Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Political Philosophy

Ghadafi as Philosopher-King

Mr. Kurtz's International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness anticipates Ghadafi's wish for an international organization for philosopher-kings--the practice of one would approach that of the other.  See a serious political scientist, Robert Putnam (an admirer of Tocqueville and Edward Banfield), on his conversation with the Libyan dictator back in January, 2007.  Putnam compares his visage to that of "the aging Mick Jagger."

There were some translation problems:  "Libyan history includes nothing remotely analogous to Rotary or Little League or the Knights of Columbus, so we settled on "veterans' associations" as the only intelligible illustration of my argument."  I thought Putnam was at Harvard, not Syracuse. 

By the way, the Edward Banfield website has been renewed, with downloads of several of his books, links to his writing, including his fiction, and others on him, such as Leo Strauss's praise of him.  Banfield is clearly one of the major political scientists of the late twentieth century. 

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: Obama vs Reagan

Well, the United States has finally moved to freeze all of Gaddafi's assets (several days after the Swiss had already decided to do so). This is what President Obama had to say about the Colonel in his statement today: "By any measure, Muammar el-Qaddafi's government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable."

Yes, we are freezing his money because he is not normal or decent by international standards (a vague statement that could be applicable to many of the world's leaders). That is the extent of his commentary on Gaddafi himself, saving the rest of his statement for the less personal "government of Libya."

President Reagan referred to Colonel Gaddafi as the "mad dog of the Middle East" and gave this address from the Oval Office as he ordered airstrikes on Libya. "Colonel Gaddafi is not only an enemy of the United States. His record of subversion and aggression against the neighboring states in Africa is well-documented and well-known... He has sanctioned acts of terror in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as the Western hemisphere... Despite our continued warnings, Gaddafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror. He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong."

At that time Gaddafi wasn't even slaughtering his own people. When nations like France, Germany, and Luxembourg (whose foreign minister simply referred to Gaddafi as a "dictator who shoots at his own people") are taking a harder rhetorical line against this bloody villain than the American president, there is an issue. We don't need to go bombing or invading Libya, but President Obama should at least have the, to use his words, "common decency" to call a tyrant a tyrant and a murderer a murderer.
Categories > Quote of the Day


Unions, Law, and History

If, as many on the Left seem to think, it's okay to tar today's conservatives with the sins of conservatives in previous generations, why does the same not apply to Unions?  Consider the motives behind the Davis-Bacon act, from a review of David Bernstein's Only One Place of Redress

Depression era legislation, though officially colorblind, was often highly discriminatory. A case in point was the Davis-Act requiring construction firms with federal contracts to pay "prevailing wages." As defined by the Department of Labor, the prevailing wage usually equaled the union wage thus freezing low-skilled black workers out of many projects. As Bernstein points out, "contractors had every incentive to hire unionized workers for skilled positions. Union members were generally the best-trained workers, and they could be hired quickly and efficiently through union hiring halls."  Many backers of Davis-Bacon did not hide their racist goals. The testimony at the hearings for the bill by William Green, the president of the American Federation of Labor, was a clear example. Green praised the proposed law because it would make it more difficult for contractors to "demoralize" wage rates through use of low-wage "[c]olored labor"

In general, in American history, American Unions have not covered themselves in honor on racial matters.


Categories > History


The Mask of Soros

It is amusing to see how angry the Left is at the Koch brothers nowadays, but they seldom discuss the money that George Soros and other wealthy Lefties use to fund everything from Think Progress to Common Cause.  It would be nice to see the establishment media explore the relationship between these guys and the Leftosphere.
Categories > Politics

Refine & Enlarge

Letters from an Ohio Farmer

Most of you know that we do some interesting, maybe even often consequential things, at the Ashbrook Center.  Some--do I dare say most?--are quite interesting.  I have always said that we never let a good idea go to waste, we take advantage of opportunities to think and act in public, and we can turn on a dime, like the Marine Corps.  Well, we are up to something rather interesting, and maybe even consequential.  We have launched a new project, in the works for months: Letters from an Ohio Farmer.  These are letters aimed at the new Congress and the public.  Please read how we how we introduce ourselves in the project itself, and also read the first letter from an Ohio Farmer

I do hope you understand the spirit in which we launch this project, why the many authors will not be identified, why each letter is the product of many pens, and why only Roger Beckett or your humble servant, will publicly talk about the project.  Above all things we would like the Letters to speak for themselves, and over time--we will offer up one each week--we hope that our effort will have a modest effect on the national conversation about constitutional  self-government.  As we put it when we introduce the project: "The Ohio Farmer is not primarily concerned with immediate policy questions, though he will necessarily discuss them; he hopes to refine and enlarge the public's view of the larger political principles implicit in our policy debates. He is a friend to all who love this country and wish it well; he is searching for that common ground that can unite all reasonable parties who wish to maintain America's glorious tradition of constitutional self-government."
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Foreign Affairs

Turmoil in the Middle East and the Decline of al Qaeda

I recorded a podcast yesterday with David Tucker on the turmoil in the Middle East.  David is very smart on this stuff and he makes a number of interesting points, one of which is that the unrest in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere is likely a sign that al Qaeda will lose more respect and power among Muslims in the coming months.  Of course all is in flux and it's impossible to make predictions on much of anything until the dust settles a bit, but I think this is a likely outcome under most scenarios.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Blog Updates

Over at NRO's Corner, I draw attention to Bill Galston's shrewd observations about Obama's unfolding re-election strategy, which he finds defective.  It is must reading for NLT folks, as Ohio is central to Galston's analysis.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Dancing Dictators

All of the usual suspects of the Americas--Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega--are expressing solidarity with their old friend Gaddafi as he fights to the bitter end in Libya and trying to blame America for the chaos in Libya. Like China, they are worried that the protests throughout the Muslim world will ignite fires elsewhere and are subsequently moving to fortify their repressive regimes.

Meanwhile, nuclear-seeking tyrant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has condemned Gaddafi for oppressing and murdering his own people and expressed solidarity with the people of Libya in their quest for liberty. Apparently he has forgotten about when he oversaw the crackdown on and deaths of his own citizens two years ago, and his decision yesterday to start confiscating television satellite dishes around Iran in order to further his control on information. Or maybe he is just jealous that Gaddafi's Libya gets to join such prestigious nations as China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia on the United Nations Human Rights Council while Iran is forced to keep its anti-Semitic, anti-American rhetoric to the General Assembly.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Fighting For The Right

Local sport radio talk-show host Michael Felger likes to ask "What are we trying to do here?" whenever means and ends don't seem to be aligning.  The recent commentary on Mitch Daniels' refusal to focus on right-to-work legislation in the face of a walkout by Indiana's Democratic state reps has me asking the same thing.  So here are some points,

1.  This isn't about public employee unions.  As Avik Roy pointed out, Daniels has already ended collective bargaining for state employees and his proposed education bill would curtail collective bargaining for teachers along lines similar to Scott Walker's, while vastly expanding school choice.

2.  This line from NRO's The Corner comments is very interesting.  The commenter writes in response to Daniels, " Palin 2012  The lady knows how to fight"  What does this mean?  As governor, Daniels has slashed spending, instituted market-oriented health care reforms, signed pro-life legislation, taken on the public employee unions, and won a fight for a cap on property taxes in the Indiana state constitution.  Now, in the second half of his second term, he is working for a radical right-leaning education reform plan.  To the extent that "fighting" figures of speech have a place in our democratic politics, hasn't Daniels not only fought but also won the kinds of major substantive victories that have been all too rare on the center-right?  What are we trying to do here?

3.  But I do think that the commenter is getting at something important in our political culture.  Even though Palin never turned Alaska into a right-to-work state, and Alaska state employees are unionized, she is able to stir the US vs. THEM emotions of many conservatives.  She might not have instituted an HSA/catastrophic coverage program but she wrote about death panels.  She fights.  This reminds of how some liberals responded to Howard Dean.  He wasn't much more liberal than your average Democratic presidential contender (in some ways he was less liberal), but he gave many liberals the sense that he shared their frustrations and their contempt for President Bush.  That created a powerful bond for a while, but it also limited his appeal beyond his largely white upper middle-class liberal base.  Palin has a wider base, but the point isn't Palin or Daniels or anybody else.  It is that any conservative who wants to get elected President in 2012 will have to engage conservatives not only on substance, but by appealing to their sentiments.  There is more than one way to do this.  Obama appealed to the sentiments of liberals even more strongly than Dean, but he was far less alienating to persuadable.  The trick for a reformist conservative presidential candidate will be to be able to speak movingly to conservatives and persuadables at the same time about the kinds of policy changes we need.  This politician would have to be an authentic conservative without seeming like a rightworld provincial. Those are some choppy cultural waters to navigate, but it isn't impossible.  Chris Christie is one example of how to do it and Bob McDonnell is another - though I think they would both run into some authenticity issues of their own if they ran for President. Maybe Daniels will be able to do that if he runs for President and gets into campaign mode rather than pass major legislative priorities mode (and let's not dismiss the possibility that getting the most possible good policy right now might end up being good politics in the end.)  Maybe he won't.  But if we are going to get the kind of reforms we need to avert either a debt crisis or the emergency imposition of social democratic policies or both, we are going to need a conservative politics that is both substantive and populist, and that has intense appeal to self-described conservatives while being attractive to persuadables..  So that is something for Daniels (or Christie or Rubio, or whoever) to think about.    


Categories > Politics


Baby got Beck

Now would be a good time to remind all union members of their rights under the Beck decision.  No union may force its members to for political activities, among other things.  Relatively few union members know about the decision. 
Categories > Economy

Political Philosophy

Income Inequality and Justice

Hunter Baker gives us a thoughtful and concise reflection on the meaning of justice when it comes to recognizing income inequality.  People get confused about the meaning of justice in this regard because our every instinct tells us that justice must be a form of equality.  And it is.  But what kind of equality?  When we are children, for example, getting your "fair share" of the M&Ms means you get the same number (and I mean, exactly the same number!) as your sister gets.  That's clear enough.  But life gets more complicated than that when we move past candy.  What does equal justice mean with respect to work and income?  To what should your income be equal?  Should it be equal to your sister's income?  Equal to your effort?  Equal to the results you produce?  Equal to the value your employer places upon it?  Baker gives us a good tutorial on the subject that invites further reflection or, as the case may be, a re-adjustment in your point of view.


Lincoln and the Current Secession Crisis

Has anyone been quoting Lincoln's First Inaugural on the secession in the Wisconsin and Indiana state legislatures?  That good ol' grit, the Sage of Mt. Airy nailed it.  Republicans, return to your roots and defend the rule of law.

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the government must cease. There is no other alternative; for continuing the government, is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority, in such case, will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which, in turn, will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them, whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy, a year or two hence, arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it. All who cherish disunion sentiments, are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this. Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new Union, as to produce harmony only, and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks, and limitations, and always changing easily, with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people, Whoever rejects it, does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy, or despotism in some form, is all that is left.

Categories > Politics


Uncommon Wisdom

In the latest Uncommon Knowledge, or own Bill Voegeli does his customary bang-up job discussing the welfare state, modern liberalism, and book, Never Enough.
Categories > Progressivism

Foreign Affairs

Americans Killed by Pirates

For the first time in centuries, pirates have spilled American blood. Four Americans, each of them over the age of fifty, were murdered by pirates off of the coast of Somalia today. Jean (age 66) and Scott (age 70) Adam of Marina del Rey, California, had been sailing from port to port for several years aboard their yacht, stopping to pass out bibles and evangelize wherever the seas took them. They were joined on this particular trip by friends from Seattle, Phyllis Macay (59) and Robert Riggle (67). Several days ago, their yacht was captured by Somalian pirates-- the first American ship to be successfully captured since the Maersk Alabama was taken in 2009. In the previous incident, Navy SEALs rescued the hostages in a dramatic episode that left a few pirates dead and one in custody-- and all hostages safe. The pirate in custody, the first to be captured by American forces since the Barbary Wars, was sentenced recently to 33 years in prison.

In today's tragic unfolding, a U.S. naval destroyer was shadowing the captured yacht, negotiating for the release of the hostages. President Obama had authorized them to use lethal force if they deemed it necessary. This morning, the pirates launched a rocket-propelled grenade at the US ship (which missed). It is currently unclear what happened next exactly, but it involved Navy SEALs boarding the yacht amid gunfire. The four Americans and four pirates were killed, and an additional fifteen pirates have been captured. Some pirates, who have been marauding the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia for most of the past decade, have indicated that their new willingness to kill their hostages is in response to the reaction of nations to their piracy-- chiefly, our trying of pirates in court and Russia's dumping captured pirates deep in the ocean with just a raft.

The United States Navy has joined an international flotilla of warships in patrolling the area off of the coast of Somalia, but the US and NATO have resisted Russian suggestions to invade Somalia to deal with the piracy problem, which is costing the world millions of dollars in international trade a year. Their new brazenness and the ruthless murder of four Americans may end up being their undoing, though, as they may now learn the hard way why "To the Shores of Tripoli" exists within the hymn of our Marines. It is worth noting that the ship involved in this latest incident is the USS Sterett, named after Commandant Andrew Sterett-- commander of the USS Enterprise during the First Barbary War.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Gaddafi Memorial

Michael Ramirez comes up with a most fitting memorial. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Red Menace

The Washington Post's Steven Mufson explains that a) total government debt has hit WWII levels and b) the debt problem is much worse now.  Mufson argues that we are unlikely to see the kind of economic growth and inflation that brought down the debt incurred in WWII . 

The problem is actually even worse than that.  We are not going to see the kind of sharp spending cuts we saw at the end of WWII.  There are several reasons for this.  First, some significant demobilization was very popular.  We can argue about whether the defense budget was cut too much as a percent of GDP, but there were enormous and uncontroversial savings in cutting the military.  The US military is now a much smaller percent of GDP, and while some cuts might be needed given our current situation, cuts to defense spending would have to be both gradual and prudent.  Defense might be due for some cuts (though I want to see some details and some thoughts on how the cuts affect global stability), but we shall not be saved by defense cuts.

We also won't be saved by the higher (by our standards) inflation rates of 1946-1948.  The key drivers of our debt at the federal level are Social Security and Medicare.  The structures and political incentives built into those programs leave them both practically inflation-proof.  Social Security benefits are indexed to wage increases and any inflation will eventually be reflected in higher nominal wages.  The more we inflate, the more Social Security we will have to pay.  Medicare looks more promising, but in reality is just as bad.  The federal government sets reimbursements for Medicare.  Now technically, if we had high inflation and if the federal government did not increase Medicare reimbursements (or just increased them more slowly than inflation), we could inflate our way out of some of our Medicare-create budget problems.  The problem is that there is no reason to expect such a thing to happen.  Medicare costs are already increasing faster than inflation for the simple reason that a) if Medicare reimbursements become too low, medical providers will stop providing services to Medicare clients b) Medicare clients want to receive services c) Medicare clients vote.  If the political will existed to set reimbursements at a sustainable level (or to establish a more consumer-driven system), we wouldn't need inflation, and inflation will not remove the political incentives for ever increasing Medicare reimbursements.  Inflation might do some good in eroding  the real value (and therefore the costs) of some defined benefit government-employee pensions, but it would increase US borrowing costs, not deal with the main drivers of the federal deficit and bring other problems besides.

So are we screwed?  Probably.  There are worthwhile policies for dealing with the Red Menace, but there are huge problems in enacting them.  Part of the problem is public opinion.  A linked problem is that the institutions of the center-right are not well organized for advancing a policy-oriented agenda for dealing with the Red Menace.

Hopefully more later this week. 

Categories > Politics


Visalia, California

I want to make sure that you know it is the California Visalia I am talking about and not the one in Kentucky.  They are, oddly, related, and not only because I have ridden through the one in Kentucky (which has, maybe thirty houses), but because the fellow--Nathanial Vise--that founded the Visalia in California (capital of Tulare County) named it after his ancestral home in Kentucky.  Anyway, I went there last Friday, gave a noon talk at the College of the Sequoias, and then spoke on Old Abe at the Tulare County Lincoln Day Dinner.  Lovely event, even better people.  I really liked this place from every angle, especially the good folk, all patriotic and decent and hard-working.  Lovely and gracious town, you can tell at first glance that the people living there care about it.  The Central Valley is the most productive agricultural area in the nation, and it is impressive in itself and also close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including Mt. Whitney, which I saw each day.  The fact that the county  (21st Congressional District, Cong. Devin Nunes, R) is full of robust Republicans probably explains the charms of the place.  Stephen Tootle was the one babysitting me, and he did a great job. I am gratfeul.  Fine place.  Represents the best (and is among the oldest of settlements, 1850's, between San Francisco and Los Angeles) of California.
Categories > Leisure

The Family

Playing Toward Princeton

The always entertaining and thought-provoking Lenore Skenazy writes an insightful and amusing piece today in the Wall Street Journal gently castigating and poking fun at the marketing gurus and parents who package or who seek to find packaging of ordinary playthings as devices geared toward the development of a super-genius.  While attending an international toy fair in New York last week, Skenazy discovers that the common sense purposes of a ball no longer speak to its value.  Now, we are told, it is a "tactile stimulating sensory aid that helps develop gross motor skills."  As she puts it, every article once sought for the pure joy the thing might offer is now touted as "early intervention in a box."  It is not enough that a baseball comes with the promise of someday throwing a four-seam fastball and Big League dreams; it now must argue its merits on its contribution toward your child's future admission to Princeton--and I'm not even talking about a baseball scholarship!  Ugh.  How sad, and, unfortunately, how familiar!

Since my own children are long past the tiresome world of eager pre-school interventionists--with their well-meaning but often unimaginative theories about the best ways to develop gross and fine motor skills--I had nearly forgotten how depressing and oppressive that world could sometimes be.  Depressing because so uninspired and oppressive because it seems part of some large conspiracy to mold every otherwise capable mother into a ball of self-doubt and confusion:  "I know your Nicky enjoys playing with Legos . . . but is he maximizing his capacities with respect to the pincer grip in this activity?  And what will this mean for his handwriting and scissor skills in kindergarten?  Will he be behind?  And how will he ever make it on to geometry from there?" 

I used to wonder what it might be like if, say, instead of contemplating the possible benefits to hand/eye coordination in a boring drill of picking up beads with a pair of tweezers, parents and pre-school gurus were to place at least as much emphasis on the moral imagination of the children in their charge.  What if, instead of worrying so much about paving a path toward Princeton, we instead started worrying about paving a path toward an ordered soul?  Wouldn't Princeton (if that's even something remotely in your child's cards) take care of itself?  What if, instead of only striving to create "good students" we instead began to strive toward creating good people?  (Think how many "good students" of your acquaintance happen also to be rotten little brats . . .) Then, perhaps, we could stop de-constructing every activity that a normal child will do anyway (when left to his own devices), and parents and educators instead could focus their energies on teaching children the difference between such concepts as right and wrong, good and bad, noble and ignoble, sublime and base, joy and sorrow, justice and injustice--and a few I'm, no doubt, forgetting at the moment.  Does anyone imagine that such children would someday find it impossible to master video games or fly fighter jets?  Would it be impossible to teach such children to throw a four-seam fastball?  Could not a soul, so turned, take on the wonders of geometry or the mysteries of the universe?  Experience tells us that they can, but hubris suggests we can perfect the formula.

The worst thing about the direction our minds seem to be tilted toward when it comes to educating very young children is not that we are sucking the joy out of their experiences (though we do try, mightily, sometimes to do that); it is that we are making moral idiots and buffoons out of ourselves in the process.  We are focused on all the wrong things.  Children can take care of their play time with minimal intervention from adults.  But if adults spend most of their time fretting about children's play time and the tactile experiences these offer, they are in danger of squandering the precious time they have with those children by neglecting to point them toward the higher kinds of learning seen in glimpses at their own hard-won wisdom and experience.  Perhaps then the paucity of our own wisdom and experience (and the subsequent doubt we must feel because of it) explains our reluctance today to so display it?

Yet this question remains:  does Princeton offer any improvement?
Categories > The Family


In Further Honor of Washington

A former government colleague of mine, a young history enthusiast, has put together a handsome website on George Washington, "First in Peace," well worth a visit. 

I was going to peruse President Obama's proclamation of the national holiday, but I can't find the official document on the White House website.  Can anyone come up with it?  Thanks.

Treppenwitz:  I forgot to post this charming essay on Washington in art in three dimensions, by Catesby Leigh, who is writing a book on American public architecture.  Look for his essays in the Wall Street Journal

Categories > Presidency

The Founding

In Honor of Washington

FRC senior fellow Bob Morrison writes on the occasion of Presidents' Day:

By Act of Congress, this is still George Washington's Birthday. Although car dealers and shopping malls have told us over and over again it's Presidents Day, the law is clear: We are honoring today our first president, the Father of our Country.

George Washington has been described as "the gentlest of Christendom's captains." As a military man, he was incredibly brave, facing enemy bullets not once, but many times. But when he put away his sword, he placed a dove of peace--a biblical symbol--atop his beloved Virginia home, Mount Vernon. He was eulogized at his death in 1799 by Gen. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, the father of Robert E. Lee. The elder Lee called Washington "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Washington was an inspiration to virtually all the presidents who came after him.

Thomas Jefferson, our third President, said of George Washington:

For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example. . . . These are my opinions of General Washington, which I would vouch at the judgment seat of God, having been formed on an acquaintance of thirty years. . . .I felt on his death, with my countrymen, that 'verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.'

Abraham Lincoln sought to model his own conduct on that of George Washington. Leaving Springfield by train for Washington, D.C. 150 years ago this month, President-elect Lincoln bade farewell to his Illinois neighbors with these touching words:

I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

So impressed with Washington's conduct was Lincoln that he made a point of kissing the Bible at this own inauguration--just as Washington had done in 1789. Washington's reliance on the Bible was fully shared by Lincoln, who called it "the best gift God has ever given to man...But for it we could not know right from wrong."

Through the centuries, some few Americans have sought to pull themselves up by pulling Washington down. This tendency was most exaggerated in the 1920s, when so-called Progressives thought they could "de-bunk" American history by giving it a Marxist slant. But when a book purporting to show that Washington was a failure was published, President Calvin Coolidge was asked what he thought of it. "Silent Cal" wasted few words on the muckraking book. He looked out the window of the White House toward the Washington Monument and drawled: "He's still there."

Ronald Reagan surely admired George Washington. When Ed Meese, Reagan's loyal lieutenant, was informed several years ago that Americans in an online poll had voted Reagan the greatest of all Americans, Mr. Meese was stunned. "He didn't think so," the former Attorney General said, "Ronald Reagan thought George Washington was the greatest American."

Today, let us thank God for the life of George Washington, the Father of our Country.

Categories > The Founding

Foreign Affairs

Gaddafi's Bloody End

A Tunisian friend of mine, and former Ashbrook Scholar, has been involved in the revolution in his home country. I had tried getting a hold of him last month when Tunisia started to change, but revolutions can be rather distracting; our mutual friend in Egypt told me that they had spoken and he was alright. He did finally get in touch with me today, but only to bring my attention to the chaos in neighboring Libya. He referred to the situation as genocide, and sent me a link to a video showing said genocide (I will not share the link as it was graphic enough to make even my stomach churn and will likely be removed soon from public viewing for that reason). Most of the governments have been relatively restrained in their responses. Muammar al-Gaddafi, the "Brother Leader" of Libya, is showing no such restraint, and has vowed to fight to the last bullet to maintain his grip on the nation that he has ruled for four decades.

Gaddafi came to power in a military coup back in 1969, overthrowing the King of Libya. Twenty-seven years old at the time, he envisioned am empire of Islamic-Socialism and looked to Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, and Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser as his heroes. His foreign policy consisted of actively aiding Palestinian attacks on Israel, invading neighboring Chad, financing the Black September Movement (responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre), arming the IRA in Northern Ireland and FARC in Colombia, and being one of the few Arab leaders that forged strong relations with the Soviet Union. However, in the past decade, he has been seen as moderating himself and seeking warmer relations with the West. He began to turn over Libya's WMDs, ceased funding of terrorist groups (and was subsequently removed from the USA's terrorist list), and paid compensation for the Lockerbie, Berlin discotech, and UTA Flight 722 bombings. President Bush even resumed diplomatic relations with Libya in 2008. Yet despite these improving relations, he is still an eccentric egomaniac. He has consistently attempted to build himself up as the leader of a pan-African state, naming himself "King of the Kings of Africa" a few years ago, and threw a temper-tantrum at the 2009 Arab League Summit that led to him storming out after declaring himself the "Leader of Arab Leaders" and central figure of Islam. His best friend on the international stage is Hugo Chavez (Ahmadinejad doesn't really like competition for 'leader of the Muslim world' much). Oh, and in case you were wondering who killed JFK, it was Israel-- according to Gaddafi's expert insight.

And now his regime is crumbling, as people inspired by Tunisia and Egypt rise up against him. However, Libya is not like these other nations-- it lacks a national identity. It is tribal, and Gaddafi's success has been largely due to his ability to manipulate tribal leaders against each other. Even the military is tribal, meaning that is it unable to play as critical a role as militaries are playing throughout the other Arab revolutions. Combined the fact that Libya is, thus, not really a nation with Gaddafi's refusal to step down and you have a growing international nightmare. Rather than step down, he has ordered the full might of his regime to murder every last dissenter. Fighter jets and helicopters are flying over the streets of Tripoli, firing without discretion upon what were peaceful protests. His thugs now roam the streets, looting and murdering at will. This in itself will be his undoing. The longest-ruling non-royal national leader alive has become even too ruthless for his supporters to continue supporting him. In response to the aerial bombings of his own people in Tripoli, and the massacres taking place in the countryside, members of his government are resigning left and right-- including most Libyan diplomats, among them senior Libyan officials to the United Nations and the Arab League. Today, part of his air force refused orders to bomb Tripoli-- some engaged pro-Gaddafi planes while others defected to Malta. Reports are that Gaddafi has fled the country for Venezuela, but both Gaddafi and Chavez have denied the reports.

With Gaddafi's bloody fall sinking Libya further into chaos, the threat of all-out civil war in this tribal and oil-rich area looms on the horizon. The United States has been largely impotent in this matter, so far only able to get out a statement that we think murdering civilians is wrong. We are looking at sanctions, but at this point we don't know who to sanction and international oil-interests will ensure nothing too harsh is done to Libyan exports by the UN. I have a feeling that we will need to rely on the European Union to try get a handle of the situation, but given their lackluster response to Italy's pleas for help in dealing with Tunisian refugees, I'm not hopeful.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

The Power of One (Percent)

During law school, I learned of the "80-20 rule," which holds that 80% of effects are due to 20% of causes. For example, 20% of students are usually responsible for 80% of extracurricular activities - at dinner one night, I was part of a random conversation among friends which concluded with our dividing up the leadership positions of every conservative group at the school for the next year.

I thought being part of the 20% was notable, but Ethiopia's Catholic population puts me to shame. A Q&A with Bishop Saldarriaga, apostolic vicar of Soddo-Hosanna, mentions the following statistic:

Although Catholics number less than 1% of the population, the Catholic Church runs more than 90% of the social programs in Ethiopia.

An "80-20 rule" is impressive, but a "90-1 rule" is uncanny.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


What's Rights?

Former public-sector Union boss Andy Stern complains of "a 15-state Republican campaign to strip workers of their rights."

Interesting language.  The rights in question are not natural rights.  The right of workers in general, and of workers in our government to form unions, and to negotiate collectively is not something men deserve because they are men.  It is a right in the very old fashioned sense. It is a right that the government of Wisconsin granted to many government employees many years ago.  Hence, taking that right away is only in a limited sense an assault on rights.  It t not a fundamental rights or a human right.

I suspect that many on the Left don't see it that way. My understanding of their position is that rights are not from nature.  On the contrary, rights are created in History.  Hence once a right is acquired, it is to be understood as a permanent acquisition, for History is a tale of progress.  To deny that, is to deny Truth, as the Left sees it.  Hence the charge, by Jonathan Chait and others of "Republican Nihilism."  To disbelive in History is, from the Left's perspective, nihilism.

The joker here is that History is having the last laugh.  The Left's idea of what is possible in the world of human events is crumbling before out eyes. As a rule, they prefer to shoot the messenger.  As Horace famously said, "you can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she always returns."

Categories > Progressivism

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Billy Collins' Aristotle

I have been reading a bit from Billy Collins again this morning, including this, his "Aristotle", which, no doubt isn't that hard to critique, and yet, you must admit is a good effort.  This guy Collins is a poet of everything he sees and touches and hears and sees.  Impressive.  There is also this, "Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles", and also, "Her".

I just got one of his volumes of poems called, "The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems," and I just noticed the epigraph in it is from Henry James: "My idea of paradise is a perfect automobile going about thirty miles an hour on a smooth road to a twelfth century cathedral."  That's probably the best thing James ever wrote.

Foreign Affairs

The Question of Islamic Democracy

Over at NRO, Andrew McCarthy has harsh words for Islamic democracy within the context of an apostasy trial in Afghanistan. NLT has similarly questioned the prudence of supporting democracy in Egypt, precisely due to the possibility of an Islamic Brotherhood majority imposing sharia law.

This is the first great question of the 21st century. George W. Bush answered in the affirmative that all people and religions are capable of sustaining a free and just democracy. Many share or hope to share his optimism, but the years to come will surely test our faith.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Obam-o-bots on the Internet

Patriot Action Network blows the whistle on Obama's attempt to subvert the internet in an article titled, "US Gov. Software Creates 'Fake People' on Social Networks to Promote Propaganda."

The US government is offering private intelligence companies contracts to create software to manage "fake people" on social media sites and create the illusion of consensus on controversial issues. ...

According to the contract, the software would "protect the identity of government agencies" by employing a number of false signals to convince users that the poster is in fact a real person. A single user could manage unique background information and status updates for up to 10 fake people from a single computer. ...

[Leaked e-mails describe] how they would  'friend' real people on Facebook as a way to convey government messages.

It just gets worse from there. I lack the tech savvy to detect if this is legitimate news or an elaborate hoax - but if true, it's damning to the hope and change president who promised transparency and a new way. I've said it before, but, just for perspective, George W. Bush never imagined violating the principles of liberty and privacy in this way. Where is the outrage from the left?

Categories > Technology


National Institute for Civil Discourse

The University of Arizona is opening a center to focus on civility in political debate. This strikes me as the final victory lap of the leftist pundits who recklessly and slanderously blamed the Tuscan tragedy on "toxic" rhetoric from conservatives.

An institute devoted to monitoring and debating political discourse could produce interesting observations and a thoughtful exchange of ideas. But the Univ. of Arizona provost admitted that the Tucson shootings were not linked to public discourse - just before saying they "created a space for us to think about civil discourse," and that "if anyone should lead this conversation, it should be the University of Arizona."

So, the Univ. of Arizona, due to its proximity to a national tragedy, should be the one to lead a national debate on the issue of political rhetoric, which admittedly had nothing to do with the tragedy. The only link between the Tuscan shootings and political discourse was the shameful attempt by disingenuous liberals to blame conservative rhetoric for the murders. This, apparently, is the nexus to be deeply mined and propagated by the university's new institute. The New York Times' editorial page must be pleased, indeed.

Categories > Education


What Got Cut?

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers described the Continuing Resolution as:

a monumental accomplishment for each and every American who believes that their government is spending too much. It dramatically scales back the size and scope of domestic government programs, eliminates $100 billion in spending compared to what the President asked for last year, and will mark the beginning of a new trend of reductions that will take place throughout the next year.

The House Appropriations webpage lists a lengthy, interesting and vastly satisfying roll call of the many programs and positions slashed under the CR.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Tyrants Clamping Down

As interest groups argue over who best represents democracy in the struggle for deciding who gets to decide what perks public employees get with their jobs, and as they compare their opponents to Nazis and other such tyrannous scum, very real fights are taking place against very real dictators throughout the world. Inspired by the apparent success of Egypt, protests are picking up from North Africa to the Far East. However, many of these regimes are not showing the type of relative restraint that was seen by Mubarak's government and the Egyptian military. In Libya, Moammar Kadhafi's thugs have been openly shooting at dissenters, including murdering mourners at a funeral. In China, the mere whisper of dissent has led to more internet clamp-downs and dozens of arrests. The Bahraini people have suffered some death and tragedy, in recent protests, but there is hope for talks now. Yemen spirals further into chaos. In Burma, recently-released pro-democracy leader Aung Suu Kyi is already receiving open death threats from the military junta ruling the nation. Similar events are playing out in Algeria, Oman, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Jordan, Gabon, and Kazakhstan-- some with more success than others.

Then, of course, there is Iran--- where lawmakers have started demanding that opposition leaders, such as former reformer president Khatami, should just be executed. Even as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes credit for the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, he has directed state security forces to arrest scores of dissenters and further regulate the internet. (H/T to Jon Stewart's recent piece on the Holocaust denier.)

The point is, as tyrants are clamping down on people fighting for the basic right to gather and say what is on their minds, it would do well for the people gathered in Madison to perhaps try to stop playing themselves up as champions of democracy and stop comparing their opposition to Nazis or Communists. Decrying the loss of some health benefits pales in the "championing democracy" category when you have pro-democracy leaders like Suu Kyi and Khatami worrying if they'll live to see next year, and neither Governor Walker nor the union leaders should have to suffer such insulting nomenclature when there are true thugs like Kadhafi and Ahmadinejad still wielding power in this world. Words matter. Use them carefully.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Collective Bargaining and School Performance

Supporters of the public employee unions have recently been circulating state-by-state information on collective bargaining, and then comparing it to statistics on ACT and SAT performance in the respective states.  This "data" started to be passed around via Twitter and Facebook; for example, "5 states forbid collective bargaining for educators: SC, NC, GA, TX, & VA. Their national rank in ACT scores: 50th, 49th, 48th, 47th, 44th."

A friend of mine who is a public school teacher--and who is obviously closely following events in Wisconsin as well as closer to home, shared this with me, along with the claim that good ol' progressive Wisconsin ranks #1 in ACT/SAT testing.  I investigated this claim, which traces back to this chart.

As it turns out, these ratings are bogus.  For each state it adds the ranking for SAT scores to the ranking for ACT scores (and it's not even clear what year the data comes from), but it doesn't take into consideration the percentage of the population who take either test. The College Boards specifically warn against doing state-to-state comparisons for the SAT, because in some states all students are required to take the text, while in others only the best students do. Only 4% of Wisconsin students took the SAT in 2010, and since they tend to be the cream of the crop it's not surprising that Wisconsin does well (but third in the nation, not first). On the other hand, 69% of Wisconsin seniors took the ACT in 2010, and Wisconsin comes in 17th in terms of composite ACT scores.

A more thorough debunking of these statistics may be found here; among the revelations is the fact that the data is from 1999.  The owner of this site is actually an advocate of "student organizing"; it is to his credit that he has the intellectual honesty to challenge claims that purport to back up his side of the argument.

Does collective bargaining correlate with performance by students on standardized tests?  Of the five states whose students performed worst on the ACT, three--Michigan, Tennessee, and Florida--mandate collective bargaining with teachers' unions.  The other two permit school districts to bargain collectively, but do not mandate it.

Categories > Education


Discrimination in Ohio Schools

Student Free Press reports a study by the Center for Equal Opportunity which claims Miami University and Ohio State "discriminate based on race and ethnicity in the admissions process." CEO Chairman Linda Chavez said:

The study shows that many, many students are rejected in favor of students with lower test scores and grades, and the reason is that they have the wrong skin color or their ancestors came from the wrong countries.

If this seems unbelievable 60 years after the civil rights movement, it's because you're making the wrong assumptions. The study found that the universities preferred "African-American, Hispanic and Asian students over white students."  

Now, if the bigotry seemed untenable when you thought it harmed blacks, shouldn't the same outrage accompany the revelation that it harms whites? Of course, it doesn't, because we've grown accustomed to the "soft bigotry" of affirmative action and racial preferences for minorities. But the principle of government preference for certain racial groups is just as loathsome to American morality as ever.

H/t: NRO's Corner

Categories > Race