Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns



The New Yorker's John Cassidy sets out to sneer at Michelle Bachmann in the course of taking her seriously.  At one point, elucidating the similarities between her campaign and Nazi Germany, he writes, "Bachmann's America has its own values . . . and its own version of history--one light on facts and heavy on Apocalypticism. 'Americans agree that our country is in peril today and we must act with urgency to save it,' Bachmann said in Waterloo, Iowa, the town of her birth. And she went on: 'My voice is part of a movement to take back our country, and now I want to take that voice to the White House.' From National Socialism to Poujadism to the Tea Party, the suggestion that the motherland needs reclaiming from alien forces has been central to populist right-wing movements."

In arguing that the country is in peril, and requires a movement to reclaim it, Bachmann joins an impressive list of other apocalyptic neo-Nazis:

We meet at ... a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more...

These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

We believe in the value of doing what's right for everyone in the American family.

And that is the choice in this election.

We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America. Not narrow appeals that divide us, but shared values that unite us. Family and faith. Hard work and responsibility. Opportunity for all - so that every child, every parent, every worker has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential.

The thing that makes me angriest about what has gone wrong in the last 12 years is that our government has lost touch with our values, while our politicians continue to shout about them. I'm tired of it!

I was raised to believe the American Dream was built on rewarding hard work. But we have seen the folks of Washington turn the American ethic on its head....

Our people are pleading for change, but government is in the way. It has been hijacked by privileged private interests. It has forgotten who really pays the bills around here. It has taken more of your money and given you less in return.

We have been a nation adrift too long. We have been without leadership too long. We have had divided and deadlocked government too long. We have been governed by veto too long. We have suffered enough at the hands of a tired and worn-out administration without new ideas, without youth or vitality, without vision and without the confidence of the American people. There is a fear that our best years are behind us. But I say to you that our nation's best is still ahead.

Our country has lived through a time of torment. It is now a time for healing. We want to have faith again. We want to be proud again. We just want the truth again.

The destiny of America is always safer in the hands of the people then in the conference rooms of any elite.

So let us give our ... country the chance to elect a Government that will seek and speak the truth, for this is the time for the truth in the life of this country.

George McGovern 1972 acceptance speech

I encourage readers to find other examples of routine, us-and-them campaign rhetoric that, turned to the proper angle, reveal a seething hatred of the nation's enemies.

Categories > Progressivism


And the award for creepiest campaign image goes to....

Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

Give War a Chance?

John Lennon, the right-wing, reagonite war-hawk? So say's Lennon's last personal assistant:

John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on (Democrat) Jimmy Carter.


I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who's an old-time communist... He enjoyed really provoking my uncle... Maybe he was being provocative... but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he'd been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy's naivete.

I don't know if Lennon's alleged conservative conversion is genuine, but it would make listening to Come Together all the sweeter.  

Categories > Pop Culture

Foreign Affairs

Paper Dragon Catching Fire

As the world watches the Greek crisis continue to unfold and threaten the entirety of that poorly-implemented experiment that is the European Union, and as forecasters proclaim that hitting the debt ceiling in August will spell the beginning of the end for American dominance in this world, all seem to be turning a blind eye from the problems rumbling deep within the belly of the dragon in the Far East. Indeed, the potential clout many talk of in regards to the People's Republic of China is far too exaggerated, and the chance of its powerful economy being but a house of cards entirely underestimated. Like the states of the West, China has been unable to spend its way out of the global economic crisis, only prolonging the inevitable.

Liu Jiayi, China's top auditor, revealed this week that the debt of local governments in China has reached a reported $1.7 trillion, equivalent to 27% of China's entire gross domestic product. These numbers are considered to be conservative as it is widely believed that many local governments did not fully report how much money they have been borrowing. By comparison, the total debt of state and municipal governments in the United States is considered to be $2.4 trillion, just over 15% of our GDP. Earlier this year, the Chinese Central Bank declared that the total local government debt was 30% percent of GDP, or $2.2 trillion, which people believe to be closer to the truth-- the auditor only surveyed 6,500 of the 10,000 local governments in China, while the central bank looked at more.

Like the United States, China's rapid growth has largely been the result of loose credit and easy money that have created a huge property bubble waiting to burst and massive inflation. Like the United States, the Communists pumped a stimulus of hundreds of billions of dollars that did nothing but increase the national debt and give a temporary reprieve to the local governments. Most of what these governments spent money on was infrastructure-related and thus have not yielded a profit-- roads, railways, bridges, buildings, many of which remained unused. A lot of these local governments also used loans to play with the property and stock markets, leading to great losses.

For the past few years many have marveled at how Chinese central planning has led to economic prosperity (if you can call a nation where only 8% of its population does not live in feudal poverty "prosperity"). Many thought that the foreign debt owned by the Communists would keep them safe from the worst of the economic crisis. However, just as economic central planning destroyed the American economy and government overspending destroyed the Europeans, so too will they bring China's economy tumbling down. The potential ramifications are numerous; it should be pointed out that many successful revolutions, the Arab Spring among them, occur in the midst of economic crisis, when the educated middle class is suddenly no longer content. Will this bring down the Communist Party? Probably not. But, given the stranglehold that repression places on economic ingenuity, and given the fact that this economic crisis is proving time and time again that governments cannot spend their way back to prosperity, it is likely that China will be far slower to recover after its fall than the Europeans and the United States. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Put Not Your Faith In Anthony Kennedy

or even John Roberts.  A federal appeals court panel upholds the constitutionality of Obamacare's federal individual health insurance purchase mandate.  All is not lost, even in the judicial arena, but this article is looking prescient.

Categories > Politics


His Ur-Grandfather's Son

Justice Clarence Thomas has authored one of the Court's most unusual and as usual most instructive court opinions, dissenting in the violent video case (look about 40% of the way down, after the majority opinion).  In voting to uphold California's restrictions on sales of violent video games to minors, Justice Thomas surveys the Founders' views of child rearing, noting among other items Jefferson's education instructions to his wife, the contrasting views of Locke and Rousseau, and children's reading of the time.  The upshot:

"The freedom of speech," as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors' parents or guardians. Therefore, I cannot agree that the statute at issue is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

The Court's version of the first amendment appears to have little to do with the original purpose of that element of self-government--the protection of political speech.

Categories > Courts



should be listening to Henry Olsen.  I would only add that Republicans are so dependent on winning over such large margins among white voters in order to be competitive because of the country's changing demographics.  A lot of what Olsen says would also help in crafting strategies to win over more nonwhite working-class and middle-class voters (though it would not suffice.)
Categories > Politics


Obama Taps Oil Reserves

The Obama Administration has decided to tap into the nation's Strategic Oil Reserves to help reduce gas prices, which I complain about in a recent letter to the Los Angeles Times. The decision to release oil from our reserves is a very bad one that serves no purpose other than making it look like President Obama is doing something about America's energy woes. Initially the White House argued that the reserves were being tapped to offset a shortage caused by the Libyan Civil War-- this is a silly notion as Libya only produces 1.5 million barrels of oil a day and the vast majority of it goes to Europe.

The Strategic Oil Reserves are only supposed to be released in the event of a severe disruption in our oil supply-- events like Hurricane Katrina and the 1973 Oil Crisis are examples of appropriate times to release oil from the reserves. Rather than being a response to any real emergency, the Obama Administration's release of the reserves is just a ploy to gain some political goodwill. If they really cared about ending our woes at the gas stations, then President Obama and his allies in Congress would fix the problem they created with a moratorium on offshore drilling, end costly EPA regulations on refiners, and stop paying countries like Brazil billions of dollars to build up their oil resources as we just let our own sit unused. If they really cared about solving our energy problems they would get out of the way of market forces in order to allow entrepreneurs to figure out alternative energies and end subsidies giving an unfair market advantage to certain types of energy like ethanol. Rather than addressing the problem, President Obama seems intent on just punting it down the road like most of his predecessors, giving the appearance of hope for change but not actually delivering it.

Opening our strategic reserves does not help us at all; it only endangers us. Let us hope that a major supply of our oil does not fall prey to instability, terrorism, or nature in the near future.
Categories > Economy


Rick Perry?

George Will seems high on Rick Perry (h/t to Peter Schramm for the link.) I dunno.  Perry is, in one sense perfectly positioned for the Republican primary race.  He is much more of a small government guy than George W. Bush and he is a social conservative with long executive experience in a state with strong recent job creation.  That is pretty much the sweet spot. 

But I don't have strong feelings either pro or anti-Perry.  It isn't just that Texas has a higher unemployment rate than the supposedly Obamneycare-afflicted state of Massachusetts or Tim Pawlenty's Minnesota.  Assigning praise and blame according to state by state unemployment and job creation statistics is difficult.  Perry is having budget issues.   Depending on how he and the Texas state legislature solve them, he might have a strong case to run as a candidate of fiscal consolidation. 

I hope he runs, but I'm keeping my expectations modest.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Americans on Trial in Iran

Almost two years ago, three young grads went on a hiking trip in the beautiful hills of Iraqi Kurdistan. During their trip, they allegedly crossed into Iranian territory and were subsequently arrested and charged with espionage (yes, the same regime that accuses unfavored cabinet ministers of witchcraft also believes that UC Berkeley is a hotbed of CIA recruits). One of the three, Sarah Shourd, was released last September on $500,000 bail, with the official report citing medical concerns as the reason for her release. Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer are still being head in a prison known to hold mostly political dissidents somewhere outside of Tehran. They will be standing trial for charges of espionage on July 31st, exactly two years after they were first captured.

Attempted interventions by various influential people ranging from President Obama to UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to Hollywood actors to Desmond Tutu to Amnesty International have all attempted to convince the regime to release the young Americans, but it is refusing to free the hikers despite holding them for two years. This is but another example of that regime's oppression and disregard for the basic rights of human beings. Hopefully justice will be done and the last two hikers will be able to finally return home by the end of this summer.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Wasted Opportunity Of Herman Cain?

Among his other jobs, Herman Cain has been a radio talk show host.  This is not, in itself, a qualification to be President (though being a talk radio host strikes me as a hard job), but it was an opportunity for preparation to be President.  This is to use Ross Douthat's definition of preparation as "the hard work of scaling up one's understanding from state-level challenges [or in Cain's case the opinions of a politically interested businessman] to national issues that any aspiring candidate needs to do."

As a talk show host, Cain was, in a sense, paid to think about public issues and then talk about them for three hours a day five days a week.  From my limited understanding, talk radio show prep tends to focus on the day-to-day, but Cain could have immersed himself in the best conservative policy thinking.  He could have worked at making this thinking accessible to his audience.  Cain seems not to have done that.  Maybe he did and we just haven't seen it yet, and he is going to surprise us.  

Categories > Politics


The Huggable and Lovable Gov. Christie

In case you ever wonder why Gov. Christie has a bit of a following, see this short report regarding his response about what school his kids attend.  He just doesn't sound like a politician (as that is now understood).
Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Chicago Vistas

Chicago has long been a favorite city--not exotic in the way San Francisco and New York are, with less history than comparatively tiny Boston, but even so it has a character that still speaks to us.  This came to sight as I sunned on Ohio Beach, next to the Navy Pier.  From this vantage point the city's vista is spectacular.  Vision, ambition, low politics, greed but above all pride created such a scene.  The skyscrapers are the sensuous products of these noble and base passions.   One cannot look at Chicago without being affirmed that this is a country full of ambition, a great country bent on even greater things.  

But the perspective from the water taxi into Michigan Avenue notes weaknesses in the facade.  The local Trump Tower lacks the seriousness of the older buildings, some with Gothic pretensions. 

I am staying in the "Dick Tracy" house, in the Chicago suburbs, the one in which the young Chester Gould got his family and cartooning career started.   How appropriate that the always proper Dick Tracy was given birth in mob-fascinated Chicago.  Contrast the steady Tracy with our psychically tortured Batman.  Shouldn't virtuous acts be done with pleasure, in order to be virtuous?

All this puts into perspective the strange case of our Chicago-based President, who has brought to the national scene all that is low about Chicago and who seems intent on suppressing all the grand motives that made America a great nation.  His vision of American destiny would rob America of all its distinctiveness.

The Civil War & Lincoln

Lincoln on Dred Scott and Self-government

Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his greatest speeches 154 years ago today, on the Dred Scott decision.  The speech explains the meaning of the Declaration of Independence but also the place of the Supreme Court in a democratic, self-governing society.  The principles of equality and self-government demand the elimination of slavery and the containment of the Supreme Court.  Lincoln's speech clearly indicates that Justice Holmes, not Chief Justice Taney, would be the worst justice the Court has ever known.


Mitt Divided

Mitt Romney's support is being challenged on two separate fronts.

Politically, he is now tied with Michele Bachmann in Iowa. While Romney was always likely to lose a portion of the conservative vote to one of the many candidates to his right, the Minnesota congresswoman is also stealing his spotlight and leaching away his star-powered popularity. Romney is a household name - an advantage he holds over most of his intra-party rivals (now that Trump is out of the race and Gingrich seems to have stalled). But Bachmann is fresh and attractive (politically, I mean) - she has the power to siphon votes founded upon Romney's charm and charisma. She's the only candidate who can compete cosmetically with Romney's "hair factor."

Economically, Romney's critical base of donors among Utah's Mormons is being courted by Jon Huntsman. Romney must be reeling from the statistically improbable appearance of another Mormon in the presidential race. The dueling Mormons have now created a fissure in the Mormon constituency - which is conservative on most issues, but very liberal in campaign donations.

Romney is still a well-funded frontrunner - but that makes him a legitimate target for other Republicans and threatens that his political star may have risen too quickly in electoral time. He's the king of the hill, but Queen Bachmann and the rest of the GOP brood are eager to knock him from his perch. Romney will need to display true political skill if he is to stave off contenders and preserve his elevated stature. 

Categories > Elections


Poor Diodorus

Gladiator battles were to Rome what football is to the United States (and soccer to the rest of the world). Successful gladiators could attract huge fan followings and achieved a certain celebrity status, as athletes do today. If a gladiator was successful long enough, he was usually given his freedom and allowed to go into retirement, resting upon his laurels. So rabid were the Romans about their gladiator fights and loyal to their home teams that, like the example of Vancouver recently, riots could break out if things did not go their way. At a game in Pompeii once, taunting turned to stone-throwing between the Pompeians and the visiting Nucerians, resulting in deaths and injuries during the subsequent riot. It was so bad that Emperor Nero banned gladiator games for Pompeii for ten years (after the ban they would get to enjoy it for another ten years before Vesuvius ended gladiator games in Pompeii permanently). Graffiti and higher-quality wall painting boast of Pompeii's victory over Nuceria Alfaterna, despite the ban.

An ancient Roman tombstone from modern-day Turkey was donated to a museum in Belgium following the Great War, and the epitaph on this remarkable piece of stone has finally been figured out by some classicists. It is unusual because it describes the way that the victim, Diodorus, died. "After breaking my opponent Demetrius I did not kill him immediately. Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me."

The summa rudis was the referee in gladiatorial games, often times a former gladiator himself. One rule in combat was that if a defeated gladiator requests submission and it is approved by the owner, he will forfeit the fight and leave the arena unharmed. Another was that if a gladiator fell on accident, he would be permitted to get up and grab his weapons before the fight resumed. It seems that Demetrius had surrendered to Diodorus, who then spared his life and backed off, expecting to have won the fight. However, the summa rudis--through either incompetence or treachery--deemed Demetrius' fall to have been accidental, allowing the defeated gladiator to get back up and kill or mortally wound Diodorus. His family and friends were upset enough to curse the summa rudis in the epitaph. Poor Diodorus.
Categories > History


Liberals and the Liberal Jews

Steve Hayward's new home has received an article from David Harris, the American Jewish Committee executive director, which was declined by Harris' blogging site, The Huffington Post (which recently devoured my former blogging home, to my continuing dismay).

Nearly two years ago, I was invited by The Huffington Post (HuffPo) to become a blogger on their site. I was honored. It is one of the most heavily trafficked news sites anywhere, and it reaches an influential audience. Since September 2009, I have published nearly 50 articles there, and look forward to publishing many more. This week, for the first time, I was told by HuffPo that an article submitted was "not for us." ...

The topic?  "The Hamas - Oops, Gaza - Flotilla."

I mentioned in an earlier post that Democrats and liberals are hostile to religion. With regard to the Jews, that religious hostility translates into overt political hostility toward Israel - culminating in the absurd apologetics and sympathies witnessed among liberals for Arab-Muslim terrorists obsessed with murdering Israeli Jews. And yet, nearly 90% of Jews vote for Democrats. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma....   

Categories > Religion


One Vote for Queen

I posted an article on Michele Bachmann "Queen or Kingmaker?" at my second on-line home last week, and the Weekly Standard's latest edition has followed up with an answer: "Queen of the Tea Party." Matthew Continetti's canvassing bio and assessment of Bachmann's avoids the breathless outrage and (not-so) subtle disdain which often accompanies mainstream accounts of the rising star.

"Energetic, charismatic, intelligent, and attractive, the 55-year-old Bachmann is . . . ." So leads Continetti's dive into her popular perception among voters. The article covers her youth, faith and political style, as well as specific moments which define her strengths, weaknesses and inspirations. Of course, Continetti addresses the obvious comparison to Sarah Palin ("What unites Bachmann and Palin, above all, is the contempt with which they are treated by liberals.") and Bachmann's connection to the Tea Party ("Michele Bachmann was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.").

You'll either read about her now, or you'll play catch-up later when Bachmann's national role can no longer be ignored by scholarly observers. The Standard article is a very good introduction. 

Categories > Elections


No Faith in Faith-Based

Catholic League president Bill Donohue has lost faith in Obama's sincerity to protect faith-based organizations and has joined liberal critics in calling for an end to government funding.

A few dozen left-wing organizations, some of which are no friend of religious liberty, sent a letter to President Obama this week asking that he rescind an amendment to an Executive Order that allows faith-based programs to limit hiring to people of their own faith. The Catholic League would like to go further: it's time to shut down the faith-based program altogether. 

President George W. Bush sincerely wanted to end discrimination in awarding federal contracts to social service agencies by including faith-based programs. When Sen. Obama was running for president three years ago, he pledged support for faith-based programs provided they were emptied of any faith component: he opposed the right of faith-based programs to maintain their integrity by hiring only people of their faith. ... 

When faith is gutted from faith-based programs--when Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Jews can't hire their own--we are left with a carcass. ... The goal, obviously, is to convert these religious entities into full-blown secular organizations. It would be better not to let them hijack these programs in the name of assisting them, thus it makes sense to shut them down.

Democrats have been hostile to (non-Muslim) religions for decades. It's a sad commentary on their fidelity to liberty that they discriminate against religious organizations with such blatant audacity. Christianity and conservatism are the last acceptable prejudices among liberals.

Categories > Religion


Obama Vs. Obama

In an article entitled, "President Obama hasn't always agreed with Senator Obama," The Washington Post writes rather uncritically of a statement by Speaker Boehner's spokesman: "Senator Barack Obama would be among the Obama Administration's fiercest critics."

It's not a flattering perspective of the President's consistency. The article cites Obama's most recent turnabouts on the executive power to wage war exemplified in Libya and his desire to raise the debt ceiling. (On the former charge, Charles Krauthammer has an exceptional article in today's WaPo.) The Post might have also included Obama's inconsistencies on closing Guantanamo, revoking portions of the Patriot Act, support for labor unions, ethical and policy transparency, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ending special interest lobbyists, ending earmarks, five days of public access to bills prior to presidential signature, the elimination of capital gains taxes, tax credits for small businesses, eliminating 401(k) penalties, etc., etc., etc.

In Obama's own words:

I think that it's important to understand the vantage point of a senator versus the vantage point of a...president. ... As president, you start realizing, "You know what? We can't play around with this stuff.

One might have hoped that a senator would have made that realization. Or, perhaps, a presidential candidate. At the very least, it would be noble and courteous of Obama to acknowledge the realities which faced George W. Bush - Obama has been egregiously critical of his predecessor on policies he himself has now adopted, but proven especially graceless in acknowledging his reversals and his predecessor's vindications.

Categories > Progressivism

Foreign Affairs

Morocco's Living Constitution

Jennifer Rubin calls attention to a "historic event" in Morocco:

...a new "landmark" constitution guaranteeing equality for women, empowering an elected parliament and chief executive, and mandating an independent judiciary was rolled out.

A sensible observer of international affairs, Rubin quotes CNN and hopefully observes:

As CNN reported: "[The king's] actions followed a series of unprecedented protests in this North African modern Muslim country, where street protests are normally tolerated by the state, unlike in most other Arab countries."The speech delivered by King Mohammed VI provided a detailed description of a new constitution that will be put to a national vote on July 1. One Moroccan observer said the new government structure was similar to Spain -- a monarch remains, but power is devolved to a democratically elected parliament, protections for minorities and women are concretized, and powers are spread to the judiciary, the parliament and to local government.

The document, and the king's speech in support of it, have garnered due praise. However, as Rubin notes, "the devil is always in the details." Pajamas Media posits a more hesitant and reserved assessment:

Jennifer Rubin thinks we've just seen a number of myths about Islam "explode."  It would be nice, for a change, to be able to associate that sort of explosion with Islam instead of the kind we've gotten used to.  Perhaps she's right.  Being a cautious chap, I think I'll hold off celebrating for while.

While the language of Morocco's constitution is promising, it's quite possible that the original, or textual, interpretation we are presently assuming will evolve as the living document is interpreted by the king and his minions. As with all things Arab Spring, it's a wait and see proposal.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

NATO's Surreal World

The New York Times' opinion page is hosting a protracted and engaging conservation on the future and relevancy of NATO. 

Has the Atlantic alliance outlived its usefulness? The British journalist and writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft raised that question in an opinion article ("Who needs NATO?," June 16) that drew a strong reaction from Ivo H. Daalder, the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, who argued that the alliance is more needed than ever (Counterpoint, June 18-19). Sarwar Kashmeri, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council's International Security Program and the author of "NATO 2.0: Reboot or Delete?," joins the debate.

Kashmeri's article commences by flagging a misleading assertion I like to call "NINO" (NATO In Name Only). Simply having a NATO stamp on a military mission does not necessarily lend credit to the ever-more-discredited agency. Afghanistan, for example, is NATO-led on paper, but U.S. led in reality. Libya is truly NATO led, thanks to America's reluctance to take the reins - and the mission's malaise is attributable precisely to that fact.

Kashmeri notes an important point when he observes: "Europeans simply do not feel as threatened as Americans do, and are not interested in using their tax dollars to fight in distant lands." Touching upon a theme I attempted to articulate in a recent Ashbrook editorial, Kashmeri continues:

This European/American schism within NATO is further aggravated by a split between Central and Eastern European members on one side, and Western ones on the other.

Noting the need for fiscal and perceptual changes in NATO, Kashmeri concludes:

I am convinced this will to change will only come about when America decides to take away its defense credit card and asks Europe to take responsibility for its own security.

The E.U. is increasingly capable of defending itself under its Common Security and Defense Policy....

C.S.D.P. should be the pre-eminent vehicle to defend Europe; NATO should be bridged to C.S.D.P. and only come into action when Europe, America, and Canada wish to act together in conflicts where all three share vital national interests.

NATO has truly done a magnificent job, but it is time to move on.

This debate will broaden as Obama attempts to alter the de facto, half-century reality of a U.S.-led NATO. If the U.S. is to recede in light of the advent of a truly independent NATO, we must decide if we are willing to support our - and NATO's - new role in the world. NATO is already Euro-heavy, and Kashmeri's formulation of extracting the body (as well as the U.S.) from Euro-centric military concerns seems sensibly prudent.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Freedom for Venezuela?

Venezuelan dictator President Hugo Chávez, who has not been seen since entering surgery in Cuba on June 9th for a pelvic abscess, is reportedly in critical condition in Cuba. The bombastic socialist strongman, who is Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's best friend and defender on the world stage, is now being visited by members of his family who have urgently flown to Cuba to see him. The self-proclaimed spiritual successor of Fidel Castro has ruled over Venezuela for the past twelve years and, in that time, has limited the freedom of the press, rid the country of term limits and separations of power, stacked the courts with his puppets, nationalized the nation's banking and energy industries as well as media outlets, allowed inflation and crime rates to go through the roof, and arrested judges who did not obey him and citizens who went too far in criticizing him. A pupil of Fidel Castro and admirer of Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin, he has consistently sought to build relations with those regimes considered to be among the most despotic and/or dangerous in the world-- Iran, Libya, Cuba, and Syria, while purchasing weaponry from Russia and getting closer to China. He has sought to defend Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a genocidal dictator largely responsible for the crisis in Darfur and the murders in Southern Sudan, and Gaddafi, who we all know by now is not a nice guy. King Juan Carlos I of Spain really put it best when this impudent man was being a nuisance at a international summit, famously muttering to the fellow, "Por que no te callas?"

Because of the force of Chávez's personality and the cult he has built around it, there is no successor to lead his movement in Venezuela. At long last the opposition may finally be able to take power, free the press, and undo the constitutional crisis he has thrown the oil-rich nation into. Any change in the status quo could have major geopolitical implications, particularly in regards to Cuba-- the Castro brothers maintain the communist island's energy mostly through deals with Chávez. However, we should not be too optimistic; because Chávez has completely undone the constitutional order in Venezuela, his absence from power could conceivably thrust the nation into civil strife or an even worse dictatorship. It must be watched closely.

It is also worth noting that the egocentric Hugo Chávez has a thing for theatrics, and that Venezuela will celebrate 200 years of independence on July 5th. It is entirely possible that this thing is just a ruse to silence his political critics so that he can return triumphantly on July 5th. Time will tell.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Pop Culture

Peter Falk, aka Socrates, RIP

Lt. Columbo's character was modeled on the detective in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.  And he in turn was drawn from what we know of Socrates--a shabby, obnoxious inquisitor, who always has just one more question (cf. Nero Wolfe).  One caution:  Why don't we know Columbo's first name?  The best of popular entertainment draws from the best in western civilization.
Categories > Pop Culture


Some Thoughts On Some Presidential Campaigns

Cain - He had (might still have) the chance to be a Ross Perot-style outsider/self-made businessman/populist technocrat while also being an authentic conservative.  He had an excellent chance of winning over that fraction of the Republican primary electorate that is interested in conservative authenticity first while also being able to use his background as a businessman outsider to convince those voters that he was competent enough to be trusted with the presidency.  Cain's approach was always going to wear thin eventually, but it has decayed faster than I expected.  Part of it is that Cain is no Ross Perot, and not just in the size of his net worth.  Perot was vague on the answers to the country's problems, but he was a blizzard of facts and charts on the problems themselves.  I can't remember a thing he said, but he sure seemed to know what he was talking about on the national debt. This gave him (for a time) the air of an expert outsider who would clean up the mess made by the Washington political class.  Cain mostly just reads from the same old script about how he is a problem solving businessman who will get advice from the right people and announce a solution sometime later.  Maybe if Bachmann hadn't shown up to give him competition for that portion of the electorate looking for a (nonlibertarian) authentic conservative outsider, he would be doing better.  Or maybe not.  He won't get very far running as a problem solver if he can't solve the problem of sounding like he is using a line of bs to get through the debates.

Pawlenty - As an Evangelical, strongly pro-life, spending cutting two term governor of a Midwestern state, Pawlenty had an excellent chance to win support from both the part of the Republican electorate that is looking primarily for authentic conservatism and the part that is looking for (conservative-tinged) governing competence.  It hasn't worked out that way.  His public appearances are one disaster after another.  His CPAC speeches treated  his audiences like yokels.  The moderators in both Republican debates have made him look bad.  I caught a few minutes of Pawlenty of the O'Reilly Factor the other day.  O'Reilly (who had previously derided Pawlenty as vanilla) asked Pawlenty out for a vanilla sundae with hot fudge.  It was actually a shrewd question by O'Reilly, in that there isn't an obvious answer that doesn't make one look like either a weakling or a jerk.  I still don't know what I would have said.  Pawlenty responded with his common line about not running for comedian-in-chief and rebuffed O'Reilly.  It was a weirdly nonresponsive answer.  O'Reilly had invited him out for ice cream, not to do set at the Comedy Store.  There was probably some way to make Pawlenty's response seem principled, but he not only seemed stiff, his answer was so obviously scripted (it was obviously his stock answer to any question about being boring etc.) that he seemed phony too.  I want to like Pawlenty (he would probably get my vote if I had to cast a ballot today), but he isn't showing that he can play the game at this level. 

Bachmann - She did well in the first debate.  As Matt Taibbi pointed out in his otherwise venomous profile, the people who mock her are among her greatest political assets.  Every time liberal blogs put together pictures of Bachmann with her mouth wide open so that she looks stupid and crazy, they set expectations that she can easily surpass and they encourage conservatives to choose a side while making it an easy choice.  And it works out all the better for her when she shows up as a politician of well above average intelligence and work ethic because it is a big surprise to many.  She has travelled around the country and knows her audience.  Unlike Pawlenty, she knows that being the first to file a bill repeal Obamacare is a better way to signal conservative authenticity than inviting conservatives to take inspiration from an act of suspected spousal battery.  She speaks social conservatism as a first language.  She knows how to play to the crowd, but she doesn't come across like she is pandering in the sense of being willing to say things she doesn't believe.  I don't know why this hasn't gotten more play, but one of the reasons she did well in the debate (and I think her performance was somewhat overrated) was because she worked at it.  She very probably wouldn't be a good general election candidate.  I doubt her appeal will prove broad enough to win the Republican presidential nomination.  Her biography and affect  are appealing to someone looking for an authentically conservative outsider, but less well for those looking primarily for a chief executive.     

Categories > Politics


With Enemies Like These, Who Needs Friends?

There's an old joke about a preacher on the American frontier. He's riding a stagecoach to a revival meeting when a rainstorm starts. Shortly after the rain becomes torrential the coach gets stuck in a rut. When the preacher gets out in the rain to help push it back onto the road, he falls into the mud at the moment the vehicle's axle breaks. Standing shin-deep in a puddle the minister looks to the heavens and says, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few."

We know how America's government employee unions and their political allies treat opponents, whom they always regard as enemies: comparing them to Hitler, or casually threatening murderous violence. What's more interesting is how the unions treat their friends, such as Connecticut's Democratic governor Dannel Malloy. Narrowly elected in 2010, Malloy set out to address Connecticut's budget deficit in a manner far more conciliatory to the government workers than the approaches taken by Republicans like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Chris Christie in New Jersey or John Kasich in Ohio. Even New York's Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo closed his state's budget deficit by rejecting any tax increase, which necessitated a three-year pay freeze for government workers, nine unpaid furlough days over two years, and higher health insurance premiums.

Malloy, by contrast, made clear the he was proudly lodged in the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. He described the anti-union legislation advocated by Wisconsin's Republicans as "un-American" and "a travesty." He has called himself the "anti-Christie," insisting that Connecticut would follow "a slightly more intellectual approach" to its fiscal problems than New Jersey.

Not that there is anything particularly esoteric about the Malloy template. Where other states have tried to eliminate their deficits entirely through spending cuts, Malloy wants to mitigate such cuts in Connecticut by raising taxes. His "shared sacrifice" budget called for higher sales, income, gas, and estate taxes in Connecticut, $1.6 billion in concessions from public worker unions over a two-year period, and other budget cuts. The plan's success required negotiations with both the state legislature and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), the umbrella group representing 15 different unions of state employees. Even though the state's unions had strongly supported Malloy's campaign against his Republican opponent in 2010, forging an agreement over union concessions required "months of intense negotiations and compromises."

The union negotiators conceded as little as they could, and the Malloy administration was far from adversarial in dealing with its friends. But it wasn't enough - the state's unionized workforce has rejected the deal. The promise that no state workers would be laid off during the coming four years, in exchange for a wage-freeze and health and pension give-backs, apparently won a majority of the 45,000 unionized Connecticut state employees.  Under SEBAC's complicated, solidarity-forever rules, however, the agreement could be scuttled if two of the 15 unions, or 20% of all union members voted against it.  The issue was settled when 55% of employees represented by AFSCME, the biggest of the 15 unions in SEBAC, voted against the package.

Malloy now says that he will move directly to achieve the dollar-equivalent of the negotiated concessions by laying off 7,500 employees, 15% of the state's workforce. He has "ruled out a renegotiation" on the reasonable grounds that if the union representatives across the table for the past few months didn't have enough support from their members to deliver what they had promised, there's no point in securing new promises they may or may not be able to deliver. The Democratic state senator who chairs the labor and public employees committee in the legislature called the SEBAC vote a "nightmare" and a "disaster."  "Nobody in their right mind, under these circumstances, would turn down that agreement," she added. "The private sector folks would die for this kind of package." The senator promised that state employees will "never get another thing out of me."

When we were all reading about Laborgeddon in Wisconsin, a prominent argument was that the Republican proposals to curb unions were gratuitous, since public employee unions understood clearly the gravity of the fiscal situation, and were fully prepared to responsibly negotiate the kinds of concessions necessary to help the state remain solvent. A reasonable guess would be that Gov. Malloy now considers such arguments to be as much of a travesty as the Wisconsin legislation he disparaged.
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

No More Mr. GOP Nice Guy (and Girl)

The Washington Times has published my article predicting the end of the Republican's moratorium on internal feuding.

The Republican presidential candidates have presented a united front. They've held hands and stuck to the message. President Obama is the problem. They - the mature, resolved and above-the-fray Republican opposition - are the solution. Newt Gingrich momentarily strayed from the path by criticizing Paul Ryan's budget plan and was swiftly reprimanded by the greater GOP establishment. Even the recent GOP debate in New Hampshire was more of a GOP powwow. There has been an obvious consensus to defer the intraparty feuding until the GOP has collectively, convincingly and resoundingly identified Mr. Obama as the nation's albatross.

However, Obama's decline and Romney's ascent in the polls "have emboldened the Republican field to abandon their familial camaraderie and adopt a new strategy."

So, after playing nice in New Hampshire - and being widely criticized by the media for refusing to take CNN's repeated invitation to begin in-fighting - the candidates have begun lining up to take shots at the current king of the hill.

Please RTWT.

Foreign Affairs

Low Politics

A very disappointing and very difficult to respect speech last night from the President.  Is there any reason not related to partisan politics why over twenty thousand American troops are being withdrawn timed to September of next year (still during the fighting season) rather than winter?  Why not just synchronize a withdrawal with Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention?  I can't think of the right words to describe the awful reality that yesterday's speech made no reference to the drawdown being conditions-based, but did include a (thinly veiled) plug of Obama's proposed green energy subsidies. 

But let us also give bitter applause to President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  It was their mismanagement of the occupation phases of Iraq and Afghanistan and their mismanagement of the military's force structure that helped bring this to pass.  Even when Bush (rather late) realized that the circumstances required a counterinsurgency strategy, the force was too small and too stressed to fully and simultaneously resource counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is not for nothing that the full Afghan counterinsurgency strategy was implemented by Obama.  It is too bad that Obama seems to be cutting it off too early and taking dangerous risks for a terrible reason.      

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Rabindranath Tagore

The Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore, a favorite of Yeats, is considered in this review of a new collection of Tagore's work.  I have read the paper version, and it is worth the reading (the on-line is only accessible to paid subscribers of TNR.  That Tagore is disputed by various political factions, here and there, is not relevant.  He is worth reading. Here is one I like, "A Moment's Indulgence":

I ask for a moment's indulgence to sit by thy side. The works
that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.

Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.

Today the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and
the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.

Now it is time to sit quite, face to face with thee, and to sing
dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.


Greek Fire

Simon Jenkins of the UK's Guardian gets the political incentives of the Greek debt crisis very, very right.  Just the same, I think that a major Greek fiscal consolidation is going to happen regardless.  The question is who else (other than the Greek people) will get hurt as the Greek government tries to prune the state back to sustainability and how it deals with its existing debt. 

I especially like this:

 The lesson is clear. Sovereign states with distinct political cultures should never surrender control over internal affairs to foreign agencies unless their people are amenable to such a loss of autonomy.

The main reason that Greece's political problems are a more-than-local problem is that the eurozone (as it developed) was less a deeply flawed economic policy (though it was that too) than a geostrategic policy whose primary purpose was to advance a deeply flawed conception of the EU project. 

Categories > Politics


Revising the Constitution

After learning of the fact that tiny Iceland is rewriting its constitution, Fareed Zakaria makes the suggestion that our own United States Constitution needs some revisions as well. While it does seem like he would be open to another constitutional convention in order to just rewrite the whole thing if need be, he stops short of calling for that with a clear understanding of American views on the rightfully-respected document. While he rightfully points to the unintended power that the courts have acquired as a flaw within the document that could use some correcting, he then goes on to lament that the Senate and the Electoral College are not democratic enough, exhibiting a lack of understanding of the document. Yes, those two bodies are absolutely intended to limit democratic tendencies and permit some sort of local governments to exist via the states. Like many anti-EC types, he wrongfully points to the disputed 2000 election as a great failure of the system. The 2000 Election was a failure in electoral management by the state of Florida and an arguably bad decision by the Supreme Court to support Florida's decision not to count some votes; had Florida not had the problems it did, and had Bush still won the state, I believe that the arguments against the system would not be nearly as loud despite Bush winning the college's vote and Gore the popular vote.

However, the discussion on new amendments to the Constitution is perhaps a good one to have, and he asks people to mention three amendments that they would like to see. Personally, I think amendments that give a supermajority of the states the power to veto federal legislation, repeal the 17th amendment, and figure out some way to address the mess that the courts are would all be good ones to consider. What amendments would you propose?
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

A Fond Farewell to NLT

After almost ten years of posting intermittently here on NLT, I have to announce with some sadness that I'm moving on.  Our pals at the Power Line Blog, where I've been guest-blogging, have made me an offer too good to turn down--to join them as a permanent partner in the enterprise (and enterprise it is--it is a profitable site).  In exchange they quite reasonably want to have my blogs exclusively there, so I'll be discontinuing my blogs over on NRO's Corner as well as here.

Not to worry: I'll still turn up on the Ashbrook site with feature articles on the home page, and will inflict the occasional podcast with Peter.  I'll probably also post a comment on items here from time to time.  And starting next semester I'll be a visiting professor at Ashland University, starting a new course on political economy.  So I'll still be part of the Ashbrook Center family.  Plus, I'll help promote NLT and the "Ohio Farmer" letters on Power Line from time to time, so this move should actually benefit all of us.

Political Philosophy


Ohio ranks 42nd in George Mason University's Mercatus Center's ranking of the 50 states according to personal and economic freedoms.

Ohio performs poorly in nearly every conceptual area. Spending and taxation are higher than average, with administration, education, and social-service spending especially high as a percentage of personal income. On the plus side, government debt is below average. Ohio, like three other states, does not allow private workers' compensation insurers. However, unlike North Dakota and Wyoming, it does allow employer self-insurance for workers'-compensation. The state's occupational-licensing regime and level of health-insurance coverage mandates are decent. Ohio has improved its eminent-domain regime, but further reform is warranted. Its liability system is only average. On the other hand, Ohio's asset forfeiture laws are quite good, with the state more than a standard deviation better than average. It could improve even further, though, by shifting the burden of proof to the government. Gun-control laws are relatively poor, though not extreme as in the case of states like Illinois or California. In fact, Ohio allows open carry without permit. The state authorizes sobriety checkpoints but does not mandate motorcycle helmets. Marijuana laws are liberal overall, but cultivation and sale sentencing could be reformed. Most gambling is illegal. Homeschooling regulations are unreasonable, including teacher licensure and mandatory state approval of homeschool curricula. However, private-school regulations are lighter. Draconian smoking bans are in place and cigarette taxes are above average. Beer and wine taxes are reasonably good but the spirits tax is fairly high.

Three recommendations are listed:

      1. Aggressively reduce taxes, especially given that tax revenue as a percentage of personal income is almost a whole standard deviation higher than the average. We find that Ohio spends much more than the national average on financial administration (mostly at the state level) and on judicial, legal, and "other governmental" administration (mostly at the local level); thus, we particularly recommend cuts to these areas.
      2. Continue reforming eminent-domain laws.
      3. Look at Indiana as a model Rust Belt state and reform Ohio's regulatory system in line with that model. For instance, consider rolling back occupational licensing and allowing competition in the utilities.

It comes as little consolation that the few states which are less free than Ohio include:

The bluer the state, the less freedoms its citizens enjoy. Hardly surprising. But it bears mention that the George Mason analysis favors liberal fancies such as gay marriage and the de-criminalization of drugs - so the test rewards liberal social policies, and the most liberal states are still the least free.

On the other hand, the most free states include:

The links may be blue, but the states are overwhelmingly red (and Wisconsin only recently joined the top 25 - thanks to Gov. Walker and the GOP).

If you're surprised by any of this, you just haven't been paying attention. If rhetoric equaled results, progressive states would be heavens on Earth - but, in reality, those fly-over states so often ridiculed from the ivory towers of the eastern seaboard are the true lands of milk and honey.

Foreign Affairs

Greek Tragedy

New York Times:

[Greece's] Parliament passed a confidence vote on Prime Minister George Papandreou's new cabinet, formed last week to push through a fresh package of austerity measures required to receive international financing to stave off default.

The passage averts early elections and a stalled government at a critical moment. Now, Mr. Papandreou must face an even bigger challenge next week, when Parliament votes on the new slate of measures, including tax hikes, wage cuts and state privatization, that are required by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund before it releases the next segment of aid that Greece needs to meet expenses through the summer.


The vote came days after protests over new government cutbacks shook Greece's political establishment and touched off a revolt within the ruling Socialist party. Mr. Papandreou shuffled his cabinet on Friday, sacking his finance minister, who was seen as the architect of the austerity measures....

It's important to understand that there is rioting and massive public protest in Greece because they feel the austerity measures required to have someone else continue to pay their bills are too great a burden on their quality of life. The alternative would be a national default - bankruptcy. But everyone - particularly state employees - insist that someone else, even if they be foreigners, must pay more. There is no accountability, responsibility or deference to economic reality. Greece is the picture of modern, liberal socialism - it doesn't work any better than the old varieties, but is even more culturally pathetic and politically ridiculous.

America has seen the blooming bud of this infestation in Wisconsin, and the vine has stretched across the entire nation. Greece is the natural conclusion of this progressive ideology. The sooner it is plucked from American soil and burnt at the root, the better for our national fortune and prosperity.  

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Health Care

Finding Out What's In It

When Nancy Pelosi famously declared that we had to pass the healthcare bill in order to find out what was in it, there were probably some who did not take her too literally. Now, keen minds uncovered a massive problem buried within the monolithic law. As it stands, middle class families will now be able to claim taxpayer-funded Medicaid benefits, adding up to three million more people to the payroll by the year 2014. Medicaid is reserved for those Americans in most need of assistance and buried in poverty, including low-income children and Alzheimer's patients. Obamacare will already be adding 16-20 million new people to Medicaid (a major complaint for cash-strapped state governments)-- the addition of those who make $64,000 a year would be a great strain on funds. The Obama Administration, after originally downplaying the problem, admitted today that it was a glitch and has said it will take steps to try and fix it.

Yet another knick it what is one of the most sloppily, poorly-crafted federal laws that Congress has ever passed. I can only imagine what other disastrous gems are buried within it pages.
Categories > Health Care


Fiscal Discipline in California?

Shocking, but perhaps partially true! The California legislature did not pass a truly balanced budget last week, resulting in Governor Jerry Brown's veto of the budget. Democrats want to raise taxes and Republicans want to cut programs, hence the trouble in agreeing on a budget. Because they failed to approve a balanced budget, California State Controller John Chiang (D) has decided to strip them of their pay. They will not be able to collect a paycheck until they agree on a balanced budget, as they are mandated to do per the state constitution. If only we could strip the United States Congress of their pay whenever they failed to balance the books!
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Federalist Society Teleforum on Libya

From the Federalist Society's International and National Security Law Practice Group:

A bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives has filed suit against American involvement in Libya.  As Congress continues to debate the extent of the President's authority in Libya under the War Powers Act and the U.S. Constitution, we thought you would be interested in this upcoming teleforum conference call on the same topic.

Join us on Wednesday, June 22 for a Teleforum conference call featuring David B. Rivkin, Jr. and George Mason University School of Law Professor Ilya Somin. To

The Teleforum number is 888-752-3232 and the event will begin at 1:00 PM. If any of our readers participate, I'd be happy to receive your review and analysis.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Deficit Reform as Cultural Transformation

David Marion of Hampden-Sydney College has a thoughtful piece with Ashbrook on "Deficits and Cultural Politics."

Deficit politics in 2011 is reminiscent of racial politics at the time of Brown v. Board of Education in the mid-1950s. It took several decades, and legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for the expectations embedded in the Brown ruling to be realized in communities across America. In much the same way, a sustainable solution to our long-term deficit problem is unlikely in the absence of a significant cultural transformation.

Marion traces the cultural shift which accompanied and propelled deficit spending, while honestly assessing the difficulties and rewards of a renewed "culture of realistic expectations." Sobering, thoughtful and timely words on an issue of paramount importance.

Categories > Economy


Happy Birthday, St. Paul

Sir Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral in London is celebrating its 300th birthday today. Of course, at 300 years old, St. Paul's is a youngster among England's great churches and cathedrals. Nevertheless, her caretakers decided she was in need of a little makeover, so today also marks the conclusion of a 15 year restoration effort. I'd say she doesn't look a day over 200.

St Paul.jpg

Categories > History

Men and Women

The Most Beautiful Girl in America..., of course, my girlfriend.

Now that that's out of the way and I have enough cover to keep her from killing me for this post - Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella:


Beauty is a beautiful thing. Slidshow here.

Categories > Men and Women


The Ever-Growing Conservative Pool

Former Utah governor John Huntsman has joined the GOP presidential field with a mild-mannered anti-Washington and fiscally conservative message. Now that Huntsman is officially in the ring, Texas governor Rick Perry's expected announcement should just about round out the Republican field.

The only problem with all these delightfully conservative candidates is that they are generally indistinguishable to most Americans - which means that a moderate in their midst, such as Mitt Romney, will be the only candidate who is not dividing his share of the primary vote among a half-dozen other candidates. (The same is true for Ron Paul and the libertarian vote, but I don't expect that vote to pose a threat.)

A fractioning of the conservative vote among all the rest will allow Romney to seize the entire moderate vote in the GOP primary. Romney's name recognition and well-honed political skill could secure any remaining votes necessary to boost him above the fray. A conservative candidate either needs to rise above the crowd, or the herd needs to thin itself out. As it stands, the mere contrast between Romney and the rest bode poorly for conservative hopefuls. 

Categories > Elections


Why Americans don't know history

I meant to post something about this interview when it appeared over the weekend, but internet problems got in the way.  Anyway, famed popular historian David McCullough correctly identifies some of the reasons why Americans don't know their history--unprepared teachers, politically correct textbooks, uninspired classroom methods.  There's a problem that he overlooks, however.  He seems to assume that if more teachers graduated with degrees in history rather than pedagogy there would be an improvement in the population's historical knowledge.  Given what goes on in many university history departments, that may not be the case. 

For years the emphasis in undergraduate history teaching has been on method, rather than content.  That is, students are expected to learn to become historians, rather than to know history.  For example, I was an undergraduate at Ohio University, and had to take a research methods course that went through, in excruciating detail, all of the different reference works with which we needed to be familiar in order to track down sources that we might need to write a scholarly paper.  This course was ultimately useless even for me, since within ten years the internet had made all of those reference works obsolete.  How much more useless was the course for the vast majority of those who took it with me--who, unlike me, did not go on to graduate school?

I was lucky, though, in the sense that most of the faculty at Ohio University were of the old school that understood that, when it comes to historical knowledge, some historical facts are more important than others.  The real danger of emphasizing method over content is that everything eventually becomes equally important.  If, after all, history is only about imparting research methods, communication skills, and (my personal favorite) "critical thinking," then why should some professor whose research interests involve the construction of gender in Massachusetts during the late 1770s be troubled to teach a course on the American Revolution?  Every course could be built around the current research of the individual faculty--and you'd have something like the history curriculum as it exists at most elite institutions of higher learning today. 

With all due respect to Mr. McCullough, if that's the way that history is being taught, it's not clear to me that prospective teachers are any worse off taking education courses.

Categories > Education


Wal-Mart Wins One For Liberty

I previously wrote about the class-action sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart. I sensed that it was another frivolous attack by leftist puppets, manipulated by union bosses, attempting to score political points thought judicial fiat. I was right.

The Supreme Court has ruled for Wal-Mart in its fight to block a massive sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of women who work there.

The court ruled unanimously Monday that the lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. cannot proceed as a class action, reversing a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The lawsuit could have involved up to 1.6 million women, with Wal-Mart facing potentially billions of dollars in damages. 

The full text of the ruling is here.

The liberal wing did dissent, in part - de facto arguing for a gender quota in order to ensure equal representation in management. Of course, the disparate proportion of male-to-female managers was not shown to be the result of discrimination of any sort. The infamous 9th Circuit and liberal judges on the Supreme Court simply want to create a world of their choosing through judicial coercion. This is an abuse of their public trust and a degradation of democracy. Wal-Mart scored a victory for American liberty today.

Categories > Courts

Foreign Affairs

Remembering Neda

The video of a young woman dying in a pool of her own blood in the streets of Tehran became the most powerful symbol of the "Green Revolution" that was the 2009 Iranian Election protests. It was one of the most widely-witnessed deaths in history, thanks to the Internet. Neda Agha-Soltan was a 26-year-old woman who had studied philosophy and Islamic theology in college. She worked for her family's travel agency, and was an aspiring singer and musician who was gaining in popularity. Prior to 2009 she was never known to be very political. On the evening of June 20th, 2009, she was driving through Tehran with her music teacher and an old friend, going to participate in the protests against what is widely perceived to have been an election rigged by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After exiting the car and beginning to walk on foot, she stood on the outskirts of the major protest areas to watch what was going on. A shot rang out, and Neda collapsed to the ground with a bleeding hole in her chest. Crying, "I'm burning," the young woman died there on the cement. The shot was fired by a government paramilitary militiaman.

The Iranian government was quick to clamp down on the murder of this poor woman. Her family was forbidden from allowing people to gather to mourn her, and collectively praying for her was banned in all mosques in Iran. Her fiance, Caspian Makan, was tortured in an attempt to make him confess that Neda was actually killed by opposition protestors; he eventually managed to escape Iran to Canada. Famed Iranian author Dr. Arash Hejazi, who was present at the scene and tried to stop the bleeding, was forced to flee the country after the Ministry of Intelligence filed an arrest warrant for poisoning the international atmosphere against the government. Iran's Ambassador to Mexico declared that the entire thing was a plot by the CIA, and state television declared that BBC and CNN had personally manufactured the videos as part of a Western plot to destabilize the regime. In the following months, the government's tyrannous boot would stomp out what remained of the protests.

It is worth noting that the name of this unintended hero, Neda, is the Persian word for "voice". She was like so many young people in Iran, a normal girl who wanted her voice to be heard amid the terrible clamor of a theocratic dictatorship. She wanted her voice to be heard in the same way so many of us in the Western world do. I am sure that she did not expect herself to have the impact that she did. In death, her voice is as powerful as ever-- a kindling fire for the people of Iran. Hopefully, someday soon, those people will be able to have their voices heard without fear of government retribution, and will gather together to remember Neda and the countless others who have perished to make that so.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Aim High - But How High is Too High?

Laying out an economic policy at the start of his campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Governor Tim Pawlenty called for a 5% annual economic growth rate, more than twice the pace since the official end of the 2008-09 recession.  The kindest reaction came from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which allowed that the goal is "worthy as an aspiration," while noting that the fastest growth in recent memory came during the booms of the mid-1980s and late 1990s.  In both cases, American economic growth was a bit less than 5%, and those booms lasted four and three years, respectively, while Pawlenty wants the American economy to grow 5% per year for a decade.

Less kind reactions came from other directions.  On the right, Megan McArdle called Pawlenty's ideas "crazy."  From the center, Clive Crook said Pawlenty's ideas were "heights of nonsense."  And on the left, Ruth Marcus contended that Pawlenty's proposal "runs the gamut from delusional to reckless."

I'll note for the record that even though there's no record of sustaining a 5% growth rate for anything close to ten years, there is a political precedent in calling for one.  The 1960 Democratic platform stated, "We Democrats believe that our economy can and must grow at an average rate of 5% annually, almost twice as fast as our average annual rate since 1953.  We pledge ourselves to policies that will achieve this goal without inflation."  The precedent is not completely reassuring, however.  As McArdle reminds us, John Kennedy took the growth goal more seriously than the sound money one, attempting to "actually act on his promise by inflating the hell out of the dollar."
Categories > Economy


Queen Bachmann

I have an article at Intellectual Conservative which expands upon my previous NLT post contemplating the role of Michele Bachmann in the Republican presidential race. The introduction reads:

Remember Sarah Palin? She's the former leading lady of the conservative core of the Republican Party. As of Monday evening, she's a reality TV star, Republican fundraiser and media obsession - but her presidential ambitions are now foreclosed. The reason is that Sarah Palin's quasi-vacant seat at the Republican table has been filled by conservative sensation Michele Bachmann.

The question, however, is the role which Bachmann will play.

. . . Bachmann is not an all or nothing candidate. Should she be surpassed by one or more Republican in the primaries, her influence among Tea Party Americans will likely not have waned. Bachmann's mere endorsement would be a tremendous boon for any candidate, but her name on the national ticket could prove dispositive. She is a conservative lifeline for Romney, for example, and a complimentary asset for Pawlenty (the Minnesota Twins would finally drag their home state back into the red column - the Twin Cities voted for Walter Mondale out of local loyalties, after all).

Categories > Elections


The Kind of People at NBC

NBC covered the US Open today and edited the words "under God" from a children's recital of the Pledge of Allegiance at the commencement of the game. Following severe criticism, they've issued a bland and intentionally unconvincing apology.

It's not surprising from leftist media such as NBC, but another reminder of their true colors. Imagine the kind of people in journalism who decide to conduct this sort of ridiculous censorship. Imagine the breathless, hysterical reaction of these same people at NBC if Fox News edited and censored coverage of a national event so as to exclude mention of homosexuals, racial minorities or any other progressively-favored sub-group.

It would be a tiresome, full time job to document all of the hypocrisy committed by the left-wing media (or just NBC, for that matter), but from time to time it's good to remind ourselves of the kind of unprincipled, radical and loathsome people who deliver much of our news.

Categories > Journalism

The Family

Our Fathers

The Founding Fathers. George Washington, the father of our country. The Holy Father. When you love someone and hold them in esteem beyond words, you call them father. There's a reason for that.

Here's to our dads.

We love you.

Categories > The Family


Douthat And Pawlenty

Ross Douthat blasts Tim Pawlenty's tax plan.  RTWT as they say but this is a taste:

You'll recall that Bush cut taxes on upper earners, capital gains, estates, dividends, etc. He also cut taxes on families and the middle class. He also cut taxes without offsetting the cuts with spending reductions, on the assumption that growth would take care of any deficits that ensued. He didn't reform the tax code by shrinking the number of brackets, as Pawlenty proposes to do. As Schulz notes, Bush's mix of policies earned disappointing results -- not necessarily in terms of overall growth rates (at least before the financial crisis), but in terms of wage growth for middle class and downscale Americans, and in terms of their impact on the national debt. So against that backdrop and amid those memories, the Pawlenty plan would send Republicans to the hustings with a tax plan that's likely to increase the deficit, and with the argument that the reason wage growth for the middle class was so disappointing in the Bush years was that Bush's tax policies were too weighted toward middle-class concerns (!), and didn't go far enough in flattening the tax burden and lowering rates on investors and the rich. In other words: Dear middle class American, we're going to address the economic anxieties you experienced in the '00s with a deficit-increasing tax reform that's much more favorable, in its initial impact, to the wealthiest quintile of the country than were the Bush tax cuts.

Yeah, me too, but my concerns are a little different.  They are:

Pawlenty's tax plan cuts tax revenues far more sharply than Ryan's PTP while planning to spend far less.  Ryan's PTP projects getting spending down to 20.25% of GDP over the next 18 years.  There are reasons to think that this still won't leave enough revenue to pay for Medicare even under a reformed system.  As Reihan Salam and others have pointed out, a more realistic Medicare reform plan would grow Medicare spending at GDP +1 rather than at Ryan's cocktail of consumer prices indexes.  That is going to cost more money than Ryan budgets for (though it is about what Ryan budgeted for in his original Roadmap.)

Pawlenty is for capping federal spending at 18% of GDP.  That would mean taking Ryan's already underfunded PTP budget and cutting it by over 10%. So Pawlenty's program would amount to enormous tax cuts to high earners + large entitlement cuts (they would have to be substantially larger than those in the PTP unless Pawlenty proposed huge defense cuts too.) And, as Josh Barro points out in one of the above links, we would still have an annual deficit of 3% of GDP even under a set of assumptions friendly to the Pawlenty program. 

I'm trying to think of a circumstance where this program could win a general election.  I guess if people were mad enough at Obama that a majority of the public buys that Pawlenty's tax cuts would only slightly reduce revenue (because of the resulting growth) and chooses to ignore the size and consequences of the cuts that would be required in order to make the Pawlenty plan's deficits just barely sustainable.  It sound more like a plan to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  


Categories > Politics


Bush And 2012

Ross Douthat writes that the public's memory of President George W. Bush will prevent Obama  from being Hooverized by the lousy economy and that Pawlenty's tax plan will be a general election liability.  Here's what I think:

Douthat is partly right, but I don't think that blaming Bush helps more than a little.  Obama's situation would be worse if the Great Recession and the financial crisis had occurred entirely during Obama's term.  People recognize that Obama didn't personally cause the downturn.  But that has limited relevance in a general election context.  Swing voters can probably keep the following two thoughts in their heads simultaneously: a) Bush was a lousy President and b) Obama might not be as bad, but he is still doing a lousy job and we still need a new President.  And it isn't just swing voters.  Obama's job approval on the economy is 41%.  Short of some calamity, Obama will almost certainly get more than 41% in next year's election.  Whatever they think of Bush, even some Democratic-leaning voters don't like the job Obama is doing on the economy.  Memories of Bush won't be any clearer in November 2012 than they were when Republicans were making large gains in November 2010.  If the labor market stays where it is (or God forbid gets worse), Romney's line that "He [Obama] didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer" will have resonance and "Bush started it" won't be enough of a response.  To the extent the labor market improves, the force of Romney's charge will weaken. 

I generally share Douthat's concerns about Pawlenty's tax plan (and especially its relationship to his spending plans) but I hope to get to that tomorrow.

Categories > Politics


Make It About Reality, Not About Keeping It Real

Ron Brownstein argues that the Republican presidential candidates have:

coalesced around an economic agenda that will propose sharper reductions in federal taxes, spending, and regulation than the party has offered in decades. That convergence will diminish the role of ideology in the nomination contest--but then increase it in the general election.

There is some truth to that, but the way the CNN Republican debate was moderated tended to amplify this tendency.  It doesn't make much sense to ask a question about repealing Obamacare.  They're all for repealing Obamacare.  Making it about Obamacare or how to repeal Obamacare creates a situation where the candidates compete to be the "real" conservative not through their policy preferences, but through self-marketing.  One candidate says he will repeal Obamacare on his first day as President.  Another candidate says she was the first member of the House of Representatives to introduce a repeal of Obamacare.  Luckily no one has cut off a finger to demonstrate their sincere desire to repeal Obamacare.  Yet.

The debates would be better (for viewers, and for the general election chances of the Republican Party probably - but not for the comfort of the candidates) if the debate questions focused on how particular policies would affect individuals and subgroups.  It would be more useful and more interesting to see how much (if any) the Pawlenty tax plan saves middle-class families vs. the Romney tax plan vs. the Bachmann tax plan.  It would be interesting to learn how much more they expect seniors to pay out of pocket due to their Medicare reforms and why (along with other health care reforms) this might be a good thing in the end.  This could set off some interesting scrums among the candidates and these are also going to be the kinds of questions that the Republican presidential candidate will face in the general election - where the swing voters won't care about who is the realest real conservative. 

Categories > Politics


The Crisis of the New Order (Cont.)

On the first page of today's Wall Street Journal there's a note about yesterday's Senate vote in favor of repealing federal ethanol subsidies, and and article reporting that AARP "is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits."  Both were unthinkable until recently.  The time they are a changin'.
Categories > Politics


As Good As It Gets, Conservative Style

George Will throws aside shame and modesty to reveal his unadulturated man-crush for Ted Cruz, the conservative candidate for the Texas Senate seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. And, now that I know a bit about him, I must admit I'm begining to get a thrill up my leg, as well.
Categories > Conservatism

Shameless Self-Promotion

What a Long, Strange Trip. . .

What else can I say about attending a conference of liberals, in Marin County no less, except that it prompted me to dig out every old Jerry Garcia tie in my closet.  (More about this strange trip from the San Francisco Chronicle here.)

Mewanwhile, over on the redesigned website, my list of the dozen best environmental books is up.

You Won't Have Anthony Weiner to Jerk Around Anymore

"Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) will resign from his seat in Congress, heeding calls from President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and dozens of other congressional Democrats, sources confirm to POLITICO."

Foreign Affairs

Libya and the Rule of Law

Speaker of the House John Boehner sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday warning him that he is about to violate the mandate for the commander-in-chief to end combat operations after thirty days of the expiration date of the War Powers Resolution, and requesting the White House's interpretation of that law as well as seeking the exact justifications and goals of American participation in the Libyan Civil War. Today, the White House arrogantly responded that it has the legal authority to continue combat operations without congressional consent, and requested that Congress stop questioning him about the use of martial power for fear of sending "mixed messages" about our support of the NATO-led mission. One official said that what we are engaged in is not a war, so it does not necessitate congressional consent under either the War Powers Clause in the Constitution or the War Powers Resolution.

This conflict has so far cost the United States $716 million and is expected to top a billion by September. We have taken sides in a full-scale civil war, have exceeded the United Nations No Fly Zone with targeted bombings of ground forces and installations, and are actively and openly seeking the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime. Armed "westerners" have been spotted on video tape in Libya, and requests for negotiation by Gaddafi have been met with blunt refusals to allow him to stay in any sort of power. This is a war, and we are helping fight it, regardless of what President Obama and his administration says to the contrary. The President of the United States is actively directing taxpayer dollars and American forces to kill soldiers of other nations with the intention of toppling the regime of that nation.

The war in Libya serves no purpose for our national security or interests, and even on humanitarian grounds the information is murky as we do not know who we are fighting for. The United Nations and other international nongovernmental organizations have uncovered evidence of war crimes being committed both by the regime and the opposition, including the use of child soldiers by both sides--one of the most despicable acts that men are capable of.

The President has gone far beyond the authority he is granted in entering the Libyan Civil War, and has grievously insulted both Congress and the U.S. Constitution in a way even worse than his domestic policies. The right to use force is the one key power that we surrender to the government, and its use must be carefully regulated-- particularly the use of lethal force. Any time that power becomes more unrestricted, it is dangerous. I do not wish Gaddafi well; I hope that he meets the same dark death worthy of tyrants and mass murderers. Sanctioning his regime would be okay. Perhaps, even, limited involvement such as the imposing of a no-fly-zone is fine-- with the permission of Congress. Without it, the President is an unrestricted wielder of force capable of picking and choosing without proper explanation to his people's representatives who will win and lose in foreign wars.

Congress has two choices, and it is forced to these two choices due to the improper irresponsibility of the Commander-in-Chief. Congress must either pass a resolution authorizing the enforcement of the UN Resolution (that is, ensuring no ground involvement) so that the rule of law is still intact, or vote to cut the funding for this ill-conceived foreign venture and make a point to the Executive Branch that there are limits to its martial power and use of lethal force, and that Congress is not to be pushed over or ignored in these non-trivial matters of great importance. Congress must do something, and it must do it soon. As the L.A. Times Editorial Board said, "Obama shouldn't have left it to Congress to ensure that this operation is grounded in the rule of law. Three months into the Libya campaign, he should have had enough confidence in his policy to submit it to the House and Senate. Instead, he has sought refuge in legal obfuscations." It is time for Congress to assert itself and rein in this misconduct; this is the area of power where the respect for the rule of law must be most preciously guarded.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Wisdom of the Common Law

From Ronald Seavoy's classic The Origins of the American Business Corporation.  (A book on a subject that ought to occupy more time in our history classes).  After the American Revolution, as the State of New York passed a law allowing religious congregations to incorporate (a step necessary to allow them to own land):

A mortmain clause, limiting the amount of land a congregation could own, was added to prevent the accumulation of real property in immobile corporate hands.  Thereafter, some form of mortmain restriction as placed in almost all charters of benevolent societies.  This was a legal carry-over from England where mortmain clauses were designed to prevent the accumulation of land in the hands of churches and other charitable organizations.

I wonder if we, in modern America, should consider restoring that a like restriction on all tax-free entities.  Perpetuities are problematic in a democratic-republic.  As the endowments of our major Universites and colleges grow, along with our major foundations, it reduces our tax base.  Business corporations must compete to survive. Hence that concern does not apply. But charitable trusts can be forever. Since we don't have the feudal law here (at least in most cases), it would probably have to take a different form than the old restriction. 

As I understand the law, (and I may very well be wrong here), charitable institutions have some key advantages in the market.  If they don't pay capital gains taxes on trades, for example, they can be much more efficient traders of stocks and other assets.  Similarly, if they don't pay real estate taxes, they can drive for profit landlords out of the market by charging less rent for like apartments.  When relatively little wealth is off the tax books, that's not a real problem. As more and more is held by charities, it could become a problem.  More generally, the lack of competition makes long-term ownership by charitable entities very different than ownership by business corporations.

Perhaps we could just require that charitable foundations spend more than the current 5% per year of their endowments (and change the way that 5% is counted).  It would make sense to exempt land that was used directly by charities (such as church and school buildings), but not other lands, etc.

Categories > History


Unemployment? Blame ATMs

In an interview with MSNBC, President Obama finally revealed to us why his economic policies are not helping solve the unemployment crisis: machines. Yes, ignore all those oppressive government regulations, the obnoxious size of taxes, and the massive debt accumulated by silly things like bank bailouts and a government stimulus program. Our economic misery is the fault of ATMs, self-check-out counters in Wal Mart, airport kiosks, and the machines. See, this is a similar line of thinking to the famous broken window fallacy that Keynesian types are so quick to embrace. They ignore that just because one part of the economy is seeing a decrease (in Obama's case, cashiers and bank tellers) does not necessarily mean the entire economy is hurting; if we have more ATMs, we need more mechanics to make and upkeep them, and money spent on paying tellers can be spent elsewhere that will create jobs.

That, and Obama's comments are just flat wrong, as Jonah Goldberg points out. Since the creation of the ATM, there have been 42,000 new bank teller jobs and the number of tellers is expected to grow 6% between 2008 and 2018. While it is true that the creation of automated services has significantly altered our economy, it has not hurt it. Just as he can no longer hang the lackluster economy around President Bush's neck, so too can he not hang it around Skynet's. The real automated overlord to be concerned about is the expansive federal bureaucracy choking our economy to death.
Categories > Economy


Free Speech in Wisconsin

An acquaintance of mine went to film today's protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol, where people were once again fighting against Governor Walker's various proposals. Here is the unedited footage of his attendance (WARNING - Graphic Language). Their absolute hatred of any perceived opponent and willingness to censor the opposition is unfortunately a common theme, albeit often with a more subtle tone, in many of these issues. If these are the type of people leading the fight for collective bargaining, public employees unions are doomed.
Categories > Journalism


Shallow Debate Thoughts

like you were expecting better,

1.  The questions were wretched, and not just the dumb ones about Leno, pizza and Dancing With The Stars.  The questions were generally too easy.  We already knew they were going to say they wanted to cut taxes and repeal Obamacare.  They should have been asked about the distributional impact of their tax policies.  Sample question: "How will your plan change the tax liabilities of a family of four earning $60,000 a year with a mortgage of 200,0000?"  Those who supported the Ryan PTP's Medicare reforms should have been asked how much more they expect that seniors will have to pay out of pocket in the coming decades.  Those are the kinds of questions that they are going to have to answer in the general election.  It would be nice to see if they can hit the fastballs the Obama campaign will surely be throwing at them.  There might also be some Republican-leaning middle-income voters and future Medicare beneficiaries who would be interested to hear the answers to such questions.

2.  Most of the candidates seem to be running on a version of John McCain's program of business and investment tax cuts with not much to say to middle-income voters except that a promise of tax cuts to other people will help everyone in the end.  That is just an impression from the debate.  There was a lot more talk about capital gains tax cuts than middle-class tax relief.  Ramesh Ponnuru offers an alternative tax agenda.

3.  The most recent employment report formed the context for the debate in an unhealthy way.  They all seemed to be running for the presidential election of next week.  They sounded like Sharron Angle.  No, not the crazy stuff about "Second Amendment remedies" if she didn't get her own way.  It was like whenever Angle couldn't say anything persuasive she would just circle back to Nevada's unemployment and foreclosure rates.  By itself, that wasn't good enough to win in a state with a 13% unemployment rate.  Even if the labor market remains exactly where it is, the Republicans could still lose if they are tagged as simply the party of capital gains tax cuts + Medicare cuts + hey willya look at the unemployment rate.

4.  Then again, we could be heading for another financial crisis.  

5.  Lots of the talk is about Pawlenty whiffing on the Obamneycare question,  Pawlenty had a pretty bad debate even without that answer. He appeared tentative and stammered multiple times.  Pawlenty isn't necessarily doomed.  Some candidates have a learning curve when it comes to debates.  George W. Bush was visibly nervous in the first Republican debate of the 2000 cycle but he was cleaning McCain's clock in head-to-head debates by the end (Keyes was there for some of them but they ignored him.)  Bush never became an all time great debater but he went to school and got the most out of his talent.  There is a good section in Stuart Stevens' The Big Enchilada about how Bush prepared for his debates with Al Gore.   Practice doesn't make perfect, but it can make some politicians significantly better.

What is more disturbing is that Pawlenty weaseled regarding "Obamneycare" in almost the same way that he weaseled on waterboarding in the first debate.  Both times he tried to avoid being pinned down (either on standing up for his Obamneycare formulation or taking a firm position on use of waterboarding.)  Both times he caved in to follow up questions and took a stand, but only after looking both evasive (since he had to be hounded into giving a direct answer) and weak (for knuckling under to the questioner.)  What is the point of this approach?  It has all of the downsides of taking a firm stand while forfeiting the respect due to someone who takes a forthright stand.

6.  Romney looked and sounded good.  Maybe he has gotten better since 2008.  Maybe it is just that he didn't have to fend off the withering attacks of McCain and Huckabee.  I hate to think that this a group with weaker debating skills than the Republican presidential field of 2008. 

Categories > Politics

Refine & Enlarge

Political Success and Governmental Failure

It's Tuesday, so another letter from the Ohio Farmer: Political Success and Governmental Failure starts with Lincoln's thought that without public sentiment nothing can succeed, to this: "Seven score and 13 years after those debates we are now engaged in a great political contest over whether the welfare state established by the New Deal and built up continuously since 1932 can long endure. Its growth over the past eight decades and the financial crisis confronting it today suggest the need to qualify Lincoln's rule: Public sentiment may ensure political success for a policy, but it does not rule out governmental failure.  Indeed, a policy can be a governmental failure precisely because it is a political success."
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Ohio Governor John Kasich has made the Dallas Mavericks honorary citizens of Ohio for today. While not mentioning LeBron "take my talents to South Beach" James by name, he joins Dan Gilbert and other "Cavs for Mavs" with an excellent swipe:

"Whereas, NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Dirk Nowitzki chose to re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2010, forgoing free agency and keeping his talents in Dallas, thus remaining loyal to the team, city and fans for whom he played his entire career"

The full Resolution is on the Governor's site. I'm sure the Heat will win the championship some year, but it sure is nice for us Cavs fans that it wasn't this year. The self-titled King still chokes in the fourth quarter, just like he did in Cleveland.
Categories > Sports


FDR's Flag Day Address

A presidential prayer for world freedom, in the midst of war.
Categories > Presidency

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Harriet Beecher Stowe

John Miller at NRO reminded me that today is Stowe's birthday.  I think it is worth noting for both public and private purposes, and not only because she was "the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war".  She should be remembered for our own good, and Uncle Tom's Cabin was one of the first books I ever read (about age 9), and I loved it.  That the term "Uncle Tom" has been misused in our time is one of those great wrongs the world is capable of allowing.  On the other hand, there are good men trying to write that wrong, see Bill Allen's Rethinking Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Political Philosophy of Harriet Beecher Stowe, wherein he tries to reclaim his promised hero.

I read the book in Hungarian (a 1954 version), with the explicit Christian references removed by the communist regime.  But even nine year old boys understand something about freedom (and Christianity)....besides I was also reading Hucklebery Finn, and already knew something about a boy and a man on a raft on a big river talking about freedom, about ruling themselves and ruling others.  And as Huck learned from him, so did I.  The tyrants could remove references to natural rights and Christianity, as if human beings were incapable of reading between the lines.   But it turned out they were wrong, the human mind is created free, and can figure these things out on its own, along with Uncle Tom, and Jim, and Huck, and Peter.  Bless you Mrs. Stowe.


Very Quickly On The Republican Debate

I missed the twenty minutes or so on foreign policy but...

1.  Romney looked so relieved that Huckabee and McCain weren't there to kick him up and down the stage.

2.  I hope the five non-liberal Supreme Court Justices are training, saying their prayers, and eating their vitamins.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

End of the Line for Berlusconi

Sorry for my absence; a combination of travel, seminars, misfortune (which I shall go into at another time), and shoddy internet access has kept writing at arms length from me. After a weekend visit to Ohio for the Ashbrook Dinner, I'm now settled for a while and ready to jump into things again!

In a sign that his citizens have finally had enough of his antics, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has lost several key votes in recent weeks. Berlusconi, still hosting "bunga bunga" parties despite the scandals surrounding him, saw his government defeated in local elections in Milan (northern Italy) and Naples (southern Italy) a few weeks ago, initially signifying widespread discontent. Now, several major referendums he backed were defeated by popular vote today-- including one granting government ministers exemption from being put on trial. They also rejected nuclear energy in Italy and opposed the privatization of water resources. In two weeks, the Italian Parliament will face a confidence vote-- and Berlusconi's party will likely be defeated. New elections will probably be held in the fall. Who will replace Berlusconi is difficult to place at this time; his conservative coalition is splitting between Umberto Bossi of the Northern League, who is demanding tax cuts, and the Berlusconi-approved Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, who insists the nation cannot afford tax cuts at this time. Opposition Leader Pier Busani, with the support of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, is in a decent position to take charge.

The fall of Silvio Berlusconi has been an interesting one. The antics of the 74-year-old billionaire have long been accepted by the voting public, giving him the longest premiership in Italian history since Mussolini. Through sex scandals, accusations of corruption, bribery disasters, and the type of public embarrassments that would doom American politicians overnight, Berlusconi has gone on ruling with a wide grin on his face and a joke on the tip of his tongue. With his latest sex scandal, though, he has embarrassed his entire country and turned its politics into a joke. Buying into the false dreams of the Euro, Italy's stagnant economy has seen its public debt reach 120% of its GDP.

Though I find it hard to think that the joke and grin of Berlusconi will fade with his power. This is not a lean and hungry man, and seems to relish in his scandal-laden persona as it is. A new government will, though, have several important implications-- particularly in regards to the future of European integration and addressing the crises in North Africa. His potential successors merit a closer look for these issues.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Kingmaker Bachmann

From WaPo:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced Monday night that she has filed the necessary paperwork to run for the presidency in 2012.

Bachmann is likely to be the most surprising candidate in the next election. I continue to augur that she'll end up as the GOP VP candidate - and play a kingmaker role between Pawlenty and Romney (ultimately opting for the former).

Many will call it Palin Redux - and the media will hope to smear her with the same shameful efficiency. I hope she hones her rhetorical skills. As far as I've seen, she's not yet equal to the task of crossing swords with a malicious media. But dismiss her popularity and potential at your own risk. I suspect she'll play a historic role in the election.

Categories > Elections


The Human Lantern

Fox reports:

This one seems right out of the latest X-Men film.

Scientists have merged light-emitting proteins from jellyfish with a single human cell to create a unique first: a living, biological laser.

[Scientists] pictures a future where cells could even "self lase" from within the body's tissue.

It's a brave new world - with all the ominous connotations.


Categories > Bioethics



So I was scrolling through Alyssa Rosenberg's ThinkProgress blog when I read that Clarence Clemons has suffered a stroke. Only as the text was scrolling by, my mind interpreted it as "Clarence Thomas has suffered a stroke."

I panicked.  Then I scrolled back up and read it right.  I'm very sorry for Mr. Clemons' illness.

Just a reminder of the importance of the 2012 presidential election.  Who wants to bet that Justices Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy will stay on the Court for another five and a half years?  Me neither.   

Categories > Politics


Quote of the Day

By Rich Fisher, via The Rational Optimist:

One German organic farm has killed twice as many people as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Gulf Oil spill combined.

Categories > Environment


Power Line Prize

Ashbrook is bursting with bright young minds exercising their creativity conservative credentials - and NLT readers are an extraordinarily diverse and learned group of scholars. Power Line has announced a contest to which our community is peculiarly suited.

The Power Line Prize of $100,000 will be awarded to whoever can most effectively and creatively dramatize the significance of the federal debt crisis. Prizes will also be awarded to the runner-up and two third-place finishers. Anyone can enter the contest--individuals, companies (e.g., advertising agencies) or any other entity, as long as the contest rules are followed. Any creative product is eligible: videos, songs, paintings, screenplays, Power Point presentations, essays, performance art, or anything else, as long as the product is unique to the contest and has not previously been published or otherwise entered the public domain. Entries may address the federal debt crisis in its entirety, or a specific aspect of the debt crisis, such as: the impact of the debt crisis on the young; the role played by the "stimulus" (Where did the money go? Why didn't it stimulate?); how entitlements drive the debt crisis; the current federal deficit; how the debt crisis impacts the economy; or any other aspect of the debt crisis. The contest is non-partisan. Its purpose is to inform the public about the federal debt crisis. Entries are due no later than 11:59 p.m. on July 15th. See the official contest rules for more information. In all instances, the contest rules govern.

Someone's going to win. If its one of our own, I'll be very proud of you ... if you remember that I reserve a 10% finder's fee!

Categories > Economy

Ashbrook Center

Speaker Boehner Speech on C-SPAN

Speaker John Boehner spent the evening at the Ashbrook Center yesterday, meeting with the Ashbrook Scholars and giving the keynote address at the 26th Annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner. His dinner speech will appear on C-SPAN at 6:30 pm eastern time today. 
Categories > Ashbrook Center


Just When You Thought California Couldn't Get Worse

No help on reapportionment.  Rs Dreier and Lungren may go down, though Dems' dilemmas also amuse.  Progressivism's wheel of destruction rolls on.  Conservatives' only immediate weapon in California is direct democracy.  Learning how to campaign outside a narrow and shrinking constituency also helps--in the long run.  Short term solution is to use Progressivism's weapons against it.  Direct democracy is one such device; something good may come out of their new primary system, though odds are against it.
Categories > Congress


Hayward on Romney on Energy

Our own promiscuously-blogging enviro-guru Steven Hayward has a takedown at Power Line of "Romney's frequent slavishness to the conventional wisdom" on America's comparative energy efficiency. Hayward gets to the heart of both the issue and Romney's likely problem among conservatives - we aren't trailing Europe in any contest of importance to us and we're tired of hearing the contrary from our leaders. Pawlenty's economic speech invoked American exceptionalism - Romney's energy speech fawned over European eco-policies. Not only are Romney's facts and loyalties erroneous, his tone and instincts seem to be deeply flawed.
Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Re: What Price Reset

Regarding Julie's post below on Russia's missile defense technology sharing demands in the new START Treaty negotiations, our good-hearted liberal friend Joel Mathis weighs in with a comment thread to say, essentially, "And so's your old man!"  Ronaldus Magnus, he reminds us, proposed to share missile technology with the Soviet Union; why should we be reluctant now to consider the same thing?

To wit, three observations.  First, I recall Walter Mondale, even as he opposed Reagan's SDI initiative, also said it would be irresponsible to share the technology with the Soviet Union if we had it.  Another great example of how Reagan tied liberals in knots.  Second, this was one feature of Reagan's diplomacy that most annoyed Gorbachev.  Whenever Reagan brought up the "sharing" idea at summits, Gorbachev would say he found the idea simply incredible.  You won't even sell us advanced farm equipment, he complained; what makes you think I can believe that you'd share advanced defense technology with us (especially since Gorbachev knew that Reagan knew the USSR was cheating on the ABM Treaty)?  Reagan never had a very good answer to this.  

Moreover, Gorbachev argued sensibly, why do you need missile defense at all if we both disarm?  Here Reagan's answer partly anticipates the present moment.  Because, Reagan argued at the Reykjavik summit, rogue nations 20 years from now may develop nuclear weapons and acquire ballistic missiles.  He named Libya as one specific possibility.  (I suppose it would have been too awkward to mention Iran, since Reagan was selling them weapons at that very moment.)  Which brings me to the salient point: While today's Russia is less of a direct threat to the US than was the Soviet Union at the peak of it might, it is arguably more of a problem for the reason other respondents to Joel's comment point out: what makes us think Russia won't divulge our technology to Iran and other bad actors?  I have little doubt that Reagan would be much less likely to share missile technology today.  In this he'd resemble an example of Churchill's essay "Consistency in Politics:"

[A] statesman in contact with the moving current of events and anxious to keep the ship of state on an even keel and steer a steady course may lean all his weight now on one side and now on the other.  His arguments in each case when contrasted can be shown to be not only very different in character, but contradictory in spirit and opposite in direction: yet his object will throughout have remained the same.  His resolves, his wishes, his outlook may have been unchanged; his methods may be verbally irreconcilable.  We cannot call this inconsistency.  In fact it may be claimed to be the truest consistency.  The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose.

The circumstances today are vastly different that under the bipolar world of the US--USSR.  I suspect Reagan today would share technology with allies against the rogues and not with Russia; he'd want partnerships with nations more reliable than Russia, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, who are keen to deploy our missile defenses.  Oh wait--that's right: Obama gave that away already, canceling our deployment plans with those countries.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


UPDATED: Pawlenty on the Economy

I had missed Tim Pawlenty's speech on the economy at the University of Chicago this past Tuesday (see Missoula post below for details). However, the address isn't to be missed. Pawlenty is positioning himself as the conservative frontrunner, and his views on the most important issue of the election are bold and courageous. If he can also project sufficient character, optimism and leadership to persuade nervous but determined moderates to his plan, he'll have a solid shot at the presidency in 2012.

Here's his first salvo:

UPDATE: Pawlenty apparently thinks he did a good job with the Chicago speech, as well. His campaign video summary / advertisement is here:

Liberals have begun to howl in protest. Ruth Marcus in the WaPo calls his plan "delusional" (for assuming economic growth at 5% is possible) and "reckless" (for promising tax cuts). I don't think most Americans will prefer Marcus' sky-is-falling objections to tax cuts and optimism about the economy. It's interesting to see liberals pushing the pessimistic side of the argument and attacking a message of hope and change. 

Categories > Economy

Literature, Poetry, and Books

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I've touched upon everything from renewable energy to "New Europe" to armadillos today. What can top all of that? The 8 worst X-Men ever!


Running Against Wall Street Privilege

I don't know if Walter Russell Mead's account of the housing bubble and financial collapse contains enough of the truth to form the basis for a populist Republican campaign in November of 2012.  I do know that this is brilliantly inflammatory writing:

The Democratic Party today is a fragile coalition of elite liberals, traditionally Democratic ethnic blue collar whites, African Americans and Hispanics.  The Fannie Mae story is essentially a story of how liberal Wall Streeters raped every one else -- and how the organized leadership of the other groups colluded in the attack.

Something about this narrative feels off, but I wonder if this perspective on the housing bubble and the financial crisis might be combined with some of the suggestions of regular NLT commenter Art Deco:

Revisions to financial regulation which might include the following: requiring exchange trading of swaps and derivative or banning credit default swaps or both; separation of deposits-and-loans banking from securities underwriting, proprietary trading, prime brokerage, and private equity; separation of securities underwriting from proprietary trading, vending of mutual funds and such, and any sort of business that involves investment counseling; separation of the vending of mutual funds and such from the provision of investment counseling; separation of proprietary trading from any other sort of business; abolition of insurance on financial products; excision of regulations which promote the disaggregation of mortgage lending; eventual liquidation of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae; requirements that hedge funds and investment accounts be levered no more than 1:3; institutional provision for an authority which can (if possible) rapid roll up insolvent securities firms; provision for re-capitalizing banks and securities firms via debt-for-equity swaps; and provision for dismantling of the megabanks.

Maybe this would lead to good politics and (more importantly) good policy.  Heck, I dunno.

Anyway, this book is going on my summer reading list. 

Categories > Politics


Media Evolution at AOL

I previously wrote at AOL's Political Machine - I was actually a founding member. When that site transformed into Politics Daily, my profile and blogs were transferred to the new site. As I mentioned previously, AOL purchased the Huffington Post in February for $315 million. I feared what the tea leaves portended:

[Political Machine's] producers, Coates Bateman and Michael Kraskin, as well as lead editors such as David Knowles, strove to keep the site above mere partisan ranting and struggled to retain ideological balance. All of the fine bloggers with whom I wrote (with the exception of the odious Cenk Uyger) delightfully played their parts in the agreed upon larger drama. But reports indicate that the blog may soon be folded into HuffPost - and with it, I fear, any semblance of ideological balance or journalistic integrity.

Politics Daily has now been subsumed into the Huffington Post. Hence, my former blog-home is now the Huffington Post.

I feel dirty.

Another "evolution" in journalism - a moderate site and a hard-left site merge into a hard-left site. And another predictable result - after only a few months, the merger is a disaster.  

Categories > Journalism

Shameless Self-Promotion


I've been a long-time fan of the conservative-libertarian site, Intellectual Conservative, and the good folks over there have invited me to come onboard as a columnist. So, when I wax too long for Peter's patience here on NLT, I'll occasionally redirect an article to IC.

My latest article with IC attempts to "decipher the incoherency of renewable energy." The intro:

Windmills are not the future of the global economy. They were dandy for grain-grinding in the 19th century (and much appreciated for their contribution to bread-baking and beer-brewing), but they've taken their place alongside wooden teeth and horse-drawn carriages. And yet windmills are the latest craze in Congress - the leading-lady in a full ensemble touring Washington under the title, "Renewable Energy." The troupe premiered on the D.C. circuit in the 1960's, with Al Gore soon emerging as the leading-man, and their quixotic environmentalist spectacle recently received an all-expense-paid encore from the Democrats lame-duck Congress.

I hope you'll RTWT.

Foreign Affairs

What Price Reset?

President Obama's unbounded faith in his ability to make nice and persuade current and former enemies to see reason appears to know no limits.  Former CIA Director, R. James Woolsey and Ashbrook Scholar graduate, Rebeccah Heinrichs give a fascinating accounting of the efforts of leaders in Congress to do what they can to "reset" Obama's naive attempts at a Russian "reset."  It seems that the Obama administration is willing to veto the defense budget over a section in that bill which would prevent the President from sharing sensitive missile defense technology with the Russians.

Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has been successful in negotiations with the Obama administration at getting the preamble to the new START treaty to include language that equates offensive missile technology with defensive capabilities.  As controversy swirled over that dubious equation, it was discovered that the Russians have also requested a great deal of information regarding U.S. missile defense technology and operational authority as part of a separate missile defense agreement they have been working on with the Obama administration.  And the Obama administration gives no indication that they will not happily share it as part of an effort to smooth relations with the former Soviets.  Congress is attempting to prevent the administration from willy-nilly divulging that sensitive information and, of course, from allowing it to get into the hands of Russian allies like the Iranians.  Whatever may be said about the "resetting" of relations with Russia, it remain cozy with nations--like Iran--that pose an unquestionable threat to U.S. security.   
Categories > Foreign Affairs


California Conservative Confusion

In the Manhattan Institute's City Journal: California, Steven Greenhut offers an important essay in support of Governor Jerry Brown's plan to eliminate California's redevelopment agencies (RDAs).  In that essay, Greenhut recounts the patterns of abuse that have characterized the activities of these agencies and also offers numerous examples of corruption typified by cronyism and sweetheart deals.  In other words, RDAs offer all the things liberty loving Americans have come to know and loathe about government programs. 

It should not be imagined, however, that California Democrats are suddenly stumbling upon a revelation combined with a conscience on this front.  When it comes to the many ways that government programs and funds can often foster abuse, Brown and his friends remain deaf to arguments for eliminating them.  Brown's desire to eliminate the RDAs is merely a part of his (otherwise farcical) plans to take charge of California's budgetary woes (woes he and his party have, of course, largely created). 

While no political ally of Brown's, Greenhut shows that he may be even more annoyed with a particular kind of Republican--at least when it comes to the question of the RDAs.  Republicans, you see, are leading the charge at blocking Brown's efforts to eliminate the RDAs.  While happy to decry property rights abuses and aggressive exercises of eminent domain when those outrages loom large in the popular imagination (viz the Kelo decision), these Republicans have also been happy to overlook the potential for those abuses in their own communities.  This is particularly true when standing upon the principle of property rights means a decrease or an end to the RDA dollars upon which many local governments have become dependent.  And, as local governments struggle, there is even greater temptation to lust after the power of eminent domain for the purpose of bringing into a community businesses perceived as having more potential to generate sales tax revenue for a particular city.  You've got to make payroll somehow.  So there is principle and there is interest.  When government intervenes to make interest look even more attractive than it already is, some Republicans too readily turn their heads.

The arguments of these Republicans on behalf of RDAs begin to resemble the most frustrating elements of efforts to improve public schools:  "Our schools are great!" or "Our RDA is not abusive." It's always somebody else's community that is the problem . . . until it isn't. 

Republicans who are now engaged in this unseemly whining about cutting RDAs are not simply wrong to be concerned, however.  There is the very real problem that local governments in California--now virtually dependent upon RDA money for balancing their books--are going to take a large hit.  They certainly will.  But this fact alone does not mean that the RDAs should be preserved.  This fact, instead of causing folks to moan and grasp at the state coffers with even more animation, should cause them to demand a complete re-evaluation of the purposes and powers of local government entities and for more carefully defining the limits of the state's.  That means hard work at persuading voters and standing upon principle; something Republicans cannot do effectively if they engage in this kind of rhetorical hypocrisy.  Perhaps too many California Republicans are so beat down and tired from a half century of near total Democratic domination in the statehouse, that they can't summon the will to fight on principle anymore.  If that is the case, it is time for them to pack it in.  This is work that must be done if California is to remain the Golden State.  They cannot expect ever to win the larger argument if they too readily give in on specific aspects of it in the name of petty interests now.

It may very well be true that this effort is a cynical ploy on the part of Gov. Brown to make the public feel the pain of necessary cuts; to damage municipal government entities just enough to spread the misery and make people more pliable on the question of tax hikes.  Hit them where they live, and such.  Whatever the motive, however, the substance deserves applause.  And instead of hiding in a foxhole, Republicans should be leading this charge and taking the issue right back at Jerry. 

Categories > Conservatism

Foreign Affairs

A New Europe note

Justin Paulette writes with perfect clarity about the New Europe and why we should pay more attention to it than is this administration.  Good points all, and I agree.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Goings and Doings

I've been remiss in my blogging as of late, but I've been off to distant places . . .

. . . and trying new things.

But now I'm home with my customary neighbors in the back-yard . . .


. . . and reminded that it's a wonderfully diverse country in which we live.

Categories > Leisure


An Acceptable Litmus Test

In a prognostication which should make Peter smile, the New York Times predicts that motorcycle riding will become the 2012 entrance requirement for Republican presidential hopefuls.
Categories > Elections


Harry V. Jaffa's Gift

Last Friday found me in Washington at the dinner honoring Jaffa (he is now 93 years young).  The fine event was run by the Claremont Institute, under the good eyes of President Brian Kennedy, and Chairman Tom Klingenstein. Matthew Spalding acted not only as MC, but also said a few good words about the Old Man. Kennedy, Arkes, Podhoretz, Kesler, and I were to say something for no longer than seven minutes each in his honor.  They were fine short speeches honoring his great mind, and the things for which it should be known.  I merely told him that I was grateful for his patience, for his ability to wait out--and keep talking to, if not with--those of us who were unworthy and unschooled.  I thanked him for his generosity, for inviting us into his mind, into his conversation.  I thanked him for his clarity. I told him that until I met him I had never actually seen a mind work, I had never seen a man think.  With him that is all I saw.  Since then I try to imitate this rare excellence, and only rarely am I able to.   I thanked him for showing us how to get inside the thing--Plato, Shakespeare, equality, Churchill, Lincoln, justice, Twain, Aquinas, liberty--instead of talking around it and about it.  I told him how me and my friends--which friendships he made both possible and good--have been disposed, since we met him, to do this our whole lives, and how this is because of him, that he is the cause of it.  I wanted to say to him that he showed us how to establish a habit of freedom of thought necessary to rise to the level of equality that the American mind demanded, but I do not think I was able to get that far because my heart overflowed with gratitude.  So I just thanked him again and told him that I loved him.
Categories > Education

Romney's Newest Problem

As if Romney didn't have enough problems with the albatross of his heath care position, last week he dug himself a fresh hole by unthinkingly embracing the failing conventional wisdom on climate change.  Hugh Hewitt, who likes Romney, made a shout out on his blog for me to do a primer on the subject and post it on Powerline, which is what I have done this morning.  It's a two-cup-of-coffee post, under the old NLT format.

Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

From David Bernstein's Rehabilitating Lochner: "[Learned] Hand and [Felix] Frankfurter both wrote unsigned editorials for The New Republic calling for the repeal of the Firth and Fourteenth Amendments' due process clauses. Privately, Justice Brandeis supported the repeal of the entire Fourteenth Amendment."
Categories > Quote of the Day


Mostly For Pointyheads

So Tim Pawlenty gave a big speech on taxes and the economy today.  He wants to institute a two-tier income tax with rates of 10% and 25%, cut the corporate income tax to 15% and eliminate the capital gains, interest income, dividend and inheritance taxes.  It was a pretty partisan speech, but that doesn't mean it was ineffective.  Pawlenty (when he isn't pretending to be furious and acting out his cartoonish idea of what a "populist" sounds like) has room to be more ideological and partisan partly because of his calm affect.  There is a lot to chew over, but two questions predominated.

1.  What will be there distributional impact of his tax policy if there are changes to income tax deductions in order to prevent tax revenues from collapsing? 

2.  What will be the impact of Pawlenty's policies on federal revenues?  If his plan would cause revenues to decline, that means that we would have to make even deeper cuts than those outlined in Ryan's PTP (whose tax plan budgets for revenue neutrality) or an even larger deficit.  The cuts in Ryan's PTP are already politically problematic to say the least (and he might not have budgeted enough money for Medicare) so advocating even sharper cuts will be even tougher.  Or we could have a sovereign default. 

IF Pawlenty's plan is shown as likely to cause a sharp drop in federal revenues it would probably have some political ramifications.  Obama's budget promises of 2008 were nonsense of course (remember "net budget cut") but the deficit and the public debt were a much smaller issue in 2008 and the Republicans were burdened with a President with approval ratings in the 30s.  Obama's approval ratings have been solid at about the 44% range.  The asymmetry of media power between the left and right will make sure that all persuadable voters will have heard that Pawlenty a) said he believed that we were in a debt crisis that required wide sacrifice and b) Pawlenty came out for a tax plan that made the deficit worse in order to cut taxes on high earners.  I think Pawlenty will have two answers to this:

1.  You should trust me rather than the naysayers.  I'm the guy who told Iowa we can't afford ethanol subsidies.  I'm the guy who went to Wall Street and told them no more bailouts.  I'm the guy who went to Florida and said that the younger generation will have to work a little longer before collecting Social Security benefits and lifetime high earners will get smaller Social Security COLAS.  So when I say it adds up, that means it add up.

2.  Cutting taxes will boost the economy so much that it will make up for the lost revenue.

There are circumstances under which this approach could work politically.  Circumstances in 2012 could be such that a majority of voters might be willing to go along with such explanations if the Republican candidate doesn't come across as fanatical, insane, or grotesquely ignorant.  There are several problems with this:

1.  It assumes a situation where Republicans mostly win by default.

2.  Our public debt problems are real and serious.

Categories > Politics

Refine & Enlarge

The Lost Art of Legislation

The Lost Art of Legislation is the latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer: While it may be necessary for Congress to delegate the working out of many details to administrative agencies, yet this practice has come with the high cost of degrading the deliberative function of Congress's lawmaking power.The Farmer asks Congress to assume more responsibility for its actions.  Do read it.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Democracy and the Welfare State

Last week I blogged that taxes should be high enough "to pay for the things the government needs to do."  And which are those?  "In a democracy, all the things the people feel the government really ought to do."  Thus, I wrote, "I'm happy to abide by the outcome of the democratic debate over that question, but I think it should be conducted honestly. Honesty requires stipulating that the amount of government we get is no larger than the amount we're willing to pay for, as opposed to the dream-world welfare state we would build if wealth were limitless."

Some commentators objected to this formulation as being too receptive to a growing welfare state.  Joel Mathis, who got this discussion started, welcomed my framework as being more conducive to the welfare state than conservatives usually are, or than most liberals assume most conservatives are.

So, am I a squish on the question of the welfare state?  I prefer to think that I am restating the fundamental facts about how the question will and should be considered and settled.  Let me cite, as we Claremont types must, Abraham Lincoln, who said in 1858, "In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed."  Or, as he put it in 1861, "A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people."

I was trying to say last week what I took Lincoln to have been saying 150 years ago: Majorities can err, but the only safe and legitimate corrective for those who believe that the majority has erred, or is about to, is to mold public sentiment so that bad policies become untenable.  America's welfare state has grown for the past 80 years because people like getting what it provides.  There are two reasons it hasn't grown even faster.  The lesser one is that people have some qualms, now largely forgotten, about the legitimacy of having the government redistribute wealth from some people to others.  The more politically consequential reason is that people like getting what the welfare state provides much more than they like paying for what it costs. 

Unfortunately, the path of least political resistance, giving people the big welfare state and small tax bills they want, leads to the edge of a cliff, one that is now in view as federal debt held by the public will head north to 100% of GDP in a little over a decade if we adhere to President Obama's 2012 budget.  The tag line from a Michelob Lite commercial in the 1980s was, "Who says you can't have it all?"  Reality, that's who, George F. Will wrote at the time.

Reality remains inflexible about this business of giving the whole country New York's welfare state and South Dakota's tax system.  Intellectually honest liberals say that if we want not only the big welfare state we already have, but the much bigger one depicted in any randomly selected Democratic party platform from the past 40 years, we'll have to have much higher taxes.  Barack Obama's intellectual dishonesty led him to promise that we can finance a much bigger welfare state if the most prosperous 3% of us, those making more than $250,000 per year, pay higher taxes while the rest of us get taxes that remain where they are or diminish. 

As Matthew Yglesias argued, there's a practical and a political problem with this approach.  The practical problem is that America is already raising a higher portion of its tax revenues from the wealthy, and further tax increases on the rich can raise only a limited amount of additional revenue.  "An extra annual tax of $500 per capita could raise almost $150 billion," he wrote.  "Obtaining a comparable amount from the top 1 percent of individuals would require $50,000 from each of them, an amount that the very wealthiest could easily pay but that is probably an unrealistic burden on those near the bottom of the top 1 percent. To get a lot of money you need to be willing to take at least a little from a broad group of people."

The political problem, according to Yglesias, is that, "A platform of no tax increases for the bottom 95 percent can win elections, but it reinforces rather than debunks the right's fundamental view of the tax question -- that public services aren't worth paying for -- and merely suggests that the correct answer is to get someone else to pay for them.... At the end of the day, persuading people to support a more active role for government means persuading all of them that such a government is worth paying for."

That fact that so few liberals - not just in politics but even in the safe harbors of journalism, academia and think tanks - have tried to convince Americans that a more active role for government is worth paying for, by all of us, suggests they don't believe there will be many takers for that proposition.  I suspect they're right: the welfare state we'll have if its costs are honestly reckoned and realistically shared will be much smaller (and much smarter) than the one we have now.  This is the case I understand Congressman Paul Ryan to be making, and one that other conservatives should be pressing as well.


Overturning Plessy v. Ferguson

The descendants of the litigants in the great civil rights case of 1896 form a foundation.  Sweet idea, and I'm wondering whether serious tea party-style activists might follow suit by forming similar foundations devoted to ending irrational discrimination.  They might find inspiration in Jennifer Roback Morse's libertarian scholarship, which notes the City of New Orleans overriding the railway's preference for integrated seating.  (Clint Bolick has also performed great service along these lines.)  Here is another way to put natural rights-thinking to practical use.  Reading Charles Lofgren's classic work on Plessy is essential background.  The Claremont historian shows the direct ties between Plessy's arguments and the Declaration of Independence.

The Tea Party's most appealing argument is for the restoration of the principles of the Declaration of Independence in everyday life.  The fight for color-blind justice is an essential part of that argument.  Thanks to Mike in the comments.

Treppenwitz:  Here is one version of Edward Erler's argument on Plessy's persistence in our jurisprudence.

Categories > Race


Jew Hatred in California

The propaganda in support of banning the circumcision of children in San Francisco breaks my heart.  My general take on things is that nothing ever really changes in the world.  There is no true and lasting progress. Even so, it is depressing to see something that could be straight out of Germany in the 1930s in modern America.   Here's more on the subject.  Part of me still hopes that it is all some kind of misguided satire of the supporters of the ban, but I gather that's not the case.
Categories > Religion


Further Thoughts on Taxes and Spending

Harold Meyerson recently set out to sneer, in the pages and pixels of the Washington Post, but succeeded more decisively in refuting himself. It's always a bad sign when a writer introduces statistical evidence that weakens the argument he's trying to make.

Meyerson wanted to show that the Republican approach to cutting the deficit—spending cuts only, no tax increases—is absurd. His point on taxes is that in 1955, according to the Campaign for America's Future, the country's 400 wealthiest taxpayers had an average income of $13.3 million (in 2008 dollars) and paid 51.2% of that in federal income taxes. In 2008 the richest 400 had an average income of $270.5 million and paid 18% of that in federal income taxes. In 1955, he notes, "we could afford to pave roads."

But wait. 51.2% of $13.3 million is $6,809,600, the average federal income tax bill for the most fortunate 400 in 1955, using 2008 dollars. Thus, the federal government gathered in the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $2.724 billion from the whole lot of them. 18% of $270.5 million is $48.69 million, meaning that average tax bill for the top 400 was, adjusted for inflation, more than seven times as high in 2008 as in 1955. Those 400 households collectively accounted for $19.476 billion in federal revenues.

It speaks well of American governance during the Eisenhower administration that we managed to pave our roads while receiving $2.724 billion in federal taxes from our richest citizens. It speaks poorly of the quality of our governance today if, despite the additional $16.75 billion the families in the capstone of the income pyramid paid to the IRS in 2008, we can't pave the roads as often or as well, which Meyerson suggests is the case.

Assuming Mr. Meyerson owns and operates a calculator, it makes sense to ascribe his mistake—speaking as if the tax revenues generated by the richest 400 have gotten much smaller when they have clearly gotten much bigger—to a philosophical disposition rather than a mathematical error. Most people, and certainly most NLT readers, assume the purpose of a tax system is to raise revenues to finance the government's activities. A seven-fold increase in tax revenue from one segment of the population would, accordingly, mean that the government could undertake more activities, or that other segments of the population could pay lower taxes, which is a rough description of what actually happened in America between 1955 and 2008.

If, however, the primary purpose of the tax system is to punish or reproach the rich, to express our envy and resentment of people who are rich and getting richer, then it makes sense to treat the much larger revenues from that cohort as a minor detail and concentrate, angrily, on the fact that their incomes have gone up while their tax rates have gone down. Six years ago the columnist Jonathan Chait insisted that such malign intentions toward the wealthy played no part in liberals' preference for progressive taxes: "Liberals want to make the rich pay higher tax rates not because they hate them.… It's because somebody has to pay for the government, and the rich can more easily bear higher rates."

Well, yes, one advantage to being rich is that you can afford things easily that would be difficult or impossible for other people, including the 91% federal income tax bracket that was on the books in 1955. The problem with Chait's argument is there's no way to say where it stops. If the principle is that the rich should pay higher taxes because they can more easily bear the rates, then we should keep raising tax rates until the rich can no longer bear them—until, that is, they're no longer rich. One need not be rich to find this prospect disquieting. A government that can take whatever it wants strikes a lot of people as unfair, and unfree.

Assurances that only the rich will suffer as a consequence haven't convinced most people that this policy is fair, or that it really will be confined to the wealthy. In November 2010 voters in Washington, a state blue enough to have given Barack Obama 57% of its vote in 2008, rejected a state income tax applicable only to individuals making more than $200,000 per year and families making over $400,000. That most prosperous 1.2% of the state's population evidently had a lot of less-affluent friends, since 65 percent of the voters opposed the tax. One factor was that the promise to limit the income tax to the $200,000 and $400,000 thresholds was good for all of two years, after which the legislature could have applied it more broadly.

Meyerson makes a second point. Not only are the rich getting off too lightly, but the main beneficiaries of the federal government's activities tend to be red states. He cites a Tax Foundation study showing that in 2005 the federal government spent between $1.76 and $2.03 in New Mexico, Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana, and West Virginia for every dollar it received from those states in taxes. By contrast, the blue states subsidize the federal government's operations: New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Minnesota received between 61 and 72 cents for every dollar paid in federal taxes. The states that "drain the government also constitute the Republicans' electoral base," writes Meyerson, "while those that produce the wealth constitute the Democrats'."

But, again, there's more to the story. The Tax Foundation study includes money transferred between citizens and the federal government as well as between the federal government and state and local ones. As the organization explains in the introduction to its study, "The most important factor determining whether a state is a net beneficiary is per capita income. States with wealthier residents pay higher federal taxes per capita thanks to the progressive structure of the income tax." New Jersey and Connecticut are net exporters of dollars, vis-à-vis the federal government, precisely because progressive federal taxes, which Meyerson imagines to have been relegated to the dustbin of history, draw in so much money from those states' disproportionately affluent residents. Mississippi and West Virginia have disproportionately few residents in the top tax brackets, but more than their share of poor residents receiving assistance from Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, school lunches, and a long list of other government programs.

If the disparities between importer and exporter states are intolerable, then perfect fairness will be attained when no such disparities exist, and every one of the fifty states receives precisely as much from Washington as it sends to Washington. At that point, however, the involvement of the federal government becomes completely pointless. The big steps needed to reduce the disparities between states that are net importers of federal dollars and net exporters would be to abolish the progressive federal income tax in favor of a flat tax or Value Added Tax, and do away with federal programs that direct assistance to households with low incomes.

I'm not as mean-spirited as Harold Meyerson, so I'll suggest consideration of a less drastic remedy, proposed 38 years ago by William Buckley in his book Four Reforms. Buckley would confine eligibility for welfare state programs to Americans living in states whose median income was below the national average. Because Buckley thought it was economically and politically debilitating to "turn the skies black with criss-crossing dollars," his reform would ground a lot of those dollars. Federal welfare expenditures would shrink, as the number of people eligible for them was limited, and prosperous states would pay for their own welfare programs without the transit and administrative fees of sending them on to Washington and then back to the states. Mr. Meyerson, do you wish to second the motion?

Categories > Politics


Pipe Dream

It is a good idea not to make to much of one jobs report, but I'm still going to upgrade my estimate of Republican chances in the 2012 presidential election from moderately pesssimistic to slightly pessimistic. I still think Republicans are well into "going to have to earn a victory by being better than merely competent" territory.  We could use a better Republican presidential candidate.  Come to think of it, we could also use a good President.

Run Bobby Run 

Categories > Politics


The Rightmost Pole, Not The Ditch We Die In

Reihan Salam has some interesting takes on the politics of Paul Ryan's Path To Prosperity.  It seems to Salam that center-right intra-coalitional dynamics influenced the PTP for the worse by requiring that any tax reform be revenue neutral.  This meant that Ryan's PTP included less spending for Medicare (and therefore sharper cuts in Medicare) than did his earlier Roadmap. 

Salam is probably right that Ryan expected his plan to be the "rightmost pole" in the entitlement debate.  Ryan has succeeded in one very important sense.  The broad center-right's conversation on health care and entitlement issues is the best it has been in a long time.  There isn't as much John McCain mumbling a little boilerplate about health care before moving on to really important issues like earmarks.  One danger is that the PTP will become a test of conservative identity that determines whether one is a "real conservative."  The kind of shallow opportunism shown by Newt Gingrich should be stigmatized, but there needs to be room for different kinds of realistic right-leaning health care and entitlement reforms.

Salam wonders whether Ryan's PTP was overreaching both in how much it reduced Medicare spending and in presenting such an aggressive Medicare plan before having won what should be easier arguments like block granting Medicaid.  That is a plausible fear, but I wonder if the Democrats aren't in at least equal danger of overreach.  Salam writes, "Democrats see an opportunity to double down on a deus ex IPAB approach that hands over political responsibility for Medicare cuts to an appointed board with an ill-defined mandate to be formed in the future. They sense that this is a political winner, and that now is decidedly not the time for compromise."

This Democratic rigidity is actually a weakness if Republicans have the wit and skill to exploit it.  The Republican message in 2012 shouldn't be Ryancare vs. bankruptcy or Ryancare vs. entitlement mentality or Ryancare vs. Obama-hasn't-proposed-anything-realistic-wah-wah-wah.  It should be a post-Ryan plan (here are my thoughts - again) vs. enormous centralized denials of service and cuts to health care providers that will make it harder for seniors to see doctors.   

Categories > Politics


How Low Can We Go?

The journalist Joel Mathis asked, in connection with a book I wrote, since conservatives accuse liberals of wanting a government that's always bigger than the one we have, what's the conservative reply to the accusation that we on the Right always want taxes that are smaller than those we currently pay?  My answer is one way to describe the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals want government spending to be the independent variable that determines tax levels, and conservatives want government spending to be the dependent variable determined by taxes. I'm a conservative in this regard, not just because I think the government we get by letting our tolerance for taxes determine the size of our welfare state will be smaller than the one we get by telling the government to do all sorts of compassionate things, and then mentioning as an aside some years later that we'll need to raise taxes to pay for all our commitments. I'm a conservative because I think it's democratically healthy to confront the hard question about taxes first and directly, and then let our answer to that question determine the budget perimeter for our welfare state. It is democratically unhealthy to proceed the way liberals have habitually dealt with the problem, by promising generous programs that will "pay for themselves" or even "pay for themselves many times over," and only later, after people have come to expect and depend on the stream of government benefits, fess up about the taxes required to sustain them.

Mathis suggests a fiscal and moral symmetry: For liberals the answer to how much government should spend, especially on social welfare programs is always, "Just a little bit more," while for conservatives the answer about the right level of taxes is always, "Just a little bit less." But there are important asymmetries. Believing that we should have all the government, but only as much government, as we're willing to pay for--as opposed to all the government we need, or think we need, or just plain want--conservatives are happy to discuss the limits of a democratically bounded welfare state. Doing so is sound economics, because we'll never have a structural deficit resulting from a built-in mismatch between the government's spending commitments and its taxing capacities. It's also good politics because it insists that the citizens make their decisions about the scope of the welfare state on the basis of clear, honest assessments of what its programs will provide and cost. Both the politicians and the voters, in other words, are required to be adults.

Medicare's initial cost projections, for example, were based on the assumption that people receiving large government subsidies for hospital stays and doctor visits would avail themselves of those benefits at exactly the same rate as they did when they were paying for those services on their own. This same spirit of candor is reflected in the argument for Obamacare, which insulted our intelligence by claiming that a massive expansion of our entitlement programs was, above all, a way to control costs - although how it would control costs couldn't exactly be specified since the government boards that would come up with all sorts of ingenious solutions to the problem of delivering the same level of health care to all the people now getting it, and additional health care to millions of others, while dramatically reducing per-patient health care outlays, wouldn't issue their initial recommendations until after Barack Obama's presidential memoirs were published.

Moreover, when liberals feel that when we're closing in on alleviating the ancient causes of human misery--people being ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished, etc.--they react by getting to work on coming up with new problems for the welfare state to solve. In 1957 Arthur Schlesinger called for government to address the "problem" of "spiritual unemployment," and, sure enough, by 1965 President Johnson is promising us that the Great Society will banish "boredom and restlessness." This is the madhouse aspect of the political situation I was trying to describe in "Never Enough"--conservatives' feeling that as we put check marks by the items on the top of the list, whether from growing prosperity or the success of welfare state programs, liberals are busy adding new items to the bottom of the list.

There's another way in which the preferred liberal framework for considering the welfare state argues against an open, productive discussion about what the government should and shouldn't do. You point out that federal taxes account for a lower proportion of GDP than they have for 60 years. But not all GDP percentages are created equal. In 1950 the per capita Gross Domestic Product was $12,343, using the OMB's "chained price index" to adjust for inflation by expressing 1950's nominal dollars in terms of the dollar's buying power in 2005. In 2010 per capita GDP, deflated the same way, was $42,190. America was nearly three-and-a-half times more prosperous in 2010 than in 1950.

If liberals would participate in a discussion about what the welfare state should do, and the limits to what the welfare state should do, we could grapple with the question of how long-term economic growth would enable us to finance the welfare state's operations with a constant or even diminishing slice of a growing pie. This is certainly the approach we have taken to defense spending. In 1953, at the height of the Korean War, America devoted 14.2% of GDP to national defense. In 2010 we spent 4.4%. By this measure, our defense spending has declined by nearly two thirds. But America today is a much richer country than it was in 1953, even after taking into account the current slow recovery from a severe recession. Using the OMB's "total composite defense deflator," our defense outlays in 2010 were $617 billion, measured in 2005 dollars, while those expenditures in 1953 were $515 billion. Measured in real dollars rather than GDP points, we spent 20% more for defense in 2010 than we did in 1953.

Welfare state spending has grown in relative terms and really grown in absolute terms. In 1950, the last time federal taxes yielded less than 15% of GDP, federal outlays for "human resources" amounted to $44 billion, using OMB's "total composite non-defense deflator" to express every year's outlays in terms of the dollar's value in 2005. ("Human resources" here includes all federal outlays for Social Security; all other income maintenance programs; Medicare; all other health programs; and all programs for education, job training, and social services.) In 2010 human resources outlays, deflated the same way, were $2.06 trillion, 47 times as large. Even if we adjust for population growth, the increase is enormous, from $288 per American in 1950 to $6,547 per capita in 2010, a 23-fold increase. This increase is the result of devoting a much larger slice of a much bigger pie to human resources in 2010, when human resources outlays equaled 15.7% of GDP, than we did in 1950, when they were only 2% of GDP.

So, Mathis asks, how high should do conservatives want our taxes to be? High enough to pay for the things the government needs to do. Which are those? In a democracy, all the things the people feel the government really ought to do. I'm happy to abide by the outcome of the democratic debate over that question, but I think it should be conducted honestly. Honesty requires stipulating that the amount of government we get is no larger than the amount we're willing to pay for, as opposed to the dream-world welfare state we would build if wealth were limitless.

It also means that as our nation becomes more prosperous we should expect the welfare state's budget to require a diminishing portion of our national income rather than, as it has since the New Deal, a growing portion. We should expect this for two reasons. First, a welfare state with a clearly defined mission, as opposed to one where the goal posts are constantly receding as we move down the field toward them, should be one we can finance the way we have financed defense spending over the past half-century--by spending a smaller portion of our growing national economic output. Secondly, a growing economy should mean that more and more Americans can pay for more and more of their own needs and wants through their own economic efforts, rather than through the political efforts it takes to secure more and more generous welfare state benefits for more and more recipients. In other words, one of the reasons to like a growing economy should be that it makes a smaller welfare state possible, rather than because it makes a bigger one possible.

Categories > Politics


Hope and Change at the New York Times?

Stop the presses! Hope and change same at the New York Times:  Jill Abramson has been announced as the replacement for executive editor Bill Keller.  Even if she weren't a lefty, this comment tells you about all you need to know: "[I]n my house growing up, The Timessubstituted for religion."

Couldn't have stated the problem better myself.

Categories > Journalism


Cyberattack an Act of War

As the field of cyberwar continues to develop and be utilized by countries around the world, and private entities as well, the Pentagon has come out saying that a cyberattack on the United States or American interests would be considered an act of war and may draw a traditional military attack in response. This comes after a weekend revelation that Lockheed Martin, one of the largest defense contractors in our nation and privy to a great deal of sensitive information, recently suffered a "significant and tenacious" cyber attack on its systems (they say that they realized the attack immediately and took necessary precautions to safeguard information systems). An unnamed military official put it this way: "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks."

The Pentagon, which has joined other government agencies and private entities like the NY Stock Exchange in suffering significant attacks on its systems, says that it would maintain the typical stance of a proportional response to any attack. Only if a cyber attack causes death, damage, destruction, or disruptions that a traditional military attack would do will we consider the use of force in response. NATO, too, has indicated that cyberattacks will be considered real acts of war, and that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all. Some problems remain as to how we will be able to verify the origin of an attack; just because an attack originates within a country does not mean that government was involved. However, some believe the government will apply the same principle of the War on Terror to addressing cyberattackers-- countries that build and have cyber weapons will be responsible for their use. Another issue to arise is that if it is ever revealed who is behind the Stuxnet attacks on Iran's nuclear weapons program, those responsible would, by the new American classification, be at war with Iran. Unclassified portions of the Pentagon's first cyberwar strategy are expected to be available this summer.
Categories > Technology

In Vino Veritas

P.J. O'Rourke makes the suggestion that before we let any politicians talk to the public they should have some uisce beatha flowing through their veins. He does make a good point about the oratory of today. "It's no longer the dark arts of grandiloquence that obscure our politicians' thinking. Barack Obama sounds like a junior professor who won't yield the floor at a faculty senate meeting." Americans yearn for someone who speaks with passion, not someone who lectures them. It is the only way to explain the brief spectacle of Donald Trump. Most politicians today are so guarded, veiled, or vague in what they say that it hurts the power of the debate. We need someone who can not only explain the policy proposals necessary to right our country, but who can convince us of their merits and move our souls toward meeting the challenges at hand. Perhaps a happy hour or symposium now and then before a debate or press conference wouldn't hurt!