Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

From Angelo Codevilla's The Ruling Class:

The U.S. labor movement now consists almost exclusively of government employees, employees of companies doing government contracts, or companies that are subsidized by government.

I know the majority of Americans in Unions nowadays are government employees, but how accurate is the rest of the statement?   Whatever the exact number in that group is, we ought to add the last two categories to the majority of union workers who work directly for the government when discussing the future of unions in the U.S.

Categories > Quote of the Day

Foreign Affairs

Who's Who at the UN

Iran officially became a member of the UN's women's rights committee yesterday. No additional comment should be necessary for the moderately aware reader - the absurdity and shame is entirely self-evident.

However, the ever-watchful Anne Bayefsky offers a critique of the UN by noting the member nations running its various commissions:

Human Rights: Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Angola

Status of Women: The Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran

Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia, Sudan, Iran, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan

Women: Libya, Saudi Arabia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, China

Social Development: Cuba, Egypt, Zimbabwe

NGOs: Sudan, Cuba, Pakistan, China

Information: China, Libya, Kazakhstan, Iran

Children's Fund (UNICEF): Sudan, China

World Food Programme: Executive Board: Sudan

P.S. It is worth noting that the U.S. did not oppose Iran's elevation to the women's rights board. Also, Pajama Media posts on the deplorable legal status of Iranian women and has a video of Iran's testimony before the UN hailing the outstanding equality enjoyed by Iranian women.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

The Civil War & Lincoln

Lincoln's First Inaugural

Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address and of what may be the clearest and most powerful argument against secession and for the perpetuity of our Union ever delivered by an American statesman.   

I also bring your attention, again, to this project and note today's entry in it.   Reading that entry, one cannot help but feel some measure of the horrible apprehension that must have been coursing through Lincoln's veins as he set out in these uncharted and dangerous waters.  It is useful to recall immortal words like this on their anniversary, but it is so much better to recall them--as we now so readily can--in their proper context. 


Pulling the Trigger or Pulling the Plug on School Reform?

Parents with children in California's failing schools (and out of 9000 public schools in the Golden State, 1300 now qualify as "failing") got an unexpected lifeline last January.  As part of the Democrat-led legislature's unsuccessful attempt to get a piece of the Obama Administration's Department of Education "Race to the Top" funds, they passed a law which includes a provision giving parents the legal right to demand intervention at failing schools in the form of a charter school, a school closure and transfer of their children, or a staff/curriculum overhaul.  Eager parents in Compton--a city "known best for its political corruption, racial division, and gang violence"--were on the case without haste.  They got the requisite number of signatures and were well on their way to demanding a charter school when (prepare yourself for the shock!) union-backed bureaucrats stepped in and tried to shut them down on a technicality. 

Ben Boychuk has been following this story in great detail over at the Heartland Institute's website and, more recently and in greater detail, at the City Journal.  Both pieces are well worth a read and Ben is, as always, worth following--especially on matters related to education reform.   
Categories > Education


For Dionne: Responsibility Equals Tax Increases

E.J. Dionne's latest column is titled, "For Governors: Responsibility Equals Invisibility."  He laments that the way for a governor to get attention these days it to "just cut and cut and cut some more" from budgets for education, health care and transportation.  By contrast, Dionne cites a handful of "brave" governors, such as Illinois's Pat Quinn and Jerry Brown in California, whose efforts to close budget deficits by raising taxes receive little attention and less praise.

Quinn, for example, signed a bill passed by a lame-duck session of the Illinois legislature that raised the state's income tax from 3% to 5%.  Quinn was "pilloried in conservative outlets" for that decision, Dionne says.  But that's not the whole story. 

Quinn won election in November 2010 after promising that he would veto any bill raising the income tax above 4%.  His subsequent claim that the state's fiscal situation deteriorated so dramatically after Election Day, making an even bigger tax increase necessary, would elicit raucous laughter at a funeral.  Illinois's fiscal problems were well known before Election Day.  For Quinn to claim that, by a remarkable coincidence, they grew much more severe in the weeks between when he won election on the basis of a campaign promise, and the signing ceremony when he broke it, can be explained in one of two ways: Either Quinn made the 4% promise cynically, knowing he would have to - or at least want to - break it, or he made it stupidly, not realizing the severity of his state's debt problems, even though he was serving his second year as governor during the 2010 campaign.  If Dionne applauds that kind of leadership, it will be difficult for any Democrat not under indictment to earn his reproach.

As for Brown, I've argued that California's governments, state and local, were spending about a quarter more for all their activities in 2008, after adjusting for inflation and population growth, than they were in 1992.  We're told out here that a savage 20% cut in overall government spending would leave us unable to afford to hire anyone to look after the school children, other than the child molesters we could no longer afford to keep in prisons.  And yet, less than 20 years ago, California managed to educate its children, imprison its criminals, maintain its roads and assist the indigent -- and did all this with inflation and population-adjusted government outlays about one-fifth smaller than what they were recently.  Is it so heartless or unreasonable for the taxpayers to expect that we try to recapture the levels of government efficiency seen so recently, before we declare the task impossible and say the only way out is for more money to prop up a less efficient government?

"There is nothing courageous about an ideological governor hacking away at programs that partisans of his philosophy, including campaign contributors, want eliminated," Dionne declares.  But there is something courageous, or at least interesting, about Democratic politicians risking the contempt of liberal columnists by declaring that further tax increases are simply impossible.  Governor Andrew Cuomo has been categorical in his opposition to addressing New York's fiscal problems with tax increases, even if it means laying off more than 10,000 public workers. 

Peter Shumlin is the Democratic governor of the People's Republic of Vermont, and even he thinks that his state cannot tax its way to solvency.   "Vermont has a 6 percent sales tax and, at the top tier, a 9 percent income tax," Politico reports. "The result has been a long period of stagnation for the Green Mountain State."  "We've already got a progressive income tax in Vermont, and we can't get more progressive because we'll lose the few payers that we have," Shumlin recently said. "We don't have any more tax capacity."

Dionne's readers will need considerable patience if they're waiting for his column praising Cuomo and Shumlin for courageously repudiating the interests and instincts that prevail among their partisans and campaign contributors.
Categories > Politics


Obama's Left Flank

President Barack Obama is increasingly finding himself in the uncomfortable position of facing fire from both the Left and the Right. With his unyielding support for the healthcare law and his refusal to adequately address the disgustingly large and dangerous deficit we face, he remains increasingly at odds with both conservatives and moderates. With his attempts to portray himself as more of a centrist following the "shellacking" in November and his realization that some things are harder to change than he originally wanted (our foreign policy chief among them), he is earning the ire of the Left. Actor Matt Damon joins a slew of Hollywood types in criticizing the President. Damon, one of President Obama's most visible celebrity supporters in 2008, has said that he does not believe the president is doing a good job and said that Obama "misinterpreted his mandate. A friend of mine said to me the other day, 'I no longer hope for audacity.'"

Barbra Streisand and Jane Lynch have hit him from the left on his lackluster efforts to address gay rights. Hugh Hefner has hit him on foreign policy, Robert Redford on the environment, and Spike Lee on his slow response to the Gulf Oil disaster. Keith Olbermann spent much of his airtime before departing his show recently criticizing the Obama administration, particularly his embrace of the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Politically, particularly with the hiring of William Daley as his new chief of staff, it seems like Obama is reacting to his midterm losses and massive discontent by moving towards the center, as President Clinton successfully managed to do in the 1990s. However, this will not work nearly as well for Obama as it did for Clinton. In foreign policy, he is earning the ire of his left flank for continuing the War on Terror almost just like President Bush did, maintaining forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and keeping Guantanamo Bay open. However, he is drawing the condemnation of the right for signing the START Treaty and seeming to weaken America's influence and stature in the world. In domestic policy, both the Left and the Right are hitting him for his waffling on gays and marriage, his ineffectiveness thus far in dealing with the budget, and the healthcare bill.

He cannot portray himself as a centrist while maintaining his support for the healthcare bill and current government spending levels. He cannot win over his left flank with his foreign policy record and generally poor politicking in Washington and abroad. An attack from an insurgent on the flank (think someone like Kucinich or Feingold) during the election can hurt him; even if one does not happen and he earns the begrudging support of the far left, lackluster supporters are bad at fundraising and grassroots activism. However, Republicans should not be lulled into a false sense of security-- this is, after all, the inexperienced fellow who managed to successfully take down the Clinton political machine, and the Republican Party has the massively important and difficult decision of finding a candidate able to take this discontent and transform it into a movement. Regardless, this is sure to be an interesting election.
Categories > Elections


Abortion in the Big Apple

60% of black children in New York City are aborted. Indeed, 78% of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics are located in minority communities. A pro-life group advertised these facts with a Manhattan billboard:


The abortion industry immediately decried the message and, apparently in solidarity with Wisconsin's unions, threatened violence if it were not removed. Planned Parenthood managed to rouse up a degree of horror and indignation which was quite lacking during revelations that their clinics fostered child prostitution. Rather than remove the plank from their own eye, the abortion giant responded by lobbying for legislation to drive non-abortion-providing pregnancy center competitors out of business.

I previously lamented the world-wide gendercide effect of abortion on women, the 50% national abortion rate among blacks and the the Democratic party's support for "post-birth abortion. The tragedy of abortion not only kills its direct victims, but seems to mortally degrade the virtue and conscience of its practitioners and advocates.  

Categories > Bioethics


Confused People And Confused Questions

This new poll says that people are opposed to cuts in Medicare and Social Security by vast margins, but also support raising the retirement age and reducing benefits to wealthier retired people. So apparently, some significant fraction of the population thinks something like this:

Pollster: Do you support cuts to Social Security.

Respondent:  No way! What are you crazy!

Pollster:  Well what about making most people work for a few years longer before they can collect Social Security and then paying some of them lower benefits.

Respondent:  Well, that's okay.

The thing is that the poll is making people's opinions sound more incoherent than they really are.  The respondent's answers make sense if you listen to how the pollster asked the questions (the link to the survey is in the story linked above.)  The question on cutting Social Security is phrased:


Let me you [sic] read you a number of programs that could be cut significantly as a way to reduce the current federal budget deficit.  For each one, please tell me if you think significantly cutting the funding for this program is totally acceptable, mostly acceptable, mostly unacceptable, or totally unacceptable as a way to reduce the federal deficit.

Social Security is then presented as a program that might be "cut significantly" to "reduce the current budget deficit."  A listener could reasonably assume that they were being asked to cut Social Security benefits right now for current retirees.  It is no surprise that only 22 percent of respondents answered unacceptable.  No major political figure is suggesting any such thing.  The question and answer options for means testing and raising the retirement age are phrased:

Let me you read you a number of other things that might be cut or eliminated as a way to reduce the current federal budget deficit.  For each one, please tell me if you think significantly cutting the funding for this program is totally acceptable, mostly acceptable, mostly unacceptable, or totally unacceptable as a way to reduce the federal deficit.

Reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees.

Gradually raising the Social Security retirement age to sixty-nine by the year 2075.

Those two options win 62 and 56 percent support respectively.  Unless you are trying to craft the Obama White House's reelection campaign, asking people about whether they want entitlement cuts is not useful  Most people are too unfamiliar with the policy options in dispute to give a meaningful answer in the absence of clear policy options. 

I remember watching C-SPAN a few days after the November 2010 election.  One of the conservative think tanks was putting on a post election discussion panel.  The panel included blogger Ed Morrissey, Byron York, and some leader of a Florida organization with "Tea Party" in its name.  The panel was asked about entitlement cuts.  The Florida person gave a confused answer about her elderly grandmother and how her elderly mother-in-law was willing to make some sacrifices, but only some sacrifices and how people who don't work should also have to make sacrifices too. She was a person who was active in politics but she seemed to have no clue about the various policy options for entitlement reform.  There is no reason to expect that the median American voter is any more familiar with those options.

This poll indicates that there is a potential majority constituency for entitlement reform, but conservatives will have to prepare the ground and choose their words very, very carefully.     

Categories > Politics


Fight Smarter

I think Reihan Salam is a little pessimistic about Gov. Walker's chances of prevailing in the end, but this post is a must read.  Among the points I would add:  Most people who don't already consume much right-leaning media could not care less what FDR thought about public sector unions or how much those unions contribute to Democratic candidates.  They might be brought around to caring about how the government might spend less money for equal or better results.  Salam's thoughts about how to reframe the debate (if not for Scott Walker, then for future candidates and public officials) are valuable from both an electoral and a policy standpoint. But there is more to it than tactics on one issue.  To the extent that conservative activists, media figures and politicians are more interested in actual policy change than displays of contempt for the opposing political coalition and its leaders, they need to be listening to Salam: 

The whole brouhaha is a reminder of the need for the right to think long-term. The health reform debate played out as it did because social policy scholars like Jacob Hacker thought deeply about the defeat of Clinton's Health Security proposal and they designed a new approach designed to survive the rough-and-tumble of the political process. To win these fights, policymakers need a half-a-loaf strategy, i.e., fallback options for when they run into resistance. The defeat of the public option was, for health policy advocates on the left, a relatively minor loss, as the likely trajectory of health costs in a tightly centralized system built around subsidizing coverage with a high actuarial value all but guarantees the need for aggressive cost containment measures in the future. Win now, or win later. Having taken on public sector unions without mobilizing an effective coalition of taxpayers and beneficiaries of public services, Gov. Walker and his allies risk losing in bruising, lasting way. 

Categories > Politics


Social Conservative Review

John Moser, Robinson O'Brien-Bours, Pete Spiliakos and I are featured in FRC's monthly Social Conservative Review. As always, it's worth a read.
Categories > Conservatism


The Irrelevant First Amendment

The Supreme Court opinion in the Westboro Baptist Church case (the military funeral disrupters) illustrates why the First Amendment has become increasingly irrelevant to self-government.  Of course free speech is more important than ever, but the Court's majority opinion shows the divide between that fundamental constitutional principle and what has become mere First Amendment "freedom of expression."  As Justice Alito argues in his solo dissent, "Neither classic 'fighting words' nor defamatory statements are immunized when they occur in a public space, and there is no good reason to treat a verbal assault based on the conduct or character of a private figure like Matthew Snyder [the fallen Marine] any differently."  Of course, "funerals are unique events at which special protection against emotional assaults is in order."  The Justice is on his way to becoming the Justice for common decency and the friend of dogs--see his dissent in the animal cruelty case.  

The Court's appalling conclusion about free speech also reminds us of an important political issue for defenders of constitutional government.  First, Justice Alito is on the Court because conservative Republicans protested President Bush's nomination of an unqualified crony.  Second, note Justice Breyer's concurring opinion, which underlines the limits to the Court's free speech defense.  Breyer voted correctly against University of Michigan quotas in the undergraduate case, and he was the swing vote in the Texas state house Ten Commandments display case (he voted the wrong way against the Ten Commandments' posting in a court house).  For one, Clinton nominated Breyer because of the relative ease of confirmation.  Even the perception of political opposition can shape the Court and the lower courts.  Hence the need for robust, incisive argument against nominees who undermine constitutional self-government.   

Categories > Courts

Pop Culture

Gaddafi vs Sheen

The Guardian has a little quiz of ten quotes, and you get to choose whether or not the quotes belong to mad dictator Muammar Gaddafi or crazy actor Charlie Sheen. Comparing the tyrant to the actor highlights well his egomania and delusions, and further illustrates why Gaddafi was a ticking time bomb for eventually lashing out at his people as he is now.

I only got 5/10 correct.
Categories > Pop Culture


Words of Wisdom

Every so often I feel the need to pick up my well-worn copy of A Mencken Chrestomathy and turn to a random page to see what delightfully quotable passage I find there.  This morning's was a particularly good one, so I thought I'd share it:

All the great villainies of history have been perpetrated by sober men, and chiefly by teetotalers. But all the charming and beautiful things , from the Song of Songs to terrapin a la Maryland, and from the nine Beethoven symphonies to the Martini cocktail, have been given to humanity by men who, when the hour came, turned from well water to something with color to it, and more in it than mere oxygen and hydrogen.

And with that, I pour myself a tumbler of Gentleman Jack and sit down to grade student papers.

Categories > Leisure

Progressive versus Progressive

I'm going to cross-post here a series I'm doing over with our peeps at the Power Line blog on the difference between today's so-called "Progressives" and the original Progressives of a century ago.  Here's the first post, slightly amended.  

Progressivism is on a lot of peoples' minds these days (including mine), chiefly because liberals have embraced the name as a way to escape the bad odor that has attached to liberalism since the 1960s.  (Or, as I described it in my recent lecture on the subject, "it comes to first sight as a way for contemporary liberals to reboot a disfavored franchise, sort of the New Deal and Great Society as re-envisioned by J.J. Abrams or the Coen Brothers.")  It is a clever way of associating themselves with an older moment in American history--the Progressive Era--that featured bipartisan consensus in many ways, since Progressivism was the property of both political parties, and with the positive-sounding term "progress," as no one is actually against progress as understood by common sense.

But are today's "Progressives" actually faithful to the older Progressive tradition they are claiming? I'm going to start doing a short Power Line series on this question, because the answer is not so clear cut. In some ways the answer is certainly yes. Two in particular come to mind: the impulse for centralized political solutions (which means a bigger federal government), and the disregard and/or disdain for the principles of the Constitution and our Founders.

But in other ways today's Progressives depart radically from the Progressives of a hundred years ago. Two come to mind as we approach the 2012 election season. Teddy Roosevelt and his "Bull Moose" Progressive Party saw itself explicitly as a bulwark against socialism, and TR and other leading Progressives rejected the language of class conflict. Most of today's Progressives are stealth socialists, and make class conflict a central organizing principle.

Second, the Progressive movement, and TR's party in 1912, was suffused with the spirit of Protestant evangelical Christianity, as Sid Milkis points out in his fine book on the 1912 election.  The conventioneers sang and swayed to Christian hymns including "Onward Christian Soldiers," and TR's famous oration to the convention began with the ringing call that "we stand at Armageddon" ready "to battle for the Lord." That kind of language at a Democratic Party convention today would get you arrested; no group is more estranged from the agenda of today's Progressivism than Protestant evangelical Christians. William Jennings Bryan, were he alive today, would be run out of the Democratic Party faster than you can say "Joe Lieberman."

Refine & Enlarge

Letters from an Ohio Farmer

Here is another Letter from an Ohio Farmer.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


The Small Field

Rich Lowry fears that the Republican presidential field might be Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich at the top of the pack with Rick Santorum, John Huntsman, Herman Cain and Gary Johnson running behind.  Yikes.  Here are some thoughts on some of the candidates Lowry mentions,

Romney - It's all been said.  His authenticity problems (both as to style and substance) aren't going away.  Ramesh Ponnuru explains why Romneycare will probably be a bigger hurdle for Romney in 2012 than it was in 2008.

Gingrich - He has never shown appeal to voters outside a subgroup of conservatives.  I doubt he could get elected Senator from Georgia never mind President of the United States.  Even if he couldn't win, there was a time when Gingrich would have been useful in the primaries because he would raise important ideas that other candidates might ignore.  That time has gone. Look at this battle plan Gingrich came up with for congressional Republicans in 2006. Not even getting into the disintegration of his second marriage, or his ethanol demagoguery, Gingrich has turned being "the ideas guy" into a hustle.

Pawlenty - I've read some people knock him as being too bland.  Actually, when he gets in front of a national audience, Pawlenty tends to become obnoxious.  Remember his 2010 CPAC speech when he suggested that America take inspiration from an act of domestic violence?  He meant spousal abuse and not terrorism but I don't know if that makes it worse or better.  His 2011 CPAC speech was an improvement.  He gave us a glimpse of an agenda when he said "whether it's education, health care, housing, or just about anything else, we need to put people in charge, give them the power to make their own decisions, not government."  That is a good start, but it is worthless if it stays at that level of abstraction.  We'll see if he can use those basic principles to craft policies and then explain the benefits of those policies to persuadable voters.  But even in 2011, Pawlenty couldn't help himself.  The transcript doesn't do justice to Pawlenty's pro wrestling-style phony outrage when he bellowed "And, Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country."  Well I guess it beats having anything real to say about the unfolding events in Egypt or ongoing American counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan.  Pawlenty actually has an okay record as governor.  He kept spending down and didn't raise taxes (well he tried to raise cigarette taxes but it was a complicated failure.)  He instituted some price transparency reforms in health care.  They aren't game changers absent changes in coverage mandates and tax subsidies, but they are something.  He has a record as a consistent social conservative.  Pawlenty obviously wants to be President very badly.  I doubt he is what this country needs, but I would guess he has the best chance of winning of any of the candidates Lowry mentions.  That means he is probably doomed.

Herman Cain - He lost the only political campaign he ever ran and the FairTax will come back to haunt him if he becomes more than a gadfly candidate.  But in a small field where the better known candidates are making clumsy and transparently cynical appeals to conservatives, there might be an opening for a principled populist outsider with a business background and a good understanding of the right-leaning media.

A Pawlenty vs. Romney is likely to resolve itself as a battle between the attempted tax raiser and the flip-flopping stepfather of Obamacare.  That would be a waste of the public's attention.  I think the field Lowry describes would probably lead us to:


Categories > Politics


Having It Both Ways on Majority-Rule

During Barack Obama's first two years in the White House, liberal commentators devoted millions of pixels to denouncing the use of the filibuster by Senate Republicans.  Others may have written more often about how a legislative minority's resort to arcane procedures to frustrate the will of the majority was an affront to democracy, but no one wrote about it more passionately than Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker.  Filibusters, he argued earlier this year, have become "as common as sunsets--and as destructive as tsunamis."  The de facto requirement that no bill will be passed by the Senate without a super-majority of 60 votes means, in theory, "The minority can't quite rule, exactly, but it can, and does, use the rules to ruin."  In practice, the result was that "dozens of ... worthy measures--all of which passed the House and had majority support in the Senate" - wound up rejected by Congress.

Such ringing, sweeping pleas for plain-old majority rule in our elected legislatures became awkward two weeks ago when the 14 Democratic members of the Wisconsin state senate decided to leave the capitol - and apparently the state - to prevent the 19 Republican senators from voting on Governor Scott Walker's proposals to reduce the power and prerogatives of the labor unions representing state and municipal employees.  Ordinarily, a majority of 17 senators would be enough to provide a quorum in a senate with 33 members, allowing legislative business to proceed.  The state constitution, however, requires  20 senators for a quorum to consider bills, such as Walker's, relating to the budget.  (This super-majority of 60.6% is almost exactly the same as the percentage of U.S. Senators needed to break a filibuster.)

Consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds like mine, I've been hoping to see one of the filibuster's critics step forward to denounce the Fugitive Fourteen for resorting to parliamentary tricks to impede the will of the majority.  That Democratic minority in the state senate can't rule, exactly, but appears determined to use the rules to ruin.  As a result, a bill that passed the Wisconsin state assembly and for which a majority of democratically elected state senators  clearly intend to vote languishes.

This week Hertzberg sets our minds at ease, explaining patiently that the one thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other: "Liberals who applaud the Wisconsin senators' interstate flight have been accused of hypocrisy, given that these same liberals indignantly reject the undemocratic use of the filibuster in the Senate of the United States. The analogy is as clever as it is flawed. The Wisconsinites are not trying to kill the bill (they can't stay away forever); they merely want to delay a vote in the hope of mobilizing public support for compromise. And, instead of simply declaring an intention--the only effort a modern filibuster requires--they have to do something; to wit, camp out in cheap motels at their own expense, away from their families. They even have to forgo their own salaries: the Republicans have halted direct deposit to their skedaddling colleagues' bank accounts. If they want to get paid, they have to come back to Madison to pick up a paycheck."

The argument is as weak as it is tendentious.  Because the clock is always ticking in a legislative body, the distinction between delaying and trying to kill a bill has hundreds of shades of gray.  The Wisconsin senators don't need to stay away forever - just long enough that the necessity of addressing other public business in a reconvened senate forces Walker and his allies to accept a "compromise" that is indistinguishable from a capitulation.  Mobilizing public support is exactly what Republican senators wanted by running the four-corners offense against the health care bill in 2009, a tactic that seemed like it might make the difference when Republican Scott Brown won a surprising victory in a special election to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.  The liberal chorus after that election did not call for Democrats to re-assess their approach to health reform in light of an electoral rebuke, but to redouble their commitment to passing the bill Brown had denounced as the central plank of his successful campaign.

The agonies of the skedaddled senators, living apart from their families and paychecks in cheap Illinois hotels, don't move the needle, either.  This year's Democratic state senators, like last year's Republican U.S. senators, are playing the game according to the rules, taking advantage of its opportunities and forbearing its inconveniences.  The reason the passionate denunciations of the filibuster never kindled the outrage of anyone outside the liberal blogosphere is that people have a basic grasp of fairness: the rules can be sixteen kinds of idiosyncratic, but if both sides have to play by the same rules, the contest is fundamentally fair.  Furthermore, in a country as closely divided as the U.S. has been for the past 20 years, procedural departures from strict majority-rule persist because politicians in the majority party can easily envision being in the minority in an election or two, and would rather be frustrated now than defenseless then. 

Rather than embarrass themselves by insisting that fundamentally similar parliamentary procedures in Washington and Madison are decisively different, the filibuster critics would be better off acknowledging that their arguments were, all along, in the service of their policy preferences.  The filibuster was wicked when it bottled up worthy bills proposed by Obama.  By contrast, denying a majority the quorum needed to pass an "unworthy" bill, such as Walker's, reflects the highest ideals of deliberative democracy.  Real candor about by-any-means-necessary polemics would be a big step up from sermons about procedural imperatives that magically stop being imperative the minute they stop being politically useful.

P.S. Mr. Hertzberg expands on his thoughts that the Democrats' refusal to provide the Wisconsin senate majority is not the moral equivalent of the Republicans' filibuster in a live chat with New Yorker readers.   "What do you think the Wisconsin Senate Democrats should do now?" one asked yesterday.  "I think they should stand firm and set an example of solidarity," Hertzberg replied, "a virtue that has been nearly forgotten.  If this drags on for more weeks, I'd like to see those 14 state senators get together, go on the web, and run a sort of classroom/seminar in the history and purposes of trade unions." 

I challenge readers who are already puzzling over the claim that frustrating senate majorities in Washington is abominable, while frustrating them in Wisconsin is heroic, to go on to the extra-credit question: If the redeeming virtue of the Wisconsin Democratic senators' decision to prevent a quorum is that they "merely" want to delay a vote on a bill that they can't kill, since they can't stay away forever, how does encouraging them to express the archaic virtue of solidarity by staying away for weeks [why not months? or until the 2012 elections?] in order to bring some proletarian realism to a computer screen near you add moral force to the distinction between the lack of a quorum in Madison and the failure to invoke cloture in Washington?  To further clarify matters, Hertzberg adds that "there really should be a way for people to help" the road warrior legislators who are paying their Motel 6 bills out of their own pockets.  That will help bring home the senators who can't stay away forever, and encourage the spirit of compromise.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Barber Gets a Haircut

Don't miss Paul Rahe's splendid takedown of the preening Benjamin Barber over Barber's slobbering slavishness to Qaddafi.  Barber's fawning praise of Qaddafi will take its place alongside all the fellow travelers of old who worshipped Stalin, etc.

And while we're at it, I observe that Qadaffi has always been a nutcase, suitable for an asylum from his earliest days.  Only now is the media catching up to this.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


RIP Frank Buckles

Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of the Great War, has died at the remarkable age of 110. When the United States joined WWI, he lied to the Army about his age so that he could enlist and go drive ambulances in war-torn France. In 1941, he was on business in Manila when the Japanese occupation came and held prisoner for over three years. In the 1950s, he became a cattle rancher, and worked the farm until the age of 106. He has made it his mission over the past few years to try make sure that people do not forget the sacrifices made in that first monumental conflict of the previous century. Thus passes the last of a great, great generation. He will be buried with full military honors in Arlington. 
Categories > Military


Technology, Politics, and War

The future of warfare in the 21st century becomes more and more clear with every passing year. Robots, drones, cyberspace-- these are the tools and places of warfare for the future. The Department of Defense has recently commissioned some techies in Massachusetts to build new robotic tools for our country to employ in its defense. In what seems to be a mixture of Power Rangers Zords, Transformers, and The Terminator, the robots commissioned are a cheetah-like creature that can run up to 30 MPH, a hummingbird-lookalike spybot, and man-like ATLAS, which bears an eery resemblance to a Terminator prototype. These manmade creatures will join others like BigDog, which was created a few years ago to help soldiers carry 300 extra pounds of gear around. The robots will have various uses for civil and military use. Within the realm of warfare, they--like our new drones and other computer-powered aircraft--will allow us to engage in risky operations with less risk to human life. As our population ages, they will also become useful in helping an elderly population, as robots do in Japan today.

Meanwhile, the Internet continues to turn into more and more of a dangerous battlefield. Cyberterrorism is now considered a major threat to American interests-- a serious attack could derail the economy or cut off vital services. Politically, we have already seen the power that the Internet plays in world affairs in recent months--from Iran to WikiLeaks to the Jasmine Revolution. Tyrants are increasingly struggling to try control this powerful weapon. We have already seen cyberwars play out-- the Russian attack on Georgia in 2008 (preceding their invasion of Georgia), Chinese attacks on American intelligence agencies, the cyber attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, and more. Cyberwarfare poses the same problem that terrorist cells do, though, complicating the problem-- non-government entities are fully capable of engaging in battle over the Internet themselves. There are two good and recent examples of "independent" (or "rogue") cyberwarfare. The first is the Battle of WikiLeaks over the past few months-- when infamous computer hacker Julian Assange began to release the secret documents, WikiLeaks and those internet services supporting WikiLeaks found themselves under attack, with hackers claiming that the first Cyber War had officially begun.

For the past several years, a second group of internet hacker activists ("hacktivists") called Anonymous has been gaining more notice in the fields of cyberwar. They have long fought the Church of Scientology, sending out a message in 2008 where they pledge to "expel the church from the planet." They have constantly attacked and temporarily taken down Scientology websites; they have organized hundreds of demonstrations against Scientology (in which most people show up in Guy Fawkes masks); they made it so that the second thing that pops up in Google Search when you type in "cult" is "Scientology". Their other targets have included the white supremacist Hal Turner, the Iranian government, the government of Zimbabwe, Ireland's Fine Gael party, several Arab governments throughout the recent revolutions, and the Westboro Baptist Church. They were asked to help fight WikiLeaks, but they instead sided with WikiLeaks and attacked websites that turned against Assange's band of hackers. This past weekend, Anonymous has declared war on the Koch Brothers, accusing them of subverting democracy. Yesterday they attacked the websites of Americans for Prosperity, and pledge to continue their attacks. The US Government, for its part, understands the growing threat of both state-sponsored and rogue cyberwarfare, and is stepping up recruitment to help prepare us for combat in this new field of battle.

So, there you have it. War and politics increasingly exist in the worldly plain ruled by Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, and hackers who seem to really be into V for Vendetta. Everything from pets to receptionists are increasingly robotic. They have beaten us at chess, and now at jeopardy. We still have an opportunity to follow the warnings of The Terminator, The Matrix, Battlestar Galactic, I Robot, and pretty much every other SciFi story, before it's too late! In any event, "I for one welcome our new computer overlords." 
Categories > Technology


Obama And The Opt Out

Obama's is back to pretending to be flexible on health care reform.  He is saying that states can opt out of the provisions of his health care reform, but only if they mandate the kind of comprehensive health care prepayment model of Obamacare.  So you can have your government-run medicine with ketchup or mustard - cause he is all about flexibility. 

Obama wants to seem a lot more reasonable and open minded then he is.  One of his strengths is his ability to project moderation in service of leftism.  I think the best way for conservatives (and especially conservative governors) to shatter his facade of moderation is to take him at the moderate tone rather than the recalcitrant fine print of his remarks.  You want us to be flexible?  We are going to implement HSA/catastrophic coverage for public sector workers.  We are going to convert our states' Medicaid programs into a voucher for high deductible insurance.  We are going to use the flexibility you say you want us to have to transform our states' health care markets.  We aren't even going to ask permission first.

This approach has the advantage of boxing Obama in.  If Obama chooses not to fight these changes then the number of Americans on consumer-driven polices will increase and thereby make the full implementation of Obamacare that much harder.  If Obama chooses to fight these policy changes then he can explain "Well, when I said flexibility, I meant flexibility to implement single-payer not free market-oriented health care."  Republicans can then attack him for dishonesty while pushing a positive program that would save the government money and increase the take home pay of a significant subgroup of American.  Not only does Obama's image as a moderate take a hit, but conservatives can also use the argument to increase public awareness of, and support for, market-oriented alternatives to Obamacare. 

Categories > Politics


Did Gov. Christie Lay The Smackdown On Palin?

Some folks seem to think so, but I mostly don't.  I think that the part about "unscripted moments" was primarily about Palin and it is not the first time he has made such a comment.  I heard him say the same think weeks ago and I chose not to write anything about it because it seemed like such an obvious and innocuous observation.

I think Christie's more interesting comment was about how you can't be "blow-dried and poll tested."  I don't take that as a shot at Palin.  There are multiple legitimate complaints about the limitations of Palin's approach to public commentary, but being "poll tested" isn't one of them.  Does anyone think "wtf" or her rambling statement about Obama and Egypt were poll tested?  Give Palin credit.  She doesn't need a poll or a focus group to tell her what her supporters want to her.  I think Christie might have been thinking of another "blow-dried and poll tested" ex-governor who is thinking of running for President. 

Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

Absolutely the Last Word

. . . on celebrity commentary about politics and the culture, comes in yesterday's WSJ from Joe Queenan.  It's un-Bieber-lievably good.
Categories > Pop Culture

Pop Culture

The Oscars

Tonight is the night that Hollywood comes to a standstill to watch the glitz and glamor of its stars. While often criticized for its liberally-dominated crowd and exuberant excess, I like to see it as the one night that tinseltown, mostly dominated nowadays by stars who prefer to go to premiers in jeans and t-shirts, returns to that good old Hollywood glamor. Despite how it has often become a soundstage in recent years for certain actors or directors to espouse their political beliefs, the Academy itself tends to choose well its winners (though they are, of course, sometimes prone to making horrible decisions, such as snubbing Waiting for Superman at this years awards). I think that, more often than not, they do tend to reward excellence in the individual crafts of filmmaking.

Many friends of mine have asked how exactly these awards are chosen. Hollywood native that I am, I decided to put it in writing for them. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of some 5700 voting members who are sorted by their individual crafts-- music, costumes, film editing, directing, documentaries, etc. Members of each individual craft are able to nominate within their field. All members are allowed to nominate films for Best Picture. Once all of the nominations have been finalized, all members of the Academy are able to vote on the winners-- provided that they can prove they have seen the movies. The Academy will usually ship copies of all nominated films to members in order to help with their voting (the films have "Property of the MPAS" pasted upon the screen sometimes, and must be returned after voting is closed). Once ballots are collected, if a film has more than 50% of the vote, it will be the winner-- if not, then the Academy will eliminate the smallest vote-getter from the pile and send out new ballots until one reaches 50%.

So, for example, my grandmother is a costumer (most noted for getting an Emmy nomination for her work on MacGyver) who votes in the Academy. She is only allowed to nominate people for the Costume Design and Best Picture categories, but is allowed to vote in all categories provided she watches the films (as a child I remembered loving the month of January because she would have dozens of new movies for us to watch with her). Tonight, the results are stuffed in envelopes and only two individuals from the accounting firm that counted the results will know what the envelopes say before they are opened. Only films from the preceding year are considered (so the 2011 Oscars honor films made in the year 2010).

I've personally been pushing for The Kings Speech and its star, Colin Firth, among people I know. It is an excellent film and, while not perhaps as "hip" as its main contender, The Social Network (about the rise of Facebook), it is a far, far superior film than all others this year in almost all aspects. I have a feeling that the Academy will reward excellence tonight in the Best Film category. If not... well, my hope that the stunted glamor of Hollywood might have some redemption in it will continue to fade.
Categories > Pop Culture