Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Mr. Obama's War

...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?


Life After Unions

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.

Categories > Economy

Pop Culture

Rebecca Black: Criticism Not PC

Over the past week, a thirteen year old girl has gained internet stardom due to a "song" she put up on YouTube. I will not link to the "song" because I do not wish you to blame me for stealing that portion of your life away from you, and strongly suggest ignoring the possible itch to Google it. Just know that with its wit in lyrics such as "tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards" and "we we we so excited" and autotuning so severe it makes the Black Eyed Peas and the stars of Glee look like great singers, the song is really not worth your time. Thus, understandably, its 22 million views on YouTube have shown one of the largest public backlashings that the website has ever seen. Parodies making fun of it went up within hours and continue to increase, and most other serious music types who have looked at the thing have declared it to be an unintentional parody in and of itself.

Neverminding the fact that the song includes an 8th grader talking about partying on a weekend, getting into a convertible driven by a similarly-aged boy, attending said party with other 8th graders seemingly absent of parental supervision, and being followed by a much-older adult who is eerily singing about this girl and following a school bus, the folks of Good Morning America have quickly come to Rebecca Black's defense. The almost-universal criticism of the girl's video is not the result of the girl's poor tastes or bad parenting, but rather the epitome of cyberbullying, according to ABC, and people should just back off and be nice because she is only a child. Even though this is a self-centered "Me Generation" video with such a lack of skill it can make Bieber Fever look like a good alternative, it's mean and hurtful to call it such.

Well, Ms. Black's parents--who forked over the money to have the fancy video shot and the auotuning done (I hope they did not pay for the garbage lyrics too)--should have thought about that before allowing their daughter to put something like that on the Internet. They were asking for it; apparently they are making money off of it on iTunes, which seems to amount to exploitation of their daughter for financial gain. Though, per that interview, it seems the whole thing was a ploy to get a date with Justin Bieber. Again, one has to wonder what her parents were thinking. Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to go make my mind up whether I prefer kickin' in the front seat or sittin' in the back seat.
Categories > Pop Culture

Shameless Self-Promotion

The Week in Review

My week that is.  Busier than usual, topped with a quick and productive visit to the Ashbrook Center on Thursday!  More fun news about that in due course.  In the meantime, in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard out last night, I have a short meditation on what is likely to be aftermath of Japan's nuclear crisis.  (Short answer: more fossil fuels in the short run, but perhaps better new nukes in the long run.)

I also had an extra helping of Cranky Flakes for breakfast yesterday, and decided to deliver a long overdue beatdown on Michael Gerson, one of the media's favorite house-trained "conservatives."  And finally, don't miss Berkeley physicist Richard Muller's five-minute beatdown on the famous global warming "hockey stick" that I discuss here.


Religious Liberty at the European Court of Human Rights

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. . . .

Categories > Religion


Religious Liberty in Europe

In a curious case, at least for Europe, the European Court of Human Rights has declared that public institutions, including public schools, have the right to display crucifixes if they wish to. Years ago, the same court banned crucifixes in Italian schools after an atheist parent complained that her children were being subjected to beliefs that they did not subscribe to. At the unyielding urging of the Vatican, the Italian government motioned for an appeal-- which has just been granted. The court has concluded that the mother "had retained in full her right as a parent to enlighten and advise her children and to guide them on a path in line with her own philosophical convictions" and that crucifixes were not a form of indoctrination but a symbol of cultural and national identity. In Europe, seen more and more as a bulwark of radical secularism (France not only having banned crucifixes but burkas as well), it is now legal to publicly acknowledge the role that faith plays in culture, society, and history. One of the supporters of the case mentioned that if the secular tide in Europe continued along its former path, even "God Save the Queen" would be endangered soon and removed as Britain's national anthem.

It is interesting to note that, in addition to the Holy See and Italy, the other countries pushing most fervently to allow crucifixes in classrooms were Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria-- four nations that spent decades under the atheist dominion of Communism, and who subsequently viewed the ban of religious images in public spaces as a form of religious persecution.

In light of this, and as James Madison's birthday was this past week, it is a good time to reflect on Mr. Madison's views on religious liberty. A fervent supporter (and indeed architect) of the "separation between church and state" in our government, it ought to be remembered that the goal of the Founders in that separation was to protect religion from corruption and misuse by government. He adamantly believed that religion was necessary "to the happiness of man" and that a culture that was hostile to religion would soon find itself without protection. The first settlers came to the New World as pilgrims seeking a place where they could worship freely and openly without fear of persecution. From those first pilgrims and the many after to the waves of Catholics and Jews to the arrival of the Eastern religions, America has long been a beacon for those who wish to worship--or, not worship--freely.

Our government, of course, should not get in the business of making laws about religion or favoring with taxes certain sects over others. But is it wrong to recognize the place it plays in our history and our culture? By no means should religion be forced upon people, but neither should it be smothered by their sensitivities. Should people be forced to take religion classes or read the Bible or say prayer in public schools? Of course not. Should they be allowed to express what they believe or to acknowledge the leading role that religion had in the conception of our nation and its traditions? Yes. It is a part of who we are and, at some fundamental level, necessary to truly understand liberty and the responsibilities of liberty. It is an interesting and perhaps troubling time when the Old World now holds more room for religious expression than the New.
Categories > Religion


The Light Bulb's Not 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.

Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

More Thoughts On Libya

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. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

A Global Role Call on Libya

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.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Sumo Wrestler in the L.A. Marathon

A 405-pound sumo wrestler hopes to complete the Los Angeles Marathon this weekend and be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest person to cross the finish line. He refers to himself as "The Fat Man" and is doing it not as some sort of radical attempt to lose weight; he's doing it because he wants to do it, has wanted to do it for a while, and wants to actually make history doing it unlike all those "thin people" who will be running the marathon. He certainly has more determination to complete such a trying thing than some of us lean and hungry types. Good luck to him as he trudges along this weekend! 

"Gneiting is a dreamer. Running 26.2 miles is a goal he's harbored since grade school. But someday he would also like to hike from the Dead Sea to Mt. Everest. He would like to swim the English Channel, because, he says, he floats like a cork. He would like to play in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, and recently sent a resume in hopes of a tryout. He hasn't heard back."

Update: He did it! In under ten hours.
Categories > Leisure


A Formal Declaration of War?

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.

Categories > Military

Foreign Affairs

Thoughts On Libya

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.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

When Israel's Revolution?

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.  

Foreign Affairs

UN Approves No-Fly Zone - And More

The UN has just adopted a resolution to implement a no-fly zone over Libya in a 10-0 (5 abstentions) vote. The vote can also permit additional necessary measures, if needed.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Dirty Politics: Housewives of the World, Unite!

Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Sam Kazman, tells of the demise of effective top-loader washing machines due to the push from enviros for tough energy efficiency standards.  This story reminded me of another housekeeping dilemma that is driving me bonkers:  ineffective dishwasher detergent.  This, too, is in response to a push from enviros.  When it came to the detergent, they didn't like phosphorus and so demanded (and got) its elimination in the available formulas.  As we bravely march ahead into a 21st century of "progress," eating off of dirty plates with dirty forks while wearing dirty clothes, might it not have been of some comfort to do these things in the soft glow provided by an incandescent light bulb?  But, of course, it is not enough for these folks that we suffer these miseries in blissful ignorance.  They must be illuminated . . . in stark fluorescent hues.  And that may be where the enviros crossed their Rubicon.
Categories > Environment

Foreign Affairs

The Collapse of (Obama's) Internationalism

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."

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Hillary 2012?

What if she resigns in evident disgust, once Ghadafi wipes out his opposition, and as Japan continues to glow.  After silence from her (though not from her spouse), a rising chorus insists she runs.  Wouldn't surprise me, though the odds would be against her.  She'd look good, I'm afraid to say, against both Obama and the GOP crew.
Categories > Presidency


Persuadable Whites And The GOP

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.

Categories > Politics


Pimp My Curriculum

The cover story of the current issue of The Weekly Standard features Northwestern University professor emeritus (now contributing editor at the Standard), Joseph Epstein, writing about the now infamous "extracurricular activity" associated with a Human Sexuality course taught at Northwestern by Professor J. Michael Bailey.  The article is full of cutting insights--about Professor Bailey; Northwestern President, Morton Shapiro; university presidents as a general class and the things that have led to the demise of their seriousness and importance; the meaning of (and obligations associated with) academic freedom; and the general demise of the American university system.  Yet perhaps most illuminating of all of these keen observations and witty commentary are these lines:

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.

I don't generally like to align myself with such pessimistic pronouncements upon current events because I tend to think--maybe superstitiously--that they doom and diminish a fight that is certainly worth having.  Moreover, I also think that it is impossible to know in what way events will turn when the actors in question are human beings.  We are nothing if not entirely unpredictable--particularly when we are free.  Anything can (and does) happen in human history.  But at the risk of sounding like one of those boring guys with a computer model to demonstrate probability, if our current estimate of education continues along the trajectory outlined by Epstein, it is hard to see how he is wrong in his unhappy predictions.
Categories > Education

The Founding

Happy Birthday, Mr. Jemmy

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.

Categories > The Founding


Who Will Regulate the Regulators?

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.


Categories > Progressivism

Refine & Enlarge

Reconstitutionalizing America

Another Letter from an Ohio Farmer is out. The Farmer hopes that he may contribute to the national discussion on self-government.  As the Constitution emerged from a national process of deliberation, so may The Farmer's voice act as another contributor to this necessary conversation, moving toward a restoration of constitutionalism.  It goes almost without saying that, as in any good conversation, The Farmer is also disposed to listen and learn; he is both student and teacher in this good discussion.  If he sometimes seems to act the teacher, he will always also be the student and citizen, willing to learn from his fellows, and to adjust his thoughts accordingly.  If the advice be good, so his thoughts will follow.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


The Eternal Obama

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? 

Categories > Politics


Remembering the Ides of March

We have much to learn from Rome, and particularly from the conflict between friends Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Junius Brutus. From the Founding until today, America has always seen her shadow in Rome's reflection. It was the greatest republic to exist before our own, and so much of our republic is purposefully connected to the Roman tradition-- from the structure of our public places to the Latin mottos on our various symbols. The Framers had Rome, and particularly Caesar, in mind when they crafted our Constitution; how do we get a Republic without the threat of what happened two thousand and fifty five years ago happening again?

Both Brutus and Caesar loved Rome and believed they were fighting for what was best; the former for liberty, the latter for peace. The success of the American Republic is that we have managed to take these better parts of Caesar and Brutus and combine them-- for now. It is constant work to keep this balance, as Ben Franklin famously admonished when he left the Constitutional Convention. So, on these Ides of March, it is good and noble to remember both Caesar and Brutus for their better parts. I shall leave this commemoration to Shakespeare's Antony, who spoke best of these two titans of history. The first quote is when Antony comes upon the butchered body of his master, Caesar, and the second is when he comes upon the man who did that, Brutus:

"O! Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers;
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood."

"This was the noblest Roman of them all;
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He, only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, 'This was a man!'" 
Categories > History

Foreign Affairs

A Strike We Could All Live With

"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."

Categories > Foreign Affairs


In Defense of Nuclear Power

What is going on with the Japanese nuclear reactors is, without question, a terrible event that can possibly add more hardship onto an already unspeakable tragedy. The explosions and the threat of a radiation leak are troubling, and Japanese engineers and scientists are doing everything humanly possible to contain the situation. Yes, there is a threat of a nuclear meltdown-- but there is also a chance that an asteroid will slam into the Earth on December 12, 2012, or that the next time you cross the street a semi will hit you. Opponents of nuclear energy in the United States ought not to politicize this horrible tragedy in their attempts to stop the spread of the cleanest and most efficient, environmentally-friendly source of energy that we have.

The media is comparing the threat to Chernobyl and some politicians are calling for a complete moratorium on the spread of nuclear energy. This is nothing more than sensationalist fearmongering. The Chernobyl disaster was caused by the absurd inefficiencies of the Soviets and massive flaws in the power plant's design. The primary problematic power plant in Japan has safeguard after safeguard installed, including a special container around the reactor built specifically for this kind of disaster situation. Should the container be breached, the Japanese government already has things in place to pour concrete over it as was done to contain Chernobyl.

It is worth noting that the facility itself was fairly aged--forty years, I read in one article--and that newer designs have even more safeguards and redundancies to prevent this type of thing. It is also worth noting that this facility withstood one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history, and a subsequent tsunami-- and yet, despite this, the disaster is unfolding very, very slowly, meaning that the safeguards were mostly doing their job and that the Japanese are doing a good job at attempting to avert this disaster. These types of disasters do not happen frequently; seeking a nuclear moratorium because of this event is no different than refusing to step on a plane because they crash or get taken over occasionally. 

Disasters happen, and we are usually well-prepared for them. Some are more severe than we can possibly imagine, and they test and endanger us. Rather than living in fear that such disasters will happen all the time, we should focus on--once this crisis is over--learning about what went wrong and what went right with these reactors in Japan, and working to address or implement whatever is discovered. We need to take this opportunity to make nuclear power better, more efficient, and more safe than it already is for these once-in-a-lifetime natural disasters. And this problem is just that: one caused by a severe natural disaster, not the incompetence of engineers or operators. As our country continues the debate over nuclear power, we should keep that fact in mind; it's a problem, yeah, but it is a rare one-- and one that we are getting much better at preparing for and addressing. There are real fears and concerns over nuclear energy, and what Japan is facing right now is a horrible situation on top of a heartbreaking tragedy that I hope they can overcome, but we should take the opportunity to learn how to make this clean and efficient power better and safer for our use-- not retreat into sensationalism and ban even the thought of pursuing nuclear energy.
Categories > Environment


We Don't Need No College Education?

Of course, I'm being somewhat facetious with that title, but it seems there's an unfortunate and large measure of truth in it anyway.  When it comes to measuring civic literacy and engagement, this new study from ISI suggests that there is absolutely no correlation between having a college degree and demonstrating a very basic civic literacy.  Over at NRO's blog, Phi Beta Cons, Jason Fertig takes note of the study and argues that it is more proof positive that today's colleges and universities--with all their focus on professional specialization--are failing to produce graduates with even a basic idea of what constitutes a well-rounded education.  Despite claims to the contrary in their mission statements, most colleges today do next to nothing to encourage active citizen engagement--and this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of "education."  Job training, maybe.  But "education"?  Hardly.   

There are exceptions, of course.  I'd be willing to take the easy bet that Ashbrook Scholars upon completing just one year (though, certainly, after four) would pass this test at the "Philosopher King" level.  And with respect to this test of civic engagement, a quick sampling of Ashbrook alumni rolls will prove Ashbrook graduates well within the "Founding Fathers" ranks. 

Cheering as this exception is (and perhaps a few others that we could add to a pretty small list), it's time for engaged citizens to stop diddling and scolding when these appalling statistics come out and really begin demanding serious answers to these questions: Is this any way to run a country?  How are we supposed to preserve our liberty when so many of our citizens have no concept of what constitutes the substance of it?  Can a person honestly call himself "educated" when he has not acquired even a basic understanding of the nation in which he deems himself a citizen?  Is a college education that does not equip its graduates to grapple with a quiz this basic, worthy of the name?  Am I going to be a sucker and pay for something like that when my kid wants to go to college?

I say it's time to starve the beast.  If you have children contemplating college in the next few years and the colleges you examine seem to do nothing to advance civic literacy, ask yourself whether the sacrifices you're going to make to pay for this thing called an "education" are really worth it?  I submit to you that if a school can't get this much right, it probably isn't getting much else right, either. 
Categories > Education

Quote of the Day

Statistic du Jour

Mickey Kaus quoting Nicholas Kristof:

47 percent of America's kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores).

Categories > Quote of the Day


Separation of Powers

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.

Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

Pope. Blessed. Friend?

"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.

Categories > Pop Culture


Oh Goody: Something Else We Can Blame on the French

The Great Depression.
Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

China in the Mediterranean

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. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs

The Family

Tiger Sons and Daughters

The stiff upper lip (or gaman) that Tiger Mothers produce:  Little public wailing in Japan about the earthquake and tsunami--that's saved for private times.  H/t Hugh Hewitt.

Categories > The Family


Claeys on the REINS Act

One-time NLT contributor Eric Claeys, currently professor of law at George Mason University, testified last week before the House Judiciary Committee on the REINS Act, the legislation that would require Congress to vote on any proposed regulation that would impose a cost on the economy of $100 million or more.  You can watch the hearing or download Eric's excellent testimony (and that of fellow pro-REINS panelist David Schoenbrod of NYU) here.  The REINS Act is an important initiative to slow up the regulatory state--you can tell by how the left is going to DefCon1 against it--and it bears watching.
Categories > Politics

The Founding

James Madison v. Carl Schmitt

Harvey Mansfield defends Madisonian republicanism against an ill-conceived (albeit well-intended) critique of the administrative state and its abandonment of the separation of powers.  The founders, Mansfield points out, are far more thoughtful than Carl Schmitt, a political theorist who came to support Hitler.
Categories > The Founding


What Democracy Looks Like?

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.

Categories > Progressivism


Gabrielle Giffords

All reports lately from the doctors of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during the tragic attack in Tuscon back in January, say that she is recovering at a surprisingly fast pace and doing very well. She is regaining the power to speak and converse, is walking a little, and can sing easy tunes like "Happy Birthday". This "brain recovery" process is a remarkable one that I cannot even pretend to understand-- the doctors are teaching her brain how to think again. She has to figure out again how to form words and keep strands of thought. Amazing. In goods news, the doctor said her memory is unaffected-- her long-term memories are still there, and now she can remember who comes to visit her and the conversations that they have; she cannot, however, remember the shooting itself or the events following it, which her doctors say in normal.

The man responsible for the shooting has pled not guilty to 49 federal charges, which include the murder of two federal officials and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress. His lawyers are seeking an insanity plea, and the prosecutors have said that the death penalty is on the table.

Congresswoman Giffords is making plans to attend her husband's blast-off into space on the final mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which will be going to the International Space Station before returning to join Discovery in retirement. Her friends in Congress are also helping her staff continue its operations, which have included helping a constituent escape from the Middle East protests and helping a woman save a home her family has owned for 70 years from foreclosure. I hope that the congresswoman does not have any permanent damage to her brain, and wish here well as she continues this remarkable process of healing and recovery.
Categories > Congress

Foreign Affairs

Christian Persecution and Arab Democracies

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.

Categories > Foreign Affairs