Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Reactions to the Credit Downgrade

Standard & Poor's officially took away their AAA credit rating for the United States yesterday. Anticipation of this likely was the cause of the large drop in the market on Friday, and when markets reopen on Monday there will likely be another drop. Growing fears that the United States recession is about to take a downturn and be worse than before, on top of the Euro crisis, are making people jittery. The Eurozone crisis is making people even more upset than before because Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has ruled out calling for early elections to get him out of office and allow a new government to solve their debt debacle. All in all, though, I don't think any of the reactions to the credit downgrading were all that surprising.

China: A lot of saber-rattling about changing the world reserve currency away from the dollar and telling the USA that it is fiscally insane, all-the-while ignoring their own impending crisis. "China, the largest creditor to the world's sole superpower, has every right to demand the United States address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets," said the Chinese government. I think there was something tongue-in-cheek on the superpower comment. China also said that the United States needs to stop letting its domestic electoral politics hold the global economy hostage. The U.S. government ought to have responded with something nice about liberty and rights and politics and such, but President Obama seems to agree with China's view on government administration.

President Obama: The president is, true to form, standing behind a microphone and blaming partisanship in Congress for the credit downgrading. "Both parties have to work together on a larger plan plan to get our nation's finances in order." Too bad the Democrats insisted that there be no further discussion of the debt ceiling until after the 2012 elections.

Secretary Geithner: The Secretary of the Treasury is mulling quitting his job as some conservatives demand his resignation for things like saying in April that there is "no risk" at all of a credit downgrade. The Treasury, for its part, is officially disputing the logic behind the downgrade. Okay. Good luck with that.

GOP Candidates: A lot of blaming Obama for everything and not making any suggestions on how to solve our debt problem other than the typical vague talking points.

Europe: British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy all happen to simultaneously be on vacation this weekend. Really. That's Europe for you.

Friends: Japan, South Korea, and Australia all said everyone else is overreacting, they're keeping an eye on the situation, and economic cooperation between nations should remain strong right now. Australia was also quick to point out that the other two international credit rating agencies still have the United States at AAA.

All-in-all, I'm with Australia and Japan on this one insofar as people are overreacting to the downgrade and placing too much importance on what S&P thinks of the United States. As hypocritical as the Chinese complaints are, they have very good points about the United States reaching a point where we must realize we cannot borrow our way out of problems anymore. Additionally, ignoring the plunge in the stock market for a moment, the bond markets in the United States and Europe are offering far more cause for concern. But our government, despite this tumult surrounding us, will not sit down and figure out a way to solve the problem. As Pete points out below, we need a new person in the White House if there is to be any hope of averting disaster, and whoever that person is needs to be able to have a conversation with the American public about why we need true reform.
Categories > Economy



I would second Ken's praise of the sage Sage especially in this one respect: there is very little chance that the forthcoming super committee will produce a deal that will be the framework for a long-term left/right compromise in crafting a sustainable budget  If the differences between the two parties were the differences between Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell on the Republican side and Erskine Bowles and Alice Rivlin on the Democratic side, then a long-term and fairly stable compromise would probably be in sight.  The problem is that Rivlin and Bowles don't anchor the Democratic side of the debate at the national level. The Democratic side is best understood by looking at the policy implications of President Obama's speech in response to the Ryan budget.  The implications of Obama's approach are broadly higher taxes (unarticulated, but implicit in his domestic discretionary spending and Social Security policy postures) and centralized bureaucratically administered Medicare cuts.  I see no reason to believe that President Obama is, on these matters, to the left of his party's House or Senate leadership  

This means that any deal that comes out of the super committee is going to be some kind of short-term tactical maneuvering or else be rejected by one or both sides. The Democrats will come around to a deal that conservatives can somewhat stomach under two scenarios.  First, if the political environment is such that agreeing to some slightly watered down version of the Republican policy agenda is their best chance for political survival (which is to say that Republicans have won the argument on spending levels and the restructuring of entitlements.)  There is no reason for the Democrats to believe that the Republicans have won the argument on those issues.  Second, Obama and the Democrats get blamed for some national and/or international calamity that allows the Republicans to back into control of the presidency and working control of both houses of Congress thereby allowing them to unilaterally enact the Ryan agenda.  This is a possible outcome, but one that is deeply irresponsible to bet on. 

It also happens that there isn't a lot of time for the Good Luck Fairy to come to the rescue of the Republicans.  Douglas Holtz-Eakin is explaining to anyone who will listen that we are headed for a fiscal crisis within the decade.  If we wait until the crisis is upon us, then the choices are going to be brutal.  It is easier to quickly raise taxes than to responsibly reduce entitlement programs aimed at the elderly.  It is easier to quickly get bureaucrats to deny services than to introduce market-oriented innovation into Medicare. And we are running out of time.  The closer we get to the crisis, the harder it will be to avoid Bernie Sanders(ish) policies of taxation and entitlement reform. A reelected President Obama, having no hope or fear of facing the voters again, would not be someone the congressional Republican leaders should want to deal with in case of a fiscal crisis in late 2013. 

That means that the Sage is right on the most important thing.  We have to beat'em.  That means a different President.  It is only prudent that Republicans assume that they will only win if they earn it.  That being the case, it also means that the Republican candidate would ideally be one who can explain right-leaning reforms that would lead to a sustainable budget while reassuring the voters that they are competent and responsible enough to see those reforms through in a humane way.  

Run Bobby Run.  

Categories > Politics


Silver-Haired Heroes of the Sky

I draw your attention to this piece on the famous Tuskegee Airmen, a name given to the 15,000 African Americans who broke the barriers of color and gravity in service to their country during the Second World War. These old warriors now number just over a hundred, move a little slower than they did in battle seventy years ago, and are a little harder of hearing, but they still stand proud at their annual gathering to remember lost comrades and their days in the sky. Good for them, and good for us.
Categories > Military


Separating the Liberal Sheep from the Hardy Goats

I kind of like the goats, especially those on the Sage of Mt. Airy's farm, where I blog from today.  The Sage dissects  Dr. Charles Krauthammer (a former Hubert Humphrey speechwriter, btw) on the debt deal. 

To begin, removing "loopholes" has only lately, and conveniently, become a demand of the American Left.  The fact is, various loopholes, alongside a progressive income tax scheme with multiple and increasing marginal rates have historically been the bedrock of liberal tax policy....

With all due respect to Dr. Krauthammer, the only sure solution to the debt crisis is the very real prospect of electoral defeat by the Democrats, not contracting clever deals with them.

RTWT.  And scroll down to read the Sage beating up on many conservatives who caved to liberals and shunned the Tea Party on the debt negotiations.

Categories > Congress


The Latest in Food Regulation

"The Obama administration is after your Lucky Charms, or at least your children's":

Put forward by an interagency working group, the guidelines will establish nutritional standards that most cereals flunk--and not just those of the "Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs" variety. Corn Flakes will not be advertisable to children, along with Raisin Bran, Special K, Rice Krispies, and Wheaties. Plain Cheerios squeak by the proposed 2016 rules but fall foul of the "ultimate goal" for sodium effective in 2021. 

While cereals are the most obvious targets of the guidelines, all foods marketed to children will have to meet the proposed nutritional standards. Many don't. Peanut butter (both smooth and crunchy) has too much saturated fat. Jelly has too much sugar. Forget about apple-cinnamon instant oatmeal and Mott's apple sauce.

My sense is that we're getting close to a tipping point with these kinds of regulations.  One of the things that energizes the tea party, Bill notes below, is that Americans are getting tired of being told what to do in all kinds of small ways.  Speaking of hope and change . . .

Categories > Progressivism


One Solution? Let's Prohibit People From Voting if Their SAT Scores are Lower Than Jacob Weisberg's

Even for those conservatives who are not unreservedly pro-Tea Party, it gets ever easier to be anti-anti-Tea Party.  The latest evidence that the Tea Party is fortunate in its detractors comes from Slate's Jacob Weisberg.  The culmination of his Krugmanic argument that wise and necessary economic policies are being thwarted by troglodytes is the assertion "that there's no point trying to explain complicated matters to the American people."  Weisberg doesn't explain how he arrives at this doleful conclusion, apparently feeling he would be wasting keystrokes trying to lay out the bitter truth for readers so dim they haven't already grasped it.  The core problem, apparently, is that complicated matters are, well, complicated and the American people are, well, simple.

Given the entire rhetorical cast of his article, which never admits the possibility that the complex choices before our republic are ones about which decent and reasonable people can disagree, there's every reason to believe that what qualifies as successfully explaining complicated matters to the American people, in Weisberg's mind, is getting a large majority of them to assent to Weisberg's policy preferences.  The healthy thing for a small-d democrat to do after a political defeat or disappointment is to commit new energies and arguments to the task of persuading his fellow-citizens to adopt his viewpoint.  Weisberg is having none of that.  If the American people don't agree with him it's because they're stupid, and our experiment in self-government cannot possibly survive such stupidity.  We are, instead, doomed to a slow, "excruciating form of self-destruction."

Weisberg's article is the latest attack on the Tea Party that inadvertently clarifies why there is a Tea Party.  As Walter Russell Mead argued this week, it's "impossible to grasp the crisis of the progressive enterprise unless one grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators....  The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today ... is a fight to break the power of a credentialed elite that believe themselves entitled by talent and hard work to a greater say in the nation's affairs than people who scored lower on standardized tests and studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political science in expensive ones."

Or, as another observer wrote last year, "Our new meritocratic masters have been more conspicuously smart than wise. They know a lot, but don't know what they don't know.... Their expectation that the rest of us will be deferential to their expertise, like citizens of European nations that are social but not especially political democracies, has triggered the Tea Party backlash, and the resurgence of the 'Don't Tread on Me' spirit."

The problem is not that it's impossible to explain complicated matters to the American people. It's that the people who have been making the explanations don't seem to understand the complexities quite as thoroughly as they imagine: "A leadership class that actually improved ordinary Americans' security and opportunities would be forgiven condescension ... It's when the people running the country are both disrespectful and ineffectual that folks get angry."  For example, well-educated and utterly self-confident elected officials told us, over and over, that a key part of their economic recovery plans was for the federal government to devote billions of borrowed dollars to "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects, only to admit a year later that "shovel-ready" is more of a punchline than a program.

The American people can be forgiven for tuning out such leaders.  It's not because they use big words or complicated equations.  It's because, despite the words and equations, they don't really seem to know what they're talking about.  It's not a complicated phenomenon.  Perhaps someday even Jacob Weisberg will comprehend it.
Categories > Progressivism

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Adam Zagajewski

I can't tell you much about this poet, save that he's Polish, teaches in U.S., he is translated; and I just started reading him.  I like him, and there is more on him here, with a couple more poems (I like "Great Ships" especially).

This one is called, "Mute City."

Imagine a dark city.
It understands nothing. Silence reigns.
And in the quiet bats like Ionian philosophers
make sudden, radical decisions in mid-flight,
filling us with admiration.
Mute city. Blanketed in clouds.
Nothing is known yet. Nothing.
Sharp lightning cleaves the night.
Priests, Catholic and Orthodox alike, rush to shroud
their windows in deep blue velvet,
but we go out
to hear the rain's rustle
and the dawn. Dawn always tells us something,


How to Beat a Recession

Coolidge style, Charles Johnson notes:

Like the current administration, the Harding-Coolidge administration faced a tough recession from 1919-1921. But unlike the current administration, the Harding-Coolidge and Coolidge-Dawes administrations cut taxes, balanced budgets and slashed government spending, reducing federal debt by over a third in a decade.

The economy grew, averaging just over 7% from 1924 to 1929, the years of his presidency. So did Coolidge's popularity. He was so popular that even during the Great Depression's height song-writer Cole Porter compared his lover to the "Coolidge dollar."

Coolidge also saw how government efforts to help often did nothing of the sort:

For Coolidge, then, fiscal matters were a moral question that tested the founding-era premise that free people can govern themselves. He encouraged Americans to "begin to work and save," in good and bad times. Only "our productive capacity," he told Depression-era readers in his autobiography, published in 1929, "is sufficient to maintain us all in a state of prosperity if we give sufficient attention to thrift and industry."

That productive capacity, Coolidge knew, was sapped by the spendthrift--he called it "socialistic"--notions of government that sought to be all things to all people. Coolidge, making note of federal farm subsidies and flood insurance, criticized the thinking of "expect[ing] the government in some miraculous way to save us from the consequences of our own acts."

Categories > Conservatism


Gas Prices Still Rising

Despite President Obama's decision to tap into our strategic petroleum reserves, which I took issue with here and in the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago, the price of gas has continued to rise. On June 23rd, when the president made this decision, the average price of gas was $3.61 a gallon for regular unleaded. Today the nationwide average is $3.70 a gallon. Meanwhile, one-third of our offshore drilling fleet has left the Gulf of Mexico since President Obama issued a moratorium on drilling and there are over 70% fewer drilling permits being given today than in previous years. The administration's misguided energy policies have depleted our emergency reserves and caused the price of fuel to increase, and they need to change.
Categories > Economy



So I was watching some of the 3:00 PM MSNBC show.  The host summed up the over-the top Maureen Dowd column where she compared Tea Party supporters to cannibals, vampires, zombies, and he chest bursters from Alien.  There was actually something that was worth talking about in the column.  It was the part where Dowd quotes Jason Zinoman as saying "The monster has traditionally been a stand-in for some anxiety, political, social, or cultural." That is a pretty good jumping off point for talking about how liberal attempts to demonize and dehumanize Tea Party supporters (terrorists, vampires etc.) says a lot about how many on the left-of-center hate and fear the thought of a determined, democratic opposition that uses peaceful, constitutional means. 

So the MSNBC host brought on a guest and they proceeded to describe Tea Party supporters as delusional and psychotic and compared them to addicts and the Norway mass murdering terrorist.  All in the name of rationality of course.   

Categories > Politics


The Liberal Job Killing Machine

Remember the Spotted Owl? Apparently, not only are our efforts to save it failing miserably, . . .  (subscriber link only):

The truth is that no one fully understands why the spotted owl continues to decline. The rise of the barred owl poses an unexpected, but not surprising, complication. If the natural world would just remain static, species preservation and ecological management would be far simpler. But Mother Nature relishes competition, and the barred owl is a fierce competitor. Are we really prepared to send armed federal agents into Northwest forests in search of barred owls?

But also, those failed effofts also cost many many jobs?

In the 1980s, before the owl was listed as threatened, nearly 200 sawmills dotted the state of Oregon, churning out eight billion board feet of federal timber a year. Today fewer than 80 mills process only 600 million board feet of federal timber. In Douglas County, for example, several mills dependent on federal timber have closed. Real unemployment in many Oregon counties exceeds 20%, double the national average.

Your tax dollars hard at work.

More evidence that a regulatory holiday would be a good way to get the economy moving.

Categories > Environment


If You Can't Stand the Heat . . .

After Vice President Biden compard the Tea Party to "terrorists," and various members of the Left has used similarly strong language.  In light of Lefty calls for "civility" in our discourse, many conservatives are having fun pointing out the hypocrisy of the Left. Pete Wehner, for example, has a little fun:

I don't know about you, but it's not quite clear to me how accusing one's (law-abiding) fellow citizens of being terrorists and part of the "Hezbollah faction of the GOP" helps us to heal and sharpens our instincts for empathy. In fact, I'd go so far as to say those words are meant to wound. You might even conclude from what liberals are saying the Tea Party Movement is comprised of people who aren't simply wrong but who don't love their country.

Moe Lane suggests that "liberals are in deep, deep denial about their own incivility issues," pointing, in particular to a New York Times column complaining about the recent debt deal:

"Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them." He adds: "Much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people." These "intransigent" spending cutters were indifferent to "blowing up the country" in pursuit of their goals.

I would suggest that what we really have here is a teachable moment.  Liberals may be in denial, but that's nothing new.  The Left is in deep denial about human nature.  Contention, in most cases, is not a problem; it is a sign of a healty polity. When we are arguing about serious things, we inevitably will use heated language.  A friend of mine likes to joke that Americans don't need sensitivity training. On the contrary, he says, we need "insensitivity training." We need to accept that life can be difficult, that tempers can flare, and that sometimes we use heated rhetoric. 

Civility has its place, but so do polemics. The issue isn't Lefty hypocrisy; it is Lefty utopianism.

Categories > Progressivism

Foreign Affairs

Japan and China

A short news story in today's Wall Street Journal is worth noting: "Japan intensified its rhetoric against China's military, accusing Beijing for the first time of "assertiveness" and saying it needs to keep a closer watch on how China views the contested waters between the two countries."  Also note that China is supposed to launch its first aircraft carrier this month.  Also more here on the maritime rise of China.  When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks....
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Everyone Needs a Hobby

Or so the saying goes. In Sweden, 31-year-old Rich Handl is currently under arrest because his hobby was attempting to build a nuclear reactor on his kitchen stove. An inquisitive scholar, he was storing radioactive chemicals like uranium at home because he wanted to see if it was possible to split an atom in his kitchen. He blogged about his experimentations. Finally, sometime after he experienced a nuclear meltdown on top of his stove, he began to question if what he was doing was considered legal or not, and called Sweden's nuclear authorities to clarify things, and they immediately sent the police to fetch him and the nuclear materials. If convicted, he may spend two years in prison. For his part, Handl now says that it was probably not a good idea to create a nuclear reactor in his kitchen and that in the future he'll stick to theory.

If you're geeky but not so geeky enough to want to build a nuclear reactor in between cooking meals, your hobby may be to boldly go where no man has gone before (except Indiana Jones). Perhaps to the far-flung seaside town of Aqaba in Jordan. Not, of course, to see the ancient city of Petra-- but to see the city of the future that Jordanian King Abdullah II is helping build. The king is heading a project to create a full-fledged Star Trek theme park at the new Red Sea Astrarium resort being built in Aqaba. If you can't make the trip to the Middle East any time soon, you can settle with a mere Star Trek exhibit in Florida. I'll get excited when there is a Star Wars theme park.
Categories > Leisure


China's Cyber Dominance

China learned much earlier than the United States of the importance that the Internet and cybertechnology will play and is playing in global power politics. For years hackers originating from China have been able to infiltrate many of our government and corporate servers and steal information from them. Now, the security firm McAfee has reported the largest cyber-spying ring in history, and has indicated that it is not a single group behind it but a state actor. 72 corporations, governments, and inter-governmental organizations have been infiltrated, from the Associated Press to the United Nations to the International Olympic Committee to various U.S. defense firms. The intruders were after data on sensitive U.S. military systems, satellite technology, natural gas companies, electronics, and more. Associated Press reporters covering China received emails with malicious links that compromised their entire systems. McAfee called it "a massive transfer of wealth in intellectual property that is unprecedented in history."

While McAfee would not confirm who was behind the spying, most analysts agree that it was China. They are really the only non-Western nation, outside of Russia, that has the ability to pull off these attacks-- and the information they were going after was not the type of information that Russia usually bothers with insofar as it was mostly corporate and technological secrets that they wanted, and targets included a lot of entities that China is unhappy with, namely Taiwan and the press. The United States and the United Kingdom might have the ability to perform such infiltrations, but it is unlikely that we would be spying on ourselves. We obviously have tremendous computer talent here in the West, much of which is unfortunately targeted at the United States right now-- perhaps it would be good to figure out a way to turn their sights to the East, and try to regain some ground in the realm of cyberwarfare, a realm where we are surely being outmatched by the Chinese.
Categories > Technology


God's Blog

Divine comedy from Paul Simms in The New Yorker.

UPDATE: Pretty pleased with what I've come up with in just six days. Going to take tomorrow off. Feel free to check out what I've done so far. Suggestions and criticism (constructive, please!) more than welcome. God out.

Comments follow.

Categories > History

Ashbrook Center


"No Left Turns," in Hangul (Korean).

I'm taking a driving test tomorrow. My cultural pain is your educational gain. NLT is a global force!

Categories > Ashbrook Center


Tea Party Constitutionalism

My esteemed colleague Pete, on the debt fracas, below: "the whole controversy was ugly and at most minimally productive."  To the contrary, I think this was the most important constitutional debate in memory (other than Obamacare, though I admit I am getting old and forgetful).  I wonder whether the Tea Party critics have ever purchased a car.  Do they pay the sticker price?  They used the power they had to educate the people on our disastrous situation.  Would the public be more aware of the crisis had a routine raise been voted through?

My high esteem for Senator Coburn has increased.  He exposed Grover Norquist's odd accounting on what constitutes a tax increase:  Cutting a subsidy (ethanol) would be a tax increase, in Norquist's view.  If that's the case, then reform without a tax increase is impossible.  To be fair, a cut in the subsidy would hurt the industry being subsidized and cost jobs, etc.  The press coverage of the new law emphasizes the temporary harm to the economy, caused by a cut in public spending, though the reforms will have a good long-term effect. 

As with Obamacare, the debt ceiling bill exposed Washington's ways.  What shocks us about Washington procedure is in fact routine.  Congress passes laws that no one reads through and that grant the real law-making power to bureaucracies.  That is the problem.  That is what the Tea Party, for whatever naievete it exhibits, has exposed:  Our routines are rotten.

Categories > Congress


Romney and Associates

Lawyers for Romney include Judge Bork, Mary Ann Glendon, Lee Casey, David Rivkin, Gary McDowell (actually not a J.D. lawyer), Wendy Long, Jeffrey Rosen--huh, Jeff Rosen!?--and many other legal luminaries beloved of Beltway conservatives. 

Categories > Politics


Tactics And Strategery

I'm glad there was a debt ceiling deal and that the federal government didn't face a funding crisis, but the whole controversy was ugly and at most minimally productive.  Watching the fury and wailing on MSNBC made me feel better for a moment, but...

All that political friction, intra-Republican fighting, going to the edge of disaster, and we got one trillion dollars of back loaded cuts to discretionary spending and some cuts to be named later.  And we still haven't come close to dealing with the real health care and entitlement-related drivers of our unsustainable budget deficits.  It reminds me of the nominally center-right Karamanlis government in Greece.  It was in power from 2004-2009.  The Karamanlis government would announce a policy to incrementally liberalize some tiny corner of the labor market or to privatize this or that.  There would be protests and carrying on.  Sometimes the Karamanlis government would back down and sometimes it wouldn't.  The Greek state and economy continued heading for the rocks at the same speed.  The fights the Greek center-right took on were the best sign that neither the politicians, nor the public were willing to tackle real issues. 

Comparisons shouldn't be pressed too far.  Most conservative Republicans are much more serious about producing a sustainable level of government spending and a competitive economy than was the last center-right Greek government.  But they are making a similar strategic mistake.  The long-term structure of government spending is almost as important as the level of spending.  Winning public opinion battles now and implementing incremental changes in the next several years is more important than the size of spending cuts enacted for this year or next. 

How we cut is just as important (politically even more important) that how much we cut.  The potential across-the-board Medicare provider cuts in the new agreement are stupid as policy and unsustainable as politics.  As Reihan Salam points out, " winning deep cuts in FY 2012, which really could be destimulative, isn't nearly as important as getting buy-in on some version of premium support from grassroots conservatives, moderates, and elected Democrats" I would extend the point to include changes to the health care sector in general rather than just Medicare.

But how to do that?  First, let's start from where we are.  The structure of the provider cuts in the debt ceiling agreement, along with the Medicare cuts in Obamacare, along with IPAB should be on the lips of everybody on the center-right.  This is what Medicare in an Obama second term will look like.  It will be some combination of meat cleaver program cuts drawn up by politicians in midnight meetings and denials of care managed by unaccountable bureaucrats.  And as Obamacare unravels the private insurance market, we can expect most Democrats to try to move Americans into a Medicare-like system for everybody.  That is a Mediscare I can get behind. 

We also need a plan of our own.  Salam likes Domenici-Rivlin.  I like Capretta-Miller.  The Ryan Plan in the PTP isn't quite good enough as either policy or politics.  It probably doesn't budget enough money for Medicare, and outright ending the FFS program for future retirees is both too scary for marginal voters and might not even be ideal policy in some circumstances (like rural areas.)

We also need to incrementally move the ball on health care for the under-65 crowd.  One way to do so would be to form alliances with state and municipal-level elected officials to let them enroll their employees in Indiana-style HSA/catastrophic health care plans.  This could save state and local governments (and taxpayers) money while increasing the take home pay of their workers and increasing the constituency form market-oriented health care reform.  That kind of regulatory change would be worth twice as much as this week's debt ceiling deal.  

Conservatives are right to be unhappy with the debt ceiling deal, but the problem isn't that it didn't cut enough.  The problem isn't that the House Republicans weren't willing to jump into a government funding crisis in order to insist on a balanced budget amendment that wasn't going to happen.  The problem was that we weren't even arguing about the kinds of programmatic changes that we need and that there is no consensus for those kinds of change in either the Congress (what with Democratic control of the Senate), the White House or the country.  Getting that consensus is the political challenge of our time.  

Categories > Politics


Presented Without Comment

"What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party's leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was "Armageddon." The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee's chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on "the firing line." And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush -- but you'll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials." Paul Krugman

"They have acted like terrorists."  Joe Biden

Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Yes, I remember hearing that somewhere. And it seems to be the theme of foreign critics, who can only bring themselves to admit America's greatness when they want something from us (which they lack the greatness to do themselves). Foreign nations have been sharply critical of the U.S. for putting their delicate nerves in a flutter with our down-to-the-wire debate over the debt-ceiling. That cuddly Russian dictator Vladimir Putin went so far as to call Americans "parasites" on the global economy "living beyond their means and shifting a part of the weight of their problems to the world economy."

It seldom occurs to foreigners that we have great power precisely because we don't act as they act. Europeans have plenty of fiscal beams in their own eyes to divert them from the speck in ours. And yet, uncomfortable as it is for me to agree with a Russian, Putin is partially correct. America has been living beyond its means and, as a result, has been a drag on the global economy.

But Putin misses the fundamental point that it was precisely a battle to reject ruinous, European-style, beyond-our-means spending which just occurred in the American Congress - and, for the most part, the fiscally-responsible Republicans were victorious. While foreigners are relieved that Republicans will not cause America to default on its fiscal obligations, they fail to appreciate the broader and more important point that Republicans just forced the nation to take a small, first-step toward avoiding the bankruptcy and default endemic to Europe.

Long ago, Europeans lost the stomach for conflict - militarily, socially and politically. America has just concluded an important battle in a larger war of political philosophy. It was ugly and uncertain, but worth fighting. We recognized the potential consequences of a prolonged conflict and so sued for peace before the sun had fully set. That is, we waged war while observing responsible rules of engagement.

As the powerful American economy controls the temperament of the global economy, Europeans may be expected to protest when American strife sweeps the economic seas into a tempest and causes them fright. But they fail to understand that it is precisely this continuing civil conflict which has sustained our great power and preserved us from becoming like them.  

Foreign Affairs

The Ottoman Republic

When General Mustafa Kemal Ataturk forged the Republic of Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire ninety years ago, it was a disgraced and decrepit nation known as the Sick Man of Europe, the old ruins of the ancient Byzantine Empire and the once-powerful Ottoman Empire surrounding its beleaguered people. Ataturk, as dear to the Turks as Washington and Lincoln are to we Americans, sought to change this. Through the great force of his character and vision he reached out to create from this sick man a new nation that embraced modernity, Westernization, and secularism. He pulled together East and West, forging a republic in a Muslim-majority nation.

His legacy, though, was not always so protected by his vision. Parties with Islamist tendencies, scornful of the secular Turkish nationalism that Ataturk returned to his people, have throughout the last century gained power and started to enforce harsh laws on the Turkish people. The military has long been a check on this, overthrowing democratically-elected governments with Islamist tendencies over and over again, enforcing secularism and Westernized stability at the expense of political freedoms. In 2001, though, these hardliners came together to dominate a new political party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turk). In this time, the Prime Minister and leader of the party, Recep Tayyipd Erdogan, has advocated for the long-sought Turkish acceptance into the European Union and repeatedly stated that his party has no religious axis. Nonetheless over the past five years, a strong core of Islamists led by Turkish President Abdullah Gul has been gaining more power within the party. Gul's nomination to the presidency was blocked initially by the secular Supreme Court for fear of his Islamist tendencies. Popular support, though, forced them to allow him in, and he became the first devout Muslim to hold the seat in Turkey's young history.

The AKP is able to maintain such widespread popularity because it feeds on the poor and uneducated masses of the countrysides; they blend a social welfare state with a religiously conservative message and win over the poor vote. Importantly, though, the AKP has begun to figure out how to merge the nationalism instilled in the nation by Ataturk with their message of Islamic conservatism, and now even within certain educated sectors they are beginning to grow in popularity. This caused the military to grow suspicious, but now the AKP had the upper-hand over the once all-powerful secularist military. Over the past year and a half, dozens of high-ranking military officers have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government in a coup d'etat. While 90% of the Turkish citizenry said they trusted the military in 2002, now only 60% do. Last week, the military finally surrendered with the simultaneous resignations of its leader, General Isik Kosaner, and the leaders of the air force, navy, and army. In this day and age, in a nation like Turkey, a coup against the democratically-elected government was just not possible.

For years many have held up the Republic of Turkey as a shining example of an Islamic nation embracing democracy without foreign intervention forcing it upon them. This dream, though, may be dying. A newspaper columnist in Istanbul wrote, "This is a symbolic moment where the first Turkish republic ends and the second republic begins." More likely than not, this second republic will resemble something far more Ottoman than the Westernization envisioned by Ataturk. With the old guard now out, the military may slowly be transformed into a tool of the state as it is in Iran. Prime Minister Erdogan's Islamist coup over the past decade was brilliantly performed; by acting and looking like a European, he delegitimized the military and held the old guard up as dangers to democracy. While claiming to be working towards meeting the stringent entry requirements to join the European Union, Erdogan has clamped down on civil rights. Most importantly of all, though, is that with the government now secure from the pro-Western secularists that have been keeping an eye on its over the past century, its Ottoman ambition can now be satiated.

Geopolitically, few nations are as strategically positioned as Turkey, the gateway between West and East. While it has been a willing friend to its NATO allies, international alliances are not permanent things. Turkey will soon grow tired of the double-talk it gets from the European Union, which has long dabbled membership in front of the nation all-the-while pundits and politicians throughout Europe have criticized them and declared that Turkey can never be European. This will not bother Turkey for long, and I feel they will soon abandon their bid to be European when they can instead embrace the glory of their Ottoman history. They can exercise tremendous influence within their geographic sphere; indeed, it seems that Turkey is already courting their Arab neighbors and standing up as the power in the Middle East opposite of Iran. Turkish resurgence in the region can pose several great problems for the West-- particularly in regards to the Cyprus question, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the persecution of Kurds both in Turkish Kurdistan and Iraqi Kurdistan.

But why should Turkey fear bulking up its foreign influence? The European Union is imploding. NATO has proven to be disorganized and incapable of even containing the puny Gaddafi. Greece, now essentially owned by grumpy German banks, will hardly be able to lift a finger over Cyprus. The United States, suffering from its own financial woes and seeking to withdraw from its entanglements in that side of the world, would at worst just issue low-key complaints as we do about crises in Syria, Sudan, Burma, and elsewhere. No, Turkey will seek to restore itself as the dominant regional power in the Middle East, in control of its sphere of influence, without care of what the politicians in Brussels and Washington whine about. At least they may provide another balance to Iran in the same way the Saudis do and Iraq did. People would do well to pay close attention the AKP and its relations abroad.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

Everyone is noting that Vice President Biden called the Tea Party "terrorists," but I think Representative Doyle's comment is more illuminating:

"We have negotiated with terrorists," an angry Doyle said, according to sources in the room. "This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money."

That says wonders about how Congressional Democrats see their job.

Categories > Quote of the Day

Refine & Enlarge

Farmer Letters

Today's Letter from an Ohio Farmer is called The Sense of the People and is not unrelated to the negotiations of today, and the vote tomorrow.  You might also note the previous Letter, called Willful Majorities or Constitutional Majorities, which I forgot to bring to your attention last week.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

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