Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


States Must Lead On Third Front

Dave Weigel notes that Senators Lindsey Graham and John Barrasso have introduced a bill that would allow states to opt out of most provisions of Obamacare.  The Senators are calling this the "third front" against Obamacare (the other two are presumably the bill for repeal and the court cases against the individual mandate.)  I think it is a good idea, but the Graham-Barrasso third front won't amount to much by itself.  If nothing else happens, the Senate Democrats will block the bill from passing and that is the last you will hear of it.  The only way Graham-Barrasso will attain broad salience is if there are positive and relevant state policies that are seeking shelter under the bill.

It isn't enough for Republican-run state governments to oppose the individual mandate.  That part of the health care fight will work its way through the courts and Congress.  There is something state governments can do to frustrate the ultimate implementation of Obamacare regardless of what Anthony Kennedy ends up thinking about the individual mandate.  One of Obamacare's purposes is to get everyone into a kind of health insurance that amounts to comprehensive health care prepayment as preliminary to establishing a single-payer system.  One way to frustrate this purpose of Obamacare is to maximize the number of Americans who are on consumer-driven policies where Americans pay more of their first dollar health care costs in return for greater take home pay.  States governments could increase the number of people on consumer-driven policies partly by changing their state rules on health insurance and partly by offering consumer-driven policies to state and municipal workers and Medicaid clients.  The larger the number of people on such policies, the harder the political task of making such policies illegal. 

Now technically, the Department of Health and Human Services can now deny state governments the right to establish such policies, but that is where the Graham-Barrasso bill comes in.  One weakness of Obamacare is that the rules for establishing comprehensive prepayment (the coverage mandates) go though the Department of Health and Human Services.  The rule making and waiver (over seven hundred waivers at last count) processes at HHS are opaque and there is no reason to assume they have any popular support at the moment.  If the state governments are pressing for policies that will save both government and individuals money, it sets up a fight that Republicans are in a good position to win.  States can pass policies expanding the numbers on consumer-driven policies and start putting those policies into effect right away.  This is one of those cases where it is better not to ask permission.  If HHS doesn't move against the states, fine.  Congressional Republicans can then push legislation to codify the powers of state governments to offer such policies.  At the very least it makes the future full implementation of Obamacare that much harder politically.  If HHS raises objections then states can apply for an HHS waiver even as they continue to implement the policy.  If waivers are good enough for McDonalds they should be good enough for Texas, Indiana, Ohio, and Florida.  This exposes a Democratic weak spot.  Who does Obama think he is to think he knows that government employees and Medicaid clients shouldn't have access to HSA/catastrophic insurance policies that save the government money and increase the take home pay of individuals while maintaining their health care security?  It would be a healthy debate to have.  It also puts Democrats in a kind of lose/lose situation.  One of the main liberal talking points against Graham-Barrasso is that it is superfluous.  Liberals argue that there is already a waiver process that does the same thing.  If HHS refuses waivers to states that seek to expand consumer-driven health insurance, the waiver process is exposed as a joke, and the states (as well as those people now on consumer-driven policies) can move to press Congress to pass Graham-Barrasso.  If HHS grants the waivers in order to maintain the shaky legitimacy of the waiver process and avoid granting the Graham-Barasso bill more attention, conservatives will have won a major victory by expanding the numbers on consumer-driven health insurance and can still try to get Congress to codify the legality of consumer-driven policies. 

But for the third front to work, the states need to have positive and relevant market-oriented health care policies and be willing to challenge the Obama administration to stand in their way.  The Republican gains in the state houses and state legislatures could, if the Republicans are smart and coordinated, be the a major factor in averting government-run health care.     

Categories > Politics


Judicial Assassination

It's always a toss-up deciding whether it's worth the time to correct the New York Times - even if you limit yourself to the most egregious absurdities, it's still a full time job. Today's editorial page offers a truly clueless indictment of Justices Scalia and Thomas. The Times has championed the living Constitution and judicial activism as the basis for liberal decisions undermining the democratic process for decades. It's beyond ridiculously hypocritical that the same paper is using the very charge of judicial activism against textual interpretations of the Constitution now that liberals do not hold an unassailable majority on the bench.

The truth is that liberals are furious that they cannot faithfully rely on the Supreme Court to implement any political policy which they fail to pass in the democratic process. Abortion, contraception, privacy, unlimited federal spending and regulatory power, homosexual matters, gender issues, etc., etc., etc. On every issue which the public demurred, the Court has been there to ensure the liberal agenda was secure.

But now the dynamic has changed and some cases are ruled in accordance with the Constitution, rather than the social-psychological formulas and auguries known only to progressive judges. Liberals can't simply rage that they've lost their trump card on unfavorable turns of democracy, so they've taken the shameless approach of charging any unfavorable ruling with the very corruption they've practiced for so long.

I continue to hold out hope that the editors of the New York Times are simply unprincipled partisans - it would be a true scandal if they were really dumb enough to believe the things they write.

Categories > Journalism


Reagan for Life

On Reagan's 100th birthday, FRC notes "what most of the tributes leave out: Reagan the pro-lifer."

In 1987, while Reagan was still in the White House, Ted Koppel was the host of ABC's Nightline TV news show and noted that if you can say anything about Ronald Reagan, Americans know what this President believes. If you took any 50 Americans on any street corner in America and asked them what he's for, he's against, they could tell you: He's pro-life; he's against the Communists. Pro-life, against the communists. No doubt then. No memory now. President Reagan spoke of the unborn in both his Inaugural addresses, and his State of the Union speeches. He supported legislation, proposed constitutional amendments, and issued Executive Orders backing up those pro-life convictions. In his budgets, he zeroed out Planned Parenthood for eight years running. He wanted no federal money for this evil enterprise. And he wrote a book--the first President to do so while in the White House--titled Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation. He condemned no one--including pro-abortion politicians. He wouldn't dream of criticizing the members of the Supreme Court as they sat before him at a State of the Union address. But he sent his representatives up the steps of that eminent tribunal with a call to correct the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling. On this Ronald Reagan birthday weekend, let's remember the greatest pro-life president and thank God that he was born.

It's noteworthy that the Great Communicator was not only a principled politician, but a gentleman-statesman.

Categories > Conservatism


Faith on the Hill

Over at First Thoughts, Joseph Knippenberg notes a pew reasearch report on the religous composition of the 112th Congress.

This report provides an interesting picture of the religious landscape of the new Congress, and even compares it with its predecessors.  The authors note that Protestants are overrepresented in Congress, by comparison with their share of the population as a whole, and that the religiously unaffiliated are substantially underrepresented.  Among Protestant denominations, the "old line" (Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, for example) are overrepresented, and Baptists and Pentecostals are underrepresented.  Over the long term, old line denominations have lost "market share" in Congress, while Baptists and Catholics have been among the big gainers.  The "most overrepresented" groups are (in order) Episcopalians, Jews, and Presbyterians.

Meanwhile, Russell Moore considers why nondenominational churches are the fastest growing in the country:

Are we witnessing the death of America's Christian denominations? Studies conducted by secular and Christian organizations indicate that we are. Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion--Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. According to the Baylor Survey on Religion, nondenominational churches now represent the second largest group of Protestant churches in America, and they are also the fastest growing.

Categories > Religion


Standards of Hypocrisy

A fifth-grader in California had to lawyer-up this week in order to overcome the public school's unwritten prohibition on singing religious songs in a talent show. Also this week, a Michigan public school voluntarily amended their weapons-in-school policy so as to permit Sikh students to carry daggers on their persons.

The right to sing about Jesus at a talent show requires legal action, whereas carrying a knife to school is freely allowed out of a misguided sense of cultural sensitivity and tolerance of diversity.

This is the ridiculous but natural result of progressive principles in practice.
Categories > Religion


Moral Equivalence Gone Wild

Scott Shane, writing for the New York Times, can't help but report (this is not an op-ed or editorial) the striking similarity between the Muslim Brotherhood terror organization and the Catholic Church.  

Its size and diversity, and the legal ban that has kept it from genuine political power in Egypt for decades, make it hard to characterize simply. As the Roman Catholic Church includes both those who practice leftist liberation theology and conservative anti-abortion advocates, so the Brotherhood includes both practical reformers and firebrand ideologues.

Let me get this straight: Catholics who practice the sort of "leftist liberation theology" palatable to liberals are akin to "practical reformers" in the Muslim world, whereas those loathed "conservative anti-abortion advocates" are the equivalent of the jihad-is-our-way "firebrand ideologues" in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yes, pro-life Catholics are exactly like Muslim terrorists calling for the political domination of the world, complete Islamic compulsion on pain of death and the extermination of every last Jew. In truth, even comparing liberation theology to the creed of Islamic terrorism reveals a deep psychosis on the part of the Times.

It is lunacy to believe that Catholics praying the rosary for the right of unborn children to live are somehow comparable to Muslims indiscriminately detonating roadside bombs. This absurdity is what passes for moral caliber and general sanity at the New York Times.

P.S. It bears noting, in case anyone missed the point, that "liberation theology" is a Marxist social-class movement that has been largely condemned by the Catholic Church - so the New York Times' message is that the only good Catholics are heretical, socialist Catholics.

Categories > Religion


Reagan Honored

Stephen Knott knows a lot about Reagan (see At Reagan's Side and The Reagan Years), and this is his tribute to the man for what would have been his 100th birthday.There will be a few more of these that I will bring to your attention over the next few days.  Here is one from Peggy Noonan.  I also mention Steve Hayward's NR cover article (even though he has already promoted himself, surprise!).  I must say that there is no better way to honor the Gipper than to buy Steve's books: The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Liberal Order: 1964-1980,and the second volume, The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterevolution: 1980-1989.  They are available in most local bookstores.

Categories > Conservatism

Foreign Affairs

Good Company

Nobel Peace Prize leaureate Barack Obama may be succeeded in that honor by Wikileaks founder and Nobel Peace Price nominee Julian Assange. The latter was described as a "natural contender" for the Norwegian prize by virtue of "disclosing information about corruption, human rights abuses and war crimes." Assange would worthily join such luminaries as Al Gore (2007), Mohamed El Baradei (2005), Jimmy Carter (2002), the UN (2001) and Yassar Arafat (1994).

When they aren't honoring terrorists like Arafat and failures like the UN out of genuine ideological sympathy, the Nobel committee is trading its credibility for cheap, political pot-shots. How the (would-be) mighty are fallen.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Where is the UN?

Anne Bayefsky, voice of the UN watchdog Eye on the UN, criticizes the UN for having abandoned the people of Egypt:

It is not difficult to figure out why the people of Egypt had nowhere else to go. The U.N. human rights authorities devoted their time, attention and (American taxpayer resources) to attacking Israel and enabling Egypt, while the Obama administration spent its capital claiming Jews living on any Arab-claimed land were the key obstacle to Middle East peace and stability.

The Egyptian people were abandoned by the U.N. They were left to their own devices by an Obama administration mired in pro-U.N. rhetoric and basing its judgment about the efficacy of the institution on ill-informed advisors. Today, we are all paying the price for that neglect and ignorance.

No doubt, Beyefsky's observations are true - the UN has long been obsessed with Israel to the exclusion of just about every other nation. But the UN's impotence to curtail human rights abuses in Egypt or to direct the popular uprising among would-be democrats is due as much to its general inefficiency and ideological schizophrenia than to any specific preoccupation. The UN is heavily (if not predominantly) influenced by nations and leagues adverse to democracies and supportive of the "wrong" sides in Egypt's present struggle. The best thing for Egyptian protestors is the absence of the UN's interference. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Ethical Austerity in New Jersey

Social conservatives have targeted several private groups for congressional defunding as a means of tightening the federal belt and enforcing ethical austerity. NPR, the NEA and Planned Parenthood are at the top of the list. All have suffered damaging scandals as of late - yet another acorn-undercover-style video has arisen showing a Planned Parenthood clinic manager assuring a "pimp" that his child-prostitute sex-slaves can circumvent the law to get abortions (take a stroll around youtube to find plenty of other examples). The tolerance of pro-abortion, feminist liberals for (female) child rape and sexual abuse - when weighed against the greater good of confidential abortions - is nearly as revealing as it is revolting.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie provided an example to the national government today by vetoing a bill to fund Planned Parenthood with tax dollars. Christie will call down the fury of the most radical elements of the left, but I think he has the backbone to weather the storm. Let's hope the GOP-at-large is susceptible to the infection of Christie's courage of conviction.

Categories > Conservatism


In Defense of Nutella

Sometimes a story hits so close to home that it's hard to write about it through the haze of bewilderment and dumbfounded rage. This is such a moment.

Probably inspired by the federal government's obesity campaign, a lawsuit has been filed against Nutella. The mother of a 4 year-old was apparently "shocked" to learn the ambrosial hazelnut delight was not health-food, but rather "the next best thing to a candy bar."

1. It isn't the "next best thing to a candy bar." It so far surpasses candy bars as to be humiliated by the comparison.

2. I'm holding a beautiful glass jar o' the creamy goodness at this moment. The back clearly reads: 2 tbsp. = 200 Calories. That's a daily intake of fat in 8 seconds of weakness! How utterly stupid do you have to be...?

3. It's chocolate! How utterly stupid...? 

4. An entire continent just across the Atlantic practically raises their kids on the heavenly nectar - and they're half our size (often literally).

5. Speaking of Europe, the first ingredient here in America is sugar, whereas, interestingly, the first ingredient in Germany is cocoa. A reflection on our (4 year old's) tastes....  

6. I'll bet anything to anyone that this woman is the personification of a prude...

7. ...who voted for Obama.

8. Somewhere, Michelle Obama is smiling.

9. In a sane world, the debate wouldn't be whether this mother can get money from Nutella for voluntarily feeding it to her kids, but rather whether she is obviously too deranged to raise kids.

10. She'll probably win.

Categories > Courts

Foreign Affairs

Boots on the Ground in Egypt

Mike Totten at Power Line has posted the last entry of a blogger known as Egyptian Sandmonkey. The 10 paragraph transcript is an unusually candid perspective from the frontlines - an articulate indictment of tyranny in practice, a lament of the "amalgam of Stockholm syndrome coupled with slave mentality" paralyzing those unprepared for liberal democracy, and a rallying cry for heroism deserving of a patriot.

The road will be hard - as it is for all - but we all hope the Egyptians are prepared for liberal, democratic self-rule.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Give Unto Caesar

Pope Benedict XVI observed today that "secular authorities want the best of both worlds with regard to Church-state relations."  

On one hand, the political authorities take care not to grant public places to religions, understanding them as merely individual ideas of faith of the citizens. Sought, on the other hand, is the application of criteria of a secular public opinion to religious communities. It seems that they would like to adapt the Gospel to the culture and yet, they seek to impede, in an almost shameful way, that the culture be molded by the religious dimension.

These words follow an interesting interview with Archbishop Crepaldi of Trieste in Italy. The Archbishop distinguishes between competing definitions of "secular" as being autonomous, indifferent or in outright opposition to religion. He notes French President Sarkozy's coining of the expression "positive secularity," indicating "a secularity that expresses an attitude of positive openness in facing religion." The short dialogue is worth reading for anyone interested in Church-state relations.

Categories > Religion


Syncing Old and New

A new application for the iPhone related to confessions has received the first stamp of imprimatur from the Church.

Categories > Technology


Friends In High Places

One of the most significant scandals (which should be) surrounding Obamacare - aside from the process of its enactment and its conversion of 1/6 of the economy to government control - is the post-enactment waivers issued by the Obama administration. As of last week, Obama had granted 733 exemptions to Obamacare. As the Wash. Times notes:

This is key: The waivers aren't meant to protect victims from unintended consequences of Obamacare; they are meant to exempt them from the very intentional increased costs of health insurance that the law causes. ...

In short, the administration has decided that you will face increased health insurance premiums, but special friends in the unions will not.

In a parallel move, Obama is now exempting GE from global warming standards passed in January. The Wash. Examiner concludes:

Maybe GE CEO Jeff Immelt's closeness to President Obama, and his broad support for Obama's agenda, had nothing to do with this exemption. But we have no way of knowing that, and given the administration's record of regularly misleading Americans regarding lobbyists, frankly, I wouldn't trust the White House if they told me there was no connection.

Don't get me wrong - the best thing for America would be a 100% waiver option for every policy affecting economics signed by President Obama. But coupled with Obama's politicization of the DOJ and other examples, the ever-more apparent cronyism of Obama's selective exemption policy reveals a blatant trend of disregard for the rule of law.

Categories > Presidency

Shameless Self-Promotion

Social Conservative Review

The Ashbrook Center is again featured in Family Research Council's Social Conservative Review. John Moser and I have articles on "Family Economics." As always, the SoCon brings together a wide range of authors to cover a broad range of topics. It's a worthy read.

The Founding

Appreciating the Genius of the Constitution: 3/5 Clause and All

In taking Congressional Republicans to task for leaving out the 3/5 clause of the Constitution  during their recent public reading of the document on the House floor, David Foster writes one of the clearest expositions I have read, to date, on the ways in which the compromise was made in the service of freedom and justice.  Since studying the Constitution in American Political Institutions and Ideas (102) during my freshman year at Ashland, it has been an ongoing and pet frustration of mine that the majority of otherwise intelligent people--and people of every political variety imaginable--persist in a kind of anti-Founding mythology on this point that has overgrown actual understanding of ideas and events.  If I only had a nickel for time I have heard:  "But the Founders thought black people were only worth 3/5 of a white person!" I could have funded enough scholarships to the Ashbrook program to have eradicated such ignorance.

If you happen to be a person who thinks there is anything to the charge that the 3/5 clause proves the racism of the Founders (and don't be embarrassed if you are as it's barely possible to escape this oppressive misconception), David Foster's 744 words are the most important ones you will read in your lifetime to date.  
Categories > The Founding

Pop Culture

And Now for Something Completely Different

Yes, this may indeed be the best car commercial ever.

I also agree with the commenter who said the little kid here shows more emotion in 45 seconds than Hayden Christiansen showed in his two movies in the role.
Categories > Pop Culture

Foreign Affairs

Madison and Egypt

As Egyptins protest against their dictatorship, several commentators are discussing whether this vindicates the argument that the U.S. should promote democracy.  That's rather too simple.  In many times, and in many places, democracy is not the best form of government available.  Sometimes, voting will produce bad government.  As Madison noted in Federalist 51:

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.

It is not true that democratic government will, in all cases, be more just than other governments.  In the American republic, democracy is essential, but we should not assume that it always true elsewhere.  The 13 colonies had the most democratic governments in the world in 1776.  That's why it made sense to create a democratic republic.  Absent a wide distribution of property, experience with elections and democratic institutions, secure property rights, widespread literacy, an open press (or, at least, relatively open, as was the case in the colonies in 1776), among other things, the jump to democratic-republicanism can be dangerous. Witness France in the 1790s, and numerous examples thereafter.

What people want is decent government, that treats them with respect, and does not prosecute them arbitrarily and capriciously.  In history, democratic governments are not the only means to that end.   Not every country is lucky enough to be a democratic republic.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

An Egyptian's Words on Egypt

A former classmate of mine, a native Egyptian named Ahmed who studied abroad at Ashland, is now a journalist in Cairo. His newspaper has joined with the protestors against the Mubarak government. This became a problem today when, for the first time in this crisis, pro-Mubarak demonstrators clashed violently with anti-government protestors. The linked article mentions that, during a violent clash in Tahrir Square today, the military just stood by and remained idle, claiming that they had no orders to take one side or the other-- for now, it seems, the Egyptian military is continuing to remain neutral and letting this play out on its own. Below I will be copying and pasting Ahmed's Facebook posting for the day, with his permission (the permission being the first quote given). These are his accounts and views on what is going on, not mine, to give some insight on what some of these protestors are thinking:

 "February 2 at 11:16am
sure..go ahead. 
My hands are tied now. I am inside the newspaper and I am trapped. waves of thugs are attacking us!"
"For All my friends...
I am safe and fine. 
I have seen death with my own eyes. I have seen a protester getting killed by life ammunition 2 meters away from me. 
we are not going to stop till Mubarak leaves. 
12 hours ago "
"300 Martyrs. Their blood shall not be in vain. 
We shall not stop till the terrorist flee the country.
12 hours ago "
"More than a 100 thug were attacking the headquarters of our newspaper 2 hours ago. We created barricades around our newspaper and we are armored with guns, sticks, and knives
We received threatening phone calls from powerful business men of the ruling party.
7 hours ago "
"Tahrir Square is now being bombarded with rocks and bombs made of benzine and gas. The military is just standing their. Watching!
7 hours ago 
"My dear American friends. 
All the tear gas bombs that I have swallowed during the last week while I was covering the revolution...
They were all made in USA....
Send petitions 2ur congressmen...stop sending anti riot weapons to the Egyptian police
4 hours ago"
"Bad News: At least 500 injuries, tens dead, in today's clash with Mubarak Thugs
Good News: a news presenter in the State run TV quits her job in protest of falsifying news..
3 hours ago 
"off to Tahrir Square...
Praying that I would get their safe...
3 hours ago
The president has agreed to not run for reelection, hoping that it would quell the demonstrations against him. However, protestors are demanding that he resign immediately. The military will likely be the deciding factor in all this.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


On Wealth and Poverty

We've heard a great deal in recent years about the growth in income disparity in this country.  But while the rich may be getting richer, as Steve Horwitz argues, so are the poor.  The poor (defined as those in the bottom fifth percentile of income) are, first of all, better off in absolute terms than their counterparts ten, twenty, or fifty years ago.  Not only are they wealthier (the poorest fifth make, on average, $28,000 more per year than they did in 1991, adjusted for inflation), but have access to amenities that even the middle class did not have ten years ago (i.e., cell phones and internet service).

Moreover, the vast majority (86 percent) of yesterday's poor are part of today's middle class.  This shouldn't be terribly surprising, because demographically the largest portion of the poor are the young, who tend to work in relatively low-paying jobs.  But, of course, as young people acquire more experience their income rises.

Finally, although it is true that there is currently a higher than normal percentage of the population below the poverty line (not particularly surprising given the underperformance of the economy in recent years), the percentage of the population in extreme poverty--that is, with an income less than half the poverty line--has remained stable at between 5 and 6 percent since 1980. 

As an aside that speaks to the issue of civility in politics, Horwitz received a slew of nasty e-mails over this, including one that accused him of being a "house kike for the neo-cons."

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Some Thoughts on Egypt

Ashbrook program graduate and current adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Rebeccah Heinrichs, discusses the situation in Egypt on Fox News.  
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Egyptian Proverbs

I stumbled across some Egyptian proverbs while perusing things today; a few stood out well for the current circumstances:

"Do not rejoice over what has not yet happened."
"The tyrant is only the slave turned inside-out."
"Because we focused on the snake, we missed the scorpion."

Here is to hoping that the Egyptians can remain mindful of both the snakes and the scorpions in these turbulent times.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Phony Tough

Now I don't trust Anthony Kennedy to get anything right, never mind vote to strike down Obamacare (personally I doubt he will), but the Florida decision seems to have put the fear of the Constitution in Ezra Klein's heart.  Klein argues that if Obamacare is struck down, liberals will then try to destroy the private health insurance industry and establish single-payer and boy, conservatives will then be sorry for making liberals mad.  Oh no!  Liberals politicians running in marginal constituencies will have to be more honest about their radical policy goals!  Listen tough guy.  We know what you are up to and it works to our advantage rather than yours to have the general public be aware what you are up to.  That doesn't mean you won't win anyway, but the more honest you have to be, the better the odds for our side.  I know you are frustrated and nervous.


Categories > Politics


Win First, Compromise Later

Ramesh Ponnuru lays out an agenda on tax reform and Social Security reform that he hopes Obama and congressional Republicans can unite behind.  I can maybe see a deal along the lines Ponnuru lays out for tax reform, but I don't see the Democrats getting behind Ponnuru's idea of creating a more progressive, but (in absolute terms) smaller and more sustainable Social Security program at the current level of taxation.  I don't think that the vast majority of Democrats (very much including the President) are going to give the Republicans anything in return for the Republicans giving up on the idea of private accounts within Social Security.  The President told us in the State of the Union what he wants for Social Security (though he told us by a process of elimination.)  He wants to finance the current system through higher taxes - though he won't come out for the tax increases until after he is safely reelected. 

The thing is I don't think that the Democrats will come out for a Social Security deal like the one Ponnuru outlines unless they think that's the best deal they can get long-term.  I think that the current leaders of the Democratic Party in Washington (Obama, Pelosi, Reid) think they can get a better deal just by hanging tough, stalling, and demonizing any Republican plans for reform.  Like I've said, I think the Democrats think that if it comes to a fiscal crisis, they'll be in a strong position to bargain for a deal composed primarily of tax increases and greater government control over the health care sector. The Democrats will be more ready to deal after they feel like they've been defeated on domestic economic issues.  They don't feel like they've been beaten.  They feel like they were the victims of temporary bad timing. That means the most you are likely to get from them on Social Security is a plan to deal with the funding shortfall with some kind of consumption tax rather than higher marginal taxes on earnings.  No deal.

That doesn't mean that Ponnuru's ideas aren't worth talking about.  I think they could be an important part of a Republican reform agenda.  A Social Security program that is a better deal for lower earners and offers higher earners lower taxes during their working lives in return for (somewhat) lower Social Security benefits is a plausible program (especially when contrasted with a Democratic program of higher taxes and government control of health care.)  But I doubt such a program will be the basis for a compromise on Social Security in the next five years, unless Harry Reid is the Senate Minority Leader and there is a Republican President.  The Washington Democratic leadership will only compromise social democracy away after they are sure they can't have it.

But nothing lost in trying for that compromise.

Categories > Politics


Rangel the Unrepentant

It comes as no surprise that Charlie Rangel is blaming everyone but the devil himself for his recent censure. While admitting that the House veteran is full of rage toward his assailers, the WaPo also paints Rangel as genuinely hurt and saddened by the ordeal. But it is far from clear that any of this grief is related to his own misconduct - rather than arising solely from his antipathy toward those who aired his dirty laundry.

Categories > Congress

Health Care

Obamacare Overturned

The Florida case of 26 states vs. Obamacare has just been decided ... against Obamacare.

The judge ruled the individual mandate that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance invalid and, according to the decision, "because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void."

UPDATE: The judge stayed his ruling pending SCOTUS review, so Obamacare is still in effect. Obamacare is thus 2-2 in the federal courts, having been found constitutional by two courts and unconstitutional by two (though the ruling delivered today responded to complaints by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business).

This ruling is a symbolic victory for Republicans at the moment, as it will take many months for the case to arrive in the Supreme Court (though it is now sure to rise to the high court). However, in that time, the spector of judicial repeal will loom large over the Democrats while Republicans can focus on the need to have a replacement bill prepared for the inevitable overthrow of Obama's unconstitutional power-grab.

Categories > Health Care


The Liberal Shellacking Continues

This time, it's in the "least dangerous branch." According to the WaPo, the Supreme Court has delivered a "dressing down" to the infamously liberal and dangerously rogue 9th Circuit.

In the past two weeks, [the Supreme Court] has been in scold mode.... In five straight cases, the court has rejected the work of the San Francisco-based court without a single affirmative vote from a justice.

But some of the recent reversals have been delivered with a lash that those who closely watch the courts say reflects more than just a disagreement of law. ... [J]ustices said 9th Circuit judges were inserting themselves into cases where they had no business.

The 9th Circuit was let off its leash during Carter's liberal court-packing fiasco in the 1970's. Since then, it has been the poster boy of (liberal) judicial activism, routinely being overturned by the Supreme Court. In the private sector, an inferior division which required such consistent reversals by a superior would quickly find itself the target of massive reform or "downsizing." But liberal judges are performing the will of their appointers when they flout the rule of law in preference of progressive ideology.

In an attempt to curb this tendency in the law (and expand the shellacking of the executive office), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) issued his first oversight letter to the Justice Department. Referencing the Black Panther's voter-intimidation case, Smith writes: "Allegations that the Civil Rights Division has engaged in a practice of race-biased enforcement of voting rights law must be investigated by the Committee." Jennifer Rubin concludes:

The letter is noteworthy on a number of levels. First, administration flacks and liberal bloggers have insisted that the New Black Panther Party case is much to do about nothing. But as Smith has correctly discerned, the issue of enforcement or non-enforcement of civil rights laws based on a non-colorblind view of those laws is serious and a potentially explosive issue for this administration. Second, Holder's strategy of stonewalling during the first two years of Obama's term may have backfired. Had he been forthcoming while Democrats were in the majority, he might have been able to soften the blows; Smith is not about to pull his punches. And finally, Smith is demonstrating the sort of restraint and big-picture focus that is essential for the Republicans if they are to remain credible and demonstrate their capacity for governance.

Categories > Courts


"The Suite Life" on Campus

Higher Education is a national priority.  Just ask President Obama.  We need to invest ever more dollars in education in order to keep our global competitive edge.  We need to make sure that 26 year-olds can stay on Mommy and Daddy's insurance plan so that they can afford to stay (and stay, and stay, and stay) in school.  We've increased the tuition tax credits for low- and middle-income families, more than doubled the money spent on Pell grants and turned the Pell into an entitlement program.  These things are noted and cheered by many politicians and voters who claim to want only the best for American education.  And they make you look churlish if you question the wisdom of these things.

Yet, even for these cheerleaders of federal spending on education, there are occasions for questioning just how wisely our money is being spent.  Predictably, the occasion that is now drawing ire is the turning of a profit.  So coming up for special scrutiny are the ways in which for-profit universities have abused this funding with reports of huge profits and out-sized salaries for executives ($41 million went to the CEO of a holding company of one such university).

But, while not questioning the legitimate need for federal oversight in these institutions, Greg Beato at notes the selective scrutiny brought to bear on for-profit universities from Congress, the President, the GAO and the Department of Education.  One particular and legitimate gripe against them is the practice of grade-inflation for the purpose of retaining eligibility for student federal aid.  A practice, I am sure (do note my heavy sarcasm), that never occurs at any so-called "respectable" institution.  But legitimate as these gripes are, Beato thinks the abuses at for-profit universities probably pale in comparison to the ones we willingly overlook in the (so-called) "non-profit" sector.

Everyone kinda knows this, but it is easy to overlook.  We take an understandable pride in the growth of our alma-maters and in the amenities they offer.  Having said that, today's college experience is not your father's college experience.  Heck, it's not even yours or mine. 

Let's start with the one outrageous expenditure that tickled me the most:  the eSuds program.  I think this one jumped out at me because I still carry the battle scars from the "bad old days" when doing laundry meant taking the life of your wardrobe into your own hands.  I remember well the hassle and inconvenience of doing laundry while away at school; the hustling for quarters, the long waits for an available machine, the feeling of oppression as you were tied to a dingy room.  Sometimes we even suffered the indignity of having to creep down into a basement where one might have to wait amid the dank, dark dungeons of mold and accumulated dryer sheets to make sure no one ran off with your unmentionables.  And what did you do while you were waiting there?  Sometimes it came down to the horrors of having to do homework or study or something equally dreadful. 

Mercifully, for today's college student, those days are now over.  At a number of America's finest colleges and universities where, apparently, costs and other pressing matters are so thoroughly under control that there are abundant resources for chasing down Johnny's socks, you can now watch the progress of your laundry on-line.  No need to interrupt the game of Assasin's Creed you and your buddies are engaged in . . . just a quick look at the bubble screen above and you'll be sure to know when it's time to move from the washer to the dryer.  After all, why should college students suffer from the mental distress brought on by panty raiders or other impatient laundry patrons?  With eSuds your laundry can get more attention from its guardian than children can in some daycare facilities.

Now, after a tough day of laundry and gaming, you might need to get a little color in your cheeks and get the blood pumping again.  If you're at Cornell, you're in luck.  They boast the "largest indoor natural rock climbing wall in North America."  And honestly, what is the value of a four-year hiatus in college without access to that?  Some school offer tanning salons--just in case you're in need of a shot of vitamin D. On the other hand, perhaps your youthful yet tired bones prefer the 53 person super-sized jacuzzi at the University of Washington.  I think you might be able to experience some pretty interesting "seminars" in there.  Not sure who will be working on the cures for that kind of seminar, however, because the construction boom of 2000-2009 produced mainly athletic facilities followed up closely by entertainment venues.  There were a few libraries in there too . . . but who goes to those anymore?

Of course, in order to facilitate the operation of this complicated cruise-like atmosphere, you're going to need administrators.   Apparently you need a lot of administrators.  Increases in spending on administration have gone up as much as 600 percent at some universities.  Think of Julie on the Love Boat, but with a background in diversity studies and a hefty salary to compensate her work.   Full professors of this variety, apparently, aren't faring too poorly either, with some making pay that is well into six figure range.  But lowly adjuncts and junior professors (who do the bulk of the actual undergraduate teaching at many schools) might soon qualify for some other form of federal assistance.  Perhaps many of them already do?

Beato notes that, "[u]nder [a Department of Education] proposal, called 'Gainful Employment,' institutions who graduate a large number of students with excessive debt-to-earnings ratios or who fail to repay their loans on time will lose access to federal grants and loans" . . . and that's swell.  But if we continue to pretend that the abuses happening in the "non-profit" world of higher education are merely the legitimate costs of a worthwhile and world-class education, we're going to be guilty of stupidity as well as duplicity.  Moreover, our students will have wicked tans and killer biceps (if they can avoid stacking on the pounds from the gourmet cookies in the cafeteria), but little else to show for the debt they incur while "getting an education."
Categories > Education


Forget the Elephant in the Room . . .

. . . when it comes to the problems of education in the inner-city (and, I would argue, in many more places than we care to admit) the issue is not an elephant, but a screaming baby.  How is it that we are deaf to his cries?  We are powerless to help him because we refuse to address the actions of his parents or pass judgment upon them.  This heartbreaking account from a seasoned teacher in a school with more than its share of these stories, goes on to a bitter reflection at the conclusion of his tale: 

Every fall, new education theories arrive, born like orchids in the hothouses of big-time university education departments. Urban teachers are always first in line for each new bloom. We've been retrofitted as teachers a dozen times over. This year's innovation is the Data Wall, a strategy in which teachers must test endlessly in order to produce data about students' progress. The Obama administration has spent lavishly to ensure that professional consultants monitor its implementation.

Every year, the national statistics summon a fresh chorus of outrage at the failure of urban public schools. Next year, I fear, will be little different.

RTWT, if you can stomach it.  Thanks to Kate for pointing me to this story.

Categories > Education


The Duty of Immigrants

Gary Schmitt and Peter Skerry note the indifference of Muslim American groups to vicious acts committed in the name of Islam. 

While Muslim-American leaders are constantly reminding their followers to exercise their rights as Americans, they also embrace the view that Muslims here are part of the worldwide community of fellow believers-the ummah. As such, these organizations are riven by numberless fissures that run along linguistic, ethnic, racial, and doctrinal lines. Their leaders are preoccupied with not saying or doing anything that would cause such fissures to develop into major ruptures.

Immigrants are obliged to acknowledge the truths of the Declaration of Independence.  Many could already teach the native-born such lessons by their example.  All need to keep in mind that being American is about duties to each other as well as rights. 

Categories > Religion

Foreign Affairs

Egypt and the Devil We Know

Ross Douthat has an excellent piece in the New York Times on the crisis in Egypt.  It is clear and short in its explanation of what the chaos in Egypt means to the United States and of the difficulties of international politics in general.  As Douthat explains:

The long-term consequences of a more populist and nationalistic Egypt might be better for the United States than the stasis of the Mubarak era, and the terrorism that it helped inspire. But then again they might be worse. There are devils behind every door.

Americans don't like to admit this. We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don't meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all.  

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

George Friedman on Dennis Prager's show last week.  Prager asked Friedman about the trade deal with Columbia. No big deal, he said "Columbia's not the country it was twenty years ago."  Then he paused, and added, "Mexico's the country Columbia was twenty years ago."
Categories > Quote of the Day

Foreign Affairs

Sir Winston's Funeral

January 30, 1965.  Here's brief color footage, narrated by Sir Winston's former bodyguard.  Here is part 1 of a 5-part black and white series, with narration by, among others, Laurence Olivier. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs