chain-saw or unplugged a drain?  Some of them, surely, must know how to do these things because there is still plenty of lumber and I've heard nothing of the "great drain-clogging crisis" in America.  If he were to spend some time in my community--say, talking with the dads at the Little League field--he'd discover plenty of line-men, plumbers, electricians, policemen . . . you name it--all comfortably middle-class, shopping at Wal-Mart and Best Buy, raising their children and engaged, as much as possible in a life filled with work, family and other "distractions," in the politics of our time.  And guess what?  Plenty of them eat arugula and enjoy going to Starbucks!  The two are no more mutually exclusive.  Moreover, there are a good number of these "regular guys" who are very much connected to the workaday world as well as to "what it takes" to put together a Greek salad who, despite all this material understanding and connection to the physical world, think and vote as Liberals.  And, if you ask them, they will likely give you a decent argument--be it based in interest or in ideology--as to why they think and vote that way. 

I am well aware that Mr. Hanson, especially, works mightily to keep himself close to his agricultural roots and feels a deep sense of connection with the common-sense approach of the hard-working men and women of America.  That is to be applauded and he is right to be critical of politicians and pundits who sneer instead of sympathize with this essential part of America.  But I wonder if Mr. Hanson does not, himself, engage in another kind of sneering.  If that common sense approach to life that he so cherishes is threatened, is it really threatened, in the main, by changing material conditions?  That seems too easy an explanation to me.  And also, it's a bit of a cop out. 

I say it's a cop out because it allows the holder of the view to cling to an imagined "noble" resignation; a particularly distasteful attitude that I find to be far too common on the right.  It permits exactly the kind of disengagement for conservatives that conservatives bemoan in others.   It allows a good number of would-be conservatives to write off an entire generation of Americans as "lost";  just as so many of them are happy to write off blacks or immigrants because they find persuading them or engaging them in manful conversation . . . well, difficult. 

It's far easier to point to changing physical realities--government policies, relative prosperity, even obesity!--for a possible explanation than it is to question whether or not your side has bothered to put together a cogent argument that can resonate with those realities and with that audience.  However "lost" these Americans are by Hanson's lights, they are Americans.  At bottom and at heart, they are Americans (or, perhaps, in some cases only potential Americans) no matter how disfigured the times, their president, the Democrat party, and their parents (more than likely of Mr. Hanson's generation) have made them.  Either men are capable of self-government or they are not.  This kind of fundamental equality, Coolidge famously noted, if true is final.  It does not change with the times or the circumstances. 

I am so weary of this tendency of conservatives when faced with the significant moral and intellectual challenge of real political persuasion--be it with blacks or with Hispanics or, now, with young people--to throw up their hands and pronounce it impossible.  Is it?  How do we know? 

If conservatives really believe that, they damn themselves and not just in the obvious way of pathetic electoral and political results.  They damn, above all, their intentions and motives.  And this is the basis of so much of the distrust that actually does make persuasion impossible.  The charge leveled against conservatives is that we "do not care" about minorities, young people and the otherwise downtrodden of society.  If leading conservatives persist in this meme that blacks, Hispanics, and young people are not persuadable (no matter how the sentiment is masked by reference to the manipulative ways of class-conscious leftists) they betray a fundamental belief in the left's assumptions.  Or, if not quite that, they betray an astounding lack of ambition that ought, really, to condemn them to the fate of those they appear to find "impossible" to persuade.   With thinking like that, why should anyone in those groups bother to buy it?

It is fair to note the difficulty of the problem of persuasion, certainly.  It is fair to note the ways in which downtrodden groups can, have, and will be manipulated by n'er do well left-leaning pols for the purpose of extracting their votes and adulation.  It is fair, even, to make cogent observations about the material conditions around us that contribute to making persuasion more difficult.  One needs to know one's audience--not to pander to it, but to eliminate the possibility of stupid unnecessary blunders that work to sever trust.  Does Hanson really know it?  Can one know it using his methodology of microscopic/anthropological observation?  It seems to me supremely unfair for conservatives who are either too tired or too intimidated to engage in this conversation to accept the designation of "losers" implicitly offered by the patronizers of the Left about groups neither one of them seems willing to be bothered actually to engage.  It is to lose the argument without even taking it up and to accept a reality at odds with the principles we are supposed, as Americans, to defend.

This kind of dismissive whining is unbecoming in Americans--all of us.  We ought not to indulge in it.

UPDATE:  For something amusing that also speaks to the point of conservative pessimism and seeming enjoyment of "loser-dom", look at this today from Jonah Goldberg.
Categories > Conservatism


Radicalism of the Revolution

Earlier this week, the favorite historian of the American establishment, Gordon Wood had an op-ed piece in the NY Times reminding us that "the men who led the revolution against the British crown and created our political institutions were very used to governing themselves."  He notes that one thing that set Americans apart from just about everyone else in the world in the 1760s and 1770s was that large numbers of people could and did vote.  Moreover, they were used to politics. They knew the difference between compromising and selling out:

If one wanted to explain why the French Revolution spiraled out of control into violence and dictatorship and the American Revolution did not, there is no better answer than the fact that the Americans were used to governing themselves and the French were not. In 18th-century France no one voted; their Estates-General had not even met since 1614. The American Revolution occurred when it did because the British government in the 1760s and 1770s suddenly tried to interfere with this long tradition of American self-government.

After the revolution, Americans made some efforts to guarantee rotation in office, but, in the end, they decided that such rules were problematic, for they would deprive the government of expertise. Taking dead aim at anti-incumbent sentiment, he concludes, "Yet precisely because we are such a rambunctious and democratic people, as the framers of 1787 appreciated, we have learned that a government made up of rotating amateurs cannot maintain the steadiness and continuity that our expansive Republic requires."

The founders also knew that establishments grow insular, and need to be shaken up from time to time.  They did not live in a world where incumbents won re-election more than 90% of the time. 

We should also remember that in the early republic there was virtually no permanent bureaucracy, and the legislative branch was jealous of its prerogaties.  Nowadays, the legislatre often delegates legislative power to tenured civil servants.  That's hard to square with government by consent, and, therefore, with the principles of 1776.

It is also amusing to see someone who claims to think that the "historical process" is the driver of history employing history in the "philosophy teaching by example" mode.

Categories > History

Foreign Affairs

The Costs of Containment

I link so often to the Sage of Mt. Airy that I should probably turn in my NLT blogging license (I await wry comments).  In his latest post, the former Air Force flier (and political theorist) recalls a conference he attended in Bahrain, in 1999.  He applies his observations to our Iran policy.  I'll state his conclusion, in hopes that you read the build-up.

In order to relieve the boredom, the pilots had turned the mission into a game, in this case a game of luring a particular Iraqi pilot into the air in order to shoot him down.

Now imagine that attitude, our mission is a bore, spreading to an entire army. At the very least this is not conducive to the maintenance of a highly disciplined fighting force. With respect to Iran, containment may well be the policy our political leadership finally decides to pursue. Or, in the absence of more decisive action, it may come to be so by default. In either case, we should be under no illusion that it's a strategy of defending the nation on the cheap. The costs are considerable and they are not always immediately apparent.

Addendum:  The Sage's previous post commented on a piece on Iran by Michael Anton.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Health Care

A Health Care Suggestion

I'm trying to think of a politically feasible first step for moving our health care system in a more consumer-oriented direction.  Why not start with the government?  Health care costs for municipal employees are putting a major structural strain on budgets.  One possible way out of this is to get the government employees to contribute more in premiums or somethng, but that is only a band aid and only good unitl that particular public employee union's contract expires.  Why not try something more radical?  One alternative would be for the state government to enroll state and municipal employees in an HSA/catastrophic coverage plan like the one that Mitch Daniels implemented in Indiana - though it might have to be phased in as public employee contracts expire. If Daniels is right and HSA's reduced Indiana's health care costs for state employees by 11% at 70% enrollment, it would represent a huge savings to the taxpayer with no negative health outcomes for the employees.  This kind of plan seems to be popular with Indiana state employees, but I can see resistance from current employees who are attached to their own plans.  Thats okay.  Resisting unsustainable health expenses for government employeees and replacing the current system with one that will provide quality health care (and maybe put a few extra dollars in the pockets of those employees) while saving the taxpayers millions of dollars shouldn't be an unwinnable fight.

Ony one problem.  It might be be against federal law.  I think the Indiana HSA plan for federal employees is grandfathered in, but it seems like new rules on HSAs in Obamacare would involve complicated rules that would make HSAs much less attractive in any future plan.  For one thing, you wouldn't get to keep money left over at the end of the year, You would just roll it over for retirement costs or future payments to Cobra if you should lose your job.  You have to give Obama credit.  He can even turn HSAs into a form of comprehensive prepayment for health care expenses.

But thats okay.  It gives the Republicans in Congress something to do.  They can a push for waivers for the states to experiment with HSAs for government employees.  They can sell this as a bailout for struggling states and cities in which the taxpayers will actually save money. They can explain the refusal to grant waivers as Washington arrogance that is forcing towns and cities to raise taxes and cut back on government services.  That is also probably a winnable fight on the level of public relations.  And Obama won't be President forever. The first step is winning the argument.  I can see one seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  Even if, in 2012 or 2016, there is a Republican President and a Republican majority in Congress, it is very unlikely that Republicans will have the required 60 vote supermajority in the Senate.  The Democrats would have the ability to use the filibuster to resist changes that would push the American health care system in a more consumer-driven direction rather than further along the state-run path (and Obamacare is only the first step.).  I have one word for you: Reconciliation.  

Categories > Health Care

Foreign Affairs

My Kind of Terrorist?

Jonah Goldberg posts a very thoughtful (and thought-provoking) few paragraphs over at The Corner today on the unfortunate tendency--both of the right and of the left--to wait with bated breath, in the aftermath of an attempted or actual terror attack, to discover if the perpetrator was "their kind of terrorist"--by which I mean the kind of terrorist who will not cause negative attention to be directed toward their side of the political aisle.  While Goldberg is quick to point out that it is ridiculous to assume that anyone (at least anyone worth regard) from either side is actually gleeful upon receipt of such news, there is good reason for both sides to check this tendency to be relieved when it turns out to be less of a political nuisance and inconvenience to their side.  We all need to remember that all people who would do violence to our nation or to our people deserve our contempt--whatever their motivation--and all would-be terrorists demand our best efforts at curtailing theirs.  We would be making serious progress toward the goal of limiting terrorist activity of all varieties if and when both sides of our national political divide feel safe enough to trust the good faith of the other at least insofar as we are united in this purpose.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Properly Disposing of Time Travel

I try not to talk about these things too often, but Stephen Hawking, speaking loosely and probably after knocking back one-too-many, has publicly suggested the possibility of time travel. He reaffirms that travel into the past is impossible, so there's no need to quibble on that point. However, he posits the potential to travel forward, relying on Einstein's theory that objects nearing the speed of light progress through time at a "relatively" slower rate than objects on Earth. That is, a person moving at 98% of the speed of light for 20 years would find the Earth had "aged" 7,500 years.

Yet this is not due to a traveler having stepped outside a "stream" of time and reinserting himself in an extant, "future" age already in place and waiting to be discovered. Rather, in accordance with static theories of time as a non-progressive measurement of "aging," it simply reveals the unified application of time's effect on various objects in a consistent manner, according to their relative conditions (i.e., speed). So, there is no future world (or infinite worlds) already in place, merely awaiting our arrival. Time is simply the observation of material entropy and the extinction of potential possibilities (i.e., thoughts and actions) through the free-willed choice of particular decisions during a single, ever-present moment.

Steve is so sloppy about these things sometimes.

Categories > History


Only in New York

NYC's Mayor Bloomberg, asked by Katie Couric as to the identity of the would-be Times' Square bomber, suggest a "homegrown" and "mentally deranged" loner ... like someone opposing Obama's healthcare bill.

BLOOMBERG: Home-grown, maybe a mentally deranged person or somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something.

I assumed Bloomberg was joking. He doesn't seem to be. Note that when these remarks aired, the Taliban in Pakistan had taken credit for the attack, the Washington Post reported it was "coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links," and the AP identified a suspect as "a man of Pakistani descent who recently traveled to Pakistan."

Is Bloomberg simply displaying the absurdity of New York style political correctness, where Muslims simply may not be named in association with terrorism, or does he truly believe that the tea-party is behind the attack?

Categories > Journalism

Pop Culture

Victor Davis Hanson on the propect of a lost generation

Victor Davis Hanson's excellent post on his recent trip to Palo Alto fuels thought on Obama's racial and age-driven appeals to voters. Not much has been written on the phenomenon of those aged 21-30 who already, unlike their boomer parents, have to contend with a supremely competitive globalized labor market, and who also now face unemployment approaching 20%. Their entry into middle-class life will be delayed as well as marriage and children. Hanson hints that the real casualty will be yet another group divorced from real citizenship as their primary means of support are "outsourced" to their parents  and social service agencies while they maintain consumerist trappings with their reduced incomes. This divorce from responsibility will certainly not aid this group in being independent and capable of self-government. Gone are the qualities of their grandparents and great-grand parents utilized in even tougher times.


In appealing to this group of situated losers as losers, and in need of his policies, Obama continues the work of the classic redistributionist politician. Frugalities, suffering, hardship are so difficult and unnecessary. Hanson's note on trips to Bestbuy and to get the latest iPod are instructive of the mentality.

Categories > Pop Culture

The Founding

White House Drops "In the Year of our Lord"

See my previous posts on Presidential Proclamations dating of the designated event in explicitly Christian terms and from the Declaration of Independence.  Despite professed good intentions, the alteration in fact makes the honored Jewish Heritage Month less included for political purposes.  And such a feeling (and reality) of inclusion is what a presidential proclamation is intended to bring about.  Of course, the next move will be to drop the Proclamation dating system--and separate Proclamations from the Constitution's original dating language and the Constitution.

Can you imagine George Washington's Touro Synagogue letter rewritten by the Obama White House?  Do the descendants of those Americans feel less secure than their spiritual ancestors?  "May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants--while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Categories > The Founding


Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State

Bill Voegeli's book just landed on my desk.  Very impressive.  This really is a "must read" book!  As Steve Hayward says in his foreword, "It is about nothing less than the meaning and character of Modern America." Congratulations, Bill.

Categories > Education

Shameless Self-Promotion

Kudlow & Co.

Video of my appearance last night on the Kudlow Report is now up on the Interwebs.  I come in at about the 2:30 mark.


Free Speech and "Liberal Tolerance"

A Christian preacher in England was arrested over the weekend for telling a woman that engaged him in conversation that he believed God disapproves of homosexuality. While the arrest alone is foolishly deplorable in a country nominally committed to free-speech, the details are more interesting.

[The preacher] was handing out leaflets explaining the Ten Commandments or offering a "ticket to heaven" with a church colleague ... when a woman came up and engaged him in a debate about his faith.

During the exchange, ... he quietly listed homosexuality among a number of sins referred to in 1 Corinthians, including blasphemy, fornication, adultery and drunkenness.

After the woman walked away, she was approached by a PCSO [police community support officer] who spoke with her briefly and then walked over to [the preacher] and told him a complaint had been made, and that he could be arrested for using racist or homophobic language.

The street preacher said...: "I am not homophobic but sometimes I do say that the Bible says homosexuality is a crime against the Creator".

...the PCSO then said he was homosexual and identified himself as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender liaison officer for Cumbria police. [The preacher] replied: "It's still a sin."

... Three regular uniformed police officers arrived ..., arrested [him] and put him in the back of a police van.

First, what is a "police community support officer" and are tax-payers funding the local police's "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender liaisons?" Second, is there any doubt that this PCSO is the one with the complaint, and not the woman he approached? Third, is there any doubt that the PCSO's intention was to intimidate and silence the preacher because he personally disagreed, as a gay man, with the message? Fourth, does this arrest, and others like it, for simply having a conversation in public, not demonstrate the comparative weakness of personal liberty in the face of European-style liberal tolerance?

The Public Order Act was intended to curb rioters and (no kidding) football hooligans in England. It was immediately used by liberal activists, however, to target Christian groups for messages with which they disagree. Yet Democrats, inspired by such events, are staunch supporters of "hate crimes," the conservative-talk-radio-targeting "fairness doctrine" and university "speech codes" - all intended to duplicate the European model in the U.S. This is not the "freedom" intended by the Founders. 

Categories > Progressivism

Foreign Affairs

Unions and Commies

Greeks are striking again. No surprise there. But, a cursory glance at the protests organized by "Greek civil servants" seems to reveal a few unifying symbol: hammers, sickles and lots of red flags.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that events organized by European labor unions are always dominated by communists and Marxist propaganda. But I doubt it. 


Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

The (UN) World We Live In

A UN watchdog notes (with commentary) recent UN election results:

Such is the consequence of cultural relativism and global equivalency. The essay goes into further depth on the "dictatorships and human rights basket-cases elected to UN leadership roles and positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their qualifications."

Categories > Foreign Affairs

A False Middle

Obama's Saturday speech at Michigan University was really good at showing off Obama's skill as a rhetorical strategist and also showed that Obama has relearned some old liberal tricks.  Obama's speech was, on the surface, a defense of civility in political life, but was actually an implied defense of his administration's economic policies.  Several rhetorical approaches stuck out.

1.  Like FDR before him, Obama co-opts the language of skepticism of overly large or expensive government.  Just like FDR said excess government needed to be cut, Obama said that skepticism of the government was "a strand of our Nation's DNA", but a strand that needed balancing with the idea that "government must keep pace with the times."  This reduces the idea of limits on government to the judgement of the technocrat who must balance his "skepticism" about expanding his own power over society with the needs of the times. Is there really any doubt that the needs of society will require the technocrats to expand their power?  We had to take over GM, we could do no other.  I also think that this is in some ways an insight into the mind of a certain kind of left-leaning technocrat.  They don't want the government to intervene in the economy any more than they have to.  If it was up to them, GM would be profitable without much government involvement.  Same thing with the environment and energy.  If the Earth could be saved and millions of awesome green job created without a huge program of taxes and subsidies, that would be best, but the pace of the times call for cap and trade.  Now on to health care...

2.  Obama is smart to implicitly defend his statist policies in nonpartisan terms.  Obama implicitly puts himself in the tradition of TR trust busting and Eisenhower highway building rather than focusing on the building and expansion of the welfare state under FDR and LBJ.  This is a smart move and is in contrast to the crude and transparent partisan history of the most overpraised liberal speech of the 1980s. 

Political Parties

The Portrait of Charlie the Gray

The Florida Republican Party has placed a portrait of Charlie Crist painted in oil and originally commissioned by the FL GOP on eBay.  The accompanying text about a politician who would sell his soul--to say nothing of the fortunes of Florida Republicans--for personal power and glory is . . . priceless. 

Unlike the picture of Dorian Gray, I hope this picture never ages.  The RNC should purchase it and put it in a place of national prominence in order to remind itself and its constituent members of what can happen when Republicans make the mistake of elevating men of low-minded ambition and insufficient self-reflection.  It is one thing to throw caution to the wind and pursue your ill-conceived self-interest to the point of personal self-destruction . . . but to do it upon the backs, the donations and political fortunes of your fellow citizens and former supporters is beyond the ordinary sort of Faustian bargain.
Categories > Political Parties

Shameless Self-Promotion

Media Alert

I'm scheduled to appear on the Kudlow Report on CNBC at 7 pm eastern time to talk about oil spills.  Should be the lead segment right at 7 pm, but these things sometimes change at the last minute.


Italian Soccer-Politics

During lunch at the local mensa today, it was explained to me that Lazio, one of the two soccer teams in Rome, may have thrown yesterday's game to Inter Milan, because Rome, the other club in Rome, is vying with Inter for first place, and the rivalry between Lazio and Rome is so intense that Lazio would rather throw a game and allow Milan to take the trophy rather than see their rival ranked #1.

And this was accepted by my Italian companions are non-startling and rather mundane.

My questions:

1) Would American sports fans default to another local team (probably a rival) if their team were knocked out of contention, or would they support "anyone but..."? (The NY Yankees and Dallas Cowboys don't count for this question.)

2) Would American sports fans ever accept Italy's degree of rivalry, whereby games are fixed and significant rival losses are more important than one's own wins?

3) Does this sort of thinking in soccer shed a great deal of light on the rise of Berlusconi and Italian politics?

Categories > Sports

Political Philosophy


Kathryn Jean Lopez writes today of some bracing and beautiful tales of Americans who know what it is both to enjoy and to fight for their freedom.  I am speaking, of course, of Americans who have had to emigrate here because they were born in places that were hostile to the spirit of freedom and to the manful capacity of human beings to govern themselves.  Their gratitude reminds us--even as their courage and determination ought, also, to shame us--that we are among the fortunate of the earth.  In our freedoms and in our remarkable Constitution (designed, as it was, to preserve those freedoms), we have been given something rare and precious in the history of world.  

But we native-born Americans tend, often, to forget this.  Maybe we get lost in our charming but naïve idealism--finding every imperfection intolerable and a cause for damning the whole project.  Maybe we forget how difficult (nay, seemingly impossible) the original task of securing that freedom was.  In the face of imperfection and our feeling that we deserve its opposite, we don't remember to appreciate real achievement--as if doing so might suggest that we are satisfied.  Or maybe, conversely, some of us actually are satisfied; too satisfied.  Perhaps we get complacent in a smug assumption that history has progressed (or is progressing) to a point where the rights of man can never safely be denied--at least not here.  Maybe we think we can afford a little intellectual laziness because tyranny can't touch us. 

In reality, there is something of truth--both of the ugly and of the beautiful sort--in both of these attitudes.  There is something very American in both and for all the trouble they sometimes bring, I wouldn't will either away.  But it is also true that by themselves (and even working together) these attitudes are insufficient to the preservation of our liberties.  We shouldn't be satisfied with imperfection and we can't pretend that we are above reproach--but, darn it, we need to get a grip.  We need to be grateful as we recall how remarkable our situation is.  Forgetting to be grateful is the same thing, really, as forgetting to love and life becomes unbearable when we do that.  True love is an action, not a sentiment.  And all love that is not divine love begins in gratitude.  Gratitude, in turn, ought to inspire us to understand, to preserve, to protect and, above all, to bring honor to our beloved.  We have to remember to be grateful for America.

Reminding us of this is what Americans who were born in the wrong place do better than anyone nurtured in the relative freedom and prosperity of this country can do. 

If after reading Lopez's column you can do with more of this medicine (and it's difficult to OD on this stuff), remind yourself of this, and this and, of course, this.


Should GOP Rent-to-Own Congress?

The WSJ forwards the proposition that Republicans may wish to win enough seats in the House to remain just shy of a majority. The strategy has been circulating for a bit, and Gerald Seib does a fine job of fleshing it out: they would be well positioned for 2012, but as a minority would take less blame for Washington's dysfunctions.

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line strongly dissents, on both strategic and ethical principles. The GOP would share only a small percent of the public's discontent due as a majority in the House, but those seats would be easier to defend as incumbents. And a House majority could prevent further legislation harmful to the country. "To the extent that Republicans wish to avoid responsibility for controlling the House in 2011, they betray a lack of fitness to control it thereafter."

My heart is with Paul - take all you can while you can get it, God only knows what will happen tomorrow in politics - but in the event that the GOP fails to win a majority, I admit that the WSJ's reasoning will offer great consolation.

Categories > Elections


A Primer in Relative Risk Assessment

Over at NRO's Corner, I explain why the political overreaction to the oil spill in the Gulf will likely increase environmental risk and environmental damage over the long run.  Not that it will matter: the memes that take hold after these extraordinary catastrophes are more persistent than organophosphates.
Categories > Environment


No More Entry: "Equal Justice Under the Law"

This news has me nodding my head in agreement or, at least, in half-agreement with Justices Breyer and Ginsberg.  The closing of the stately and impressive main entrance to the Supreme Court building is--at a minimum--"unfortunate."  I do not presume to know whether or not it is "unjustified" but I do hope that this and similar measures shutting off access (or, at any rate, making such access difficult and unpleasant) does not become a permanent feature of American life.  There is just something about it that does not suit our character as a people or our stature as a nation.  It may, indeed, be necessary in the face of real threats that cannot otherwise be handled or prevented, but it seems to me that we need to do more to remind ourselves that not every threat can be eliminated.  The example this posture sets does not appeal.  We appear, at once, to be punishing ourselves and also cowering in fear.  I will not go so far as to say that such a posture is always unjustified . . . but I will say this much:  I don't like it.
Categories > Courts


I'm thinking my way through Obama's University of Michigan speech form this Saturday.  It is a cunning defense of his administration.  But one line jumped out at me.  Obama said, "But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad."  He is probably pretty busy as President what with terrorism, Iranian nukes, high unemployment, and such.  He could probably save some emotional energy by being less troubled at the thought that Murray Rothbard has too many followers. 


At Last, FDR's Partisan Perfidy Noted

It took the Arizona illegal immigrant law debate for someone to remind a large national audience of FDR's imputing of fascism to his Republican opponents in his 1944 SOTU ("Second Bill of Rights" speech; note 5th graph from the end).  Thank George Will's column in today's WaPo.  Plus ca change....
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

South Korea Vows Revenge

Though the Koreas are prone to confrontational bouts and false-starts, the aftermath of the sinking of the "Cheonan" seems to have ignited a fire under the South which is steadily growing in intensity. South Korea's president has vowed "revenge." The navy chief of staff swore vengeance: "We will track them down to the end and we will, by all means, make them pay for this."

And evidence is mounting that North Korea is responsible, having planned the strike in retaliation for a skirmish last November which they are seen to have lost.

Many are apparently claiming "the time for war has come." An editorial in S. Korea's leading newspaper declares:

There is no doubt that South Korea would suffer huge losses if it clashes militarily with North Korea. But another thing is also clear: a military confrontation with South Korea would spell the end of the North Korean regime.

Keep in mind: These countries are still formally at war. North Korea is a nuclear power. And there e are nearly 30,000 U.S. service-members currently stationed in South Korea. If the Koreas near the brink of war, the only outside actor in a position to affect their conduct is Barack Obama.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Taking Stock of Hometown Races

News coverage of Ohio's congressional and gubernatorial races and the latest Quinnipiac poll reveal: 

Democrats have small leads for governor and U.S. Senator in Ohio, while President Barack Obama's job approval remains stuck in the mid 40s, and the new health care legislation is decidedly unpopular.

Ohio is upholding its reputation as a battleground state. Democrats seem to have a slight edge in the key races, but those leads are small and have gone back and forth in recent months. As has historically been the key in Ohio elections, the undecided vote - many of whom are independents - could well hold the balance of power come November.

As regards Strickland, a mere "37% of voters say he has kept his campaign promises," and his fortunes aren't helped by scandals of his personal use of the state prison's workforce and tax revenues, or that his "top cabinet officials lied under oath about a decision to scrub a criminal investigation at the governor's mansion to save Strickland from political embarrassment." Further, "62% of voters don't know enough about [his Republican challenger, John] Kasich to have an opinion of him." Kasick's room-for-improvement can only bode poorly for Strickland, who isn't likely to gain over many new supporters of his own.

"The Senate numbers reflect the same level of voter unfamiliarity with the candidates." Republican Rob Portman will face the winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary between Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

The GOP has its work cut out for it if it plans to contribute to a GOP revolution in November.

Categories > Elections


Modern Technology

Making age-old marital problems go away.
Categories > Technology


The Grand Old Coalition?

Mickey Kaus notes that the Affrican-American community has no particular liking for high levels of immigration, adding, "if that's true, why doesn't the GOP at least try to win over a piece of this most loyal Democratic group? It's a potentially deep fissure that could pry apart the Dems' coalition."  The same is true on moral issues.  Had Barack Obama not been on the ticket, Prop 8 might not have passed in California.  The black community is more pro-life than are many other parts of the Democratic coalition.

Kaus also notes that "It's not clear to me that African-Americans have all that much at stake in the Democrats' obsession with promoting more unionization, in the private sector at least."  The key question, it seems to me, in addion to the cultural/ historical issues Lucas noted yesterday, is the percentage of the black middle class that is tied to, or supports the Unions, particularly in the public sector.   Public sector jobs used to be disproportionately important to the black community.  If that's still the case, I don't think that there's much chance of returning a large percentage of black voters to the party of Lincoln in the near future.  In the near future, with more and more people noting that the average pay in government jobs is higher than private sector jobs (at least at the federal level--if one includes benefits, the numbers are higher), the issue of public sector unions is going to be increasingly important.

Categories > Politics