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.
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.
Men and Women
"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.
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.
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"?
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
JON KYL & JOHN MCCAIN
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?
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...."
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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"
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.
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?
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.
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.
(P.S. Mea Culpa, but I was referring to the Napolitan, wood-oven-baked pizza as "sacred.")
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
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.
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.
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.
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.