Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Foreign Affairs

Libyan Rebels Imploding

In the wake of the murder of the leader of the rebel military, General Younis, the Benghazi rebel forces are now turning on each other. The circumstances of the general's death remain murky, but it appears that he was killed by men that the rebel council had sent to collect him for questioning. The tribe that the general belonged to, the Obeidi, is the largest in eastern Libya (that is, "rebel Libya") and is not pleased with what has happened. Gunfights and explosions are breaking out in the rebel capital, and now leaders are beginning to clamp down on journalists and keeping them away from the front lines and from government offices.

This does not by any means signify that things are going to go well for Gaddafi; the one thing they all agree in is that they want him dead. But it does mean that, at a time when the governments of Europe and the United States have rushed to recognizing these rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, and at a time when we are rushing to unfreeze billions of dollars of assets to help fund their rebellion, we very well do not know who will end up in charge or what success we have. NATO and the Europeans in particular have invested too much to give up at this point. The rotten stench around this entire mess continues to grow.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Pop Culture

For the Dog Days of August

Meet the world's biggest pooch.
Categories > Pop Culture


Ryan Or Rubio For President?

Paul Ryan may be the most useful Republican House member in decades when it comes to domestic policy, but I think that Ryan (based on the tax plan in his original Roadmap) is fatally flawed as a presidential candidate.  If someone has a good rebuttal to the math in the link, I'd love to see it.

I'm impressed by Rubio's rhetoric (usually), but a presidential candidate who is a state legislator turned Senator with less than a year of service is a problem for several reasons.  Republicans need a more politic plan for a sustainable budget than anything Ryan has offered, and need a candidate with a record of executive competence so the public will be reassured that the person offering these radical-sounding (if gradual) changes isn't some ideological fantasist who doesn't know how to implement policy in a responsible way.

So you say that Obama is a state legislator turned freshman Senator and he is now President.  Sure, but, on policy, the Republican challenge in 2012 is almost the reverse of Obama's challenge in 2008.  Obama basically ran by promising everything to everybody at the low, low price of some tax increases on the top 2% of earners.  His lack of a record helped because he hadn't been in the Senate to vote for a bunch of tax increases (or against tax cuts he now said he wanted to keep) and defense cuts.

Republicans, if they are to be at all responsible, are going to have to offer a plan for fiscal consolidation that will touch the lives of tens of millions.  It isn't going to sound good.  It is going to sound disruptive and scary.  The Republicans will have to convince the marginal voters that the Republican plan is preferable to the combination of tax increases and centralized health care cuts that will come if Obama is reelected.  This is why a record of maintaining core government services while cutting spending down to a sustainable level would be a key asset for a 2012 Republican presidential candidate.

Run Bobby Run.

Yeah, I know it is a one-in-who-knows-what-astronomical-number chance.

Categories > Politics


Rubio-Ryan / Ryan-Rubio

The Weekly Standard isn't fussing over details - any POTUS-VP alignment will do, so long as it's an R&R ticket. And they have good reason. Watch these videos (or read the transcripts), to see why TWS is a zealous disciple of the Ryan/Rubio duet.

First, Ryan suggests we "cover the moon with yogurt" to save trillions:


Then, Rubio takes on the debt limit: 

Pricelessly candid and sensible. Required watching. A refreshing change you can believe in. 

Maybe TWS is on to something . . . .

Categories > Conservatism


CNN: Norway Murderer a Christian Knight

As I mentioned earlier, I have limited access to cable news here in Asia and am presently reduced to watching CNN as I attend to domestic chores. I am reminded why I long ago dismissed the channel as an actual news source.

CNN's Fareed Zakaria, who has been in overdrive over the past few days demonizing the Tea Party and cheerleading for Obama's policies (I use the word liberally), is presently going one better on those who called the murderer in Norway a Christian by defining him specifically as a follower of the Knights Templar. That was just before he explained that the Knights Templar were the medieval equivalent of Al Qaeda. Of course, Zakaria quickly insulated Islam from criticism by stating that Islamic terror accounts for less than 1% of terrorism in Europe. Home-grown terrorists (i.e., right-wing, conservative nationalists), Zakaria assures us, are the real enemy.

I would have thought it difficult to fit so much ridiculous absurdity within so short a duration. His prejudice against Christianity and the Crusades is egregious, but expected. The 1% assertion regarding Islamic terror seems specious - I suspect the definition of "terror" equates mass murder by Islamic terrorists with harsh letter writing by disaffected separatist groups.  

Perhaps Zakaria, of whom I'd never taken heed before, is simply a leftist pundit of little intellectual merit or personal integrity - but I expect he faithfully represents the attitudes and prejudices of CNN as a whole. America is poorly served by these international broadcast ambassadors of the American media.

Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

God's Law and Man's

I know Jesus said that he came to set children at variance with their parents, but I don't think this is what he had in mind:

"We are all human. God created us from one dirt. Why can we not marry each other, or love each other?"
HALIMA MOHAMMEDI, an Afghan teenager whose love for another teenager, Rafi Mohammed, set off a riot by flouting their village's tradition of arranged marriages.
"What we would ask is that the government should kill both of them."
KHER MOHAMMED, her father.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Economic Woes

I don't think anyone on NLT has yet mentioned the Commerce Dept.'s economic report from Friday. The highlights:

  • The economy slowed more than expected. GDP rose 1.3% (economists expected 1.8%). 
  • Consumer spending increased by 0.1%, the weakest performance in two years.
  • Last quarter's growth was revised down from 1.9% to an anemic 0.4%.
  • The 2007-2009 recession was deeper, and the recovery weaker, than originally estimated.

Suffice it to say, the report is disastrous. Aside from the appalling numbers, it's also noteworthy that economists and news agencies continue to be surprised by "unexpected" downturns in the economy under Obama's fiscal policies. I don't recall these same news reports confessing surprise whenever the economy dipped under George W. Bush - in fact, one of my favorite headlines, following a quarterly boom in response to Bush's media-lampooned tax breaks, read (more or less): Unreliable Economy has Experts Worried. Worried for Democrats' talking-points, perhaps.

Getting back to the numbers, the New York Times concludes its news alert with a warning:

The news comes as Congress is debating how to put the nation on a more sustainable fiscal path, with measures that some economists worry could further slow the recovery and even throw the economy back into recession.

One wonders which measures the Times believes threaten a double-dip recession. I don't think there's any chance that Obama and the Democrats received this week's economic report as an indication of the failure of their economic policies. They are true-believers in their economic world-view, as Richard Adams notes below. It is dogma that higher taxes and increased government spending equals greater social good. Facts to the contrary are the result of capitalist (i.e., conservative) corruption in the system. As conservatives believe otherwise (to an equally dogmatic degree within the Tea Party Caucus), compromise is unlikely - hence the unresolved debt-ceiling debate.

One hopes for the best possible solution to the current stalemate, but the economic debate (which reflects a difference in political philosophy) will continue to be resolved through elections. Conservatives should press that point in 2012.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Boycotting UN Anti-Semitism on US Shores

Isreal, Canada and the United States have recently been joined by Italy, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic in boycotting the UN's Durbin III conference in New York on September 22. The session is a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first Durbin conference, which found that racism exists in only one country in the world: Israel. (Durbin II was poignantly opened by Iran's Ahmadinejad on the anniversary of Hitler's birth.)

The co-chairs of Durbin III insist they will "not re-open previously agreed text" in the Durbin Declaration, which condemned only Israel, and so the commemoration is simply a another platform for the routine expression of anti-Semitism at the UN. (Documents and history of the Durbin conferences available here.)

Anne Bayefsky of Eye on the UN neatly summarizes the situation:

Durban III - as was easily predicted - is a battleground between weak-kneed, anxious-to-please democratic countries and shameless, brazen non-democracies who hold the balance of power at the General Assembly.

America's boycott is as commendable as much of Europe's tolerance is condemnable.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The 14th Amendment Consequences

Right now several senators are on the floor calling on President Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling through some twisted interpretation of the 14th Amendment, and earlier today Nancy Pelosi declared her support for this "option" as well. Senator Harkin went so far as to say that presidents can gain extra powers in emergencies, likening this debt debate to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War. President Clinton came out a few weeks ago in support of this option as well. However, President Obama himself has said that his lawyers tell him he does not have the constitutional authority to do something like this without congressional approval-- but he stopped short of saying that he would not do it. As we can see from his chameleon-like changes on the war powers of the executive, his views of the Constitution are not rooted in any coherent or steady interpretation-- it is truly a living document, transforming to fit whatever the White House wants it to.

The 14th Amendment was passed in the aftermath of the Civil War and has mostly been used in past public discussions for its citizenship standards, the equal protection clause, and the application of the Bill of Rights to the states. One section of the amendment states the "the validity of the public debt...shall not be questioned," and goes on to say that the United States was not going to count the debt incurred by the Confederacy as part of the legitimate public debt. From those few words, some Democrats in Congress have decided that it mandates the Federal Government to pay the interest on our debts on time and that the President therefor has the option to do whatever it takes to ensure that we meet our debt payments. There are two massive problems with this logic.

First, we have the money to pay the interest on our debts even if we hit the debt ceiling. We literally have enough cash on hand to pay what we are supposedly mandated to pay. Second, even if we did not have the cash on hand to pay our interest--which we do--those ten words do not grant the President the authority to exceed his authority and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. The president cannot violate one part of his Constitutional duties to fulfill another.

If President Obama does follow the cries of his allies in Congress and decide to raise the debt ceiling himself, it may very well set off a cascade of political intrigues that will have tremendous consequences for the 2012 elections. If he does do it, Obama is seeming to hold the upper hand insofar as the public will be more concerned about economic issues rather than separations of powers. But that would be the only early advantage that Obama has, and the public response would depend significantly on what both parties do following such a move by the White House.

The Republicans could very well start impeachment proceedings against President Obama for grossly exceeding his constitutional authority. This would set up a flood of fighting in Washington, D.C. that would probably irk the public even more than the Clinton Impeachment proceedings did, which would be risky for Republicans depending on how the entire thing is seen-- however, if President Obama cannot offer strong arguments for exceeding his authority and depending how long it is dragged out, it could certainly weaken Obama's image and ability to campaign fully if he is being impeached. But, since Republicans and the anti-war Left in the House of Representatives barely lifted a finger outside of some rhetorical whining after President Obama launched his unfunded and unauthorized not-war in Libya, it has weakened the ground that Congress has to oppose Obama's expansion of his executive powers. Though, it might prove possible to try roll the Libyan war, still opposed by most Americans, into President Obama's invoking the 14th Amendment as a campaign to impeach him--multiple grievances and such--and pull in the Operation Fast and Furious gunrunning debacle in the background. 

Conviction would not make it through the Senate, but such a move could bring questions of the constitutional limitations of the Executive Branch back into the public discussion in the run-up to the 2012 elections, which would force progressives like Obama to publicly defend the lack of constitutionality to their positions and would also bring the subject up in a more clear way during the Republican nominee debates and next year's presidential debates. This would hinge on the ability of the Republicans in Congress to execute it well and try to avoid seeming like petulant politicians, so I would really not stake my hopes upon such a line-- but it is certainly a possibility.

The other massive consequence would be how Democrats respond to such a move by President Obama. The president would exceed his authority to increase the nation's debt, but the question of the nation's fiscal solvency would still be at the forefront and, unless the Democrats immediately act to make cuts, it would be politically devastating to the Democratic party in the upcoming elections. The public knows we need to make cuts. I suspect that the Democrats would in turn offer some gimmicks as they have been to make it seem like they are cutting back, at which point the onus would be on the Republicans to expose their false cuts. Again, this would be a more precarious position for President Obama as it just makes it so much easier for his rivals in 2012 to show that the Democratic Party is fiscally insane. "They raised our debt $2 trillion by themselves without any spending cuts! They are leaving our fiscal house in complete disarray!"

All in all, I do not think it is certain that President Obama will invoke this 14th amendment option, but with all the cries of support from his friends in Congress and his progressive penchant for claiming extraordinary powers in whatever he deems to be extraordinary situations, it may very well be likely. The consequences of such a move might make him appear to be the hero who saved us from collapse, but with the current mood of the country it may very well energize the Tea Party movement even more and push moderates towards the Republican candidates due to the ensuing fiscal issues. Presidential politics aside, it is no small fact that two-thirds of the Senate seats up for reelection are currently held by Democrats-- even if Obama manages to skim by on all this, such a mood could not only guarantee Republicans a majority, but a filibuster-proof supermajority to boot.
Categories > Presidency


The Crisis of the New Order (Cont.)

As we have noted before, one way to look at our heated politics is to see them as the death throes of the New Deal Order, as the historians sometimes call it.  That's part of the reason why it is so hard to make a deal in Washington.  More than usual, we have two groups of people who see the problems and needs of the day differently.

Robert Samuelson recently put it this way:

The old order, constructed by most democracies after World War II, rested on three pillars. One was the welfare state. Government would protect the unemployed, aged, disabled and poor. Capitalism would be tamed. A second was faith in economic growth; this would raise everyone's living standards while permitting income redistribution. Growth was ordained, because economists had learned enough from the 1930s to cure periodic recessions. Finally, global trade and finance served countries' mutual interests.

All three pillars are now wobbling.

Charles Krauthammer puts it this way:

We're in the midst of a great four-year national debate on the size and reach of government, the future of the welfare state, indeed, the nature of the social contract between citizen and state. The distinctive visions of the two parties -- social-democratic vs. limited-government -- have underlain every debate on every issue since Barack Obama's inauguration: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, health-care reform, financial regulation, deficit spending. Everything. The debt ceiling is but the latest focus of this fundamental divide.

The sausage-making may be unsightly, but the problem is not that Washington is broken, that ridiculous ubiquitous cliche. The problem is that these two visions are in competition, and the definitive popular verdict has not yet been rendered.

We are only at midpoint.

That seems about right.  It has been enlightening to watch the shouting heads on TV lately.  They are in two different conversations.  Conservatives blame Obama and the Democrats for obstructionism.  Progressives see the exact opposite picture.  Neither side trusts the good faith of the other.

Victor Davis Hanson adds depth to the argument.  The problem is that the Progressive view is crashing.  Social Democracy is not a workable political system.  (One could say that's the point. It is called "social democracy" not "political democracy" because it makes the social primary.  The trouble is that men are not merely social animals by narture (like other mammals, I suppose). The trouble is that we are political by nature.  That is connected with what Hanson calls the "tragic view."  The conversation about what is justice is unending, as is the problem of scarcity.  Moreover, the problem of the human desire to get have more, and work less, is inescapable, as is the math of entitlement.  The rise of sociobiology is also giving strength to the conservative view of human nature. Hanson notes:

Social Security reform used to be the third rail that politicians dared not touch. But is that prohibition really still operative as big government approaches insolvency? Expect soon not just the retirement age to jump, reflecting modern longevity, or automatic cost-of-living increases to cease, mirroring the reality found in the private sector, but also the entire notion of disability to change as well.

Quite simply, the dogma that a teenager with dyslexia or a mature man with a bum knee will receive years of Social Security disability benefits will be assessed as an historical aberration of the last twenty years. A decision by an insurance company or government agency that a 62-year old must settle for arthroscopic surgery on a chronically torn meniscus rather than a complete knee replacement will not be interpreted as social cruelty.

We are winning the debate because Progressism is unnatural.  It had its day, and now is a reactionary force.  That does not mean it can't take America down with it, however.

Categories > Conservatism


A Look Back

The JibJab Super Obama is aging well, I'd say.
Categories > Presidency


Shake Head

After the failure to pass the Boehner Plan in the House last night, the debt ceiling negotiations have become a hall of mirrors - and that is just among the House Republicans.  You have the Boehner Plan's specified cuts that, if enacted, would do little improve our fiscal situation.  You have the allegedly principled House conservatives who think they are more fiscally responsible than Thomas Sowell and who seem willing to produce an immediate government funding crisis in order to try to get the Senate and the President to agree to spending cuts that do not, at present, have sufficient public support.  But who needs funds for ongoing military operations or the border patrol anyway?

There is just a lot of confusion.  Means and ends are all messed up.  I saw House conservative Trey Gowdy argue that "The seventy-fifth time we raise the debt ceiling should be the last time we raise the debt ceiling."  Well, that is unlikely to happen unless the debt ceiling is repealed altogether or raised some much larger amount than anyone is presently suggesting.  Gowdy himself voted for the Ryan budget.  That budget would add 1.388 trillion dollars to the national debt this year and 995 billion next year.  Under the Ryan budget, the federal debt held by the public would rise from just under 10 trillion dollars now to 16 trillion dollars by 2021.    

Categories > Politics


Putting Principle into Practice

Charles Krauthammer puts some perspective on the debt ceiling debate:

We're only at the midpoint. Obama won a great victory in 2008 that he took as a mandate to transform America toward European-style social democracy. The subsequent counterrevolution delivered to that project a staggering rebuke in November 2010. Under our incremental system, however, a rebuke delivered is not a mandate conferred. That awaits definitive resolution, the rubber match of November 2012.

I have every sympathy with the conservative counterrevolutionaries. Their containment of the Obama experiment has been remarkable. But reversal -- rollback, in Cold War parlance -- is simply not achievable until conservatives receive a mandate to govern from the White House.

Read the whole thing.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Libyan Rebel Leader Killed

The Obama Administration and various European states, continuing to kill people and arm insurgents in the illegal not-war in Libya, have officially recognized the rebels in Benghazi as the legitimate governing authority of Libya. The opposition is officially led by the National Transitional Council in Benghazi, which we now recognize as legitimate, and was recently scolded by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) for human rights abuses being committed by the opposition in the civil war (for whom, of course, President Obama is continuing to not be engaged in hostilities by killing Gaddafi's supporters while Congress is distracted by the debt fight).

In a sure sign of why it is a bad idea for our Executive Branch to so badly want to lead Europeans from behind that it jumps into a civil war in an oil-rich Arab nation without talking to Congress or the American people before hand, the commander of the rebel army was assassinated today alongside two of his senior officers. General Abdul Fattah Younis used to work for Gaddafi, but turned on him earlier this year and was given power by the Council to lead their armed forces against the mad tyrant. Now he is dead, and in the wake of his murky death reports are coming out that the rebel army is starting to collapse on itself and may very well fall prey to a coup as factions within it turn on each other. Some believe that Younis may have been killed by other rebels. This will only extend the stalemate in the country. So, not only is our Commander-in-Chief engaging in a preemptive, unfunded, unnecessary, and undeclared war for oil without consultation with Congress nor with a proper explanation to the American people, but he is engaging in it poorly and treading dangerous ground by backing a group of unstable rebels who may not prove to be quite reliable allies. Where's the anti-war Left when you need them?
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Quote of the Day

Headline du Jour

From Ann Coulter: "


She also notes:

True, in one lone entry on Breivik's gaseous 1,500-page manifesto, "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," he calls himself "Christian." But unfortunately he also uses a great number of other words to describe himself, and these other words make clear that he does not mean "Christian" as most Americans understand the term. (Incidentally, he also cites The New York Times more than a half-dozen times.)

Had anyone at the Times actually read Breivik's manifesto, they would have seen that he uses the word "Christian" as a handy moniker to mean "European, non-Islamic" -- not a religious Christian or even a vague monotheist. In fact, at several points in his manifesto, Breivik stresses that he has a beef with Christians for their soft-heartedness. (I suppose that's why the Times is never worried about a "Christian backlash.")

A casual perusal of Breivik's manifesto clearly shows that he uses the word "Christian" similarly to the way some Jewish New Yorkers use it to mean "non-Jewish." In this usage, Christopher Hitchens and Madalyn Murray O'Hair are "Christians."

Categories > Quote of the Day


The Transformations of McDonald's

The famed fast food restaurant McDonald's is really one of the most amazing businesses in the world. It is the largest fast food restaurant in the world, and services 64 million people worldwide a day. In a time of global recession, its profits have continued to see tremendous increases. It touches almost every country in the world. I particularly like the European variety as in most of them you can also buy beer, so in Italy I would sometimes go out of my way for a late-night snack at McDonald's and order a Happy Meal and a Peroni just because I could. The Economist has used the "Big Mac Index" to study the purchasing parities between international currencies by judging the costs of Big Mac hamburgers in various countries. One of the amazingly American things about McDonald's is that its CEO, James Skinner, is a Navy veteran who never went to college and began his career as an assistant restaurant manager in Illinois, eventually working his way up the ladder to the top spot.

An amazing thing about the corporation is its ability to adapt to suit local populations. Yes, these restaurants are all over the world, but they are different all over the world with all sorts of varying menus - in China they have chicken burgers, in the Philippines spaghetti, in the UK porridge for breakfast, in Italy (where the restaurant has been declared "the death of fine cuisine", but Italy just likes make controversies out of things) you have a wider variety of salad choices, in India there is no beef or pork, Israel is kosher, etc. Even within the United States there are some minor regional differences in the menu to accommodate local tastes and preferences. They are very tuned in to what people want and how to market that (and seem to know more about international cultures than certain portions of our government!).

This is no more apparent than in the current transformations of McDonald's. Responding to increased clamoring for more healthy meals for children, the fast food chain is now lessening the amount of fries in every Happy Meal and adding apple slices. As the fad of the nation, led by our First Lady, is increasingly seeming anti-hamburger, McDonald's is adapting-- if you go to the website of the largest hamburger restaurant in the world, you will not see a hamburger in site. No, at there is only freshness-- fruit, smoothies, coffee, a smiling family; these are what McDonald's is now using to brand itself. The restaurants are all transforming into more chic and upscale-looking joints, their McCafe and McSmoothie machines standing prominent in the front while their hamburger-crafting shelves remain tucked away in the back. They are a brilliant and formidable business that continues to be incredibly tuned in to the market and the attitudes of people around the world. Remarkable. 
Categories > Economy


The Frankenstein Spark

From the science section of the New York Times:

. . . a handful of chemists and biologists ... are using the tools of modern genetics to try to generate the Frankensteinian spark that will jump the gap separating the inanimate and the animate. The day is coming, they say, when chemicals in a test tube will come to life.

Synthetic life, grown in a test-tube. It's a brave new world we're approaching.

Categories > Bioethics

Health Care

Capitol Brew House

In other news making its way all the way around the world, the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus is apparently about to become the first state capital building in America with a fully-stocked bar.

God I'm proud of my state.

Categories > Health Care

Foreign Affairs

News, Here and There

I've not written for awhile because I've been travelling abroad (so as not to be outdone by Stephen Hayward, who's presently yachting, or boating, or taking a cruise of some sort with the upper crust). I've now settled in South Korea - which is presently suffering the worst monsoon in over 100 years. Almost 50 people have died as a result of torrential rains - which were averaging 1 1/2 inches per hour yesterday, when it rained almost the entire day. Portion of Seoul, where I am staying, are completely submerged. I believe some of this has made the U.S. news.

Over here, news of the U.S. is dominated by the debt-ceiling / default issue. Asian markets dipped in response to the uncertainty and Asian countries are the largest U.S. debt-holders, so there are local angles. Naturally, the perspective is that poor Obama can't get nasty Republicans to let him pay America's debts because . . . well, CNN and MSNBC seem to dominate local news from abroad, so there's no real attempt to explain the GOP point of view. They're just the bad guys. 'Nuff said. It reminds me of when George W. Bush was re-elected, and the world was shocked because the media had given them the impression that everyone in America hated him. European friends asked if he was even going to receive double digits in the election polls.

I hear that Americans are questioning whether the current debates and looming deadline are hurting our image abroad. On the one hand, it is. We, as a whole, are arguing, bickering and failing to arrive at a democratic solution to our fiscal problems. That looks bad. But then, sausages and laws always look bad when you watch them being made too closely. It's not necessarily bad just because it's painful to watch.

On the other hand, foreign observers are consoled that the problems are all the fault of the conservatives. America shouldn't be blamed - the party of Bush should be blamed. The Republicans are the go-to scapegoats. While opinions of Obama have faltered overseas, that is due to his failure to prove sufficiently different than George W. Bush - the latter is still the measure of failure. So, sophisticated foreigners are able to qualify their contempt for American messiness by focusing their disdain on the political right.

Such is the state of the media-informed world. If conservatives care about foreign opinions (which I imagine they largely do not), they shouldn't alter their policies, but rather invest in exporting Fox News and other media outlets which are not dominated by the left.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Muslims in Europe

Last year I remember discussing the issue of Muslims in Europe with a friend, remarking that "If the Europeans do not figure out how to integrate these communities, it is going to eventually lead to the typical response many European nations have towards perceived outsiders." While one cannot take the acts of one lunatic like Anders Behring Breivik, the terrorist behind the recent tragedy in Norway, to in any way be representative of a larger whole, he does bring to the public discussion views that are not all that radical to "fringe" political elements around Europe, as evidenced by comments from Italian and French members of the European Parliament. Many far-right parties in Europe are of the belief that they are under invasion from Muslim forces, and are advocating everything from banning minarets to trying to halt immigration from Muslim populations. The reaction of European leaders, particularly from Austria and France, to Turkish attempts to join the European Union shows a wider feeling towards the Muslim issue as well, though not as narrowly discriminatory as some of these political parties nor anywhere near as insanely violent as Brevik in Norway.

There are many problems with this issue. Except for some extreme cases now and then, many Muslims have not in the past had difficulty becoming Americans, for the same reason why most people do not have difficulty becoming Americans-- our nation is built around an idea that all men are free, and it is the philosophy of America that binds us. In Europe, this is much more of a difficult problem-- one cannot become French, or German, or Italian, even if your family has lived in one of those countries for generations. The European Union was supposed to help stop this by creating some sort of grand European identity, but it has largely failed in this regard because it does not accept the truths of human nature that America does. This means that Muslims in Europe are not being integrated into their nations, and are forming sub-cultures that are highly distinct and independent from the rest of society, hurting the entire cohesiveness of civil society in Europe.

And yet Europe has found a way to make this even worse. At the same time it is marginalizing and isolating its Muslim populations, and at the same time some nations are actively persecuting Islam, many European nations are simultaneously caving to political correctness in regards to Muslim sensitivities, leading to truly damning things like not teaching the Holocaust because of anti-Semitic sentiments from Muslim students. If there is anywhere that people need the Holocaust rammed down their threats and hit in the head with, it is Europe. It also appears as if the European Union project may be leading to opposition nationalism within some nations to maintain national identities, which could in turn be unfriendly towards immigrant populations in general and Muslim populations in particular. You add to this some politicians and many individuals falsely blaming unemployment in Europe on immigrants from Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa, and you just have a whole range of problems and frictions that will continue building. (It is worth noting as an aside that there is little difference between how Muslim populations are being treated and how Gypsies/Roma have always been treated in Europe).

It is hard to tell how to resolve or at least begin discussing this issue. Certainly a large part of the problem is the Muslim populations of Europe themselves, yes, but a great deal of the problem is just Europe itself-- the same sort of problems that Europe has always faced. I fear the knee-jerk reaction in Europe will be to clamp down on the religious rights of Muslims, clamp down on immigration, and continue to marginalize the existing populations-- perhaps even to the point of beginning deportations in the future. Anders Breivik is a madman, but he came from a pulse that is beating throughout Europe and needs to be addressed-- this is a seriously important matter that also has consequences for the United States, though our position is not as dire as Europe's. Their Muslim populations are more separate from civil society than ours, and their nationalistic tendencies are more severe than ours. The European Union is and will continue to be an ineffective way of discussing this issue, and I'm not sure if the individual European nations would be able to either-- but the roots of the problem need to be discussed. If they aren't, the threat of Islamic extremism will persist and the number of potential Anders Breiviks will grow in response. It's tough. In the mean time, prayers go out to all in Norway and respect for the resolve they are showing in the wake of these terrible events.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The FDA is Nuts

Walnuts that is:

According to the Food and Drug Administration, that is precisely where you should find them. Because Diamond Foods made truthful claims about the health benefits of consuming walnuts that the FDA didn't approve, it sent the company a letter declaring, "Your walnut products are drugs" -- and "new drugs" at that -- and, therefore, "they may not legally be marketed ... in the United States without an approved new drug application." The agency even threatened Diamond with "seizure" if it failed to comply.

If that's the law, there is something seriously wrong with it.

Categories > Progressivism

Foreign Affairs

Russia Lowers Alcohol Standards

Apparently Russia has never considered beer to be alcoholic, due to their high standards of anything with less than 10% alcohol being simply considered a foodstuff. Now, though, with beer soaring past vodka as the Russian drink of choice, the Russian government has officially classified beer as an alcohol so that they can start regulating it more to combat an apparent alcoholism problem in Russia. People say it is common to see the hoi polloi drinking beer around towns like soft drinks. As they live in Russia, I don't blame them!
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Dueling Budgets

This Power Line note is very clear on why the upcoming deal in Washington should not be a "grand fiscal bargain." Read the whole thing, and also note the long quote from Sen. Jeff Sessions near the end. I am still optimistic that this is, more or less, what will happen.
Categories > Politics


Cover-Ups of Gunrunning Scandal Continue

During congressional testimony today over Operation Fast and Furious, Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed sympathy for the embattled agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as they are questioned about the operation that led to thousands of weapons being given by our government to murderers, rapists, and slavers in Mexico. Congressman Cummings said that he knew that this was all very emotionally draining and that he wanted to help everyone move past the whole thing. A friend of mine at the hearing said that the back-and-forth between the ATF and the Congressman about emotions and such almost made him want to gag. Move past it.

The only way we can begin to move past this debacle is arresting whoever authorized this in violation of federal and international law. We can begin to move past this by firing the supervisors of whoever authorized this for gross incompetence. We can begin to move past this by apologizing to the people of Mexico and the family of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry for arming their killers. We can begin to move past this by trying to figure out how, almost twenty years after the disaster at Waco, the ATF is still so poorly-managed and incompetent as to allow thousands of weapons to be given to the Mexican cartels. The extent to which congressional Democrats, some of whom only a few years ago were comparing Bush to Hitler for his foreign policy and Guantanamo Bay, want to just "move past this" is embarrassing.

Testimony today revealed that officials in the White House had been briefed about Operation Fast and Furious as early as September 2010. ATF Director Kenneth Melson and his deputy seem to be embracing the "I was incompetent but not complicit" line of talking right now, which was contradicted by ATF Agent Lorren Leadmon saying that senior officials, including Mr. Melson, received briefings about the ill-fated project in late 2009 and early 2010-- these briefing informing them that the entire operation was troubled, with ATF Agents recommending its cancellation. The United States Embassy in Mexico complained that it had been kept in the dark about the entire operation, despite sending complaints and inquiries to the Department of Justice about American guns being found beside dozens of dead bodies in Mexico; the State Department was told "everything is under control" and then ignored. This testimony reinforces information from emails indicating that the ATF and Department of Justice have been trying to downplay the scandal ever since Brian Terry was murdered by guns we gave the cartels. When Senator Grassley began investigating the incident earlier this year, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich defended Fast and Furious in a letter that only gave one paragraph to Terry's murder, saying that information cannot be shared due to pending investigations; the letter set off a batch of emails from senior ATF and DoJ officials, including Melson, congratulating each other for "staying the course" and supporting each other.

Good thing Congressman Cummings is not in the majority at the moment to support and stay the course with them as well. We cannot "move past" this disaster until the Department of Justice is brought to justice.
Categories > Congress

Foreign Affairs

The Return of German Gunboat Diplomacy?

Hardly noticed by the American public, two weeks ago a Thai airplane was impounded in Munich by German authorities. Not just any airplane, but the airplane belonging to the crown prince of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn. Why would Germany do such a brutish thing?

German officials claim that the airplane was seized in accordance with German law as collateral for bills never paid by the Thai government. More than twenty years ago a German company, now bankrupt, built a highway in Thailand and was never paid in full. The company's liquidator convinced a German court to issue a judgment allowing him to seize the Being 737, worth about 20 million Euros.

This caused a furious reaction by the Thai government. In Thailand, the royal family is highly revered and never critically discussed in public. In fact, the royal family is never discussed at all. The disgrace the German government has brought on the crown prince is therefore a matter of national honor. The Thai foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, was immediately dispatched to discuss this issue with his German counterpart, but only after calling the German government's actions "a serious mistake."

During the past week, it seemed at first that the Thai government would pony up the money while the German courts would simultaneously declare that the airplane belongs to the crown prince personally rather than the state of Thailand. This would then imply that the airplane had been falsely seized.  However, this face-saving solution fell apart yesterday and now a long legal battle in the German courts might ensue, leaving the crown prince stranded in Germany.

At first, this entire episode might fall into the category of "clumsy foreign policy," along the lines of the blocking abstaining supporting of UNSCR 1973 and the ensuing NATO mission. Why else would Germany risk its traditionally good relationship with Thailand?

One possibility is that Germany is not at all jeopardizing its relationship with Thailand but rather continuing it. Instead, Germany might be supporting the democratic process in Thailand. On July 3, 2011, the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's party, headed by his sister Yinluck, won the parliamentary elections with an absolute majority. This came after five years of political unrest in Thailand. Five years ago, Thaksin was forced out of office by the military. Three years ago, Thaksin's party had also won the elections but his opponents used every trick, fair and foul, to invalidate the elections and assume power instead. Now, the current electoral results are still not certified and might not be until August 2. Especially the election of Yinluck to parliament has not been confirmed. The crown prince is a key player opposing Thaksin and his party. It is therefore possible that the German government, by encouraging the liquidator to pursue this legal route, is neutralizing the crown prince and putting gentle pressure on the Thai government to confirm the electoral results and abstain from replaying the game from 2008.

Maybe this gives the German government too much credit and an ingenious liquidator really has caught the German government flat-footed turning Franz Josef Strauss airport into the new wild west of debt collection. This would not bode well for Greece. But I like to believe that sometimes things are not as they seem, which in this case would include German diplomacy full of finesse.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Separation of Powers is Not a Radical Defect of the Constitution

Let's not even mention the reporting (especially the almost intentionally unlearned and misleading CNN on this) save to say that according to them everything is about to fall apart, collapse, and it will be the fault of Congress and the Tea Party folk especially. Obama on the other hand is a willing compromiser and an altogether noble man.  So let's not mention any of that.  Let's just say that George Will has it right in today's WaPo in the form of a mini-lecture on separation of powers.  He is also right in calling for Geithner's resignation and also hits it on the nose when he calls Obama a Huey Long with a better tailor!  Oh, those little arts of popularity, they're not working so good for this president!

In my opinion Boehner is going to get his way (largely) on his two phase plan, the Senate Dems will go along with it, and Obama will sign it.  He brought up Reagan in his talk, but forgot to mention that Reagan signed similar plans every six months or so during his presidency, which Obama says he refuses to do.  But he will not veto any of the plans put in front of him that Congress  passes, and there will be more than one.
Categories > Politics


Obama's Jefferson

The letter Obama quoted from is instructive for its understanding of what compromise means.  Obama quoted from Jefferson's letter to John Dickinson, July 23, 1801, "Every man cannot have his way in all things -- without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society."  But note Jefferson's denunciation of his rival Federalists later on in the letter:

The greatest good we can do our country is to heal it's party divisions & make them one people. I do not speak of their leaders who are incurable, but of the honest and well-intentioned body of the people. I consider the pure federalist as a republican who would prefer a somewhat stronger executive; and the republican as one more willing to trust the legislature as a broader representation of the people, and a safer deposit of power for many reasons. But both sects are republican, entitled to the confidence of their fellow citizens. Not so their quondam leaders, covering under the mask of federalism hearts devoted to monarchy. The Hamiltonians, the Essex-men, the revolutionary tories &c. They have a right to tolerance, but neither to confidence nor power. It is very important that the pure federalist and republican should see in the opinion of each other but a shade of his own, which by a union of action will be lessened by one-half: that they should see & fear the monarchist as their common enemy, on whom they should keep their eyes, but keep off their hands. (emphasis added) 

Categories > Presidency


Stephen Douglas Obama, the Great Compromiser

For Obama, America is great because of its moments of compromise--not for its uncompromising moments (Declaration of Independence, Civil War).  I guess Obama thinks the Compromise of 1850 (Fugitive Slave Act) is our grand model.  Reflect on his conclusion below:

America, after all, has always been a grand experiment in compromise.  As a democracy made up of every race and religion, where every belief and point of view is welcomed, we have put to the test time and again the proposition at the heart of our founding:  that out of many, we are one.  We've engaged in fierce and passionate debates about the issues of the day, but from slavery to war, from civil liberties to questions of economic justice, we have tried to live by the words that Jefferson once wrote:  "Every man cannot have his way in all things -- without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society." 

History is scattered with the stories of those who held fast to rigid ideologies and refused to listen to those who disagreed.  But those are not the Americans we remember.  We remember the Americans who put country above self, and set personal grievances aside for the greater good.  We remember the Americans who held this country together during its most difficult hours; who put aside pride and party to form a more perfect union.  

Well, out of the Compromise of 1850 we got California into the Union.

Categories > Presidency


Rush Transcript Of Last Night's Speech

Obama: Both parties share the blame for the problems caused by George Bush and the Republicans.  Curse them for taking ofice at the start of a recession, being in office during the largest terrorist attack in US history, responding with an Afghanistan campaign that I supported and expanded, voting for a cheaper drug benefit than the one my party wanted, launching an Iraq War supported by my party's last nominee and my Secretary of State and tax cuts that I mostly want to keep - until I'm safely reelected, heh, heh, heh.  Sure I added trillions and trillions to the deficit, but none of that was my fault.  I inherited stuff.  But this isn't about blame.  We need compromise and that means everybody should do it my way.  My way means big cuts that I never have and never will specify but trust me they are like so awesome.  We also need to cut corporate jets which I'm going to imply will be more than a trivial aspect of any deficit reduction deal.  The other side wants to cut your grandfather's Social Security so that corporate CEOs could take their Gulf Streams to Disney World while you drive on highways with potholes the size of the crater caused by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.  We need people who don't selfishly cling to their principles by disagreeing with me.  We are a great country because of moments of unity like the time when I was elected President.  And we can do it again.

Categories > Politics


Just a Box

It took a long and lengthy legal battle, but now Catholic monks have permission to sell wooden boxes. This is absurd. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the brothers of Saint Joseph Abbey lost much of the trees on their woodland property that they had previously harvested to sustain their simplistic way of life. They began selling the simple wooden caskets that they had previously made only for clergy, and soon thereafter were ordered to stop creating caskets and threatened with fines and imprisonment.... for selling a wooden box with handles.

According to the state of Louisiana, only people with special licenses from the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors--itself a cartel controlled by existing businesses that do not like competition--are able to sell wooden boxes. In order to get a license, one needs a high school diploma, some college education, special classes on embalming, a year-long apprenticeship, and an official funeral parlor. All the monks wanted to do was carve their boxes and sell them to people. The funeral cartels are doing all that they can to stop this due to the fact that the monks are selling their simple wooden boxes at a far, far cheaper price than the fancy boxes people are forced to pay for elsewhere. Luckily, the Federal 5th Circuit has upheld the right of people to make and sell wooden boxes, with the judge saying that "there is no rational basis" for such regulations on people selling caskets-- again, a casket is just a box. The attorney for the funeral board has said that the state of Louisiana will likely appeal the case, which may then find its way to the Supreme Court.

Good. Hopefully one day all people everywhere will have the right to be able to carve and sell wooden boxes without being threatened with imprisonment.
Categories > Courts


Moving The Goalposts

1.  Mayor Bloomberg is giving 50 million to the Sierra Club so they can lobby for the destruction of the coal industry.  I'm building to a point. Stay with me.

2. Douglas Holz-Eakin gives an amazingly simple and concise explanation of why an extended failure to raise the debt ceiling would be a calamity.  It is a thing of beauty.  If I were some conservative rich guy or ran some big right-leaning 527 like American Crossroads, I'd build a $20 million or more ad campaign around Holz-Eakin (and/or James Capretta and/or Yuval Levin) giving 1-2 minute talks on defined contribution Medicare, block granting Medicaid, changing the Social Security indexing formula for high earning future retirees, or moving the health insurance system for under-65s to a combination of personally owned, renewable catastrophic care policies and government-subsidized reinsurance pools.   

And I'd run those ads on network television, BET, Univision, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report starting this Fall.  Let tens of millions of Americans see (maybe for the first time) a conservative arguing for reforms that will bring the welfare state down to a sustainable level in a clearly articulated, well thought out, and humane way. I suspect that this would do more good than $50 million in 30 second ads next October when the political commercials hit you with mind numbing repetition.  I would argue that Conservatives should invest in popularizing their best arguments early, but it is too late to be early.  That was for the last decade.  We can only hope that it is not too late to do any good.   

Categories > Politics


Sides of the Times

Paul Rahe reacts to Jonathan Chait's discussion of the feud between Paul Krugman and David Brooks. 

One of the unwritten laws of journalism is that columnists at The New York Times do not attack one another. If they really, really disagree, they have to be oblique, and [Jonathan] Chait caught both Krugman and Brooks hurling barbs purportedly at others that were, in fact, aimed at one another.

[Krugman]: Last week, President Obama offered a spirited defense of his party's values -- in effect, of the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. Immediately thereafter, as always happens when Democrats take a stand, the civility police came out in force. The president, we were told, was being too partisan; he needs to treat his opponents with respect; he should have lunch with them, and work out a consensus.

. . . [Brooks]  Very few people have the luxury of being freely obnoxious. Most people have to watch what they say for fear of offending their bosses and colleagues. Others resist saying anything that might make them unpopular.

But, in every society, there are a few rare souls who rise above subservience, insecurity and concern. Each morning they take their own abrasive urges out for parade. They are so impressed by their achievements, so often reminded of their own obvious rightness, that every stray thought and synaptic ripple comes bursting out of their mouth fortified by impregnable certitude. When they have achieved this status they have entered the realm of Upper Blowhardia.

Rahe comments on the players.

I know Krugman and Brooks only from reading them, but that is, I suspect, in this case enough. When I read the former, I nearly always find myself thinking of a kid I knew in third grade. Every time the teacher left the room, he was up in front of the class, clowning around. He wanted attention; he desperately craved applause; and he was willing to abase himself in their pursuit. Krugman is a man of great intelligence and considerable ability as an economist, and he has been honored as few men could ever hope to be. But, out of partisan instincts and a degrading desire to be fiercely loved and admired, he is willing to sacrifice the genuine respect that he earned for his acumen. Once upon a time, he really did think "in rigorously empirical terms." Now he writes simply and solely as a partisan. When he agreed to write for the Times, he checked at the door the thoughtfulness that once distinguished him.

When I read Brooks - who is no less intelligent and would be pleasant company, I am sure - I am frequently driven to hold my head in my hands. He very much wants to fit in, and when Pinch Sulzberger hired him, for once in his life he knew what he was about. Brooks is what passes as a respectable conservative in left-liberal circles. He is weak and accommodating; above all else, he does not want to rock the boat  . . .

Brooks has a boss and colleagues, and he will never write a column likely to be thought by them "obnoxious." He really does have disdain for the "few rare souls who rise above subservience, insecurity and concern," and he is prepared to believe that all that is really going on is that they are taking "their own abrasive urges out for parade." In this posture, there is something obviously self-serving. For, if Brooks sticks to it - if, when the chips are down, he is always ready to come to the defense of the Barack Obamas of the world - he will keep his comfortable perch, he will be liked (if not respected) by those like him, and he will fit right in.

Categories > Journalism

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Raymond Chandler

He was born on this day in 1888. Ended up in California, in the south of it, being deeply affected by it and effecting it. We cannot understand California without him. Drinking too much, walking the rain touched dust smelling streets, into Santa Monica, or into the Santa Ana winds, walking into too many women, some showgirls....all too much. Once he discovered he could write, he did, but he had to work at it. Someone said he wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles of a romantic presence. Good and true.  He died in 1959 of too much, with sure redemption in his words. His private detective, Philip Marlowe, was "The best man in the world and a good enough man for any world."  You should read his novels, but also read his essay, The Simple Art of Murder. And ruminate on the last paragraph, which begins: "In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption.  It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished not afraid."

I like this line: "I kissed her again. It was light pleasant work."


Trust Fund Babies

How can the executive branch not send out Social Security checks when Social Secuirty owns billions on its own.  According to Thomas Saving, that won't even increase our debt:

By law the Treasury is bound to redeem any bonds presented to it by the Social Security Administration. And when the Treasury does, total government debt subject to the debt limit falls by the amount of the redemption--thus freeing up the Treasury's ability to issue new bonds equal in amount to the redeemed Trust Fund bonds.

Therefore, meeting Social Security obligations in August, September and all future months in this fashion would add nothing to the gross government debt subject to the debt limit. Not, at least, until the $2.4 trillion Trust Fund is exhausted in 2038.

Update. I heard from a political economics expert on this issue. He noted that we could end the entire debt crisis simply by canceling the debts the U.S. government owes to Social Security, [Since they are debts to ourselves, as I understand the logic] and admitting that the program is a transfer program from current workers to current retirees.  Not going to happen, politically, he noted.

Update 2: Michael McConnell weighs in on Social Security payments from the trust fund.

Categories > Economy


Lowering the Bar

George Leef points us to a debate about the future of law schools.  He argues "that the bar exam should be open to anyone, not just those who have graduated from an ABA-accredited law school. That would lead to far more competition by opening up non-law-school modes of legal education."

If the purpose of the bar exam is to make sure that would-be lawyers know enough to practice, why is law school necessary?

His point about allowing for diversity among law schools is also well taken. Why must they all follow the three year model?

Opening the bar exam might have interesting reprecussions.  Would a smart student at Harvard Law school who feels the financial burden of tuition (and perhaps is simply bored with school), quit after a year or two and then take the bar.  He could say he "attended" Harvard Law school, albeit without graduating.  That might be something of a return to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when many students at elite schools regarded them partly as finishing schools, rather than as places for specialized learning.  In that model, taking a degree was not always necessary.

The consequences of such a change on the fortunes of our friends the law professoriat would be intereseting, to say the least.

Categories > Education


Do You Have a Degree in Journalism?

Listen to Representative Mo Brooks' response to a question from MSNBC's Contessa Brewer.  Then think about the real significance of her question, which reflects the Progressive belief that one must be an "expert" to hold valid opinions.    

Categories > Journalism


Why the Italian Crisis Matters

The economic failures of Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain have been worrisome and damaging to the Eurozone. The troubles of Spain in particular are dangerous given the size and scope of its economy, and if it does indeed collapse it will send markets reeling but may still leave a salvageable endgame. The fact that the eurozone contagion is now pushing Italy to the precipice is much more dangerous. For some time, people have been somewhat worried about the prospect of an Italian economic collapse-- Italy is the seventh largest economy in the world and the third largest in Europe. Unlike the other troubled nations, Italy is too big to be bailed out. This is a problem as the likelihood of an Italian debt default has started to increase over the last week, with the Italian and European markets getting jittery over Italy's debt. Italy is the third most-indebted nation in the world, and holds the most debt of the European countries.

Italy's problem is different than Greece and Spain, though, and thus much more worrisome. It is a stable, good economy with strong industries that make it a global player, from Fiat to fashion to wine. Spain's economy involved centrally-planned job growth that had a lot to do with building infrastructure that now sits completed and unused, meaning a lot of money was spent giving people temporary jobs which they now cannot replace (in addition to other contagions within Spain). So, under its heavy debt, Spain doesn't have much going for it anyways at this point. Italy, though, is much different-- investors have every reason to trust in its economy. However, the massive debt of the Italian government has spooked them off, and like dominos it will hurt everything.

Even though the European Union, various European banks, and the Italian government are rushing to spare Italy from the chaos that has engulfed nations like nearby Greece, efforts are exasperated by a lack of confidence in the market and the current state of Italian politics. Last fall I lived in Italy, and I remember a rally thousands strong in the square outside of my Florentine apartment opposing hikes in college tuition prices-- I can only imagine the number of protestors and the level of anger now. On top of that, parliamentary infighting between scandal-plagued Italian Premiere Silvio Berlusconi and Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti has jittered the markets over concerns that the government will not be able to avert a default on their debt. Tremonti defiantly declared after a recent meeting on Belgium, "If I fall, so falls Italy," taking a shot at Berlusconi. He followed up with the real kicker, though- "If Italy falls, so does the Euro."

The Eurozone will not be able to sustain an Italian economic collapse, and the Euro--just a few years ago talked about as a possibility for replacing the dollar as the world currency--will become toxic. France, already looking more and more endangered, will likely follow Italy in economic collapse if their southern neighbor does fall down. The mighty economy of Germany, almost single-handedly holding up the entirety of the European Union, will not be able to hold up all of this weight. This will have a ripple effect on the entire world economy, and would likely reverse any progress made in the global recession. Indeed, it will return worse off than it was before, as both the United States and China, each facing their own problems, will not be able to sustain such blows in the global marketplace. The Italian crisis needs to be watched very, very carefully, and every effort made to avert collapse there.

It is interesting to note something a French national currently studying here in Washington told me the other day. For the longest time, the United States has always pointed to Europe and said that we cannot become them, highlighting our differences and thus why we are better off. In Europe, some political commentators would sometimes point to the United States a model economic and government systems. She says that now, though, the common line in France among radio and television personalities is pointing at the United States as a warning of things to come. France is relatively stable, but starting to shows cracks that would be broken open by an Italian default. They are now looking at both our federal government and our states like California, and using us now as an example of something to avoid rather than to follow. We are toxic. We are dangerous. We cannot be emulated on this current path we are on. In watching the crisis of the Eurozone unfold, America would do well not just to see it as a potential threat to us or something that may happen to us down the road-- America must realize that it is more of a reflection of our current woes. We're still in a lot of trouble, and if we don't swallow the hard medicine regarding our government expenditures soon, then we will join Italy and France alongside Greece and Ireland far sooner than we think.
Categories > Economy


Raw Deal?

James Capretta (whose judgment I really trust), slags the Gang of Six Plan.  I tend to agree.  The plan gives about as much as conservatives can reasonably give in a good faith center-left/center-right compromise when it comes to tax revenues (I can see a little more wiggle room on tax rates but not much.)  I'm okay with that as long as it is coupled with specific substantial long-term reductions and restructuring on the spending side.  Right now, the Republican votes to raise taxes and then get a promise that majority Democratic Senate committees will sometime later produce something later which will then be voted on through the reconciliation process. No sale.  On the other hand I can't see anything like major right-leaning reform (even if it includes higher revenues) passing this Senate.  One moral is that if Republicans want fundamental reform of the size and structure of the federal government along Ryan(ish) lines, they are going to have to win the argument and elections based on their preferred spending levels and entitlement reforms. 
Categories > Politics


The First Challenges to Progressivism

Every time I teach a course or give a talk on the seemingly irresistible rise of Progressivism in the early twentieth century, a dismayed student inevitably asks whether anyone at the time spoke out in defense of the Constitution and the principles of the American Founding. The answer, of course, is "yes," but with little sustained success. Still, Jonathan O'Neill has provided a very useful account of these "First Conservatives" in a recent Heritage Foundation First Principles essay. O'Neill summarizes the anti-Progressive arguments of Irving Babbitt, Frank L. Owsley, and Albert Jay Nock and their contributions to later forms of Conservatism and Libertarianism, but also identifies their common defect - a rejection of the natural rights doctrine of the American Founding. There were some Conservatives, however, such as David Jayne Hill and Elihu Root, who offered a more principled opposition to Progressivism. Hill was a founder of the National Association for Constitutional Government, which published The Constitutional Review, distributed pocket-sized copies of the Constitution, and even persuaded the American Bar Association "to help lawyers communicate constitutional principles to popular audiences at the local level." Unlike many other Conservatives at the time, the NACG defended the Constitution on the grounds that it was essential for the security of natural rights. In the work of the NACG and others, O'Neill identifies a useful model for the modern Conservative opposition to Liberal Progressivism. Definitely worth a careful read.

Categories > Conservatism



I love California. It is where I was born and, though self-exiled to this obnoxiously humid side of the country, still consider it home. The size and scope of the state make it the most variety-filled in the Union, and due to the complexities of my family when I was growing up I got to experience a great many different aspects of the Golden State. Most of my grandparents are immigrants in one way or another, and found there way to the Western coast in the last century. I was born in Cedars Sinai, a well-known hospital in the middle of Los Angeles. Most of my family works in entertainment, and I grew up around movie sets as if that were a normal aspect of life, and was exposed to that particular feature of California. However, I also spent half of my time up along the beautiful central coast in the small town of Lompoc, just north of Santa Barbara, trading movie sets for the ruins of the old Spanish Missions and hikes along the Santa Ynez riverbed. 

Lompoc was once known as the flower seed capital of the world, and many of my school friends up in Santa Maria (closest Catholic high school to Lompoc) came from families that ran farms or vineyards. It is also host to Vandenberg Air Force Base, and from my back porch we could see four of the rocket launch pads and had a great view whenever a missile was launched into the heavens. I learned how to drive both along the backcountry roads of the Santa Ynez Valley and the dangerously fun roads of Mulholland Drive. I attended symphonies at the Hollywood Bowl and the carnival at the Lompoc Flower Festival. I shopped in the Los Angeles Farmer's Market back before the Euro-wannabe Grove was put there, and regularly went to a real farmers market in the country of the central coast. My grandfather was a steel industrialist in the City of Industry and a noted philanthropist among the Jewish community in Los Angeles, and my step-grandfather was a gun-toting, boot-wearing sheriff in Santa Barbara County with a bust of John Wayne in his living room. Summers and nice weekends I would like to slip down towards Carlsbad to visit my cousins and enjoy the beautiful beach life of the southern coast. One of my favorite memories as a child was a day my Cub Scout group went up to the mountains to play in the snow for the day, and then had a cookout down on the beach for dinner. I love California and the experiences I had there.

Perhaps because of my love for the state and my somewhat unique life experiencing many different facets of her growing up, I have long been opposed to the oft-brought up notion of splitting the state up into smaller states. After watching the elections of 2008 and 2010, though, and the continued failures of Sacramento to fix the many, many great wrongs that Californians are suffering at the hands of government policy, I have started to become more amenable to the idea. The rotten stench of government bureaucracy and the centralization of politics has long been dulling the gleam of the Golden State, and has now pushed it not only to a precipice but, perhaps, even off the cliff already. Perhaps splitting it is the only parachute available to dull the coming crash. However, the recent proposal from Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone to split off the southern and Inland Empire counties and form "South California" is not a viable solution; what he proposes, which would cut off Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties from the south, is simply an extreme form of political gerrymandering.

However, a real North/South split is not such a ludicrous proposal. My roommate earlier this year was from the Bay Area, and we got to talking frequently about how different Northern Californians are from Southern Californians. Indeed, I realized that I never even went further north of San Luis Obispo in my life save from a trip to San Francisco once and occasional trips to the San Simeon area; I always complained that it was too cold and gray up there (words I ate upon attending college in Ohio!) and that the people dressed a little differently and were simultaneously neither as relaxed nor as formal as we in the south (a difficult notion to really explain), and that they had silly words like "hella" in their vocabulary, and Napa people were snobby about their wines compared to the central vineyards. Most of this is exaggeration, of course, but you do seem to head into a bit of a different land when you get up past Big Sur and Fresno. A split in half right about there between north and south makes sense. The north maintains the Port of San Francisco, the industry of Silicon Valley, and the fertile farmlands like Napa. The south maintains the Port of Los Angeles, the good land of the central coast and valley, and the industry of the southland (mostly aeronautics). Good and attractive universities and tourism centers remain in both. It would allow government to become a bit more localized, which is good for the south in particular as there are almost as many people between Los Angeles and San Diego as there are in Texas. The subsequent reorganization of counties, congressional districts, and some municipalities might do a lot in the long-term for federalism and lessen the burden on the weakened Californian economy.

Of course, it is not an easy thing and would not happen any time soon, nor would it solve all of California's many, many ills. Democrats will fight it tooth and nail for it will make federal politics a bit more competitive with the conservative-leaning southland and inland areas of southern California wielding a lot more leverage over Los Angeles and the coastal cities. For fear of increasing the numbers of Republican senators and losing the edge California usually gives them in the Electoral College they will fight it. As splitting the state would likely require a full constitutional amendment in addition to the approval of the state government, some deal would have to be made to make this happen-- a likely case being statehood for the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico (Ilya Somin gives his thoughts on this over at the Volokh Conspiracy). The odds are huge and thus unlikely, at least within the foreseeable future, but perhaps more people may come around to the idea that one of the best ways to begin to revive our lovely land by the sea would be easing the burden on Sacramento and localizing government more by a split. I'm still not entirely sold, but it certainly seems worth seriously considering.
Categories > Politics


Jeffersonian Problems

Apparently the latest criticism of Michelle Bachmann is that she gets migraine headaches. That hardly disqualifies someone from high office.  After all, Thomas Jefferson suffered from the same ailment.

Meanwhile, Bill's post below points out that "Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution has made a similar case, arguing that a nation whose government has 'most of its budget on automatic pilot and a fifth of its expenses unpaid for' has abandoned 'fiscal democracy.' That is, all of the budgetary decisions that matter were made decades ago when social insurance programs were created."

That reminds me of Jefferson's belief that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living, and "that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it."  For one generation to bind another with debts and other obligations to pay is for one set of people to tax another without their consent.  According to Mr. Jefferson, that is a version of involuntary servitude.  Our entitlement programs are moving close to that line, if it has not already crossed it.

Categories > Economy


Barack Obama, CIA Stooge?

Angelo Codevilla's latest:

His haughty demeanor, his stilted language when off the teleprompter, his cultural likes and dislikes, bespeak an upbringing in an environment at once so upscale and so leftist that it makes him almost a foreigner to ordinary Americans. . . .

Consistent with the Barack Obama we know, however, are his real family, his real upbringing, and his real choices of profession and associates. His mother's parents, who raised him, seem to have been cogs in the U.S. government's well-heeled, well-connected machine for influencing the world, whether openly ("gray influence") or covertly ("black operations"). His mother spent her life and marriages, and birthed her children, working in that machine. For paradigms of young Barack's demeanor, proclivities, opinions, language, and attitudes one need look no further than the persons who ran the institutions that his mother and grandparents served--e.g., the Ford Foundation, the United States Information Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency--as well as his chosen mentors and colleagues. It is here, with these people and institutions, that one should begin to unravel the unknowns surrounding him. . . .

[Barack] Obama [Sr.] was housed at the University of Hawaii's East-West Center facility funded by the Asia Foundation, itself funded by CIA.

Anyone and everyone knew that Barack Obama, Sr., and others like him had been brought to America to be influenced. . . . Ann's second child was born in a marriage to another such person at the East-West Center. The Indonesian government had sent Lolo Soetoro to the East-West Center as a "civilian employee of the Army." . . .

Ann ran a "micro-financing" project, financed by the Ford Foundation, in Indonesia's most vulnerable areas. Supervising the funding at Ford in the late '60s was Peter Geithner, whose son would eventually serve hers as U.S. secretary of the treasury. In addition to the Ford Foundation, the list of her employers is a directory of America's official, semi-official, and clandestine organs of influence: the United States Information Agency, the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank. While running a project for five years in Pakistan, she lived in Lahore's Hilton International. Nothing small time, never mind hippyish.

In sum, though the only evidence available is circumstantial, Barack Obama, Jr.'s mother, father, stepfather, grandmother, and grandfather seem to have been well connected, body and soul, with the U.S. government's then extensive and well-financed trans-public-private influence operations.

Categories > Presidency

Pop Culture

Box Office Magic

The final motion picture installment of the Harry Potter franchise opened this weekend to the most stunning film totals ever, garnering over $300 million worldwide in just the weekend (with it not even showing on Chinese screens yet!). Through midnight showings alone it flew past records and made $43.5 million. It is the best weekend ever for Hollywood, which is fitting for one of the most profitable film sagas in history. While the movie was not by any means a feat of greatness (I managed to go hide out in a theater for a few hours on Saturday), and certainly did not hold up to other saga endings (though Alan Rickman certainly merits some praise for his Severus Snape, and the special effects ought to get an Oscar nod), Harry Potter gave Hollywood a story that it loves and has figured out how to do well: the tale of a young and reluctant hero coming to age amidst tragedy and seemingly insurmountable odds. Like other sagas such as Star Wars, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings, this is a story that Hollywood likes to tell and sells well.

And this is a good thing. Saying nothing about other messages hidden within these films or issues with their presentation, the fundamental issue of these films moves beyond just good versus evil, getting to the fundamental issue at hand: choice. A common argument I run into against people with good hearts but a certain near-sightedness is that some individuals cannot be held fully accountable for their actions because they were forced into them; a criminal steals because society has made him impoverished, or a person is violent because they were abused as a child. Monsters like Hitler and Stalin, though they should be held accountable, should at least be given some understanding for the hardships in their early lives that made them who they are.

But, at the end of the day, there is always a choice. Every man chooses whether to commit good or evil. For some, because of their circumstances, this choice can be harder-- there is no denying that. But it is still a choice. The heroes in these sagas that make Hollywood rich are often humble people who have dealt with terrible things in their youth and are asked to accomplish really hard things, whether it is overthrowing an evil Galactic Empire or resisting the temptation of the One Ring or finding out how to finish off Lord Voldemort once and for all. If anyone has any reason to be angry at the world or seek the easy way out, it is our heroes in these franchises. Their insistence on always trying to make the right choice vexes their enemies, frustration visible in the eyes of Agent Smith and Voldemort as they come up against this resistance. Evil is there, for all of them, tempting them with the ease that it brings; good is harder to maintain, comes with more pain and suffering, and is almost always on the brink of being extinguished. In the end, though, after great sacrifices, the odds are overcome and the good guys make the right choices and thus win-- Frodo finds his peace, Luke dances around with the Ewoks, Zion is saved, the Boy Who Lived can send his own little wizards to Hogwarts. They are good people, and can see evil for what it is. They make the right choice. The tale is simple, the principles rigid, but Hollywood likes it because people like it and will pay to see it. Good for us.
Categories > Pop Culture


Between Barack and a Hard Place

So President Obama is threatening to veto a small ball bill, that raises the debt limit and has some modest cuts.  And it might be that that's the only kind of bill that can pass the House of Representatives.

Perhaps I was correct the other day when I suggested that this is not the best time to have a big fight over the size and job of government. As Rich Lowry concedes, "I may have vastly over-estimated Republican leverage on the debt limit."

If the smallball version can pass both the House and Senate, it's certainly worth sending to the President's desk.  If it gets there, that will make life very interesting.

Categories > Politics


Showdown At Ideology Gap

President Obama concluded his press conference last Friday by arguing that liberals ought to think about reducing the federal deficit not simply as a concession they're forced to make because conservatives have a significant degree of political power. They should, instead, view it as a necessary step to create more fiscal and political space for the elaboration of the liberal agenda: 

If you are a progressive, you should be concerned about [the] debt and deficit just as much as if you're a conservative. And the reason is because if the only thing we're talking about over the next year, two years, five years, is debt and deficits, then it's very hard to start talking about how do we make investments in community colleges so that our kids are trained, how do we actually rebuild $2 trillion worth of crumbling infrastructure.

If you care about making investments in our kids and making investments in our infrastructure and making investments in basic research, then you should want our fiscal house in order, so that every time we propose a new initiative somebody doesn't just throw up their hands and say, "Ah, more big spending, more government."

Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution has made a similar case, arguing that a nation whose government has "most of its budget on automatic pilot and a fifth of its expenses unpaid for" has abandoned "fiscal democracy." That is, all of the budgetary decisions that matter were made decades ago when social insurance programs were created. If those big programs are forever "off the table" then there will never be revenues for new programs to meet new challenges. Sawhill estimates that federal taxes will have to double or triple in the next 40 years just to fulfill the inviolable promises made by Medicare and Social Security. Not only would such taxes be intolerable in themselves, but they would obliterate all prospects for the government to do anything else on the liberal wish list.

The problem, of course, with sensible liberal arguments is that so many liberals end up rejecting them. Jonathan Cohn contends that opposition to the liberal agenda has less to do with the federal deficit than with suspicion about government in general, which goes back nearly half-a-century to the great disruptions of the 1960s. Joan Walsh argues that reducing spending to curtail deficits leads liberals in exactly the wrong direction. In her view, Barack Obama is making Bill Clinton's mistake, hoping in vain that fiscal rectitude will neutralize political opposition to new liberal initiatives. In fact, she says, the political space for American social democracy is already there, and liberal leaders would do more to expand it by closing "the gap between Democratic campaigning and Democratic governing," gratifying the liberal base rather than wasting political capital trying to placate liberalism's adversaries, in other words.

Walsh admits, however, that there's one teensy complication: According to public opinion surveys, there are large and durable majorities for all sorts of governmental expansions. "The problem is matching up the political beliefs measured by polling, and the political beliefs measured by voting, where lasting majorities on behalf of those priorities don't ever seem to materialize."

"I don't know exactly why that gap exists," she writes, but the gap is certainly the fundamental reason why liberals are so morose, always expecting and never experiencing the latitude and exhilaration of FDR's First Hundred Days in 1933. Many liberals are convinced that the public opinion surveys are accurate barometers of popular sentiment while the ballots Americans cast in elections are spurious. Much of the desire for campaign finance reform is to move the not-so-liberal election results in the direction of the considerably more liberal opinion survey results. The desire for more fundamental structural reforms - such as abolishing the filibuster, the equal representation of states in the Senate, or the Electoral College - partake of the same desire to make the Constitution a safe harbor for a permanent liberal majority drifting at sea.

The belief that polling results are valid and election results are irrelevant reflects the power of the "Howell Raines Fallacy," described by Mickey Kaus as the assumption, always consoling and usually lazy, "that one's righteous views are shared by the great and good American People." (The fallacy is named for a former editor of the New York Times, a journalist known in some quarters as Howl Reigns.) "HRF liberals are constantly calling in the American people as a cavalry (that never comes)," writes Kaus. The fallacy seduces people other than liberals, however: HRF conservatives had persuaded one another by 2005 that the electorate would insist on incorporating private savings accounts into Social Security if only a Republican president had the courage to propose it.

Beyond the Raines Fallacy problem, public opinion surveys are especially prone to overstate the attractiveness and political feasibility of expanding the welfare state. Intensity does and should matter in politics, and elections reflect intensity far more reliably and subtly than public opinion surveys. Democrats finally realized, for example, that polls showing majorities in favor of strict gun control laws were deceptive. The anti-gun majority contained few people who would vote for a politician on the basis of that issue, while the pro-gun minority contained a significant number of people who would vote, donate, and volunteer to defeat candidates who favored gun control and elect ones who opposed it. The "majority" position was, electorally, a loser. I suspect that a similar phenomenon explains part of the gap Joan Walsh laments: the people who tell Gallup they favor more spending on social welfare programs and higher taxes on the rich don't include many people who'll vote on that basis, while the people who take the conservative position on these questions in surveys are disproportionately likely to vote against government expanders and in favor of government restrictors.

Context also matters in politics, and is also better reflected by elections than surveys. It's easy to tell a pollster you're "for" more spending on noble sounding programs, when those sentiments don't cost anybody anything or require any hard choices about which taxes will be raised or which competing programs will be cut back in order to make budgetary room for the "favored" initiatives. As I've argued elsewhere, liberals like survey results because the polling context, artificially purged of scarcity or zero-sum dilemmas, is exactly the mindset liberals wish to bring to the enterprise of governance. It's when we consider pesky details - "How are we going to pay for all this stuff?" or "If the government does more of this - and this, and this - what, exactly, is it going to do less of?" - that the lasting majorities on behalf of the liberal wish list fail to materialize. There are any number of reasons to feel pessimistic about the future of conservatism, but the need to secure resources and set priorities won't soon disappear, which means it's likely to be a while before happy days are here again for liberalism.
Categories > Progressivism


Constitutional Conservatism

Never mind the First Amendment as it has been incorporated through the Fourteenth.  Herman Cain, who claims to so love our Founders, who do well to think about the principles behind one on the noblest documents written by the Father of our country.


The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy--a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.


It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Categories > Politics


Debt Ceiling Thoughts

  • They say that those who successfully fake authenticity can get away with anything. The corresponding danger is that when you try but fail to fake it you can't get anyone to believe you, even if you are being sincere. Barack Obama, graduate of Columbia and Harvard Law, sometimes - as in yesterday's news conference - drops his g's and refers repeatedly to what "folks" want and believe. The falsity of this rhetorical persona renders everything he tries to convey less plausible. 
  • The product President Obama was trying to sell yesterday was as dubious as the salesman. As Clive Crook pointed out, Obama's passivity often extends to speaking as though someone else has been president since January 2009: "Asked at the press conference to make one specific proposal on entitlement reform, he dodged yet again, merely laying out criteria for what he might be willing to accept if somebody else happened to come up with a plan." 
  • This leading-from-behind approach to the national debt not only clouds the future but distorts the past. In the press conference Obama yet again blamed the federal deficits on everyone but himself: "It turns out that our problem is we cut taxes without paying for them over the last decade; we ended up instituting new programs like a prescription drug program for seniors that was not paid for; we fought two wars, we didn't pay for them; we had a bad recession that required a Recovery Act and stimulus spending and helping states -- and all that accumulated and there's interest on top of that." You would never know that the Obama administration proposed a 2012 budget that told the American people that a national debt rising to nearly 100% of GDP over the coming decade was the best we could hope for and, really, nothing to worry about. Or that Obama treated the Bowles-Simpson Commission report as an interesting analysis that had no bearing on his administration's fiscal policy.
  • Other things don't add up. Even The New Republic, willing for four years to give Obama the benefit of every doubt, found his assertion that "some modest modifications" in Social Security and Medicare "can save you trillions of dollars" mystifying. The entitlement changes laid out so far by the budget negotiators reduce outlays by no more than $350 billion over the coming decade. The "trillions" claim could make sense only if Obama were prepared to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, as envisioned in the proposal put forward by Senators Lieberman and Coburn. If Obama is receptive to such an idea he is, again, waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting.
  • "We have a chance to stabilize America's finances for a decade, for 15 years, or 20 years, if we're willing to seize the moment," Obama said, but this "unique opportunity to do something big" would require "some shared sacrifice and a balanced approach" - a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Strangely, when Obama speaks of the tax changes he has in mind, the revenue they would generate for the government always sounds incidental. The real purpose is to give people facing a reduction in their government benefits tangible reasons to believe we're all in this together, that they are not being singled out for sacrifices. Thus, says Obama, the balanced approach would "require revenues" because "even as we're asking the person who needs a student loan or the senior citizen or people -- veterans who are trying to get by on a disability check -- even as we're trying to make sure that all those programs are affordable, we're also saying to folks like myself that can afford it that we are able and willing to do a little bit more; that millionaires and billionaires can afford to do a little bit more; that we can close corporate loopholes so that oil companies aren't getting unnecessary tax breaks or that corporate jet owners aren't getting unnecessary tax breaks."
  • Cutting $4 trillion from the projected national debt sounds surprisingly easy in Obama's telling: a modest modification of a social insurance program here, and asking a few gazillionaires to do a little bit more there, and before you know it we're running surpluses as far as the eye can see.  When you look at the numbers, though, you keep coming back to the fact that the Obama commitment that has put the country on the wrong path was his determination to significantly and permanently expand federal domestic programs while keeping his campaign promise to limit any and all tax increases to families making more than $250,000 per year.  As Derek Thompson points out, this pledge renders it very difficult to increase federal revenues by more than $1 trillion over the coming decade. That upper boundary, in turn, means that the progressive hope - a 50-50 split between revenue increases and spending cuts - could accommodate no more than $2 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years, not the $4 trillion that would be the lowest amount compatible with Obama's professed desire to "do something big."  
  • This failure to be clear and candid is not simply Obama's but a liberal failure of which Obama's $250,000 promise is a recent and clear instance. European social democrats not only want a government big enough to guarantee the economic well-being of every citizen, but are willing to acknowledge that the revenue base such an enterprise requires can be provided only through broad-based taxes, such as a value-added tax, which significantly reduce everyone's disposable income. American liberals want the former but shrink from the latter, thus committing themselves, stupidly or cynically, to the proposition that America can progress toward a social democracy with a tax system that curtails the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but no one else's.
  • Given all this, Republicans could be forgiven for echoing an old SNL parody: "I can't believe we're losing to this guy." But they are. Obama has "dramatically transformed the debate over the debt limit to his advantage," according to Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, using "the threat of post-August 2 turmoil to paint the Republicans as reckless and unreasonable." The source of this emerging political defeat is that "no [debt ceiling] increase can currently get 218 votes in the House. If House Republicans were voting to cut spending by $10 trillion and raise the debt ceiling by $10, they still might not be able to get a majority." This intransigence, meant to cow and constrain Obama, has wound up enhancing his leverage and flexibility. In Lowry's account, the "paralysis in the House" means Obama can suggest he's amenable to "phantom spending cuts that he's never compelled to reveal but that he takes credit for proposing in negotiations."
  • The no-retreat, no-surrender Republicans on Capitol Hill regard opposition to any and all debt ceiling and tax increases as a matter of principle. Believing that government has already taxed and borrowed enough, they refuse to be complicit in any plan to tax and borrow more. Principles are necessary for governing ably, but not sufficient. Statesmanship requires the application of timeless principles to transient realities, which are usually complex and difficult to perceive with clarity. In a democracy, where public sentiment is the ultimate arbiter of all questions, statesmanship requires an understanding of what the people will insist on, cannot abide, and might tolerate, which must be far more subtle and discerning than the insight such crude measures as public opinion surveys can provide. On the fundamental question about the size, scope and financing of American government, public sentiment is inchoate, not clear and resolute. As Crook argues, when Democratic politicians vow to "defend Medicare and Social Security" and Republican ones promise to "roll back wasteful government and [oppose] job-killing tax increases," the public "agrees with both sides."
  • In politics it's better to be right than wrong, but it's imperative to be right shrewdly, in ways that attract allies and divide adversaries by presenting them with difficult choices. Within the public's contradictory feelings about the welfare state, it's possible to discern the raw material for an enduring center-right consensus. The fact that Democrats refuse to advocate wide-spread tax increases, and that the welfare state can't begin to approach European dimensions until they not only produce but sell such arguments, suggests that our distinctive don't-tread-on-me spirit continues to make an American social democracy impossible. For that consensus to dominate American politics, causing the welfare state to ingest a decline proportion of a growing economy, will require the smartest and not merely the most unyielding efforts of conservative politicians. One idea Republicans should consider is Kevin Williamson's: "a very narrowly tailored bill that would permit the issuance of new debt -- but only for the purpose of financing current debt service." Under such a law, "The national debt no doubt will rise, but only by as much as it costs to refinance current obligations." In the unlikely event Obama and the Democrats want to do something about our deficits, as opposed to doing nothing about them while getting credit for wishing to address the problem, that plan would permit and ultimately require them to put some cards on the table. Such a course compares favorably to the Republicans' current negotiating path, which will lead them to "take much of the blame [for any default] without having achieved any tactical or strategic aim," in Lowry's assessment. "The last thing Republicans should want," he correctly points out, "is to make President Obama fortunate in his adversaries."
Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

Politics and the Art of Computer Maintenance

I have a light-hearted exegesis on political philosophy over at Intellectual Conservative. A sample:

I'm having computer troubles - like everyone else - and that got me thinking about politics. In the political vernacular, "PC" is shorthand for "politically correct" (the hyper-sensitive self-censorship expected of normal people by America's self-appointed diversity police), but another PC, the personal computer, contains far more insight into modern politics.

Let's start with origins. The computer's predecessor was the trusty old calculator. The calculator pretty much did what you might have been able to do yourself, but did it faster, more efficiently and with less prospect of error. That's also a fine prescription for good government. In the limited-government scheme of the American Founders, government exists to do those things citizens can't do efficiently on their own.

Naturally, I think the whole politics-by-analogy article is worth a read.


Notes From The Week That Was

I've been away,

1.  Megan McArdle explains why an extended failure to raise the debt ceiling would be a policy and political disaster (though that doesn't mean that the sky falls on August 3.)

2.  The Democrats seem to be taking Mitch McConnell's offer of a compromise as a sign of weakness and are increasing their demands. 

3.  Ross Douthat notes that we are unlikely to get a sustainable budget until at least 2013.  

4.  The economic climate could change, but Obama is currently vulnerable but not doomed.  The Republicans still need a plausible challenger who is both visibly competent, and can explain incremental reformist policies to swing voters.  I don't really see that candidate currently running.  God help me, but Romney is coming the closest, but I don't think he will wear well.  (though he might beat Obama in a favorable environment - if he gets out of the primaries.)

5.  If Obama is reelected, even if Republicans retain the House and gain the Senate, Obama will still be in a strong position to shape policy within a deteriorating fiscal environment.  It takes time to responsibly phase in entitlement cuts and introduce market-oriented reforms into the health care sector.  In the US context, it is much easier to suddenly raise taxes and centrally ration health care than to cut benefits and convert Medicare into a premium support program.  2012 is important because an Obama victory means that our policy options narrow and worsen.  Time is running out.

6.  This puts me in mind of something Mitch Daniels said earlier in the year:


Here I wish to be very plainspoken: It is up to us to show, specifically, the best way back to greatness, and to argue for it with all the passion of our patriotism. But, should the best way be blocked, while the enemy draws nearer, then someone will need to find the second best way. Or the third, because the nation's survival requires it.

Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers. King Pyrrhus is remembered, but his nation disappeared. Winston Churchill set aside his lifetime loathing of Communism in order to fight World War II. Challenged as a hypocrite, he said that when the safety of Britain was at stake, his "conscience became a good girl." We are at such a moment. I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our Republic saying "I told you so" or "You should've done it my way."


Okay, the stuff about the "passion of our patriotism" is clunky writing but the point is sound.  Come what may, politics won't end in 2012 and it will be our responsibility to bring the most good possible out of whatever circumstances we face. 

7.  Run Bobby Run.  For President.  

Categories > Politics


How to Save $7 billion per year

From an article on the government and the non-profit sector in the Winter, 2011 issue of National Affairs:

The conclusion of a January 2010 report by the federal Department of Health and Human Services-titled Head Start Impact Study--that compared Head Start participants of a contrl group.  The study found that virtually all gains in vocabulary, math, and other skills realized by Head Start children had dissipated by the time the students completed the first grade.  To Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution and Jon Baron of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, the report demostrated that the program "had almost no effect on children's cognitive, social-emotional, or health outcomes at the end of 1st grade."

According to the same article, by Howard Husock, Head Start receives $7 billon per year.  Perhaps we would save a bit less than that by shutting it down, as we would have to pay unempoyment for the people who are employed by the program.  It might also be wise to use another chunk of that money to look for more effective ways to improve education.  So let's call it $6.5 billion per year.

Categories > Education

Foreign Affairs

Wave Running Out?

Michael Barone notes that the most recent wave of migration might be petering out.  Looking back at past waves of immigration to America, he notes that experts always assume that the future will resemble the past, particularly the recent past, "almost no one predicted that these surges of migration would begin -- and almost no one predicted that they would stop when they did."

That might be true again:

From 1980 to 2008 more than 5 million Mexicans legally entered the United States. And Mexicans account for about 60 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today.

Immigration policymakers have assumed that the flow of Mexican immigrants would continue indefinitely at this high level. But now evidence is accumulating that this vast surge of migration is ending.

The Pew Hispanic Center, analyzing census statistics, has estimated that illegal Mexican entrants have been reduced from 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004 to 100,000 a year in 2010.

"The flow has already stopped," Douglas Massey of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University recently told the New York Times. "The net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative."

Barone suspects that declining conditions in the U.S. and improved ones in Mexico account for the change.  If Barone is on target, it is an interesting and important trend.  He suggests it would allow us to focus our immigration policy on attracting more skilled and educated immigrants.  It might also give us time to assimilate the latest wave of immigrants.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Philosophy

Negativism on Positivism

Strauss and Voegelin on Popper. Ouch!

Straus to Voegelin:

May I ask you [Voegelin] to let me know sometime what you think of Mr. Popper. He gave a lecture here [at the New School for Social Research], on the task of social philosophy, that was beneath contempt: it was the most washed-out, lifeless positivism trying to whistle in the dark, linked to a complete inability to think "rationally," although it passed itself off as "rationalism" -- it was very bad. I cannot imagine that such a man ever wrote something worthwhile reading, and yet it appears to be a professional duty to become familiar with his productions.

Voegelin to Strauss:

You are quite right to say that it is a vocational duty to make ourselves familiar with the ideas of such a work when they lie in our field; I would hold out against this duty the other vocational duty, not to write and to publish such a work. In that Popper violated this elementary vocational duty and stole several hours of my lifetime, which I devoted in fulfilling my vocational duty, I feel completely justified in saying without reservation that this book is impudent, dilettantish cr*p.


Default Warnings Overblown

Obama Administration officials and Members of Congress continue to warn us that when we reach the debt ceiling on August 2nd, we will default on our debt obligations. Moody's Investors Service, one of these obnoxious credit ratings agencies that is given far more influence over world markets than it probably should have, announced that it has put the U.S. Treasury ratings on review for a downgrade in the wake of the government's continued failure to reach a deal. Things probably were not helped today when President Obama walked out of a negotiating meeting with Congressional leadership and Majority Leader Cantor said that all progress in negotiations had been completely erased.

To emphasize, reaching the debt limit does not mean we instantly default. We will still have the money to pay off what we owe. However, we will not have money to run most other things in government, so it would still be painful. If it came down to it, though, we can (and arguably by the 14th Amendment must) continue to meet our loan obligations. Default on our debt would be a purely political choice by the government, not an automatic one. Cries of default are just political scare tactics that are making the markets panic early.
Categories > Economy


Ave Caesar

Happy Birthday, Caesar. 2111 years ago, Gaius Julius Caesar was born in Rome. The "noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times" would go on to be spared in the proscriptions of Sulla, fight pirates, conquer Gaul, invade the Rhineland and Britain, subjugate Egypt, and make himself the unparalleled master of the ancient world. As Dictator for Life, the lean and hungry men of the Senate feared he would become a tyrant and name himself King, so under the leadership of his good friend Marcus Brutus they murdered him at a meeting of the Senate. In one of the many ironies of history in Caesar's life, he died at the foot of a statue of his old friend and rival, Pompey Magnus. His adopted heir, Octavian, would finish his conquests and establish the Roman Empire, bringing with it a time of peace and prosperity unparalleled in Europe until the modern day. He remains one of the few Ancients who is familiar to even those who do not study history.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Caesar is his name. When Brutus and Cassius killed him, they sought to kill the idea of Caesar as well as the man. In this, though, they emphatically failed, as Octavian took the name Caesar upon himself and it lived on to vanquish all those who had tried to destroy it. So great was Julius Caesar that his name was itself transformed into a political title associated with complete power and grandeur. Indeed, from Caesar's rise to the dictatorship of the Roman Republic until the deposition of Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria in 1946, there was always a chief of state in the world who bore a variation of Caesar's name--the most famous of the Moderns being the Czar of Russia and the Kaiser of Germany. They chose his name over simple titles like "king" or "emperor" because they all sought to position themselves as successors to this man who had managed to transcend all other men and become like a god on Earth-- and if he was not godlike on Earth, the Romans certainly made sure to deify him in death.

Then we Americans, of course, came along. With our Founders nervous of the likes of Caesar, and understanding of the temptation such a man could bring with him, they purposefully sought to make sure that such a name is not given the grandeur that it has received for the past two thousand years. So far it seems we have been successful, as the images most Americans associate with the name Caesar now include a salad, a pizza chain, and a Las Vegas casino, as well the butt of jokes in movies like The Hangover and Mean Girls. One interesting thing, though, is the phenomenon of naming certain officials in the Executive Branch "czar" lately. The Drug Czar, the Car Czar, the Global Warming Czar, the Healthcare Czar. Caesar essentially represents the centralization of power with one governing authority, as do these executive czars that came to prominence over the last few administrations. On the one hand we now have the ghost of Caesar haunting our halls of government, but on the other we have further ridiculed this name by giving it to a few self-glorified bureaucrats, "peevish schoolboys unworthy of such an honor". Amusing. It is also an interesting note that the independence of our great republic is celebrated in the month named for Julius Caesar. At times I hope that our Founders did that on purpose.
Categories > History

The Family

It's Bigamy Too!

As Groucho would say.

Ann Althouse points us to a lawsuit in Utah challenging the state's ban on polygamy.  The suit is not asking to legalize polygamy, per say, but only saying that the state has no right to prosecute someone who is legally married to only one person, but, in fact, considers himself married to several women, "Mr. Brown has a civil marriage with only one of his wives; the rest are "sister wives," not formally wedded."

Professor Althouse comments:

I think the Lawrence-based argument for decriminalizing polygamy is much stronger than the Lawrence-based argument for requiring the government to give legal recognition to same-sex marriage. One is an argument demanding only that the government leave them alone as they pursue their "own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." The other is a demand that the government alter its treatment of its citizens, giving them access to to the benefits of having the official status as a married couple.

If each of us has the right to purshue his "own concept of existence," then we are free to choose to be slaves, no?  On what grounds, other than an underlying idea of what it is to be human, can one justify the right of an individual to choose how he will live?

I am also reminded of the bit in Natural Right and History were Strauss discusses Max Weber: "Weber's own formulation of his categoric imperative was 'Follow thy demon' or 'Follow thy god or demon.'  It would be unfair to complain that Weber forgot the possibility of evil demons."  Basically the same idea as Bill Cosby's comments on cocaine. (at 3:50 or so).

Categories > The Family

Refine & Enlarge

The American Mind

Today's Farmer Letter follows on the heels of the Fourth's "Novus Ordo Seclorum", and meditates on how it is that the ordinary children of the earth have a right to rule themselves.

Categories > Refine & Enlarge


Tax Facts

Peter Schrag, a veteran California journalist and author of several books on the state, now writes a weekly column for the California Progress Report.  In the latest, he compares Sacramento's fiscal problems to Washington's, and finds that at both the state and national levels, "government and government services are being taken down piece by piece. The paucity of revenues has become an immutable political absolute, like the law of gravity, even as the rich get richer and pay an ever-shrinking share of the taxes. They pay less than in the past, less as a share of their income and wealth, and less compared to the share paid by others."

One of his readers replies that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Schrag's last three contentions are, respectively, wrong, misleading, and wrong, at least as they pertain to federal taxation. According to a June 2010 report, the "total average federal tax rate" - the sum of federal income, social insurance, corporate and excise tax liabilities divided by household income - for the top percentile of the income distribution was 37% in 1979 and 29.5% in 2007. In constant 2007 dollars, the average household income of the top percentile was $550,000 in 1979 and $1,873,000 in 2007, meaning that it paid $203,500 in federal taxes in 1979 and $552,535 in 2007 - a 172% increase, adjusted for inflation, in the average federal tax bill.

As for the second claim, yes, the rich paid a smaller percentage of their income in federal taxes in 2007 than in 1979 - the CBO report doesn't address the question of household net worth - but everybody paid a smaller portion of their income in federal taxes in 2007 than in 1979. The top-percentile decline from 37% to 29.5% represents a 20% decrease. For households in the lowest quintile of the income distribution the total average federal tax rate declined from 8% in 1979 to 4% in 2007, a 50% decrease. For the second quintile the rate declined from 14.3% to 10.6%, a 26% decrease. For the middle quintile the decline was from 18.6% to 14.3%, a 23% decrease. For the fourth quintile the figures are 21.2% in 1979 and 17.4% in 2007, an 18% decrease.  

Finally, the contention that the rich paid lower taxes compared to the share paid by others is contradicted by the CBO data.  Its report states that the "share of total federal tax liabilities" paid by households in the top percentile of the income distribution nearly doubled between 1979 and 2007, from 15.4% to 28.1%. The additional 12.7% of the total federal tax liability borne by top-percentile households in 2007 corresponds to the 12.6% decline in the payments of all federal taxes from households in the first four quintiles of the income distribution. Those families paid 43.5% of all taxes in 1979 and 30.9% in 2007.
Categories > Economy



Within international law--since the Peace of Westphalia created the modern international system in 1648--sovereignty is understood to be the quality of having complete and independent authority over a geographic area, most likely an entity with a monopoly on the use of force within that territory. Within the classical usage, the moral authority of the entity exercising that force (in the United States, that authority resting with "we the people") is important to true sovereignty. As understood within international law, a sovereign state maintains territorial integrity over its area, has borders that are to be inviolable by other states, and maintains supremacy in the making of laws within its boundaries. There are, of course, some exceptions to this definition such as the Holy See, the Knights of Malta, and Native American tribes, but the general idea is the same.

In response to the recent execution of convicted child rapist and murderer Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican national, by the state of Texas, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has declared that the state of Texas violated international law. Pillay referenced a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2004 that ordered the United States to review and reconsider the cases of the 51 Mexican citizens on death row in the United States, including Garcia's (who was convicted of raping, mutilating, and murdering 16-year-old Adria Sauceda in 1994). As the United States rightly does not recognize the sovereignty of the International Court of Justice within its territory, as by law nothing can be higher than the laws of the U.S. Constitution, this order was ignored. Ignoring requests from the Mexican government, President George W. Bush, and President Obama, Governor Rick Perry's press secretary said, "Texas is not bound by a foreign court's ruling." The United States Supreme Court declined to get involved.

Now, the United States is a signatory of the 1969 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which does stipulate foreign nationals must be put in contact with their embassies so that lawyers may be provided and their citizens looked after. However, in the 2008 Supreme Court case Medellin v. Texas, the 6-3 majority maintained its history of declaring that foreign treaties are not binding on domestic courts until domestic laws are passed in line with the treaty. President Obama, like President Bush before him, believed that America would be violating its treaty obligations if it executed foreign nationals without obeying the Vienna agreement. However, had President Obama really been concerned with the issue, then he would have known that the Supreme Court maintains American sovereignty within American territory and would have worked to, in the two years his party controlled Congress, make federal law in line with the obligations of the treaty.

Without arguing the merits of the death penalty itself (as that is an entirely different argument to get into), the real issue here is sovereignty. This man raped and murdered an American teenager on American soil, and thus he is subject to American law (and, in particular, Texan law). While we are signatories of the Vienna Convention, the Supreme Court is right to uphold the fact that the United States Constitution is the sovereign law of the land, and unless federal or state law is in line with an international treaty, that treaty's obligations are not applicable to domestic courts. Texas did not violate international law by executing Leal, as it was a domestic issue and international law is not sovereign over domestic courts. However, the governments of Mexico and Honduras do have legitimate complaints about the United States government violating their sovereignty and breaking international and federal law by arming malicious and murderous criminals in their nations with weapons that have been used to kill their government officials and citizens.
Categories > Courts


Gunrunning Scandal Grows

As the investigation into the secret gunrunning operation Fast and Furious continues to inch closer and closer to Attorney General Eric Holder's guilt, it has been revealed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) sent over 1,000 additional weapons to criminals in Honduras. MS-13 is a terribly organized and murderous gang with operations stretching from El Salvador to Los Angeles, responsible for killing cops and innocents throughout the Americas. As we armed Mexican drug cartels with Operation Fast and Furious, now we have allegedly armed MS-13 in Honduras with Operation Castaway. If the reports on this second gunrunning mission are true, then the Department of Justice has knowingly let thousands of weapons slip into the hands of criminal enterprises known for wanton murder, drug trafficking, modern day human slavery, political assassinations, and general terrorism.

Congressional Democrats are attempting to turn this illegal operation into an excuse to call for harsher gun restrictions within the United States, while Congressional Republicans led by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) are seeking to get to the bottom of the scandal and find out who among the highest echelons of the Justice Department knew of Fast and Furious. Right now, President Obama is standing by his Attorney General, who has claimed that he neither knew of nor authorized the gunrunning scheme. ATF's Acting Director, Kenneth Mellon, is set to appear before a Senate committee investigating the issue later this month, and if it is anything like his previous comments to Congress, President Obama may very well have to start distancing himself from Eric Holder, whom Congressman Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley have accused of blocking their investigation.

As whistleblower Peter Forcelli, an ATF agent, said: "We weren't giving guns to people who are hunting bears. We were giving guns to people who were killing other humans." There really is little difference between our government giving weapons to cartels in the Americas and the Iranian government arming militants in the Middle East. The intentions may very well have been different, but the means and the actual ends were not. All involved must be held accountable, and Congress should not let up in its investigation, even in the midst of this debt crisis. I do not believe that President Obama had knowledge of the operation, but it very much seems like Eric Holder must have. The Attorney General should be subpoenaed and his records checked.
Categories > Congress


Just A Thought

Disclaimer: I'm on a laptop and subject to balky WiFi so no links or spell checking.  Sorry

I was watching Fox New Sunday yesterday and the panelists were discussing how last Friday's lousy unemployment report mean both sides are digging in.  Maybe Obama has decided that the unmeployment report means he should now adopt a higher risk strategy to reelection.  It minght look something like this:

It is unlikely that he will be able, by November 2012, to convince the majority of the public that he is doing a GOOD job on the economy,but he could win a aganist a divided and/or discredited Republican Party.  So he could hold out for a either a deal on his terms or let some kind of partial government shutdown occur until the Republicans capitulate due to public pressure.  His terms could well some combination of phony cuts (of the kind Ross Douthat described on his blog) and distant cuts that would never be implemented in the event of an Obama reelection and hundreds of billions of tax increases implemented up front.  The purpose of a deal on such terms would be to split and demoralize the Republican Party by fomenting a war between the Washington leadership and those who identify as Tea Party supporters.  If Republicans don't take the deal, Obama can take his chances that the Republicans will take the blame when Social Security checks and veterans benefits are reduced(for however long the standoff lasts) when the government runs short of money and tries to avoid a sovereign default.

Categories > Politics


Happy Birthday, JQA

In honor of John Quincy Adams' birthday today, I thought it would be fitting to post a link, and some words from, his speech of July 4, 1837:

The most celebrated British moralist of the age, Dr. Samuel Johnson, in a controversial tract on the dispute between Britain and her Colonies, had expressly laid down as the basis of his argument, that--"All government is essentially absolute. That in sovereignty there are no gradations. That there may be limited royalty; there may be limited consulship; but there can be no limited government. There must in every society be some power or other from which there is no appeal; which admits no restrictions; which pervades the whole mass of the community; regulates and adjusts all subordination; enacts laws or repeals them; erects or annuls judicatures; extends or contracts privileges; exempts itself from question or control; and bounded only by physical necessity." (Johnson's Taxation no Tyranny)

The Declaration of Independence was founded upon the direct reverse of all these propositions. It did not recognize, but implicitly denied, the unlimited nature of sovereignty. By the affirmation that the principal natural rights of mankind are unalienable, it placed them beyond the reach of organized human power; and by affirming that governments are instituted to secure them, and may and ought to be abolished if they become destructive of those ends, they made all government subordinate to the moral supremacy of the People.

The Declaration itself did not even announce the States as sovereign, but as united, free and independent, and having power to do all acts and things which independent States may of right do. It acknowledged, therefore, a rule of right, paramount to the power of independent States itself, and virtually disclaimed all power to do wrong. This was a novelty in the moral philosophy of nations, and it is the essential point of difference between the system of government announced in the Declaration of Independence, and those systems which had until then prevailed among men. A moral Ruler of the universe, the Governor and Controller of all human power is the only unlimited sovereign acknowledged by the Declaration of Independence; and it claims for the United States of America, when assuming their equal station among the nations of the earth, only the power to do all that may be done of right.

Categories > History


Is the Time Now?

Steve Hayward and others are calling this our "Reykjavik moment."  The argument being:

Gorbachev offered huge concessions to the United States on nuclear weaponry, culminating in the central agreement to abolish all strategic nuclear weapons in 10 years.  But there was a catch: Reagan had to give up development of missile defense.  Reagan said "Nyet," and the summit collapsed. . . .

The budget talks in search of a "grand deal" that are apparently under way this weekend look like the fiscal equivalent of Reykjavik: Obama may well offer substantial reform of entitlements a decade down the road, in return for a GOP concession on taxes today.  On the surface it will look like Obama is willing to break with his base, and in a sense he would be, as Nancy Pelosi will prostrate herself in front of the Social Security Administration.  But Speaker Boehner should nonetheless say "Nyet" to this deal. . . .

If the budget talks between now and August 2 (the debt ceiling deadline) collapse because of a GOP refusal to raise taxes, liberals and the media (but I repeat. . .) will howl at the moon, but Obama will have little choice but to come back to the table on Republican terms.

Is that necessarily the case?  Will President Obama avoid default at all costs?  If there is no deal, the executive branch will try to make it as painful as possible for the American people, and do its best to blame the GOP for it--just as President Clinton did when he refused to deal the GOP Congress offered in 1995.

If there's a default, it will be very expensive.  Taxes will almost certainly have to go up.  Or would it be so expensive that, even with heavy tax hikes, it will be impossible not to make major cuts to the modern bureaucratic, administrative, welfare state.

This is no fight over loaves and fishes.  This is a fight over what the job of government is, and, hence, since the law inevitably shape national character, over the kind of people the Americans will be in the future.  That's why both sides are dug in.  But is this the right place and time to make a stand?  Why would the GOP win if no one blinks until after August 2, (or whenever we finally do really have to do something about America's financial obligations)?  My instinct is that there are too many people in Washington who enjoy making deals too much, and who are too averse to bad publicity for this to turn out as Hayward and others hope.

Categories > Progressivism


Government Motors, Preforming as Expected

The wonders of large, bureaucratic planning:

The "inventory of Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size trucks stood at 122 days at the end of June, according to the Automotive News Data Center." AN says the preferred inventory number is 80 days. . . .

And guess who is profiting from the change of fortunes?

Midsize-truck buyers must look to Japan. The midsize-truck segment has largely become a neglected stepchild of the U.S. auto market. . . . The domestic Big Three have essentially mothballed their midsize efforts to focus on more popular - and higher-profit -- large pickups. The Japanese giants in the U.S. now dominate the midsize-truck business.

Bonus question: are American bureaucracies worse than those of other countries?  If there is truth to multiculturalism, presumably some cultures create more and others less efficient bureaucracies. 

Categories > Economy


U.S. Women's Advance to Semi-Finals

The #1 ranked U.S. women's soccer team just beat #3 Brazil by one point in an overtime penalty kick shootout. The U.S. team, playing 55 minutes with a woman down, scored a literal last minute goal to tie up the game at 2-2 (following two goals by Brazil's forward, five-time FIFA world player of the year, Marta), sending the match into overtime. Described as gritty and winning over the German crowd, the women's team now moves into the semi-finals, scheduled for Wednesday against France. Japan and Sweden will also compete in a semifinal match on Wednesday.

I didn't even know there was a women's U.S. soccer team, let alone that we were ranked #1 and one game away from the FIFA World Cup. Strange what happens when you are surrounded by Europeans.

Categories > Sports


Priuses: Battle Formation! The Implacable Left Reads Obama the Riot Act

This week marks a milestone in the deteriorating relationship between President Obama and "the professional Left" former press secretary Robert Gibbs once disparaged. In his debut article for New York magazine, Frank Rich said that Obama's core problem is that "he is an elitist of a certain sort. For all the lurid fantasies of the birthers, the dirty secret of Obama's background is that the values of Harvard, not of Kenya or Indonesia or Bill Ayers, have most colored his governing style. He falls hard for the best and the brightest white guys." A lot of those guys work on Wall Street, and Rich believes that locking them all up would avenge the 2008 financial meltdown.  (Rich assumes but never demonstrates that such vengeance would restore prosperity. The logic and evidence argue it would make matters worse.) 

According to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, Obama declined to discipline the malefactors of great wealth not only because he likes the kind of people he met at Columbia and Harvard who wound up on Wall Street, but because he was compromised by all the campaign contributions he received from the financial industry. In 2008 Taibbi was one of those who "thought that Obama might be that rare, once-in-a-generation-type political talent who could help the country rise above itself." Even then, however, Taibbi wondered whether Obama was, more simply, "full of s--t," and now concludes that the president's failure to hoist taxes on capital gains, dividends and hedge fund managers confirms his darkest fears.

Obama has also dismayed the historian Michael Kazin, who laments that Obama "appears to have no strategy for creating a long-term majority--either for his party or for the progressive causes he believes in." Obama's sins are those of omission, Kazin argues. The president supposes that "solving immediate [policy] problems is the key to political victory." In reality, the political transformation people expected him to catalyze requires "a compelling vision of what kinds of policies Americans need and a set of powerful institutions that can motivate and mobilize voters," a vision Obama can't or won't offer.

These were the charges filed before the stories Thursday that the president was open to, even promoting, the inclusion of cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in a deficit-reduction deal. In the aftermath of that development, Granolageddon is now upon us, as the liberal commentariat heaps abuse and contempt on Obama. Putting Social Security on the table, according to Michael Tomasky, "reveals yet again, and more starkly than ever before, what's most important to [Obama]. It's not to lead. It's not to fight. It's not even to win. It's to be the most reasonable and unflappable person in the room. Obama will not be a transformational president unless the transformation starts in his own DNA." Tomasky reckons that the politician who made liberals swoon in 2008 has the skills of a successful college basketball coach, but ones which "are serving him and the Americans who want to believe in him very poorly."

Tomasky was the composed person at the table.  Paul Krugman, who expressed deep misgivings about Obama during the 2008 nomination contest with Hillary Clinton, is now writing, "It's getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama's motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right.... Watching Mr. Obama and listening to his recent statements, it's hard not to get the impression that he is now turning for advice to people who really believe that the deficit, not unemployment, is the top issue facing America right now, and who also believe that the great bulk of deficit reduction should come from spending cuts."

Salon's Glenn Grunwald is also resigned to the assessment that Obama really "believes in the corporatist agenda he embraces ... If it means 'painful' entitlement cuts for ordinary Americans at a time of massive unemployment, economic anxiety and exploding wealth inequality, so be it." Not only is this Democratic president prepared "to lead the way in slashing programs that have long been the crown jewels of his party, defense of which is the central litmus test for whether someone is even a Democrat." Grunwald argues that Team Obama has also calculated, cynically but shrewdly, that they'll get away with triangulation for the same reason Bill Clinton did: The bitter, betrayed Left has nowhere else to go. "White House aides will just utter Michele Bachmann enough times like some magical spell and snap more than enough people into fear-induced compliance. The last thing the White House is worried about - the last thing - is its 'base.'"

Top Prize in the venom competition goes to Jane Hamsher, proprietress of the Firedoglake asylum. Obama has always been the kind of neo-liberal happy to scale back entitlement programs, she contends, and the Democrats who imagine themselves "progressives" have always pretended to be defiant - right up to the moment they fold like a lawn chair. They did it during the health care debate on the public option, she writes, and they'll do it again on Social Security. For Hamsher, a Democratic president amenable to cutting Social Security is the last straw, the "breaking point." 

What we're watching is the death of the Democratic Party. Or, at least the Democratic Party as most of us have known it. The one that has taken its identity in the modern era from FDR and the New Deal, from Keynesianism and the social safety net. Despite any of its other shortcomings (and they are myriad), the Democratic Party has stood as a symbol for commitment to these principles.  As recently as 2006, Democrats retook the House in a surprise wave election because the public feared that George Bush would destroy Social Security, and they trusted the Democrats over Republicans to secure it. Just like George Bush, Obama now wants to "save" Social giving those who want to burn it to the ground the the very thing they've wanted for decades.

Any member of any party who participates in this effort does not deserve, and should not get, the support of anyone who values Social Security and cares about its preservation. The amount of damage that the Democrats under Obama have been able to do has been immeasurable, by virtue of the fact that they are less awful [than] George Bush. But where George Bush failed, Obama will probably succeed....

We'll fight this, because it's the right thing to do. We will probably lose. But we will make it as painful as possible for any politician from any party to participate in this wholesale looting of the public sphere, this "shock doctrine" for America. And maybe along the way we'll get a vision of what comes next. Because what we believe in as Americans, and what we stand for, is not something the Democratic party represents any more.

Barack Obama, a state senator running for an open seat in the U.S. Senate, became an overnight sensation and a national political figure with a speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, which proclaimed "there is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America." Liberals and conservatives remain disunited in many ways, but Barack Obama has helped more and more of them agree on at least one thing: he can't do the job during the daytime after a good night's sleep any better than he can at three in the morning.
Categories > Progressivism


Scandalous, Fast and Furious

The scandal surrounding the secretive Operation Fast and Furious continues to grow and reach higher and higher to the top of President Obama's Department of Justice. This entire disaster is a glaring example of how many of our premiere crime-fighting (and terrorist-stopping) agencies--the DOJ, FBI, DEA, ATF--are still not sharing intelligence or communicating effectively, placing internal politics above national security interests. Operation Fast and Furious, a secret part of Project Gunrunner administered by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was an illegal gun trafficking sting started in 2009 in which ATF officials released at least 2,000 guns into Mexico with the intention of tracking these guns down in order to indict cartels in the ongoing Mexican Drug War. Apparently overlooking the fact that giving guns to these ruthless murderers was a bad idea, we quickly lost track of many of the guns; only 600 are known to have been recovered by the US and Mexican governments. These weapons that we gave to the cartels have been used in at least 150 shootings, and were used in the murder of US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry last December.

After Terry was killed, Congress opened an investigation into this covert operation, with Congressman Darrel Issa (R-CA) holding hearings last month. The investigation has so far discovered, thanks to whistleblowers, that ATF knowingly allowed over 2,000 guns to be sold illegally, that ATF leadership forbade its agents from arresting these individuals, and that ATF agents who raised objections to the program were threatened with job retaliation if they spoke out. Indeed, one of the whistleblowers, Vince Cefalu, has been given termination papers. Cefalu had been complaining about what he thought were illegal ATF wiretaps for years, and, though he had a spotless service record for over 18 years, received his first unsatisfactory evaluation when he complained about the wiretaps in 2005. After taking part in uncovering this ill-conceived gunrunning operation, his job has been terminated by the ATF.

Testifying before the Judiciary Committee some time ago, Attorney General Eric Holder declared that he knew absolutely nothing about the existence of this program. Acting ATF Director Ken Melson said that he did not know of its existence until after Brian Terry was murdered, and it has increasingly looked like the Administration was setting up Melson to take the fall for this scandal. However, on July 4th, Melson appeared before Congressional investigators with his own private lawyer (rather than a government one) and said that the Department of Justice was actively trying to cover up Fast and Furious and make people stay silent about the operation, and said that it was the DOJ that ordered ATF officials to remain silent-- that it was the DOJ calling the shots in the operation. If this is true, Congressman Issa asserts, then it is very likely that General Holder knew of the operation's existence at least in the weeks before Congress opened its investigation, meaning that Holder lied to Congress. Members of Congress are also complaining that the Justice Department is actively attempting to obstruct its investigation.

Congress should continue to press its investigation into this issue. This illegal and ill-conceived operation has armed thugs as they murder both Mexican and American governments officials and innocent Mexicans caught in the crosshairs. If Eric Holder knew of the operation beforehand, and if he lied to Congress about his knowledge, then he needs to be held accountable. Hopefully the whistleblowers are protected as well. Shameful scandal, this.
Categories > Congress


Not Mr. Nice Guy

So I was listening to the audio feed of FOX NEWS in the car and they did a story about how the Pawlenty campaign was failing to gain traction.  They circled around to the explanation that Pawlenty was too "Minnesota nice."  I really hate that meme.

Pawlenty isn't nice is the sense of being weak.  As governor of Minnesota, he took on the spending interests in a Democratic-leaning state over and over again.  He won more times than he lost. 

He isn't even nice in the sense of being nice.  In his first post-2008 election CPAC speech, he suggested that conservatives take inspiration from Elin Nordegren's alleged golf club wielding attack on spouse Tiger Woods.  Aside from being buffoonish, that wasn't very nice.  Pawlenty's next CPAC speech was less overtly hostile. It featured the (pseudo) emotional high point of Pawlenty saying "And, Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country." like he was auditioning for the WWE.  

Pawlenty went on a Sunday talk show and talked about "Obamneycare" and then flinched from repeating the term to Romney's face at a debate later that week while failing to articulate a coherent critique of either Romneycare or Obamacare.  I can think of several things to call that behavior, but "nice" doesn't come to mind. 

The thing is, Pawlenty isn't failing to gain ground because he is being to nice and he can't gain ground by trying to seem ruff and tuff.  Where is there to go?  Is he going to tell conservatives to imitate cannibals and then rip off his own shirt?  Is he going to compare Romneycare to some genocide? 

I think back to Pawlenty in the first Republican presidential debate (the one where Bachmann and Romney weren't there to outshine him.)  He gave an answer on the Bin Laden killing that vaguely implied he was in favor of enhanced interrogation and maybe waterboarding.  Then the moderator asked directly about waterboarding.  Pawlenty danced around and didn't give a definitive answer.  Then the moderator asked for a show of hands for who would authorize waterboarding.  Pawlenty raised his hand.  After that debate, the evasive Herman Cain got credit from a Frank Luntz focus group for giving real answers.  Compared to Pawlenty, he was.  Pawlenty's problem is that he hasn't got a compelling message, hasn't got a compelling critique of his rivals and hasn't demonstrated an authentic-seeming personality. 

But despite all of Pawlenty's missteps, I still think he has significant political upside given the current state of the Republican field.  

Run Bobby Run.    

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs


As the violence in Syria continues, it might be worth noting that US Ambassador Ford visited the opposition stronghold of Hamma: "Hundreds of thousands of Syrians poured into the streets of the opposition stronghold Hama on Friday, bolstered by a gesture of support from the American and French ambassadors who visited the city where a massacre nearly 30 years ago came to symbolize the ruthlessness of the Assad dynasty."  Olive branches and flowers were thrown on his car by grateful Syrians. The Syrian government, of course, was not amused. Could this be the start of the engagement policy promised at the start of the Obama administration?
Categories > Foreign Affairs



The new job creation numbers are appalling.  It looks like another recovery summer. 

Someone has to win the forthcoming presidential election. 

Run Bobby Run.  For President.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

End the UN Disarmament Conference

While I am sure that removing the "Disarmament Conference" from the title would no doubt bring about great benefits as well, the Conference is, like the Council on Human Rights, nothing but an utter joke and an insult to those who wish to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Seeking to improve upon such things as allowing Cuba and Libya guide the United Nations discussions on human rights issues, North Korea has now been handed control of the UN Conference on Nuclear Disarmament for a temporary term. North Korea, like many gangster tyrannies around the world, should not even be allowed to participate in the United Nations let alone laughingly head its disarmament discussions. Their participation in the body is insulting enough, as it says that a thug like Kim Jong Il is equal in sovereignty to legitimate governments around the world, but this is just ridiculous. Of course the Iranian delegation, peace-loving as ever, praised the ascension of their allies in villainy to the head of the conference.

Follow the thinking of the Canadian delegate: end the disarmament conference. It has not done anything in years and likely will not do anything. The body is pointless and just (perhaps unintentionally) lends further legitimacy to the nuclear-seeking despots of the world.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Debt Ceiling And Our Debt Problem

So I guess most people interested in politics have read David Brooks' freakout that the GOP won't move on increasing revenues in the debt ceiling negotiations.  I can't say that I blame the GOP on this one.  I can very easily see where the GOP moves on some kind of tax increase, the Democrats use that to erode the Republican brand as the party of lower taxes and then sandbags them on spending cuts.

The thing is I don't see much of a (positive) substantive endgame in this whole debt ceiling standoff.  The best case scenario is that Obama and the GOP pull off some kind of spending cut deal that does little to address our long-term fiscal situation and who cuts are incomprehensible to, and quickly forgotten by, the American public. 

If there is a debt ceiling-related train wreck in which Social Security benefits, military salaries, and reimbursements to Medicare providers are cut until a deal gets worked out, I don't see how the GOP doesn't get at least half the blame. The best that can be hoped for in that event is that the whole Washington atmosphere gets poisoned and people become more open to a pragmatic, detail-oriented businessman/technocrat - which just happens to be Mitt Romney's latest incarnation. It is at least as likely that Obama would emerge from such a confrontation with increased stature as protector of responsible governance against Republican irresponsibility.

The real Republican problem is that they haven't come up with a politically prudent plan that will bring the long-term budget down to a sustainable level.  The Ryan Path To Prosperity is a worthy effort and does bring the deficit to a sustainable level without raising taxes. The problem is that it probably expects to save too much from Medicare and Medicaid too quickly to be either good politics or very wise policy.  One can picture a Republican budget with a more realistic cost projections for Medicare spending, but I don't see how it gets there while being strictly revenue neutral.  That doesn't mean tax rates have to go up, but if tax rates don't go up, then tax expenditures will have to be cut to find the money. There is a space (and even more a need) for a Republican who can make the case for moving the tax code in both a higher revenue and pro-growth direction, reforming health care in a consumer-driven direction, and bringing spending down to a sustainable level.  The thing is I haven't seen any such Republican running for President.

Maybe things are just as tough on the other side.  Michael Kazin worries that Obama lacks the vision and toughness to pull American politics to the left in an enduring way.  I disagree. 

Categories > Politics


The Debt Ceiling

With less than a month ago until the United States of America reaches its debt ceiling, lawmakers are scrambling to address the crisis. President Obama is addressing it by comparing Members of Congress to schoolgirls and complaining about the rich being rich, Congressional Democrats are screaming about the impending doomsday, and Congressional Republicans are sticking to the "Just Say No to Taxes" mantra (for now). Meanwhile, the Obama Administration and some intellectuals are looking into the silly notion that the 14th Amendment allows the president to do whatever he wants to ensure that the public debt of the United States is not defaulted on. This follows an even worse vein of logic than the "I don't need to talk to Congress about Libya because dropping bombs on human beings is not being hostile" argument of late.

Apart from the idea that the 14th Amendment allows the Executive Branch to bypass the Legislative Branch's power of the purse being totally ridiculous, the United States is fully capable of paying off the interest on its debt if we needed to. As the Washington Examiner points out, defaulting would be a purely political choice. We would have the money to pay our interest payments if it came down to it; the debt ceiling just means that the government cannot accumulate anymore debt. By the law of the 14th Amendment, the President would be forced to pay off the interest on our debt with the monies regularly collected by the Treasury Department; he is not legally allowed to let us default on the debt if those funds exist. However, this would mean an instant end to almost all programs and offices of the federal government in order to pay our interest on the loans. We have the money to pay our interest, but then President Obama would have to choose between things like paying senior citizens their social security checks or paying for dropping bombs on the people in the not-war of Libya. We will not go into default if we hit the debt ceiling; the federal government would just stop most of its work.

And make no mistake on the severity of hitting the debt ceiling. Some people think it will be like when the government cannot pass a budget, as in the 1990s and as was recently threatened earlier this year-- this is false. In those instances, only nonessential parts of the federal government stop working immediately. If we hit the debt ceiling, everything stops. The FBI, the military, the TSA, Social Security, Medicare, the courts, federal prisons, IRS refunds, and every single employee of the federal government would instantly be forbidden from working. We will have $306 billion in expenses for the month of August, and only $172 billion in revenue. That means $134 billion worth of government programs and offices would instantly need to be shut down-- and not just tiny ones, but major services that Americans are now used to. If we hit the ceiling, then come August 3rd we will have an instantly balanced budget by the pure fact that we have no choice but to just lay off millions of federal employees.

These discussions on the debt ceiling are important, and they merit our close attention. Whatever the outcome on August 2nd may very well decide who will have power after 2012, and may have other far-reaching implications. I have a feeling that the Republicans will likely blink first in this fight (that is, probably agreeing to modest tax increases or the ending of some tax cuts), but not after continuing to advance their cause for fiscal discipline as much as they possibly can. While I am sure there are many out there and even those among the Tea Party Caucus in Congress that would like to force the Obama Administration to implement unparalleled cuts to the federal government, I just don't think that Speaker Boehner and many of the other Republicans are going to let it get that far. It's certainly a possibility, and would certainly change everything, but I just think it is unlikely at this point. We should watch closely just to make sure.
Categories > Congress


When Equal Treatment is Unconstitutional

In a 2-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down on Friday an amendment to the Michigan Constitution (Proposal 2, the "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative") which provided that the state may not "discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting." The amendment was passed by a successful ballot initiative following the Gratz and Grutter decisions which allowed racial preferences in law school admissions.

Perversely, the majority opinion relied upon the Equal Protection Clause to conclude that Michigan's law prohibiting unequal treatment based on race was unconstitutional. According to the court, "Proposal 2 reorders the political process in Michigan to place special burdens on minority interests." Apparently, taking away an unconstitutional advantage is a special burden which trumps the Constitution.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he will appeal for a rehearing en banc. I expect the full court will overturn this decision. If they fail to do so, this would be a ripe issue for the Supreme Court.

Kirk Kolbo, who represented the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court's racial quota and preference cases, writes an essential article for Power Line criticizing Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the University of Michigan.

Categories > Courts


Hayward on The Tax Game

Hayward is on his game today with a Power Line post which asks, "Is There a Conservative Case for Higher Taxes?"

If you aren't compelled to read the whole thing yet, allow me to lift the curtain just a bit and reveal that his answer is, "yes."

My theory is simple: if the broad middle class of Americans are made to pay for all of the government they get, they may well start to demand less of it, quickly.

...if you want to limit government spending, instead of starving the beast, serve the check.

And only Hayward can formulate a strategy whereby "a debate on how to raise taxes might actually be fun to have with liberals."

Categories > Economy

Political Parties

The Zombie Party

Bob Hope on the Democrats.

Categories > Political Parties

The Founding

The Blessings of Liberty

From an apartment balcony this Independence Day I watched for an hour or so fireworks exploding all up and down the Potomac, and then had my eyes drawn across the skyline to the colorful explosions taking place beside the Washington Monument, the tallest building in the area named for that great father of our country. I entered into conversation with someone on these exhibits of patriotism and the praise of our Founders for what they built-- which she, in turn, described as exhibits of nationalism and the worship of a bunch of dead white men. This is not unlike I conversation I recently entered into with a letter in the Los Angeles Daily News taking issue with the claim that our Founders are the benefactors of hindsight bias, receiving unworthy praise for the accident that was the success of our experiment in human liberty.

It is true that those men who pledged to each other their lives, their property, and their sacred honor in 1776 had differing views on the most suitable form of government. It is true that they who gathered to frame our Constitution years later engaged in some of the most difficult and testy political debate ever seen in the world until that time (and arguably after). You had those who sought to protect the interests of themselves and their neighbors, and others who let their heated debate lead to the destruction of existing relationships and tensions among peers. However, one thing that our Founding Fathers did all find agreement on was the need to secure the blessings of liberty by trusting in the ability of individual human beings to govern themselves.

There were indeed disagreements over how to secure those blessings, and of course there was the great problem of chattel slavery looming over the entire endeavor like the mark of Cain. But these men who fought against the greatest empire in the world at that time, and who bled for the cause of liberty, understood that in order to secure what so many had fought and died for, hard compromises would need to be made-- but not at the expense of sinking the entire endeavor. They knew whatever they tried to establish would not be perfect, especially with slavery still looming large over them, but through study of history and an understanding of liberty they sought to do the best that could be asked of them and establish a more perfect union. Its basis was the idea that government service or administration is not itself an end of politics, but that self-government is. The American people were to be a people who had the right to pursue happiness in however way they saw fit. For many people that was and continues to be just living their lives how they want to, happiness perhaps being as adventurous as rock climbing or a simple as sitting along the river with a fishing pole in hand. For others it is the realm of public life where they find happiness and satisfaction.

The Founding Fathers did understand this, and so sought to establish a government that would best secure the blessings of liberty by allowing the human spirit to thrive freely. So long as the government is doing what it is intended to do and not bothering the people too much, most go about their lives in their pursuit of happiness. They may care about politics come election time, but many are happy to, even if they lose, just shrug it off until the next election. The Founders did envision, and did plan, a society where people would not need to have their happiness tied to the whims of political life. "I must study politics and war so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music," wrote John Adams. They wanted to secure these blessings of liberty for all Americans for all time, and by writing that Declaration and crafting that Constitution set upon the task of doing so.

Our Founders were not perfect and did make mistakes. There were problems they could not solve. They were not gods; they were mortal men with all the ailments and vanities that afflict mortal men. But this only makes what they accomplished so much more impressive and important. Our nation was not the result of accident and force, but a clear and conscious decision by mortal men to create a tool for the advancement of human liberty. For 235 years what they created has overcome tremendous obstacles and, though with legions of problems facing it still and threats to freedom always looming, continues to generally provide the best security for the blessings of liberty than any other nation, past or present. For this we should be proud, and for this our Founders merit praise and understanding. It is right to continue to cheer Mr. Jefferson's document and the cause of our Revolution on the day of the nation's birth, and to look with proud eyes upon the colorful glows reflecting onto the monuments we have constructed to remind us of what we mortal men are capable of. May we continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty, and may the Declaration of Independence forever continue to be an expression of the American mind.
Categories > The Founding


Newfound Originals

The Washington Post has a good article on the divergence of "originalist" thought in Justices Scalia and Thomas' respective opinions in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (the violent video game case). (Opinion, briefs and coverage at SCOTUSblog.)

Of course, one could deride WaPo for failing to have previously discovered that all originalists are not alike and that the philosophy of originalism is profound and diverse. But the article is clear and blessedly free from snark and derision, so I'm thankful for the attention to a critical debate in Supreme Court jurisprudence.

On the other hand, I can't resist sharing the articles parting words:

Originalism is still a relatively young theory of constitutional interpretation....

That is a shame.

Categories > Courts


Star Trek Was Right

I hope this is a glimpse of the future.


Categories > Technology

Foreign Affairs

Anti-Semitism Sets Sail

As a post-script to my last post on anti-Semitism among liberals, a group of left-wing American activists (bios here) attempted to violate Israel's blockade of Gaza this weekend aboard a flotilla ship named, "The Audacity of Hope." CNN was able to scoop the story, since they had an activist/reporter on board the ship.

The CNN article never gets around to considering the meaning of the ship's coincidental name, or the reason these activists assumed it articulated their anti-Israel intent. I'm sure the name "Decision Points" had already been taken.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Anti-Semitism at Yale and Beyond

I previously noted the perverse hostility bleeding-heart liberals have toward Jews, the perennial minority-victim of world history. Ron Rosenbaum writes well on this hostility within the Ivory Tower of liberal academia, noting the recent hypocrisy and (continuing) anti-Semitism in "Yale's New Jewish Quota":

Who killed YIISA? It's a kind of academic murder mystery. YIISA--for those who have not caught the scant coverage of this deeply disturbing development--stands for the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. Or should I say stood for that, till Yale, in a cowardly, clumsily-executed maneuver, abolished the program in the first week in June.


Yale cited several reasons for killing YIISA, a program devoted to the cross-cultural examination of anti-Semitism that had been in operation since 2006. But many observers suspect the turning point was a YIISA conference last August called "Global Anti-Semitism: A Crisis of Modernity" which, while featuring 108 speakers from five continents, dared acknowledge the existence of anti-Semitism in some Islamic cultures. ...

But while the backlash against YIISA's conference included predictable protests from the official PLO representative and the group's supporters in America, the more subtle--and yet ludicrous--objection to YIISA's conference and YIISA's work came--as Ben Cohen pointed out in the Forward--in the charge of "advocacy," leveled by some YIISA opponents on campus. The charge that the program exhibited too much "advocacy" against anti-Semitism, as opposed to academic analysis of anti-Semitism. It seems unlikely that Yale tells its cancer researchers not to engage in advocacy against the malignancies they study, doesn't it?

David Greenberg also notes the Yale controversy as a starting point for a broader consideration of liberal and academic tolerance of anti-Semitism:

How did a concern with anti-Semitism, whether scholarly or political, come to be seen as the province of the right? How did liberalism--historically the philosophy of toleration and equal rights--come to be so squeamish about confronting Jew-hatred in its contemporary forms?

In the last decade or so, noxious attitudes toward Jews once voiced only on the far left and far right have gained a curious acceptance--indulged or explained away, if not actively promoted, by mainstream liberals. Remarks that can be charitably described as disturbing emanate from left-liberal icons ... doing no visible damage to their reputations.

Greenberg cites several causes for this shameful liberal legacy. First, liberals granted Islam - the grand perpetrators of anti-Semitism in the modern world - a "free pass" following 9-11.

Liberals (and many conservatives), anticipating an outbreak of nationalistic anti-Islamic feeling in an angry and wounded country, admirably took pains to fight negative depictions of Islam. But those laudable demonstrations of toleration sometimes became muddled, leading some liberals, as Leon Wieseltier put it, to start "granting Muslims a reprieve from the rigors of liberalism."

Greenberg also indicts the left for succumbing to their deranged "blame Bush" mantra.

The Bush administration's ideology-fueled agenda abroad made many liberals feel that either they were with the president or they were against him--and who would want to be with him? Clinton-era liberal internationalism fell from favor after several of its prominent adherents short-sightedly backed the Iraq War. As the Bush administration grew tight with the Likud governments in Jerusalem, sympathy for Israel came to be equated with a "neocon" position.

Finally, Greenberg notes that the great barrier to anti-Semitism over the past half century is beginning to fail.

As these developments opened the door to the frank expression and reflexive rationalization of anti-Semitic views, another, longer-term trend was eroding the cultural taboos against that expression: the vanishing memory of the Holocaust.

Stanley Fish ... wrote with self-awareness some time ago about his sensitivity to anti-Zionism. It was magnified, he said, by two factors: the time he spends on campuses, "where anti-Israel sentiment flourishes and is regarded more or less as a default position," and his age (now 73). Unlike friends just 10 years younger, Fish remembered World War II--as do his peers everywhere. For decades those memories chilled anti-Semitism and extended the world's concern and protection to the Jewish people. Now they are fading.

Rosenbaum and Greenberg write on serious matters with great thoughtfulness and clarity. Liberal anti-Semitism is an anomalous abomination, and its wide-spread presence within universities adds insult to injury. (I fully trust that Ashland University - or at least its Politics and History departments - does not descend into such barbarity.)

Categories > Religion

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Louis Armstrong

There is a new book on Pops, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, by Ricky Riccardi.  I like it.  Combine this with Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout, and you have a whole view of the great man.  Here are a few cuts from Louis Armstrong plays W.C. Handy (1954) and then his great West End Blues (1928).  Ted Gioia (in The History of Jazz) on the propulsive momentum of the piece:  "Armstrong leads off 'West End Blues' with an unaccompanied introduction that has justly been praised over the years.  It lasts a brief twelve seconds, but what an amazing twelve seconds!  Armstrong's singular mastery of the horn is packed solid into those few bars of improvisation."  Someone accused him of making the horn sound like a clarinet, of just showing off. Le Corbusier said this of Satchmo: "He is mathematics, equilibrium on a tightrope.  He is Shakespearean!"

This open-hearted man, this always happy man, didn't speak about his music in musical terminology, but in terms like these: "I seen everythin' from a child comin' up. Nothin' happen I ain't never seen before."  "When I blow I think of times and things from outa the past that gives me an image of the tune.  Like moving pictures passing in front of my eyes.  A town, a chick somewhere back down the line, an old man with no name you seen once in a place you don't remember."

"I'm playin' a date in Florida years ago, livin' in the colored section and I'm playin' my horn for myself  one afternoon. A knock come on the door and there's an old, grey-haired flute player from the Philadelphia Orchestra, down there for his health.  Walking through that neighborhood, he heard this horn, playing this Cavalleria Rusticana, which he said he never heard phrased like that before, but still to him it was as if an orchestra was behind it.  Well, that what I mean by imagination.  That the way I express myself because I read that story and I just put it in spade life--colored life--where this guy in the story, he fooled around with this man's wife and this cat finally picked up on it and stuck him in the back with a knife or somethin' like that."

Pops claimed that he was born on July 4, 1900.  He always claimed this, including in his two published memoirs, until the day he died.  In 1988, a researcher located an entry in Latin for "Armstrong (niger, illegitimus)" in the handwritten baptismal register of New Orleans's Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.  According to that record, Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901.  I say poetry is finer and more philosophic than history, and not only because lovers are given to poetry.

The Founding

Happy 4th!

Here is The Ohio Farmer's letter for the 4th, Novus Ordo Seclorum, trying to think the thoughts which the Founders thought and then  Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, on Lincoln and the Declaration.  And here is Steve Hayward (at Powerline) reminding us of the cause of conservative thinking, the force of merit.  Happy Birthday to us, God's almost chosen people.
Categories > The Founding

The Founding

An Adams Monument

In the Washington Post, Alexander Heffner suggests that John Adams should be honored with a monument on the Mall.

What's the case for Adams? Before the revolution, he was the nation's first attendant to the American legal tradition of due process, defending British soldiers who fired on colonists during the Boston Massacre. One of Massachusetts's representatives to the First and Second Continental Congresses, Adams was a champion of separation from England and the fiercest advocate of Jefferson's declaration. Without his persuasive speeches in the Philadelphia chamber, the document wouldn't have been signed. While Jefferson was silent during what he considered the convention's editorial debasement of his work, Adams defended every clause, including an excised call for the abolition of slavery. Jefferson called Adams "a colossus on the floor" of the Congress. . . .

Heffner goes on to note Adams' services in the American diplomatic corps during the revolution and his Presidency (noting the lamentable Sedition Act as a rare mistake).  I'm not sure I'd put it quite that way.  I would, however, stress Adams' constitutionalism.

As the principal author of the Massachusetts Constitution, and in other writings, Adams, more than any other single figure, is responsibe for the U.S. having a constitution featuring an executive with a qualified veto, a bicameral legislature, and separations among the legsilative, executive, and judicial branches (separations which were not full and complete, so that each branch had to defend its turf against the others).  By paying tribuite to the author of the Massachusetts Constitution, we also, by implication, pay tribute to the people of Massachustts who are responsible for the idea that constitutions should be created by special conventions and ratified by the people.  Not coincidentally, the Massachusetts Constitution has the best concise explanation of the reasoning behind that process of any document of the era:

The end of the institution, maintenance and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body-politic; to protect it; and to furnish the individuals who compose it, with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights, and the blessings of life: And whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have a right to alter the government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, prosperity and happiness.

The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a Constitution of Government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation, and a faithful execution of them; that every man may, at all times, find his security in them. 

I am not sure, however, that a neo-pagan temple in Washington would be the bests tribute to Adams.  John Adams is more than a founder of the American republic, he is also the patriarch of one of the most extraordinary families in American politics and letters. Adams also dwelled upon the importance of education.  He put a strange clause in the Massachusetts constitution on the subject:

Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this Commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools, and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humour, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.

That being Adams' view, I would say that the most fitting tribute to Adams would be to create an Adams library of American letters, dedicated to the study of American politics, with politics and literature both understood in the classic fashion.  Such an institution, which I am not the first to recommend, would be a proper legacy for John Adams and his extraordinary family. What better tribute, and what better form of civic worship, than study.  As Adams put it in the Massachusetts Constitution:

A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government: The people ought, consequently, to have a particular attention to all those principles, in the choice of their officers and representatives: And they have a right to require of their law-givers and magistrates, an exact and constant observance of them, in the formation and execution of the laws necessary for the good administration of the Commonwealth.

A library, dedicated to the study of those principles, and their continuing relevance to our politics, would be the best way to honor this founding father.

Categories > The Founding

The Family

The Sham Vow

At a Bar-b-que yesterday, I found my self talking with a family law expert.  I asked him a question which has been troubling me for a while: what prevents two people who are otherwise unattached, and not closely related from marrying for tax purposes, and then divorcing.  He said, nothing.

Transfers between husband and wife, or perhpas we should say between Partner A and Partner B are tax free.  Hence it is possible for two businesspeople who wish to sell a business to marry, transfer cash for stock, and divorce.  Voilla, a tax-free sale.

Such actions were, of course, always possible, but with the rise of gay marriage, they become much more possible, perhaps even more likely.  There are many more people who are now eligible.  In addition, now that the definition of marriage is now in play, the social pressure to view marriage as anything other than a status in positive law is reduced.

On what grounds would such marriages be illegal?  We can't say that love is essential to marriage. In fact, marrying for money is an ancient tradition.  (And how would we test it anyway?) We can't say that the desire to have children is essential, since that idea has already been rejected, at least in states where gay marriage is legal. Etc.

For the time being, the Defense of Marriage Act might mitigate the federal tax element, but I fear that law is not long for this world.

Categories > The Family


The Dustbin of History


Categories > History

Political Philosophy

Jaffa on a new translation of Aristotle's Ethics

In the NY Times Book Review, no less!  The old man continues to amaze and teach us.  His conclusion:

It is an assumption of Aristotle's philosophy of nature that the highest good of each species is accessible to all, or nearly all, its members. For man the highest good is wisdom. But since few if any human beings attain it, Aristotle's nature requires a supernatural correlate: the afterlife. Whatever one thinks of this argument, it points to a dialectical friendship between Athens and Jerusalem. All the more reason for them to join forces in the desperate struggle, still going on, between civilization and barbarism.


Progressivism and Fascism

In a breathtaking essay Joshua Lerner uses the concept of the political from Carl Schmitt to illustrate the radicalism of Progressivism.  Schmitt was the German legal theorist whom Leo Strauss critiqued in an essay central to his return to the ancients.  See his early work and Strauss's here.  Schmitt became a supporter of the Nazis. 

Lerner does not engage in drive-by slander of the Progressives as Nazis.  Rather, he paints a compelling portrait of the perilous parallels between the two radical movements:

In many ways, seeking redemption via politics is the quintessence of the primacy of the political. But once we have established that politics is of at least some primacy and provides a meaningful source of ethical values--again, think of any number of liberals or leftists who feel the need to politicize even the most mundane of consumer activities--we must move on to another very powerful conclusion: political primacy means the irrelevancy of the practice of politics.

       It is rather well known that Progressives were rather contemptuous of common politics; they hoped to replace it with scientific administration of essential tasks....

Lerner is the co-editor of Counterpoint, the undergraduate University of Chicago conservative journal, where his essay appears.  The current issue features a symposium on conservative films, including Diana Schaub on Shane, Abe Shulsky on Casablanca, and Thomas Pavel on Bladerunner.  

Categories > Progressivism


Apocalypto II

I can't compete with William Voegeli's erudition or work ethic, but let us also remember this example of "us-and-them campaign rhetoric that, turned to the proper angle, reveal a seething hatred of the nation's enemies."

You'll determine whether this America will be unified, or, if I lose this election, Americans might be separated black from white, Jew from Christian, North from South, rural from urban.

             Jimmy Carter Chicago 1980

Sounds kind of "light on facts and heavy on Apocalypticism [also on the cheap partisanship]" right Mr. Cassidy?  My takeaway isn't that Republicans or Democrats are the greater sinners on this kind of thing.  It is that: 

1.  A lot of the criticism of Bachmann will be lazy, mean-spirited, cynical, and hypocritical and will come from people who (like Cassidy) think of themselves as too smart and too wonderful to be bothered to make a cogent and consistent argument against her.

2.  Bad arguments against Bachmann's suitability to be President should not be used as an excuse to ignore good arguments against her (though it is up to her critics and opponents to make those arguments.)

Categories > Politics

Health Care

The Secret Word is Groucho

Or that other guy named Marx: "Those who worry about socialized medicine won't be happy to learn that according to Lulzsec the password for flag@ was 'karlmarx.'"

Categories > Health Care

The Founding

Coolidge and the 4th of July

Leon Kass reflects on Coolidge and the 4th, and so does Steve Hayward at Powerline.  Read the whole thing, of course, but here is the pregnant paragraph from Silent Cal's 150th anniversary of the Declaration speech, in case someone you know isn't clear on the connection between natural rights and natural right:

"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful.  It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to this great charter.  If all men are created equal, that is final.  If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final.  If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.  No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.  If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.  Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress.  They are reactionary.  Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers."
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Ohio Farmer Letters

I think I have not brought to your attention the last two Letters from an Ohio Farmer ("American Leadership"? and City Upon a Hill, moving toward the next two, both on themes related to the Fourth; one will appear next Monday, and one the following Tuesday.

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