I can't find the post, but I remember Reihan Salam writing that repealing and replacing Obamacare might be the work of decades. I hope not. I can hope that, in 24 months, Congress will be well on the way to passing a repeal bill that will be signed by a Republican President. There is an element of chance as to whether the election of 2012 will return results that make Obamacare's repeal possible in the short-run. If James Capretta and Yuval Levin are right that "If the health care debate is lost, then the fight for limited government is lost as well" and Salam is right that the chances for are near-term repeal of Obamacare are questionable, then conservatives will need a health care reform approach that maximizes their odds of prevailing both next year and years down the line.
Conservatives shouldn't waste any opportunity to undo Obamacare, but let's be honest: it's not entirely in our control when that opportunity will come. Some elections are between evenly matched parties, but sometimes circumstance tilts the playing field strongly in favor of one side. The Democrats were smart to nominate candidates like Jim Webb and Jon Tester in 2006 but most of their political advantages in that year came from the Bush administration's mishandling of the Iraq War - absent Bush's epic unpopularity, George Allen probably still wins the Virginia Senate race. Webb also turned out to be the marginal vote for passing Obamacare past the 60 vote hurdle for cloture. Obama didn't earn the financial panic of 2008 (though by not seeming either panicky or overtly demagogic he maximized the political benefits.) In 2010 the Republicans surely benefited from the high unemployment rate and the Democrats' insistence on passing the most liberal bill that could unify their Senate caucus after the maximum application of presidential influence. Opportunity will come when it comes.
But opportunity won't be enough. A public desire to throw out the Democrats might result in a Republican victory, but if the Republicans aren't ready with good policy, who cares? I see no reason to repeat the Schwarzenegger experience of Republican administration of liberal governance. But opportunity and a plan aren't good enough either when the issue is health care. Health care policy is an intensely personal issue that almost everyone has a stake in. The Democrats and their allies and well wishers in the media and other institutions will expend every resource to prevent a repeal of Obamacare and a center-right reform of health care. If conservatives are to retain enough public support to enact their policies, they will need sufficient support from the public. It probably won't have to be an absolute majority but a 40% to 60% split in favor of Democratic policies on such a high salience issue will probably be fatal in the long-term. This is going to be a debate and Capretta and Levin's words should be remembered, "If the health care debate is lost, then the fight for limited government is lost as well" I think that this argues for a multi-track approach to repealing and replacing Obamacare. Some suggestions about what that might look like:
1. Continue to argue for a full near-term repeal. Continue to explain what is wrong with Obamacare and explain strategies for incremental right-leaning reform at the federal level (including block granting Medicaid.) It could work. The Republicans could retain their House majority while a Republican Senate majority and a Republican President are elected. You would almost certainly still have at least forty one Senate Democrats who will filibuster any attempt to repeal Obamacare. You would need at least fifty Republican Senators ready to vote to kill the filibuster in order to pass a repeal. I think it would be worth the trade, but I'm not sure Susan Collins agrees. Anyway, a Republican President could use their discretionary authority to move health care policy in a more market-oriented direction and lay the groundwork for the next stage of right-leaning health care reform.
I don't think it is a good idea to put all of our eggs in this basket. We should do all we can to bring this result about, but for all of our efforts, opportunity might not come just when we wish. The labor market could improve sufficiently to give the President a political boost. A large fraction of the population is already behind him and he does not need many more reinforcements to be well on the way to victory.
2. Focus on state-level health care reforms. Right now. I can't overestate the importance of expanding the social basis of market-oriented health care reform. The best arguments for conservative health care policies won't be found in think tank papers. They will be found in the experiences of people who have benefited from those policies. Republican governors and state legislators should do everything they can to get as many people as possible on HSA/catastrophic coverage plans (especially state and municipal employees.) It would save the government money while increasing the take home pay of the workers. It would make the full implementation of Obamacare harder. Let the Secretary of HHS tell millions and millions of Americans that a health insurance policy they like will now become illegal and that they should now pay more in order to get no better care. Make our day. If the Obama administration blinks, we win and there is an expanded social basis for market-oriented reform down the line. If they don't, then it is an issue for 2014 and 2016. In the meantime, much of the public is now better informed about the benefits of right-leaning reform. It is a win-win-win.
3. Expand public knowledge of the principles and benefits of market-oriented health care reform. This is an enormous challenge. Public awareness (much less public understanding) of right-leaning health care reform policies is abysmally low. I doubt that enough Republican politicians or the populist right-leaning media can reasonably be expected to bear the burden of expanding public understanding in the early stages of a public education effort. It would be worthwhile for some conservative foundation or right-leaning 527 to expend much of its money not in a particular election campaign, but in a campaign to increase understanding of some key issues. Perhaps money spent on the 407th, 408th and 409th 30 second ad for a candidate just before an election might be better spent on a 90 second ad that explains how right-leaning health care reform could save the government money, increase people's take home pay, and maintain people's health care security. This would be about shaping opinion between elections to make it easier for conservative candidates to talk about alternatives to Obamacare and make it harder for liberals to demagogue conservative policies. The ads shouldn't just be on during election seasons and should be on the Rush Limbaugh Show, The O'Reilly Factor, The Daily Show and Sabado Gigante (though the content might vary somewhat depending on the audience.)
"We were in the crowd, just sitting, listening to this guy ask the crowd if anyone knew why the moons going around Mars were potato-shaped and not round," [his mother] recalls. "Jacob raised his hand and said, 'Excuse me, but what are the sizes of the moons around Mars?'"
The lecturer answered, and "Jacob looked at him and said the gravity of the planet...is so large that (the moon's) gravity would not be able to pull it into a round shape."
"That entire building...everyone was just looking at him, like, 'Who is this 3-year-old?'"
Chuck Shumer caught on tape telling his fellow Democrats to cry wolf: "I always use the word extreme," Mr. Schumer said. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week."
Crying extremism in defense of Liberalism is not a vice!
Refine & Enlarge
The audio from last Friday's colloquium with Robert Reilly on his book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis is now available on the Ashbrook site.
I highly recommend that you give it a listen. Bob gave a great talk, very thoughtful, which is to be expected, but also very clear and direct. The students enjoyed it immensely. I literally had to pull him away from a group of them afterward in order to get him to dinner or they would have talked to him for several more hours!
Men and Women
For those who feared foreign extremists would descend upon Egypt in her state of vulnerability, their fear was well founded. According to its founder, ACORN has arrived in Egypt. Not the domestic American ACORN, which died a swift death following revelations that it condoned sex-trafficking in minors, but ACORN International, a resurrected global version of the fraudulent group.
Revealingly, an ACORN International faction which has sprouted up in the Czech Republic is calling itself the "ACORN Comrades Club" and partnering with the communist party. As the Czechs struggle against the residue of communism, ACORN arrives to champion the historic party of corruption and demagoguery. It's the same playbook they used in America.
James Capretta and Yuval Levin write that Republicans need to make major right-leaning health care reform the centerpiece of their campaign in 2012. They estimate the stakes correctly when they write:
For Republicans committed to maintaining a vibrant and free society, there is no choice but to make genuine health care reform the centerpiece of their domestic agenda. If the health care debate is lost, then the fight for limited government is lost as well.
But the obstacles to Republicans enacting, or even running on a right-leaning health care reform agenda are enormous. Part of the problem is with the right. Aside from tort reform and vague calls to get the government out of health care, no particular set of right-leaning health care reform policies are a component of conservative identity. Lower capital gains tax rates, expansion of oil drilling and opposition to socialized medicine are issues that have, for many conservatives, established narratives about growth, opportunity, freedom and justice. Voucherizing Medicaid and giving a flat tax credit towards the purchase of catastrophic health insurance don't. These kinds of connections can be made, but it takes time, effort, and repetition to create familiarity with the benefits of those policies, and the connections of those policies to principles of freedom, markets, and individual empowerment. It could happen. Most conservatives were in favor of greater oil exploration, but it took a combination of circumstances and political activism to make "drill baby drill" a big election issue (until the financial collapse.) For a tangle of commercial and cultural reasons, it is not safe to expect the main outlets of the populist right-leaning media to take the lead in emphasizing particular right-leaning health care reform policies. If those policies seem to be catching on, the populist right-leaning media will follow.
One could hope for evangelical-minded conservative politicians and candidates to expand public understanding of right-leaning health care reform, but it would take a candidate of unusual character to make right-leaning health care reform the "the centerpiece of their domestic agenda." That doesn't mean most conservative politicians won't have a good health care plan on their website (McCain did.) That doesn't mean they won't have a one line or one paragraph nod to health care reform in their stump speech (McCain did.) It means that focusing on right-leaning health care reform at current levels of public understanding and salience will endanger their campaigns. In the Republican presidential primaries, it would make more purely political sense to talk about cuts to the corporate income tax, complain about this week's provocation from liberal-leaning figures, or find some new way (or yell some old way) to express contempt for Obama.
Paul Ryan in one figure who takes right-leaning health care reform seriously. He will get attention for his policy suggestions in the coming months (and not just on health care), but there are many segments of the population that a congressional committee chairman is not going to reach. The politicians who can reach those other segments are Presidents and presidential candidates. Ryan isn't running for President. Newt Gingrich is (probably) running for President. I heard him on the radio talking mostly about tax cuts and oil exploration and making fantasy promises about low unemployment rates and low gas prices. Pawlenty is running for President. His most recent CPAC speech included a vague little paragraph about giving people control of their own health care spending, but saved his energy for a phony and hyperbolic scream about how Obama should stop apologizing for the USA. Gingrich won't be Republican nominee and Pawlenty might, but their behavior closely tracks the political incentives and we probably can't expect better from most other politicians (that is a probabilistic rather than a normative statement.)
It doesn't get better when you get out of the Republican presidential primaries. The issues involved in right-leaning health care reform are complicated. Right-leaning health care reform policies would mean many people switching out of their employer-provided policies. What about the currently uninsured and uninsurable? There are answers (subsidized high risk pools or direct subsidies for those currently without insurance but with a cutoff date for new entrants), but they are complicated. All the time the Democrats will be attacking you saying that you are going to kill grandma and throw people on the street if their kids get sick. Public comprehension of right-leaning health care reform is low on the right, but virtually nonexistent among the potentially persuadable. Health care security is an extremely personal and high salience issue. John McCain was, in one sense, being quite rational in trying to get people outraged by pretending to believe that Obama called Palin a pig. It sure beat having to explain his heath care plan.
But Capretta and Levin are right. Public understanding and support for a patient-centered and market-oriented health care reform will have to be built somehow. It could be a candidate of public relations genius, or a book that catches the imagination of the right-leaning populist media. I hate waiting for one person to do something. What if they get run over by a bus? Also, 2012 might not be the year for Republicans to win (maybe it will, but conservatives should be ready for both eventualities.) Republicans will have the opportunity to govern again, but will they be ready with the right reform program? Even more important, will they have enough public understanding of, and support for their program so that Republicans politicians will be able to enact and sustain their policies in the face of Democratic counterattacks?
I'll try to have some thoughts a little later in the week.
Quote of the Day
Gandhi on Mussolini in Andrew Roberts' review of a new biography of Gandhi:
Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931, with the Great Soul praising the Duce's "service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and Labour, his passionate love for his people."
No enemies on the Left?
Obama has been no friend to religious accommodation - most recently, he opposed conscience clauses exempting medical personnel with religious objections from performing abortions. And Obama's Dept. of Justice has been widely criticized for politicizing the law - from witch-hunts for Bush-era lawyers to the pardoning of the New Black Panthers. The newest twist is the DOJ's championing of a Muslim teacher's right to skip school in order to make a Hajj.
Safoorah Khan had taught middle school math for only nine months in this tiny Chicago suburb when she made an unusual request. She wanted three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The school district, faced with losing its only math lab instructor during the end-of-semester marking period, said no.
The DOJ has asserted that the school violated Kahn's civil rights and "compell[ed] Ms. Khan to choose between her job and her religious observance." The law requires employers to reasonably accommodate workers' religious beliefs, if such imposes no more than a minimal burden on working conditions.
Like his support for the Ground Zero Mosque, Obama's support for this teacher is an attempt to continue his outreach to Muslims. But this is a weak case and the DOJ is an inappropriate forum for sectarian preferences - the administration would never have intervened on behalf of a Christian teacher. Clumsy religious diplomacy in the courts devalues Obama's credibility as an advocate of the rule of law.
Many have wondered how the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood - former rivals - have managed to become so cozy in so short a time. The ability of the MB to promote order is one factor, but a general alignment of belief is another. For example, the Egyptian army is forcing female protestors to undergo "virginity tests." If they fail (after they are beaten), they may be charged with prostitution. The Muslim Brotherhood needn't be militantly Islamic when it has an Islamic military to do its bidding.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
The rebel forces in Libya have launched their first major offensive since the no-fly zone was instituted, pushing Gaddafi's forces out of the strategic city of Ajdabiya. Meanwhile, civil unrest has spread to Syria and Jordan. Syria has responded with particularly egregious violence.
Events in Egypt and Libya have already assured the current crisis a page in history. But the extent of the rebellion remains to be seen. As I wrote this post, I mentioned aloud that protests in the Arab world had spread to Syria and Jordan, and my lovely lady quite sincerely asked, "How many nations are left?"
On the other hand, the outcome of the rebellion remains to be seen, as well - the entire enterprise could lead to liberal democracies or sectarian tyrannies. One can only hope that, whatever the immediate results, the uprisings mark the beginning of a trend toward liberty and moderation in an oppressed corner of the world.
In Florida, the legislature has approved, "a bill that would ban automatic dues deduction from a government paycheck and require members to sign off on the use of their dues for political purposes."
That will quite probably be smarter, and more popular than the efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere to reduce collective bargaining privileges. Since we reflexively call such privileges "rights," the Left has an edge. But on these issues, the public relations edge may very well flip.
Since it will hard to balance state and local budgets without recalibrating the balance of power between government worker unions and the government, Florida may be showing the path of progress.
Rich Lowry on the controversy over the incandescent bulb:
If the new bulbs are so wondrous, customers can be trusted to adopt them on their own. Are we a nation of dolts too incompetent to balance the complex factors of price of bulb, energy efficiency and quality of light on our own?
This now viral video comparing Obama the awesome and Bush on their war-making rationales raises some serious points. It's clear that the President can wage war without declaring it--perfectly constitutional. A constitutionally dubious law, the War Powers Act, hedges in that power, while acknowledging its temporary use. Moreover: as important as the discussion of constitutionality is, it is subordinate to prudence and statesmanship. A perfectly constitutional action can also be perfectly stupid. And the humanitarian issue is at best secondary. But the President is obliged to explain. It's finals.
Primary issues: Is this the moment for vengeance against Ghadaffi for his killing of Americans? (We don't necessarily need civil war for that purpose.) Can we influence his successors? Will the oil keep flowing? Will the European powers act in concert in a way that supports our interests? Which regional powers will make use of a post-Ghadaffi Libya for good or ill?
I don't exclude the possibility of Obama/Clinton making the best of a demanding situation after initial flailing (viz. Honduras), but there is little in the Obama record to inspire confidence. One would think we are seeing a foreign policy produced by a man who is totally unrooted, completely anchorless. Exactly what one would expect from the author of Dreams From My Father.
How appropriate that the Libya operation has been dubbed Odyssey Dawn. Recall the first line of Homer's epic poem: "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns/ driven time and again off course once he had plundered/ the hallowed heights of Troy."
Treppenwitz: I had forgotten to remark that the hypocrisy concerning this issue may work to a better understanding of what it means to live in a republican (small "r") form of government. To rule and be ruled under republican principles requires an understanding of and commitment to them. That is the basis of loyal opposition, not opposition for its own sake. A public person who could teach this lesson would deserve honor.
Political scientist Carl Scott is justly furious at the grotesque hypocrisy of our unctuous clown of a Vice President, who argued that he would "lead an effort" to impeach a President who attacked another country unless the US was attacked or there was information that the US was about to be attacked. Go ahead and watch the tape. Soak in all the pompousness, the oozing self-love and the inflammatory partisanship. Biden's comments are much uglier than Newt Gingrich's recent flip-flop on Libya. Gingrich (regardless of what the polls say), is a long shot (potential) presidential candidate. Biden is next in line for President.
The resources for shaming Biden are few. The news of his hypocrisy has made it all over the right-leaning media, but I'm not sure what good that does. Could we possibly have more contempt for him or pray more earnestly for the continued good health of the current President? We weren't voting for him anyway. He doesn't care what we think and he already got his.
It would take more than a bunch of speeches by Republican politicians and conservative pundits to get this story to break through. Many liberal-leaning, but not explicitly partisan journalists will just call it another process story and wait for the next thing Sarah Palin says so they can jump on it. On an emotional level, I think that a formal censure by the House of Representatives will end up giving Biden's hypocrisy the spotlight it deserves. The censure could follow Carl's language about how "Hyperbolic perfectionist discourse has consequences. It means the presidency cannot logically function. It means slogans run rough-shod over actual constitutional thinking." and name Biden by name as an offender and single him out for the damage his radicalism, hypocrisy, and partisanship do to constitutional thinking and civil discourse.
A little accountability in this direction might put future "serious" presidential and vice presidential contenders (very much including Republicans) on notice that their past statements will be remembered and held against them if they should become President or Vice President. So some moderation or timely admission of error would be a good idea if they want to avoid congress-imposed humiliation.
I'm only half serious. I'm not sure that the energies that could be used in such a fight wouldn't be better used elsewhere (like making the case for market-oriented health care reform, or Yuval Levin's reimagined welfare state.) Then again, that elsewhere will probably end up being something like the fight to end government subsidies to NPR (which I agree with, but at a low level of priority.) So maybe censuring Biden is the way to go.
Men and Women
Hugo Chavez believes in aliens. He believes Mars was once populated by aliens. And why are those Martians now extinct? They became capitalists.
Data from the Census of 2010 continues to trickle out, and this column from the WSJ has some figures on cities that have lost population. New Orleans leads the list, for obvious reasons. It lost 140,845 people, for a drop of 29.1% since the last Census ten years ago. Next comes Detroit, which lost a whopping 25% of its population over the same period and without the excuse of a natural disaster. Almost a quarter of a million people fled the motor city! Chicago, Pittsburg, St. Louis, Santa Anna, and Baltimore are also on the list of the top ten losers, though with much smaller losses than Detroit. But the real story is Ohio. Cleveland is third on the list with a loss of 17.1%, which means that 81,558 people moved out in the last decade. Then come Cincinnati and Toledo with losses of 10.4% and 8.4% respectively. Ohio is the only state with more than one city among the top ten losers, and we have three in the top six! That's a distinction we could do without.
Refine & Enlarge
According to Rasmussen Reports, likely voters continue to trust Republicans over Democrats on all the major issues. I suggest that it's the recent conservative, Tea Party philosophy of less spending / lower taxes which has generated popular sympathy for the GOP - and that they should follow the public's lead if they wish to retain their good graces.
The BBC augurs the extinction of religion in nine countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland. (It bears noting that half are English-speaking.)
While the irreligious trend in most of these countries is obvious, I would hesitate to presume the demise of faith. The underlying mathematics of the study treat religion as a social network, but faith occupies a unique place in human nature. Further, a "floor" of conservative believers likely exists in most countries, consisting of those who will persevere in faith regardless of social trends. And, should religion all but disappear, it is only a matter of time before orthodoxy again becomes fashionable as an "alternative" lifestyle and enjoys a resurgence.
The residue of religion - that is, a shared morality and common ethic - persists long after the public confession of a faith. However, even this social inertia will eventually degrade. In these nine nations, we will increasingly witness the social experiment of raising children in an ever-increasingly post-Christian environment. I contemplate the social drift with trepidation.
Reihan Salam writes "My basic take on the political landscape is that President Obama's floor of political support is higher than President Bush's floor" That is true in one sense. Obama's Real Clear Politics job approval average bottomed at around 44% while Bush's went down to the mid 20s (yikes!) But while Bush's floor collapsed, the Republican floor at the presidential level held up pretty well all things considered. McCain was a weak candidate whose campaign was out organized and vastly outspent. He was saddled with an epically unpopular President of his own party and the election was dominated by an economic crisis that left him visibly bewildered and floundering. He still got almost 46% of the vote. I think that is around Obama's floor too - if everything that can go wrong for him does.
If the 2012 elections were held under the labor market conditions of 2010, Obama would probably lose to a competent Republican opponent. If the economy is visibly in better shape than in November 2010 (and the unemployment rate has been dropping - we'll see if the pattern continues), Obama's chances improve regardless of what the Republicans do. He doesn't need to to move very far up from his floor to win.
Salam is probably right that "the Democrats will run a fear-driven campaign, the central premise of which is that conservatives want to strip public workers of protections, radically shrink entitlements, etc., all to protect the interests of the wealthy." He is super right that "the right needs to develop a more effective counter-narrative, centered on the goal of sparking a rising economic tide. But that won't be easy." No, it won't be easy, and I am uncertain that such a narrative aimed at both right-leaning and persuadable audiences will be constructed and widely disseminated prior to November 2012. The sooner the better, but there is also 2014 and 2016 to think about. The reformist right needs a policy agenda and narrative that can fire up conservatives and and win over some currently Democratic-inclined Latino, African-American, and younger voters - and maybe knock that Democratic floor down a few inches.
Yeah, I know, easier said than done. I'm not the guy to do it, but I have some thoughts about a middle and longer term approach to increasing support for right-of-center health care reform among right-leaning and persuadable populations. Maybe later in the week.
This is Tim Pawlenty's video introducing his exploratory committee. It is better than I expected, especially the first minute tying his personal experiences of economic decline and anxiety to the current situation. I thought the last fifty seconds or so were too heavy on the military symbolism and visuals of highly collective patriotic display (compared to the home and family expressions of patriotism in Reagan's "Morning In America" ad.) I thought it came across a little forced and hysterical, but that could just be a matter of taste.
One of Pawlenty's strengths is that he wants to be President so badly that he is willing to say what he thinks the audience wants to hear in order to win. If he thinks the audience wants to be roused by a call to emulate an act of spousal abuse, then he is going to give the people what he thinks the people want. I'm not a big fan of The Economist's American coverage but their blogger R.M. had some good lines on Pawlenty. R.M. wrote, "It's Mr Pawlenty's shouting and aggressiveness that seems put on, not his conservatism...It's his personality that he's faking, not his platform."
Try looking at the video again. He comes off as pretty likeable. He has a personality and a record. There is no trace of the stilted, pro wrestling school dropout that gave his two CPAC speeches. He might want to consider the idea that the best way for Tim Pawlenty to be elected President is for Tim Pawlenty to be Tim Pawlenty.
I'm pretty critical of WaPo for their liberal bias, but today they dished it out to the Democrats. In a post titled "Gifts of bogus statistics for the health-care law's birthday," the Post reports:
House Democrats held a birthday party last week for passage of the health-care law. ... Both Democrats and Republicans can pick and choose numbers and studies to make their case, but we found that generally McConnell did not exaggerate or use bogus figures. In fact, he correctly described a Congressional Budget Office analysis suggesting a potential reduction in employment of 800,000 jobs.... By contrast, House Democrats appear to show little hesitation about repeating claims that previously have found to be false or exaggerated.
WaPo then damningly fact-checks Pelosi and the blue-boys on job creation, debt reduction and increased health coverage.
Given, to speak of lawyers and superheroes might seem to repeat one's self - but while all of the former are also the latter, not all of the latter are also the former. But, no fear, there is now a blog devoted to Law and the Multiverse.
If there's one thing comic book nerds like doing it's over-thinking the smallest details. Here we turn our attention to the hypothetical legal ramifications of comic book tropes, characters, and powers. Just a few examples: Are mutants a protected class? Who foots the bill when a hero damages property while fighting a villain? What happens legally when a character comes back from the dead?
The web site is searchable by superhero or area of law. For the lawyer-geek in all of us, this is a black hole of time-depleting awesomeness.
H/t: NPR [I said they should be defunded of tax-payer subsidies - I never said they shouldn't be on the air. Today they hit a jackpot!]
Most experts agree that the relative complexity of the U.S. political system makes it hard for Americans to keep up. In many European countries, parliaments have proportional representation, and the majority party rules without having to "share power with a lot of subnational governments," notes Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics. In contrast, we're saddled with a nonproportional Senate; a tangle of state, local, and federal bureaucracies; and near-constant elections for every imaginable office (judge, sheriff, school-board member, and so on). "Nobody is competent to understand it all, which you realize every time you vote," says Michael Schudson, author of The Good Citizen. "You know you're going to come up short, and that discourages you from learning more."Why we can hardly blame people for not knowing what was at issue in the Cold War (73% don't) or what was debated at the Constitutional Convention. Our system of government is just so complicated and confusing that we despair bothering to try to understand it. American Civics is tough, man. Thanks a lot, Jimmy Madison! Of course, Madison isn't the only culprit here. Newsweek also asserts that the superior performance of Europeans on these tests can be traced to their smaller immigrant populations (perhaps, true . . . but an interesting observation for Newsweek to make) and because the governments over there fund and support more of the media. Government funded media makes "smarter" citizens, you see. Just ask NPR.
Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, is set to declare that he is opening a presidential exploratory committee, a step that formalizes a campaign for the Republican nomination that he has been pondering for more than a year.
In case you missed it, Ramesh Ponnuru anticipated and lauded this move in a recent National Review cover titled, "Pawlenty to Like." Ponnuru rightly notes that Pawlenty's "main problem is simple: Most Americans have never heard of him." I assume that is why he is getting out in front of the crowd. Ponnuru also opines that Pawlenty "may just be the Republicans' strongest presidential candidate for 2012. Compared with his competitors, he is either more conservative, more electable, or both."
Let the games begin.
P.S. Ponnuru's take on the match-up between Pawlenty and other GOP contenders is worth reproducing here.
Pawlenty is more electable than Palin, who is on the wrong end of a two-to-one split in public opinion; or Huckabee, who has never demonstrated any ability to win votes from non-evangelical voters; or Gingrich, who has enough baggage to open a Louis Vuitton store; or Haley Barbour, who, as a former lobbyist for tobacco companies and the governor of Mississippi, combines several Republican stereotypes to damaging effect. Electability would probably hand Pawlenty the nomination in a one-on-one race against any of these contenders.
He would probably beat Romney in a head-to-head race, too. Like Romney, Pawlenty was elected governor of a blue state in 2002. But there are at least five big differences between them that primary voters may find tell in the Minnesotan's favor. First, Pawlenty was elected as a conservative whereas Romney ran as a moderate. Second, Pawlenty pursued a more confrontational strategy: He didn't cut any grand bipartisan deal, as Romney did with Ted Kennedy on health care. Third, and as a result, Pawlenty's record does not include anything as likely to offend conservative voters as Romney's Massachusetts health-care law, which made the purchase of health insurance compulsory. Fourth, Pawlenty won reelection in his blue state, even in 2006, which was a slaughterhouse of a year for Republicans. Romney, by contrast, left the governorship after one term: He was unable to position himself as a conservative for a presidential run while staying popular in his home state. Fifth, Pawlenty has an ability to connect to blue-collar voters that Romney has never demonstrated.
Governor Daniels could be competitive with Pawlenty in a side-by-side comparison. But Pawlenty is in some respects a more impressive political figure. Indiana is a red state that will almost certainly vote for any Republican nominee in 2012; Daniel has never had to win over blue-state voters as Pawlenty did. And Pawlenty has better relations with social conservatives than Daniels does.
We are the first moms in history to have grown up with widely available birth control, the first who didn't have to worry about getting knocked up. We were also the first not only to be free of old-fashioned fears about our reputations but actually pressured by our peers and the wider culture to find our true womanhood in the bedroom. Not all of us are former good-time girls now drowning in regret--I know women of my generation who waited until marriage--but that's certainly the norm among my peers.Therefore, our greatest earthly fear (since the vast majority of us have been taught to understand that "old-fashion standards" are rooted in irrational prejudices and bigotry rather than reason, protection of personal happiness and the good of society) is that of being called a hypocrite. Just as some ex-hippie parents felt sheepish about scolding their kids for trying (or even, using) illegal drugs, many of today's mothers (who grew up mimicking the antics of Madonna) feel sheepish about scolding their daughters for an appearance that our grandmothers would have called "slutty." Besides, we mastered the eye-rolling over that appellation long ago when Grandma scolded us.
The Civil War & Lincoln
I see about three movies in movie theaters per year. Yesterday marked 1/3 of my yearly quotient. I saw "The Lincoln Lawyer," and, ironically, the most memorable part of the experience was a pre-movie trailer for another film with a Lincoln theme: "The Conspirator."
The synopsis reads:
Mary Surratt is the lone female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln. As the whole nation turns against her, she is forced to rely on her reluctant lawyer to uncover the truth and save her life.
Director Robert Redford seems to indicate that Surratt was innocent - whether for dramatic effect or historical revision remains to be seen. While I would reserve full judgment until opening night, expect cheap shots at military tribunals and indictments of American sexism. Nonetheless, anything which begins a conversation of Lincoln cannot be all bad.
I previously criticized GOP complaints that Obama did not seek a formal declaration of war or permit congressional debate on the issue. However, I did not intend to address the propriety of Obama's having failed to seek any form of congressional approval. Obama's decision to forgo the sort of legislative mandate which George W. Bush sought and received has puzzled many - especially in light of Obama's own words on the subject from 2007.
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.
A commenter on this site suggested:
Obama doesn't feel he needs Congressional authorization when he's just received authorization from a source he deems more legitimate, id est, the United Nations.
It does seem to be inescapably obvious that approval by the Arab League and United Nations was sufficient for Obama to conduct military action. U.S. approval was deemed unnecessary. Unless Obama's views on the inherent war powers of the presidency have evolved, he must either believe that there was no time to consult Congress or intended to demonstrate the authority of international law within the context of the American Constitution.
The latter would be the most serious political declaration of the Obama presidency.
1. So the Arab League seems to be in retreat from its support of the no-fly zone. The Arab League is in a tough position. Most member governments have very limited democratic legitimacy. When the Gaddafi regime starts claiming that Western governments are killing Arabs, such claims will tend to undermine those regimes if they don't condemn the killing of Arabs by the US, France, etc. It doesn't mean they don't want Gaddafi gone, but it does mean they will talk out of both sides of their mouth. It also means that Gaddafi's use of propaganda to portray the coalition as anti-Arab combined with the Gaddafi's regime surviving this situation will tend to strengthen Gaddafi's appeal outside Libya. More reason to end this as quickly and decisively as possible.
2. I'm not aware of any really credible reports that Libyan civilians have died as a direct result of coalition bombings, but we should be ready for the inevitable irony that innocent civilians will die from the effort to prevent the massacre of civilians by the Gaddafi regime. It is only a seeming contradiction as those losses must be set against those who would be killed in reprisal by the Gaddafi regime.
3. The Obama administration needs to get its story straight regarding its goals in Libya. On Friday, Clinton said that the long-term goal was getting Gaddafi out of power (I checked it again on YouTube to make sure I hadn't misheard.) Today, Admiral Mullen is saying that Gaddafi staying in power is one possible outcome of the operation. Could we get some clarity here?
4. This whole rationale of protecting civilians is maddening in its pointless vagueness. There might be circumstances of highly localized ethnic conflict where removing a state's power over one part of its territory is sufficient to deal with the human rights problem at hand. That doesn't seem to apply here. If Gaddafi remains in power in any part of Libya, doesn't it mean he has the power to abuse whatever luckless civilians are under his thumb? Does it make any sense to leave him in power in Tripoli (where there were substantial anti-Gaddafi demonstrations) if protecting civilians is the goal? Is the rationale of protecting civilians itself insufficient (in the sense of needing to be supplemented) to the present circumstances?
5. I hope the Obama administration knows what it is doing, but I sense that the entrance into, and conduct of, this intervention has been poorly thought out and is still being improvised.
Today's NY Times profiles the Cedar Rapids neighborhood known as "Czech Village," which was severely damaged during recent floods and is now struggling to "restore a connection with a country few of its residents have visited, a language that fewer speak, and a culture that has already grown increasingly foreign." Czech Village is a splendid microcosm of the perpetual American tension between assimilation and fidelity to familial ancestry.
Little Italy in Manhattan has now been nearly eclipsed by the expansion of China Town, just as my grandfather's Italian community in Ohio has increasingly blended into the surrounding environment. While Italians may lament the fading of a distinct community, it has been the cost of economic and social equality. Having acquired the America dream, Italians are now at leisure to pursue and reclaim their heritage. That's the beauty of America.
As a land of immigrants, America is a truly unique nation in the world. While adamantly holding to a number of fundamental beliefs, America has accommodated (more or less tolerantly) every culture and people on the face of the earth. I applaud the Czechs for their commitment to heritage - may they enjoy the best of both worlds.
A referendum in Egypt has overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments which allow for parliamentary and presidential elections within the next few months. However, as was feared, the Muslim Brotherhood and former ruling party were the most aggressive advocates for quick elections, believing their comparative organization will hand them solid victories. As the first government will likely adopt a new constitution, Egypt is on the brink of becoming an intolerant Islamic republic - poised to wipe out the liberal democratic movement which swept Islamic fanatics into power.
This is the test everyone - particularly conservatives - has feared for Egypt. Will they follow the moderate American model of liberal democracy, or the first French convulsion which ended in renewed tyranny? Tyranny and oppression in the West over the past several centuries have usually been the result of radically secular regimes coming to power - the Islamic Middle East suffers precisely the opposite trend. The capacity of moderate Egyptians to organize and act rationally in the next few months will likely decide their fate for the next decade.
One of the reasons there's so much fear of nuclear energy is that to most people (myself included) the world of nuclear physics seems completely incomphrensible. Likewise, the term "radiation" is awfully scary, but as in the case with so many other things, the poison is in the dose. This chart is helpful in maintaining a sense of perspective. Note that close proximity to the Fukushima facility on March 16-17 exposed people to only slightly more radiation than women do every day getting mammograms--and to considerably less than they would in having a chest CT done.
Here's an interesting tidbit--one is exposed to more radiation by eating a single banana than one is by living for an entire year within 50 miles of a normally-functioning nuclear power plant.
...began earlier today, with the firing of 110 Tomahawk missiles against targets in western Libya.
I'm waiting for the massive antiwar rallies to begin. I'm also waiting for groans from some of the commentators here; after all, how can the country tolerate the embarrassing fact that the French fired first?
Michael Moore isn't the only liberal who adopts a pro-union facade in public but hypocritically refuses to work with the over-paid racketeers in private business practices. An employer even larger than Michael Moore is now shunning unions: New York City.
Unions' share in city construction has dropped from over 85% to about 60% in recent years. And, taking a cue from Wisconsin's curbing of public unions, New York companies are "demanding large concessions" from unions and negotiating for "a 25 percent cut in labor costs, by reducing benefits and changing some work rules."
Liberal New York can't be accused of partisan animosity against unions. The Big Apple demonstrates that the turn against unions (public and private) is founded upon economics, not politics. Companies are becoming less and less willing to pay 30% higher costs simply to appease union bosses - at a certain point, the bad publicity and bad blood threatened by turning one's back on unions is still good business.
Unions have a window of opportunity to preserve their relevancy, or I expect this trend of disinvestiture to continue.
Germany hasn't quite recovered from that dark patch on their history half a century ago. Erring on the side of caution, they were impotent in the face of Gaddafi's violence and failed to muster the nerve to act on behalf of innocent people. Erring on the side of authoritarian socialism, they have begun jailing religious parents who object to having their children taught that sexual morality is synonymous with sexual pleasure as part of a state-mandated sex-ed program. The European Convention on Human Right confirms that "the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions," but the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that education "by its very nature calls for regulation by the State." A German family has now been granted political asylum in the U.S. due to persecution in Germany for homeschooling their children.
On the other hand, the European Court of Human Rights on Friday held that crucifixes may be displayed in schools, overturned its own 2009 precedent which held that crosses in Italian schoolrooms were a human rights violation. While the court commendably noted that the crucifix "symbolized the principles and values which formed the foundation of democracy and western civilization," it also, perhaps unintentionally, provided a sad commentary on modern Italy, noting that it found no evidence "that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils."
UPDATE: I see that Robinson beat me to the latter of these stories by 7 minutes. You may have won this time, Robinson, but the war goes on. . . .
The New York Times runs a symposium on the question: "Why are some Americans upset with attempts to encourage more energy efficiency in their homes?"
For starters, the federal government is not merely encouraging us to make our homes more energy efficient; they are forcing us to use a particular type of light bulb, among other things.
We migth add that the trade-off is not merely between the quality of the light and using less energy. There is also a trade-off between energy efficiency and safety. The new eco-friendly bulbs contain mercury, and are, therefore, hazardous when broken.
1. We're in it now. Any outcome where the Gaddafi regime stays in place is an American defeat. Gaddafi will, alongside whatever he does to the Libyan people, become a symbol and inspiration for every destructive impulse in the region.
2. I have heard no clear harmonization of means and ends by the US government. Just today, Clinton was much clearer than Obama that the goal was ending the Gaddafi regime and that the UN resolution was one step in the process of Gaddafi losing power. The Gaddafi regime might be so brittle and whatever element becomes dominant among the rebels might be so competent and decent (in a relative sense) that American involvement is not costly in either lives or other national resources. It is a real possibility. But we shouldn't assume that will be the case. The American people should know that we are willing to do what needs to be done to achieve our (hopefully clearly articulated) objectives. Our enemies should know that too.
3. David Frum started the day by suggesting that we might want to downsize our commitment to Afghanistan in order to redirect resources to Libya. So we should, in practice, abandon our effort to prevent the establishment of an al-Qaeda client state in order to intervene in Libya? Frum later suggests that American success in Libya might be used as cover for American withdrawal from Afghanistan. He writes, "With Saddam and Qaddafi overthrown, it may not matter so much that we were unable to build a stable government in poor and remote Afghanistan at an acceptable cost." And if we get mired in an al-Qaeda-backed insurgency in Libya, I guess we could get out by launching a bombing campaign in Burkina Faso. Am I taking crazy pills?
4. And that reminds me. The Obama administration has used far too little of its energy in making the case for the American counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan and the security stakes for the US.
USA Today has published an article of mine today on the shifting global roles demonstrated during the Libyan crisis.
On the eve of a possible war in Libya, the major players on the world stage have taken their turns and staked out their positions. Yet many players have postured themselves in ways that seem to be reversals of their usual roles. This shift in global strategy is largely the domino effect of a shift in American self-identity under President Obama, and an omen of the future under his new foreign policy for America.
I hope you'll RTWT.
P.S. Just in case you're looking for my post on USA Today's opinion page, you'll find it just above the article by President Obama. He's in good company.
The WSJ reports that leading GOP seem to be seeking a formal declaration of war on Libya. Apparently, Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, stated:
If the Obama administration decides to impose a no-fly zone or take other significant military action in Libya, I believe it should first seek a congressional debate on a declaration of war.
I don't see the reason for a break from tradition on the president's War Powers, and can't imagine the benefit of further delay so that Congress may debate. Obama has done nothing for weeks - Congress had plenty of time to debate. Lugar professes a disingenuous congressional impotence in feigning an inability to take up deliberations prior to presidential invitation. I don't recall similar demands on Bush from the right, and see no reason for a WWII-style resolution for Libya (Europe would not follow suit, and America would appear to be setting the stage for a lengthy invasion - quite contrary to our intent).
Whether Obama has an interest in consulting Congress, however, is an interesting question. It would perhaps pacify Obama's left-wing, setting a new precedent of restraint for a constituency hungry for limits on executive power. It also allows Obama to diffuse the responsibility for war (and funding). Most interesting, it would align Obama with the Constitution - he may defer to the long-established War Powers executive privilege as well as the Constitution's allocation of war decisions to Congress. Having already authorized military options, it would be an act of humility following action. But the effect would likely be a circus in Congress, and the entire crisis would be resolved before Congress actually brought the issue to a vote.
1. If the US is going to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, along with other suggested policies like a no-drive zone near Benghazi to prevent the Qaddafi forces from overrunning the remaining rebel strongholds, aren't the US and allies in practice, and for better or worse, going to war against Libya's government?
2. If we are going to war, shouldn't the US be willing to commit to achieving victory? If America goes to war and is seen to fail, that is much more damaging to American credibility than the refusal to intervene militarily in favor of one side of a civil war.
3. But how do we define victory? If the point is to end the Qaddafi regime's oppression of regime opponents, I don't see how the imposition of a no-fly or no-drive zone around Benghazi helps those Libyans who came out against the Qaddafi regime in those parts of Libya presently controlled by the regime (including the towns recently retaken from the rebels.) Wouldn't victory at minimum require the replacement of the Qaddafi regime with a government that is willing and able to prevent the conversion of all or part of Libya into an al-Qaeda client state.
4. What kind of commitment of time and resources is the administration willing to make to achieve victory? You can imagine a scenario where the US military commitment is fairly small (air strikes, American trainers and advisors, arms and other equipment supplied by the US and allies) and American losses are few. But who wants to bet on that?
5. Shouldn't the US government go into this telling the American people that a commitment to overthrow Qaddafi and support the establishment of a minimally acceptable Libyan government could last a long time, could result in we-know-not how many American deaths and cost who-knows-how-much money?
6. How would Gaddafi react to staying in power? The administration seems to have decided that a Gaddafi emboldened by victory and embittered by his (rhetorical?) abandonment by the US and Western Europe might turn back to sponsoring terrorism.
One of the more perplexing oddities of Europe, in my experience, is their virulent anti-Semitism - or, at least, their tolerance of anti-Semitism in their political leadership. And the higher you look, from the EU to the UN, the more egregious is the open hatred toward Jews and Israel - and the more solidarity one finds toward Palestine. Having spent years in that part of the world, I am confident that the culprit for this perceptional absurdity is an unrelenting and utterly biased international media.
Bret Stephens asks, "Are Israeli Settlers Human?" and notes last Friday's stabbing deaths of a West Bank family (including 11 and 4 year-old children, as well as a 3 month old infant) in their beds by Palestinian terrorists. Hamas denied Palestinian responsibility in an English statement, while an Arab statement praised the Palestinian jihadists for their infanticidal victory. The international community responded with a yawn. "For 60 years," Stephens notes, "no nation has been held to such stringent moral account, or such ceaseless international hectoring, as Israel. And no people has been held to so slight an account as the Palestinians."
Last Tuesday, Israel intercepted a ship from Turkey headed to Egypt and, ultimately, Gaza, carrying Iranian weapons shipped from Syria. This will have no effect on the international community's demonization of Israel's blockade of Gaze. That a slackening of the blockade would have allowed weapons to be delivered and, hence, Jews to be murdered, does not seem to be a serious concern.
Nowhere else on Earth could this situation be countenanced. No other nation with the power to overcome its enemies would live in such perpetual threat. Perhaps Israelis should declare themselves in revolt against the autocratic leaders who claim ownership of their land and join the Middle Eastern movement for peace and democracy. They already have democracy - they have only to successfully demand peace.
The WSJ announces the collapse of internationalism in an editorial which is required reading for anyone interested in American foreign policy:
Not the 28 members of NATO, not the 15-member U.N. Security Council, not the 22 nations of the Arab League could save Libya's rebels from being obliterated by the mad and murderous Moammar Gadhafi. The world has just watched the collapse of internationalism.
The world's self-professed keepers of international order, from Brussels to Turtle Bay, huffed and puffed, talked and threatened. And they failed. Utterly.
But what we've watched is not merely the failure of the gauzy notion of "internationalism." It's more specific than that. What has collapsed here is the modern Democratic Party's new foreign-policy establishment.
The WSJ blames the international community's catastrophic failure in Libya on Obama's "post-American world" foreign-policy. His advisory team consists "entirely of intellectuals" who believe America must always act as an equal member of the global community - we mustn't attempt to lead, but to join.
I was willing to give Obama a momentary benefit of the doubt when our failure to act in Libya was prefaced upon the need to first secure and evacuate American citizens. That pretext for inaction has passed, and the subsequent dallying which most of us anticipated has continued.
Obama's election campaign and presidency in many respects may be reduced to anti-Bush rhetoric and promises. Bush's foreign policy was called the "freedom agenda" - Obama's foreign policy may now justly be called the "anti-freedom agenda."
Matthew Yglesias wonders if the decrease in Democratic partisan ID from 2008-2010 is a sign that our politics is moving in a more racial identity politics direction. I tend to doubt it. Over the last ten years, the two party vote among white voters has tended to move within a small range and in response to events and personalities. Bush won 54% of the white vote in 2000 and 58% of the white vote in 2004. The Republican share of the white vote went down to 53% in 2006. It rebounded to 55% in 2008 and went up to 60% in 2010. It looks like about 7% of the white voting population is made up voters who swing between the two parties based on conditions and the personalities and appeals of candidates. There are multiple stories that can be told from the data. Here are two:
1. Five percent of white voters abandoned the Republican Party in 2006 in response to dissatisfaction with the Iraq War, Katrina, Republican corruption etc. Less than half of those persuadable whites moved back into the Republican column in 2008 in response to the Democrats nominating a liberal candidate (though a smaller fraction voted Republican than when the liberal Democratic presidential candidate had been white.) Then the combination of undivided Democratic government, the enactment of an aggressively liberal agenda, and a labor market in which the unemployment rate stagnated near 10% pushed virtually all of the floating white electorate into the Republican column for at least one election.
2. The floating white population switches parties based on randomly recurring racial identity crises that they collectively announce by voting for Republicans. Their voting patterns are not based on the economy, war or peace. Even the racial identity of the President does not matter until it does. For some reason the President's race was not a problem for these voters when they were voting for President in 2008, but it became a problem when they were voting for Congress in 2010. These people are so weird.
This is actually bad news for the Republicans - though possibly good news for America. If the Republican share of the white vote in 2010 was based on a combination of dissatisfaction with economic conditions and recoil from perceived Democratic left-radicalism, then a combination of an improving labor market and branding the Republicans as right-radicals might put the Democrats in position to win back some of those white voters. That is probably one reason why Obama is avoiding coming out with an entitlement reform plan. If he can brand the Republicans as Social Security and Medicare cutters and the labor market is seen to be improving, he has a decent chance of whittling the Republican share of the white vote back down to the mid-50s. Republicans shouldn't take their 2010 share of the white vote for granted and need to be asking themselves what they have to do to improve their share among the various populations of nonwhite voters.
In an earlier age, the university preferred to think itself as outside of, and if truth be told superior to, the general culture of the society in which it functioned.
For many people today, the more the culture impinges upon the university the better. From the 1960s and perhaps well before, they longed for the university to reflect the culture by being more open, democratic, multicultural, with-it, relevant.He then goes on to suggest that the fall of the universities to these pressures in the 60s was the equivalent in our "culture wars" to the battle of Aegospotami during the Peloponnesian War. American culture, like Athens, may go on . . . but it will never be the same.
James Madison's 260th! Short people power!
A selection from my favorite Federalist paper, #14:
Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellow-citizens of one great, respectable, and flourishing empire.
Cass Sunstein's After the Rights Revolution: Reconceiving the Regulatory State is one of the most horrifying books I've ever read. Now Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OMB), Sunstein has a hand in Obama's expansion and affirmation of the Administrative or Regulatory State. He gives off the appearance of even-handedness but clearly stacks the deck in favor of willful bureaucracy and against "private rights" (that is, natural rights), for FDR and the Second Bill of Rights against the Founders' Constitution. He advises how the bureaucracy can collude with the courts to block off protests of pesky congressmen. Laws after all are not that specific, so the bureaucracy needs to be able to reinterpret such laws to keep up legislative intent with the times.The 1990 book is one of the greatest assaults on the rule of law in our time.
For some examples of such bureaucratic abuses, including abolition of legal rights by bureaucratic fiat, note Columbia law prof Philip Hamburger's essays on Obamacare waivers. His most recent essay is here.
See also Eric Claeys' congressional testimony (subtly pointed at Sunstein) on how regulators might be reined in, in Steve Hayward's post below.
And finally this, also from Steve, on the crony politics of the Administrative State.
Refine & Enlarge
or maybe Obama is more consistent than David Brooks is giving him credit for being. Brooks wonders if the "hubris" of Obama's 2008 campaign has given way to passivity. I think that on domestic policy, Obama is proving to both strategically consistent and tactically flexible. Given that he believes in moving American politics in a more statist, centralist and corporatist direction, his different rhetorical approaches can be explained by the different contexts in which he has had to pursue his goals. When he had Democratic supermajorities he moved to ramp up spending and pass a transformative health care law. Now that the Republicans control the House of Representatives, he is doing everything he can to drag anchor against retrenchment of government spending while at the same time adopting a pose of moderation. He is also looking for a chance to counterattack if the Republicans propose cuts to popular middle-class entitlements. He isn't going to announce a serious entitlement reform until he has been safely reelected and he won't accept one unless it is broadly on his terms.
I am not sure if Libya is a good example of a new Obama passivity. Is there any reason to expect that the US would be decisively intervening in Libya if this was Obama's first year in office?
"Lawyers in Italy are preparing to go on strike Wednesday to protest a new law requiring mediation in commercial cases." The lawyers aren't fleeing their jurisdictions to be holed up in hotel rooms, however. "It's worth noting that the strike period in essence extends a long weekend during prime skiing season."
Quote of the Day
At The Corner Steve (following up on his NLT post below) weighs in with a post about the proposed REINS Act, which, "would require that Congress vote on any proposed regulation that would impose a cost on the economy of $100 million or more."
Isn't that a legislative veto?
Of course, the legislatve veto might be, in some ways, a reasonable response to the delegation of legislative powers to the executive branch or, even worse, to unelected, permanent bureaucracies.
Personally, I think it would be sounder constitutionally, to follow the "Sunshine Commission" model, created by Charles Francis Adams, II, after the Civil War. Adams proposed that the executive bureaucracies would propose regulations and ship them to the legislature before they became law. (The "Sunshine" provision had to do with the one power these agencies had--to require information from railroads, so that the agencies could know what was going on before they proposed rules).
Adapting that model, no proposed regulation would become law unless it was passed by the legislature and signed by the exective (subject to the 2/3 override provision, of course). That would pass constitutional muster more easily, and end the delegation of legislative power to the executive branch and the bureaucracy. It would also obviate concern about bureaucrats gaming the $100 million cost limitation.
"Facebook doesn't just share information," according to Monsignor Paul Tighe of the Vatican's social communications office, "it creates community. People begin talking to each other and sharing ideas." In that light, the Vatican will soon launch a Facebook page dedicated to the beatification of Pope John Paul II (the page will link to video highlights of his 27-year papacy).
Facebook may now claim to be a media hub for world religions, to have spurred revolutions across the Middle East and, still, to have kept each of us in contact with our prodigal high-school classmates. It is a social medium with magnificent flexibility - and, it seems, has thus far been put to rather good use.
Reading on the American founding, I recall a quote (my indebtedness to anyone who can produce the source) which held something "as rare as a Catholic in America." Times change, as Catholicism is now the largest single religion in America.
Chinese war ships entered the Mediterranean today. "As rare as a Chinaman in the Mediterranean," it seems, would be another anachronistic reflection of the past. A Chinese frigate conducting anti-piracy escort missions in the Gulf of Aden rendezvoused with a Greek ship evacuating Chinese citizens from Libya and will dock in Crete.
All of this continues to raise questions not only regarding China's political and economic influence in Africa, but also its emerging military intentions. North Africa has often looked to China as a potential economic model, respecting its rapid growth within an authoritarian regime. However, Franco Zallio's Policy Brief for GMF suggests that "China will prioritize the defense of its economic interests over its political relations with incumbent regimes," and potentinal "new governments in the Mediterranean region will be much less attracted by the Chinese 'model' than the fallen regimes."
Though a country with nuclear weapons, China's military has been kept in check and not played a significant role in domestic or international affairs. However, Rodger Baker provides a warning as China's Military Comes Into Its Own:
For most of modern China's history, the military has been an internal force without much appetite for more worldly affairs. That is now changing, appropriately, due to China's growing global prominence and reliance on the global economy. But that means that a new balance must be found, and China's senior leadership must both accommodate and balance the military's perspective and what the military advocates for. As Chinese leaders deal with a generational transition, expanding international involvement and an increasingly difficult economic balance, the military is coming into its own and making its interests heard more clearly.
Like North Africa, China is on the cusp of generational shift. While many of the dynamics vary, the consequences for world stability are even more perilous. Let us hope America is not again caught by surprise and afraid to confront a potential crisis.
Linda Chavez reminds us that a great deal of the Union-backed protest in Wisconsin is in support of very undemocratic organizations.
Republicans should question why anyone should be forced to join -- or pay dues to -- an organization against his or her will. Unions should be voluntary organizations whose members willingly pay dues because they believe the organization provides a service they support. . . .
Why should unions be different from other organizations? You're free to join the AARP, AAA, or the ACLU, but those organizations have to solicit your membership, and you'll pay dues only so long as you believe you're getting your money's worth.
Moreover, she notes that, under current law, Unions are forever. Wisconsin wants to change that. Under current law:
Once a union has been certified to represent the employees, future workers are excluded from ever deciding whether they still want union representation unless they win a decertification election. And the rules to decertify the union are stacked against employees who want change.
Wisconsin would change the rules, ensuring that workers have the right to recertify their union regularly. What's democratic about a labor organization whose legitimacy is not recertified by periodic elections? Yearly recertification might be rather more regular than is necessary. Three to five years sounds better to me.
The Unions also want to abolish the secret ballot in the cerfication process. Not exactly what democracy looks like, is it.
Lela Gilbert notes that "a series of abuses against Christians has swept across the Muslim world," including "a murder in Pakistan, attacks on churches in Ethiopia, an attempted assassination of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Turkey, and repeated pogroms against the Copts in Egypt. Now, rights groups are reporting new developments in Iran's anti-Christian crackdown, which has swept up nearly 300 Christian believers since June 2010." She also notes a detailed briefing document from January 2011 by Elam Ministries announcing a "severe intensification of arrests and imprisonment of Christians in Iran" and a report this week by Christian Solidarity Worldwide that five Iranian Christians had been sentenced to one year's imprisonment for "Crimes against the Islamic Order."
On a related matter, John Bradley takes a stand against Bush's "Freedom Agenda" and warns in the London Spectator of an "Arabian nightmare" if we "assume that democracy is an enemy of Islamism."
When the gift of democracy is unwrapped in the Arab world, Islamists frequently spring out of the box. The jihadis may be despised by most Muslims, but often in Arab countries only about 20 to 40 per cent of the population vote. It is by no means impossible for the Islamists to secure a majority from the minority, because their supporters are the most fanatical. Whatever the theory of democratisation in the Arab world, the history is clear. Where democracy, however tentatively, has already been introduced, it is the Islamists who have come to power.
WaPo reports that the Arab League today "called on the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya." This is significant because "NATO has said that an Arab endorsement of the no-fly zone was a precondition for taking such action."
The White House responded:
We welcome this important step by the Arab League, which strengthens the international pressure on Gaddafi and support for the Libyan people. The international community is unified in sending a clear message that the violence in Libya must stop, and that the Gaddafi regime must be held accountable. The United States will continue to advance our efforts to pressure Gaddafi, to support the Libyan opposition, and to prepare for all contingencies, in close coordination with our international partners.
Note the common theme highlighted by the bold words. I'm an international law attorney - I like international cooperation. But the President of the United States is the Leader of the Free World. Foreign countries (free and oppressed) and the White House itself are treating America as an inconsequential player in a game above its class.
In Egypt, Obama waited for a victor to emerge before taking sides in the conflict. In Libya, he is waiting for others to lead. Cooperating with the international community does not require indecision and submissiveness. Nations are calling upon the UN and NATO because the US has ceded authority to the UN - which has proved itself, again and again, incapable of responding to war and genocide. Obama is submerging America within misguided interpretations of internationalism and egalitarianism. He is degrading our leadership in the world.
P.S. The New York Times has a more complimentary view of Obama's "pragmatism in the Middle East."
Wisconsin Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has harsh (but righteous) words of welcome for the prodigal Democratic senators.
Today, the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin are going to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras. They're going to pretend they're heroes for taking a three week vacation.
It is an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois -- with pay.
Their appearance at the Capitol today is in direct violation of the contempt order issued by the state Senate earlier this month, and it proves their absolute disregard for the institution of the Senate and the constitution they took an oath of office to serve.
But the people of Wisconsin won't forget what they were really doing these past few weeks.
Sen. Tim Cullen refused to come back to save 1,500 jobs.
Sen. Mark Miller refused to come back even to make sure his own staff were safe in the Capitol he abandoned.
Sen. Fred Risser refused to come back out of respect for the institution and dignity of the state Senate.
Sen. Bob Jauch refused to come back even though our side was negotiating in good faith to try to find a reasonable compromise.
Sens. Jon Erpenbach, Chris Larson and Lena Taylor were all too happy to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras in Illinois, never mind their constituents here in Wisconsin.
And Sens. Dave Hansen, Kathleen Vinehout, Tim Carpenter, Spencer Coggs, Jim Holperin, and Julie Lassa refused to come back to actually do the job they were elected to do.
To the Senate Democrats: When you smile for the cameras today and pretend you're heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted. And I hope you're embarrassed to call yourselves senators.
H/t: Power Line
In the wake of mob violence, government shut-downs, absconding Democratic senators, death threats against Republicans and a breakdown of the democratic process in Wisconsin, a detached President Obama's only response was an endorsement of unions.
"I owe these unions," the President once confessed. How far would he be willing to go on union behalf, and how deep is his pro-union conviction? What other policies might have a union motive? Consider this report from Der Spiegel:
A crippling strike by train drivers in a dispute over wages caused havoc across Germany during rush hour on Thursday morning, with countless delays and cancellations. Around 800 drivers walked off the job for six hours between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m., leaving thousands of commuters struggling to get to work--and the dispute is threatening to become a long-term nightmare for travelers.
Communal transportation which leaves the public dependent upon (unionized) government workers surely empowers public employee unions. Conservatives have been pondering the motive for Obama's stubborn insistence on America's adoption of an inefficient, expensive and unwanted high-speed rail system. Perhaps Germany provides a clue.
H/t: James Taranto
During the Bush administration, those who leaked classified information were hailed as heroes "speaking truth to power" by a haughty left which dared Bush to attempt prosecution. The New York Times and others aided and abetted those who wished to publish America's secrets with the impunity guaranteed by certainty they would vilify Bush if he brought charges against those breaking the law (including the NY Times). Slate sums up a politico story on the radically different situation now that Obama is in charge.
The Obama administration's pursuit of federal officials who leak classified information has been so extensive that it has shocked legal experts and transparency advocates, who say these kinds of efforts end up quieting whistleblowers. The moves are particularly surprising considering that Obama promised to usher in a period of unparalleled openness in the White House. Instead, prosecutors have "filed criminal charges in five separate cases involving unauthorized distribution of classified national security information to the media," reports Politico. Over the last 40 years, "the U.S. government brought such cases on three occasions."
The article is revealing in a very "you shall know them by their works" sort of way. Obama defended his investigations by insisting they are "only pursuing individuals who act with reckless disregard for national security." George W. Bush wouldn't have said it any better.
Obama, of course, is correct to relentlessly pursue leaks and plug them by stuffing the leakers in prison. The left is offended that Obama is not governing with "transparency," which is to say, without the government discretion required to wage war and conduct diplomacy. But this insurrection can be laid at Obama's feet - he made these unrealistic promises during his anti-all-things-Bush campaign.
Obama's intensity in prosecuting leaks is a decision liable to interpretation. Either he believed the media would give their favored son a pass, or his Chicago-forged ego is so sensitive that he cannot abide the betrayal he praised when directed against others (consider his vendetta against Fox News).
In sum, Obama is doing the right thing - perhaps with slightly flawed motives - and is therefore causing the left to murmur in discontent. Perhaps the left can be forgiven, though - things haven't been going their way lately.
Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald on why talks with the Democrats broke down:
This afternoon, following a week and a half of line-by-line negotiation, Sen. Miller sent me a letter that offered three options: 1) keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 2) take our counter-offer, which would keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 3) or stop talking altogether.
No word on weather the negotiations were to have taken place in East or West Egg.
Robert Reich opens a fascinating window into the enraged Lefty mind in a recent post complaining of the recent "coup d'etat" in Wisconsin.
It is fascinating in a few ways. In the middle of the post, Reich expresses his fear that the protestors will get out of hand, giving a public relations victory to the Republicans. Reich even goes so far as to say that "Walker would like nothing better than disorder to break out in Madison"--a vicious charge that says more about Reich than about Walker. Reich worries that his fellow Lefties won't keep their protests civil.
That leads to the strange ending of Reich's post: "The American public may be divided over many things but we stand united behind our democratic process and the rule of law. And we reject coups in whatever form they occur."
Wisconsin worked well within the confines of the democratic process. Changing the rules that govern government unions is hardly regime change. How is that a coup?
Governor Walker was willing to negotiate with the Democrats on several issues, but not on the matter of making the payment of union dues voluntary, and making the re-certification of unions by the members a regularly recurring thing. As some Lefties have noted, such a law takes dead aim at a major source of Democratic power. Hence they regard it as cynical. But why is that the case? The rules of the game, before the law passed, tilted the playing field heavily to the Democrats. The Republicans are trying to tilt it back.
That's a coup d'etat if one believes that the current regime is not, simply, the American, federal, democratic-republic, but rather the broader regime of laws we have now (or at least until yesterday in Wisconsin). For Riech, the additions and changes that were made to the American republic in the 20th century are supposed to be permanent victories for his side, which he things is Progress. Hence making paying union dues voluntary is a coup-d'etat, and not simply politics as usual. In his view, one side is Progress, and the other side is Reaction. The philosophy of History makes that point of view posible. The right of people who work for the government to organize and to bargain collectively is on a par with the right of the individual to the fruit of his labors. The idea of Progress masks a power-play by the Left.
If, however, one believes that there are no permanent victories in politics, the world looks rather different. What looks to a Progressive like an assault on rights looks to somone with a more classic liberal view as a mere argument about how to calibrate labor regulations in the republic.
It's not the first time that the failure of the world to change has frustrated and confused men of the Left. It also suggests that many Democrats who are over 40 or so still have not gotten over 1994. From their perspective Congress is supposed to be a Democratic house, and, beyond that, policy changes are supposed to be those the Left wants. Making laws that not only undo or limit some bits of Progressive legislation, but that go after some of the roots that made the American establishment Democratic is, from Reich's perspective, a coup. Once the Democrats fix the rules of the game, Republicans are not supposed to change them, even decades later.
The Dalai Lama hopes to relinquish political power as the head of Tibet's government-in-exile. He has asked the Tibetan parliament to amend the constitution and seeks the speedy election of a new prime minister to lead the country.
The reason for the alteration is likely the Dalai Lama's anticipation of death. When he dies, China will pounce on the opportunity to replace him (as they have attempted to usurp the Catholic church by installing their own bishops) and will pressure foreign countries which recognize the Dalai Lama to abandon Tibet in his absence. As proof, President Obama today announced that he will not meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington this week, and has postponed a scheduled meeting until after a summit with China next month. Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, is attempting to preserve the political existence of Tibet.
The last theocracy of Asia will thus soon vanish, leaving only the Holy See at Vatican City under the authority of the Pope in Europe and, arguably, several Middle Eastern and African Muslim nations as the world's remaining theocracies.
Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 - 2009, and Michael Mukasey, attorney general from 2007 to 2009, have penned a WaPo article arguing against the Obama administrations reversal on extending key provisions of the Patriot Act.
The net effect of imposing sunset provisions [which terminate roving wiretap, NSLs and "lone wolf" authority as of Dec. 31, 2013], changing presumptions and adding layers of review and other administrative and judicial burdens on use of these intelligence tools, absent evidence that any of them has been abused - and there has been none - is that intelligence professionals will regard these regimens as transitory. Confidence and initiative will be degraded. The wall between intelligence-gathering and criminal investigation, thought before Sept. 11 to have been required by statute or the Constitution, but realized afterward to have been unnecessary, will be rebuilt. If intelligence bureaucracies are taught that they incur only burdens and risk criticism by seeking to gather intelligence, they will revert to pre-Sept. 11 mode, and await the next cycle of criticism for failing to connect "dots" they have been discouraged from gathering. The existing procedures for obtaining even an "emergency" authorization under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act already generate reams of documentation through several layers of bureaucracy; there is no need to find out how many more straws the camel's back can bear.
The Wisconsin GOP have extracted the small portions of the stalled bill which require a quorum and passed the remainder without Democratic participation. So, the stalemate is over and Republicans have won. GOP senate leader Scott Fitzgerald released a statement:
Before the election, the Democrats promised "adult leadership" in Madison. Then a month and a half into session, the Senate Democrats fled the state instead of doing their job.
In doing so, they have tarnished the very institution of the Wisconsin state Senate. This is unacceptable.
This afternoon, following a week and a half of line‐by‐line negotiation, Sen. Miller sent me a letter that offered three options: 1) keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 2) take our counter‐offer,which would keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 3) or stop talking altogether.
With that letter, I realized that we're dealing with someone who is stalling indefinitely, and doesn't have a plan or an intention to return. His idea of compromise is "give me everything I want," and the only negotiating he's doing is through the media.
Enough is enough.
The people of Wisconsin elected us to do a job. They elected us to stand up to the broken status quo, stop the constant expansion of government, balance the budget, create jobs and improve the economy. The longer the Democrats keep up this childish stunt, the longer the majority can't act on our agenda.
Tonight, the Senate will be passing the items in the budget repair bill that we can, with the 19 members who actually DO show up and do their jobs. Those items include the long‐overdue reform of collective bargaining needed to help local governments absorb these budget cuts, and the 12 percent health care premium and 5 percent pension contribution.
We have confirmed with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Bureau that every item in tonight's bill follows the letter of the law.
The people of Wisconsin elected us to come to Madison and do a job. Just because the Senate Democrats won't do theirs, doesn't mean we won't do ours.
It's possible the GOP actually waited for the Democrats to return on hyper-ethical principles (hoping to involve them in a proper vote). Otherwise they conservatively hoped to avoid the potential stigma of a one-party vote, or daringly allowed the circus to continue in hopes of favorable poll results. I imagine a combination of all three.
Liberals are, naturally, unhappy. MoveOn decried the vote as "shameful, unprecedented, and probably illegal" before calling for the impeachment of the entire Republican senate. Union protestors in Madison yelled "You are cowards!" (Ironically, given their representatives are hiding in another state.) But it's hard to take seriously accusations of ethical wrong from those who have countenanced three weeks of truancy by the entire Democratic senate.
And the fleebagger 14 haven't promised to return anytime soon. They fear that their return could permit a vote on the original bill. A nefarious mind would suggest the Republicans continue with their (non-quorum-dependent) agenda while the Dems continue thinking it over.
The left's strategy will seek to move the battle from the legislature to the courts (the Wisconsin Supreme Court is up for grabs in April) and to recall (impeach) GOP senators and Scott Walker. More interestingly, there is already talk of general strikes - which could easily backfire on the unions.
National attention will soon shift to Indiana and Ohio - and possibly onward from there, if the process begins to ease with repetition.
Robert Samuelson reminds us that Social Security is not a pension system. It is a welfare system supporting people who are in their mid-sixties and older. The U.S. government, however, has been more than happy to make current taxpayers think that they are paying for their own retirements.
Michaels Cannon objects to this letter sent to the Department of Health and Human Services by twenty governors - including conservative stalwarts like Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker. The letter requests that states should be able to offer market-oriented alternatives to Medicaid and be allowed to use the new exchanges to offer HSA/catastrophic coverage health insurance. If states were granted this leeway it would go a long way toward undermining Obamacare's model of pushing virtually everyone into government mandated comprehensive prepayment of health care (whether through the government or through private "insurers.") Cannon quotes John R. Graham to the effect that Mitch Daniels (and by extension the other conservative governors) are "extending the hand of peace . . . when Obamacare has been mortally wounded in the courts and the U.S. House of Representatives" I think this deeply mistaken for several reasons.
1. I don't see how Obamacare has been mortally wounded in the courts. There is a live controversy about whether the Supreme Court would find the individual insurance purchase mandate constitutional. This part of the controversy is now in the heads of Anthony Kennedy and the other four Supreme Court Justices who might conceivably vote against the constitutionality of the mandate and the rest of the law. They might strike down the whole law. Fine. They might leave the whole law in place or only strike down the individual mandate while leaving the insurance coverage mandates, the new government subsidies, guaranteed issue, and community rating in place. We're going to need a plan in case Anthony Kennedy gets it wrong - because it wouldn't be the first time.
2 I think Cannon is mistaken about the political dynamics of reforming health care in a more market-oriented direction within the public opinion and institutional constraints of American politics. Cannon argues that seeking the kind of significant but incremental reforms laid out in the governors' letter undermines public support for repealing Obamacare. Pushing for incremental and substantive conservative health care reforms complements and strengthens the case for repealing Obamacare. Obama's HHS now faces a choice. They can refuse the twenty requesting states the leeway to implement more market-oriented reforms and be seen as rigid. Or they can grant the requests and watch as Obamacare's model of comprehensive health care prepayment is undermined by more and more people going on consumer-driven health care plans. Incremental conservative reform at the state-level is not the enemy of national-level reform. Incremental state-level reforms make alternative conservative policies real and showcase their benefits to the public. The state-level welfare reforms of the early 1990s (which were only possible because of HHS waivers) made it easier to pass a federal welfare reform bill. The state-level reforms showed that reformist policies could reduce welfare rolls and impose behavioral conditions without producing the horrible consequences predicted by many liberals.
Cannon writes that if Obama's HHS okays the governors' requests, Obama will be able to say:
"Mitch, all your talk about repeal is just cynical politics. Your health-care plan is not that different from mine. You expanded Medicaid to people with higher incomes than my plan requires. You are implementing my plan in your state right now. I'm even willing to make some of the changes you want so it will work better for Indiana."
Well he could try that. It wouldn't be the first untrue thing to come out of his mouth. Of course Daniels could always respond:
"Well Mr. President, the facts say your government-centered approach couldn't be more different from our patient-centered approach. You are trying to legally force people to pay too much for health insurance and then you give some of them one year exemptions and say 'Look how reasonable we are.' Well that's not reasonable. That's crazy. No one should have to beg a bureaucrat to get permission to buy better and cheaper health care coverage.
"Our patient-centered approach has increased satisfaction with health insurance, saved the government money, increased use of preventative care, decreased use of emergency rooms, increased worker take home pay, and maintained or improved access to high quality health care. We can have those policies for the rest of the country too. The first step to getting those benefits to more people is repealing your plan that says we have to get special temporary permission to do the things that will make people's lives better"
Refine & Enlarge
NPR's CEO and president Vivian Schiller has resigned. NPR expressed "deep [and] genuine regret" over the resignation and professed "great respect" for Schiller's leadership - sentiments noticeably absent when Schiller had Juan Williams fired over the phone for expressing a mildly conservative opinion. Also absent was any regret for the actual scandal prompting the resignation - not a single word regarding the racial, elitist, degrading rant of NPR executives against Jews, conservatives, Republicans and "middle-America." There is no hint of contrition or an intent to reform. Rather, NPR laments this "traumatic period for NPR and the larger public radio community." Apparently, NPR is the victim.
All of this would just be repetition on a theme for conservatives if NPR were not a federally subsidized organization. Such funding forces the government to sponsor and patronize a particular viewpoint. Unlike the funding of faith-based charities, for example, which compete against secular institutions to provide for non-political social needs (which the government would otherwise perform less efficiently), public radio is not a government obligation and is inherently susceptible to political bias. When the bias is obvious, the taint upon government is so much more offensive.
A clean break would demonstrate a principled stance of non-partisanship on the part of government, and would cause only an insignificant financial loss to NPR (as they conceded on film). NPR may then join the deep ranks of liberal media outlets with abandon, untainted by unjust tax-payer subsidies.
UPDATE: Dana Davis Rehm, NPR's senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, has now stated: "We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for."
Refine & Enlarge
Today commences the 40-day Lenten season of fasting and penance preceding Easter. In a tradition dating at least to the 11th century, Christians will be marked by the ashes of last year's Palm Crosses to the exhortation: "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Tradition dictates that one give up a persistent vice. I mentioned last year that President Obama gave up capitalism. But the government could surely use a bit of fasting and abstinence this year - cutting back on pork even one day a week would be a good start!
The Civil War & Lincoln
I was interested in Michael Cannon's criticism of Mitch Daniels' health care policies. Cannon levels two kinds of criticism. The first is that Daniels' Healthy Indiana Plan increases government dependency. The second is that the effort by Daniels and other governors to get waivers from the Department of Health and Human Services undermines the effort to repeal Obamacare. I think both criticisms are mostly off target. I'll try to talk about the second criticism tomorrow.
First let's talk about the Healthy Indiana Plan. Cannon fairly describes HIP as "high-deductible coverage combined with a taxpayer-funded health savings account." Well, mostly fairly. Most HIP clients contribute to the funding of their Health Savings Account. The government contribution to the HSA is indexed to earnings so that people who earn at the high end of the eligible population (200 percent of the poverty level) provide most of the funding for their HSA.
Cannon writes that " Health savings accounts are supposed to reduce dependence on government. Daniels is using HSAs to expand dependence on government." Well Cannon is a little off there. The purpose of Health Savings Accounts is to change how people pay for and consume health care. Since people are paying for more of their routine health care costs out of pocket, they will be less likely to over consume and more likely to seek out cheaper and more productive providers. Providers will then respond to these cost conscious consumers by offering lower cost options. The combination of HSA's and catastrophic coverage might be offered by either the government or a private insurer depending on the population. The Daniels administration offered an HSA/catastrophic coverage to state employees. On one hand, the state employees are "dependent" on government for their health care . On the other hand, they are more empowered as consumers than many people with private employer-provided plans that cover first dollar health expenses.
So how well does this theory work? Well it depends. The HSA/catastrophic coverage plan for Indiana state employees has saved the government money, increased the take home pay of the workers and maintained their access to high quality health care. That is a win-win-win situation and it would be a great idea to expand that system to government employees at all levels and in every state. I'm less clear on how well consumer-driven health care will work for lower earning populations.
I spoke with Seema Verma who is a consultant with the state of Indiana. I had one question for her. Is HIP saving the government money versus traditional Medicaid (basically a government single-payer program for low-earners)? The answer I got was yes but... When you adjust for differing age and other demographic factors between the HIP population and the traditional Medicaid population (the HIP population skews older and older people consume more health care), HIP saves the government some money, but not much. These savings persist despite HIP reimbursing health care providers at a higher rate than Medicaid for costs to the client after the client has exhausted their Health Savings Account. HIP clients are more likely to get preventative care and less likely to visit the emergency room than before going on HIP. The worst that can be said of HIP vs. traditional Medicaid is that HIP seems to incentivize better use of health care resources, and offers better access to care at only slightly less cost to the government than traditional Medicaid. Verma told me that they are working on studies to examine the health outcomes of HIP clients vs. traditional Medicaid clients. I would be interested in seeing how the health outcomes for HIP clients compare to the notoriously lousy health outcomes for traditional Medicaid clients.
Indiana's two different HSA/catastrophic coverage programs have had somewhat different outcomes. The HSA/catastrophic coverage program for state workers had been much more successful in holding down government health costs than has HIP. I suspect that largely has to do with the differences between the two populations. The client population of HIP is disproportionately old and sick. No matter how smart they shop for their health care, many HIP clients are going to exhaust their Health Savings Accounts and need to have their catastrophic care paid for. There appears to be a real, but limited, immediate benefit to putting such clients on a consumer-driven plan like HIP. The direct benefit alone would probably be reason enough to try to move Medicaid in a more consumer-oriented direction, but there is more to think about than the savings of moving government employees and Medicaid clients toward consumer-oriented policies. The more people are on consumer-driven plans (along with some major regulatory changes), the more medical providers will fight for this market by fighting to reduce costs. The resulting business model innovation is our best hope for reducing the rate of medical inflation without imposing centralized rationing. I'm not sure that we have seen the best outcomes that consumer-driven health care has to offer. So far we have seen the kinds of benefits that come from improved decision making by fairly small populations (Indiana state government workers and the 62,000 or so on HIP.) I don't think those groups are large enough to have produced a system-wide effect on Indiana health care providers. If we can get a critical mass of people on consumer-driven policies, the long-term effect of liberalizing the health care market might save us even more money. It seems worth trying.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center attacked Rep. King and the Homeland Security Committee's hearings on homegrown Islamic terrorism by offering that radical Islam isn't America's greatest threat. You'll never guess who is....
Well, I think it's not our biggest domestic terror threat. I think that pretty clearly comes from the radical right in this country.
Asked for an example, Potok cites the "so-called anti-government patriot movement," such as the "sovereign citizens' movement."
These are people who believe the government has no right to control them in any way, to pass laws that affect them, to require them to pay taxes, even to require things like driver's licenses and auto registrations.
Other than Wesley Snipes and a few leftist anarchists, do you know anyone (especially anyone on the right) who thinks the government can't collect taxes or pass laws? Have you ever heard of any such groups committing an act of terrorism, anywhere in the world? Now, can you recall any acts of terrorism, here or abroad, committed by an Islamic group?
It's not a point of disagreement between the left and right on this issue, it's a point of sanity. If the SPLC - which, in its desperate attempt to remain relevant recently included "pro-family" groups on their annual list of hate groups - truly believes the "sovereign citizens' movement" is a greater threat than Al Qaeda, they must be so consumed by hate or fear as to be pathologically deranged. The only other possibility is that they are utterly immune to the due shame which should accompany such a ludicrous lie.
My mother just called to let me know George W. Bush was on Oprah. I squirmed for a moment, wondering if it was worth sacrificing my ability to say "I've never watched Oprah" in order to hear the former president. But I only caught the latter half, so I can still claim not to have seen a full episode....
I note that President Bush has always conducted himself as a gentleman. Even as President Obama futilely continues to blame Bush for his every hardship and failure, his successor refuses to respond with an unkind word.
It's noteworthy that the Bush years were not plagued by any credible personal scandals. The inability to seize WMD's was an embarrassment, while revelations of enhanced interrogation techniques and the NSA wiretapping program caused a national controversy, but none of these were scandals in the sense that Bush had acted immorally or unethically in an objective sense. Liberals may not have liked his policies, but they were undertaken with good intentions and complied with established laws and norms (where such existed). The man did not act for personal gain, abuse his position or surrender his convictions. Those virtues will forever demonize him in the eyes of his adversaries, but I expect he sleeps well at night.
Oh, what James O'Keefe has wrought.
Many years ago , blogs became the cutting edge of alternative news. The Drudge Report and others broke news to a conservative audience which would have otherwise been swept under the rug by the liberal MSM. Monica Lewinsky, of course, is the prime example. Power Line later exposed the fraudulent CBS documents relied upon by Dan Rather to smear George W. Bush's military service.
The use of camera phones has made citizen reporters a front line source of news. Whether posted on-line or picked up by the MSM, they provide behind the scenes images of stories beyond the lens of an MSM camera. Also, as in the case of Rep. Cleaver's claim that Tea Partiers had hurled racial vulgarities at him, cell phone videos revealed the absence of a claimed story.
Now, undercover sting operations have begun to revolutionize news. It began with ACORN, moved to Planned Parenthood and has now landed at NPR. Two actors pretending to be donors from the Muslim Brotherhood intent on spreading sharia law across America sit down for lunch with two senior NPR executives who reveal the sort of ideology pervading government-funded radio.
Just one example: "The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian - I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move.... [They aren't] just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."
And there's plenty more on the media-controlling
Jews Zionists, anti-intellectual conservatives, the Muslim Brotherhood in America, etc. I'm sure this wasn't the sort of hate-filled, bigoted rhetoric the left had in mind when they called for a new civility - nor which NPR had in mind when they "proudly" fired Juan Williams for "expressing his opinion."
Men and Women
This means that by the time today's Chinese newborns reach adulthood, there will be a chronic shortage of potential spouses. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, one in five young men will be brideless. Within the age group 20 to 39, there will be 22 million more men than women. Imagine 10 cities the size of Houston populated exclusively by young males.Ferguson draws upon economics and history--but most of all, on Hemingway--for examples of what might be on the horizon in an Asia without female influence. Interesting and important to contemplate? Yes. Appealing or cheering? Decidedly not.
Having won a presidential election by simply not being George W. Bush, its understandable that Obama sought to govern by the same principle. However, the realities of the job have often forced him to take the path formally trodden (i.e., warrantless domestic wire-tapping, military surges, rendition). Now, the WSJ reports:
The Obama administration on Monday lifted its freeze on new military trials at Guantanamo Bay and for the first time laid out its legal strategy to indefinitely detain prisoners who the government says can't be tried but are too dangerous to be freed.
So, Gitmo will not be shut down, those vilified trials will resume and some terrorists will be held indefinitely without trial. Watch for it - Obama is just around the corner from penning a memo allowing "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Of course, Obama's charisma was never going to prove sufficient to actually convince foreign countries to adopt our Gitmo clientele, and American states had long ago shown symptoms of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) Syndrome when asked to host trials in civilian courts. The result was indefinite detention. The solution, belatedly arrived upon, is ... the Bush doctrine!
Somewhere, two former presidents named George Bush are smiling.
To unions, workers are just the raw material used to create union power, just as iron ore is the raw material used by U.S. Steel and bauxite is the raw material used by the Aluminum Company of America.Sowell here demonstrates how so much of what unions have bargained for has not been quite what workers thought they were bargaining for. The important thing to remember about unions, Sowell argues, is that in themselves they don't create wealth. However productive the individual members of a union may be in their own work for a company, the union--as a separate entity--is only in the business of "siphoning off" the wealth workers and management produce for a company. Sowell notes that the reason private sector unions have been in decline in recent decades is because workers have seen the natural economic results of the long dominance of unions in various sectors of the economy. Unemployment resulting from the bankruptcy of a worker's industry--which, in many cases, can be correlated to the rise of the union in that industry--turns out to be just as frightful to workers as unemployment resulting from the whims of management.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
Men and Women
The world's largest family. Britian's Daily Mail reports on 1 man, 39 wives, 94 kids and 33 grandkids all stuffed into a 100 room "mansion" in India and living according to a strict, cultish order.
Do I smell a reality TV show...?
Quote of the Day
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.
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.
The Civil War & Lincoln
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
JINDAL/RUBIO 2016: THIS IS OUR LAST LAST CHANCE