Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Medium Steps

So about Paul Ryan's speech.  It introduces the concept of moving from an employer-based health insurance system that comes ever closer to comprehensive third party prepayment, and toward a system of catastrophic health care coverage supplemented by Medical Savings Accounts.  Ryan has some arguments on his side.  Ballooning health insurance premiums are eating into people's disposable incomes and companies' ability to hire.  Ryan's wants to get rid of the tax exemption for employer-provided health insurance and replace it with a tax credit for catastrophic and portable health care coverage. 

There is a huge political problem with Ryan's approach.  Ryan's tax proposal would unwind the system of employer-provided health insurance suddenly.  This is scary.  Employer-provided coverage is real to people.  It means that an illness won't lead to complete financial disaster and that more-than-emergency care will be provided.  Folks are rightly afraid to trade in what they have (for all of its problems) for a promise of something better.  To the average voter, it would seem more clear that they would lose something than that they would gain anything in particular.  This means that going from a system of employer-provided, almost comprehensive health care prepayment to a consumer-oriented system where patients go to the providers that offer the best value and drive down prices will be tricky. 

Ryan is doing the first thing that needs doing.  He is doing what he can to familiarize the public with the problems of the current health care system and the (potential) benefits of a consumer-driven system.  He is also providing a narrative for why premiums are rising.  If conservatives don't get on this, liberals will convince persuadable voters that premium increases are the fault of mean insurance companies.  In fact, the New York Times story linked above has the headline "Health Insurers Push Premiums Sharply Higher."  Darn insurers.  Maybe we should get our comprehensive health care prepayment from the government (single-payer.)  The nice IPAB people won't say no will they?

The problem is that Ryan is just one guy.  He needs a megaphone.  How many people have heard about Ryan's proposal in any detail vs. the number of people who have heard about the Romney-Perry dust up over in-state tuition for illegal immigrant?.  Come to think of it, the main health care issue we've heard about during the debates has been the Perry HPV executive order.  No sane person should expect the currently announced Republican presidential candidates to become braver, more responsible, and more eloquent on health care policy.  So the message will have to get out some other way.  A conservative foundation or right-leaning fundraising group could do a lot worse than spend its money educating the public about the benefits of consumer-driven health care policy (preferably between elections.) 

But it isn't enough to be for Ryan's preferred policy.  For one thing, Ryan's policy proposal is too radical to be a prudent Republican health care policy for 2012.  That means that the center-right should move along several tracks for reforming the health care system.  Ryan (and every advertizing dollar that can be raised) should be selling the benefits of his pretty maximalist plan.  That's good.  That shapes the debate  Republicans presidential and congressional candidates should argue in favor of Ryan's general approach but present more gradualist policies,  I would suggest two policies to substitute for Ryan's tax credit proposal:

1.  Adopt Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru's plan to convert the employer health insurance tax deduction into a flat tax credit (like Ryan's plan) but limit individuals who can use the tax credit to those who don't currently have access to employer-provided health insurance.  All others have to use their tax credit through an employer-provided plan.  As Levin  and Ponnuru write

It would not do as much to shift control over insurance to workers. They would have to stay in their jobs to keep their existing plans. But it would cut costs and help people the tax code now pushes out of insurance markets. And it would do so, critically, without threatening the insurance arrangements of the satisfied majority. Over time, this reform could help the individual market grow and become more attractive to more Americans. Voters might then become receptive to relaxed restrictions on using the tax credit to exit the employer market.

2.  Change the law so that states and municipalities can offer Indiana-style HSA/catastrophic coverage programs for public employees.  Such a program saved Indiana's government money while increasing the take home pay and maintaining their health care security of the workers.  This is a political win-win and it gives all those Republican governors elected in 2010 something useful to do when it comes to health care policy.  As the experience of Indiana is repeated (well, if it is repeated) by blocks of public employees all over the country, people who don't have access to such plans will wonder why they can't have more pocket money for just as much health care security.

To maximize its chances for success, any strategy for moving to a more consumer-driven health care system will have to be as consensual as possible in the early stages.  Risk averse members of the public should not be given the impression that they are going to be thrown into a brand new system in 2013 or 2014.  As more measured policies gradually increase the number of people on consumer-driven policies, the constituency for greater reform will tend to grow organically (though there should be persistent and energetic activism from the center-right.) 

Note:  It goes without saying that there would have to be all kinds of other policies ranging from state-based high risk pools to pricing and quality transparency regulations, to reforms allowing for entry into the market by higher productivity specialty medical providers in order to really make this work.  
Categories > Politics


Dolphin Talk

In Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it is stated that humans are actually the third most intelligent species in the world. The first are mice, who are actually testing us while we think we are testing them, and the second are dolphins. "On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reason."  Aware of the impending destruction of the Earth in the novel, the dolphins leave the planet and try to relay a final message that ends up being "misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the Star Spangled Banner, but in fact the message was this: So long, and thanks for all the fish."

The sea-dwelling mammals have long been of fascination to human beings for their often playful and curious nature, and their relative intelligence compared to most other creatures with whom we share the world. Of the sea creatures, they have proven to be among the most useful and easy to interact with for humans, in a way that horses and mules and dogs and cats are useful. There has been some excitement in the blogosphere lately due to this study that plans to create the first two-way communication between dolphins and humans through the use of some sophisticated technology and long-studied habits of the creatures. Some of the excitement is a bit overdone, though, as one of the scientists involved pointed out.

This is not an advancement towards "conversation" with dolphins. One cannot have true conversation with one's dog, for example, but we can relate certain commands to a dog that it can learn to be familiar with (as an aside, I tend to sometimes think my dogs can understand me or at least get what I'm feeling, but I understand there's no reasonable basis for that, just a feeling or a hope, I suppose!). It will be similar to the dolphins; just as we have worked out way of communicating certain things with our dogs (and are sometimes able to get an idea of something the dog is trying to communicate too depending on its actions and mood), these scientists are expecting to do the same with the dolphins. Perhaps it will help us learn more about how these creatures act, but it likely isn't going to be bringing any sort of tremendous revelation or use to us outside of the realm of these studies. At the end of the day they are still irrational and guided by instinct, incapable of understanding concepts like justice, liberty, and morality. Good luck, though, to these researches in working to further understand the fun creatures and building some sort of communications with them!
Categories > Technology


A Comment on Palin

Former Governor Sarah Palin said on Fox recently that she may not want to run for president because she would be shackled by the presidency and unable to wield the type of authority she has now. Jon Stewart has an appropriate take-down of this silly stuff. The spectacle of Sarah Palin is distracting from getting to the real substance of things, and much more of a disservice than the hype surrounding Governor Christie, who at least has something serious to say in a serious way and seems to be less-egocentric and far more genuine than Sarah Palin in the dancing around this issue (though I do share some of the concerns mentioned by Julie below about Christie). She needs to just accept the role she really wants, that of a well-paid and somewhat influential pundit, and stop with the presidential back-and-forth.
Categories > Elections


Ryan Health Care Plan Semi-Open Thread

So I'm about a quart low on energy right now, but I'm trying to think through Ryan's speech on health care policy earlier this week.  I think it is bold, thoughtful and eloquently presented.  I also think it has some large political problems.  But I want to know what the NLT readers think.  Have at it.  Or not - it's a free country.
Categories > Politics



Well, if you have not read it or seen it by now, here is a link to both the transcript and the video of the Chris Christie speech at the Reagan Library two nights ago. 

Most of the commentary about it can be characterized as one of two things:  speculation or begging.  Although I am not inclined to think there is a lot of need for the former, I cannot avoid it if I am to say anything intelligible about the substance of Christie's fine and effective remarks.  I absolutely will not engage in the latter.  But more about that later.

Here's what I think:  It is entirely possible that Chris Christie misread his moment.  I think he was sincere when he said that he did not mean to run for President and I think his reason for not running--at least, initially--had partly to do with his own personal concern with being "ready," but it had mainly to do with a suspicion that no Republican was likely to beat Obama in 2012.  He thought he could and should wait.  He was wrong on both counts. 

Consider his long (and, yes, very good) reflections on Obama's 2004 Democrat Convention speech.  Everybody who knew anything about politics in 2004 knew that watching Obama warming up for Kerry brought on feelings reminiscent of those you get when the previews at the movies look better than the movie you came to see.  That was as close as Obama ever got to a Reagan moment.  And Christie was at the Reagan Library, so he can be forgiven if visions of "A Time for Choosing" were dancing in his head.  I think Christie meant to do something like that at the Reagan Library or, perhaps, to give us a taste of what he must mean to do at our coming convention whether or not he is the candidate.  I think that explains why this 2004 speech of Obama's was so close to the forefront of Christie's mind; that, and it is a good hook for explaining to people, who once trusted in Obama, the ways in which their original opinion is wrong. Without question, Christie did that well. 

But this brings me to the second part of my thoughts about Christie's speech.  If he's not running, why is he waxing eloquent on Presidential politics in this way?  Well, it must fry him to watch these debates, right?  He's sitting there watching these guys do it in ways that seem, to him, wrong.  It's killing him.  Maybe he thought he could at least offer a tutorial to the GOP candidates.  "Watch me.  This is how it's done."  And his substance was good.  What he said about compromise (contra Rush and others who, though they mean well, seem to be suffering post traumatic stress disorder whenever they hear that word) was good.  

But the thing about this speech is that, as with most pros who step in to demonstrate skills to talent that is already playing at the top of its game, Christie is only succeeding in showing the rest of them up.  It's not going to do anyone any good for him to continue in this mode.

"Maybe showing them up is all part of his plan?" suggest some prognosticators who, like me, don't see much point in all of this talk if the man doesn't mean to run.  So, therefore, he must mean to do it.  Well, if that is the case, here's what the rest of me is saying:  I have loved Chris Christie for a long time.  And I long, just as much as the next citizen, to hear someone come and speak simple truths to power with good effect and without cringing.  But if he is planning like that, to hell with him.  No, really.  This is becoming unseemly.  He may be the best guy (though I don't think that is, by any means, a settled matter) but he ain't the only guy.  Please.

And here's something else.  What is this with the begging of this guy to run?  This suggestion that he must do it?   I don't like it.  I thought his answer to the (sincere, but sad) woman who was begging him to run was good, respectful and, even, sweet.  But it bothers me to see Americans so desperate for one man to run for the Presidency.  There is something weak and pathetic about it, I am sorry to say.  Have some pride.  Americans don't beg anyone to be their boss.  It reminds me, in a way, of the scheming that went on to get George Washington to declare himself emperor . . . maybe without the Washington.  

Perhaps it is unfortunate that Chris Christie's moment has passed and that he seems to have made the wrong call.  But if he is a man of integrity, and I think he is, he can use this opportunity to remind Americans that this is their country.  No one man is so essential, so wise, or so wonderful that he must be deign to be their king as if he were part of some Platonic dialogue writ large.  Of course his consent in the thing matters.  This is a regime built on the principle!  Enough, already.  There is serious work to do and Chris Christie will best contribute to that effort when he makes it clear that he means to support someone else for the Presidency this go around.   If, on the other hand, he means to jump in, he had better do it quick.  And, if he does that, there's no getting around the fact that he is going to have a lot of explaining to do and he should not be surprised if a lot of voters, instead of thinking that he has finally lived up to his duty, consider that he's not really as much a man of his word as they once thought he was.   
Categories > Elections

Health Care

AMA, Doctors Split on Obamacare

The American Medical Association, for a century and a half the primary lobbying group of our medical professionals, has seen quite a decline in membership since its endorsement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act last year. Today, only 17% of doctors are now members of the AMA, with 47% of those departing over the past year citing the association's continued support for Obamacare as their primary reason for leaving. I also draw your attention to the news this week that both the Obama Administration and 26 states against the healthcare law have finally brought the case to the Supreme Court for review, ensuring that this will be a largely-covered issue in the upcoming campaign.
Categories > Health Care


Required Reading

Tired of the Mitt Romney-Rick Perry food fight?  Me too.  But there are serious Republicans who are talking about our biggest economic problems in a serious way.  Too bad none of them are running for President.

Chris Christie gives one heck of a great speech and describes a tough-minded and realistic conservative reformism that is willing to make reasonable good faith compromises.   

Paul Ryan eloquently lays out the case  for a broad right-leaning health care reform.  As usual, I think Ryan's proposal's move a little too far a little too fast to be the Republican policy agenda of the moment.  But I don't think that Ryan's major speeches are best understood as attempts to get some exact proposal passed either now or ever.  They are attempts to get people thinking about new approaches to solving problems.  Those approaches can then be refined in ways that take into account public opinion and reasonable policy criticism.  If I were the head of American Crossroads or some other right-leaning group with deep pockets, I would put Ryan into two minute commercials explaining some aspect of health care policy.  Such a two minute commercial would do more to change people's minds that ten times as many 30 second ads that don't have a chance to say anything.
Categories > Politics


Congressional Realignment

While most of the punditry is focused on President Obama's recent campaigning and the quest for the Republican Party presidential nomination, the bigger story seems to be that of the United States Congress. Every four years, congressional elections are usually seen as second fiddle to the race for the White House; 2012 may prove to be very different, and thus very much important. The political stress and economic turmoil engulfing the country right now have coincided with perfect timing for the Republican Party in the congressional elections, and placed the Democrats at a disadvantage.

In the 2010 elections, Republicans came to regain control of the United States House of Representatives, gaining 63 seats in the largest turnover of that chamber since 1948. Six seats in the United States Senate drifted into Republican hands, allowing the still-minority party to maintain the power of the filibuster over the majority Democrats. More importantly, though, a stunning 680 seats in the various state legislatures shifted into Republican hands, the largest turnover in our history, granting Republicans control of 25 of this country's legislatures (compared to the 15 controlled by Democrats, and the remaining being split). After 2010, Republicans took charge of 29 governors' mansions. Timing here will be key to future Republican victories, as the newfound widespread GOP influence came at a time when we took our regular census and are set to draw new congressional districts. Through the process of gerrymandering (which, just to be clear, is something I personally dislike), Republicans are protecting their incumbents and weakening Democratic positions from North Carolina to Ohio to Pennsylvania and more, giving them an advantage in at least the next two election cycles.

With the gerrymandering throughout the country mostly favoring Republicans, not only will they retain their control of the House of Representatives, they are likely to pick up at least a dozen more seats. It should be noted, though, that the approval rating of Republicans in Congress is just as low as the approval rating of Democrats, and anti-incumbency is a huge problem for everyone right now, but from what it looks like this will still favor Republicans instead of Democrats. With President Obama now focused on repealing tax cuts and raising taxes, and if the economy fails to see any type of improvement over the next year, another wave could hit the House. A long way off to know for sure, of course, and much can change in a year, but it is entirely safe to wager that the Republicans will at least maintain the House and likely increase their numbers a bit.

Now comes the much more interesting and much more important matter of the Senate. In this election, as has been pointed out by many before, the Democrats are already playing defense--24 of the seats that caucus with the Democrats are up for reelection, while only ten Republican seats are. Republicans need to only gain four seats and they become a majority in the Senate, and this task looks likely to happen. Michigan, Missouri, Montana, and Virginia all seem to be pretty safe bets to go to the GOP, and Florida and Wisconsin may very well end up in Republican hands as well. Ohio and New Mexico are both leaning the way of the Democrats, but Republicans have a serious shot in those races. Scott Brown will probably end up on the losing end in Massachusetts, which will be a Democratic gain there-- though these traditionally liberal areas have been very surprising of late. Olympia Snowe may also face a bit of a tough race, but given the flip in the Maine legislature last election, I think she's pretty safe. At minimum, the Republicans will probably grab a 52-seat majority in the Senate, with a chance at having as many as 56 of the seats. But wait--there's more!

Thinking long-term, the 2014 U.S. Senate elections will present a further disadvantage for Democrats. True, the opinion of whoever is president at the time may drastically change things and circumstances are volatile, but the seats up for grabs already put the Republicans at an advantage. Democrats will be defending 20 seats, while Republicans will be defending 13. Except for perhaps Susan Collins (like Snowe, depending on how much Maine has shifted or not at the time), most all of the GOP seats will be safe or leaning GOP. Some of the Democratic seats, however, could very well be in toss-up territory--Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia. 2014 (which will coincidentally mark 100 years of the direct election of Senators) will present the Republican Party with the opportunity to do something it hasn't done in the past century--grab a filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate.

All-in-all, I would venture to say the congressional elections are what to pay very close attention to this year, and the Senate in particular. How much Republicans shore up their majority in the Senate will set them up for most of the next decade. After a century of progressive dominance in Congress, if the Republicans are successful in this (and bear in mind that they are not only able to but often prone to shooting themselves in the foot), it could signal the start of a long-term realignment much more than the fight over the Oval Office. Regardless of the fight for the White House, it just looks like the next five years are going to be bad for Democrats in Congress, and Republicans ought to realize how rare such an opportunity is and start working now if they want to do something with it. Interesting stuff to watch.
Categories > Elections


Issue Report

Sorry I've been away.  Getting away from the horse race stuff, what does the Republican presidential debate look like on the key issues of Medicare, Social Security, and health care policy generally?  Here are my impressions after watching the first six Republican debates and the Freedom Forum thing in South Carolina:

Medicare - Almost nothing after the first debate.  Rick Santorum mentioned the benefits of a premium support model for Medicare in the first debate and I think several candidates mentioned that they supported the Ryan Medicare reform proposal.  That is about all I've heard.  Gingrich mentioned his snake oil about cutting fraud in one debate too.  Reforming Medicare is an enormous fiscal issue and will probably be THE key battleground over whether we move to a higher tax, more statist, more centralized direction or a (comparatively) lower tax, more market-oriented direction.  The early Republican debates have done nothing to advance public understanding this issue or any particular Medicare reform proposal.  I haven't heard Perry say anything about this issue. 

As usual, Romney is the antimatter of political courage.  His Medicare proposal in his economic plan is short and to no point.  Romney writes "the plan put forward by Congressman Paul Ryan makes important strides in the right direction by keeping the system solvent and introducing market-based dynamics. As president, Romney's own plan will differ, but it will share those objectives."  Or as Reason magazine described Romney's plan "Does Romney support Ryan's plan, or its basic framework? Not...exactly. "As president, Romney's own plan"--wasn't this supposed to be Romney's plan?--"will differ, but it will share those objectives." The same. But different."  What a waste.

The best that we can hope for are that Perry and Romney are hoping to get elected and then throw America a Medicare reform surprise party.  Worst case, we are headed for the rocks.

Social Security - So far it has been mostly attitudinizing from the two frontrunners.  Perry and Romney aren't actually that apart on substance - in the sense that neither has much just yet.  They both want Social Security to remain unchanged for current recipients.  They both want the system to be reformed so that it will be there for younger workers.  And neither has committed to any actual reform proposals.  So that leaves posturing.  Perry has done a lot of big talking and writing that Social  Security is an unconstitutional Ponzi scheme monstrous lie that maybe should be run by the states.  Running on such a platform would probably be political suicide so Perry isn't advocating moving Social Security into a state-run program.  But he can neither fully embrace nor fully reject his previous statements.  So he ends up defending his past statements while denying that they will form the basis for forward-looking policy.  And when that fails, he just starts talking about Romneycare regardless of whether it makes sense in the context of the discussion. 

Meanwhile, Romney is busy pretending that Perry would try to destroy Social Security.  Reality check:  If we repealed the 22nd Amendment and Rick Perry served three terms as President, Perry would leave office with Social Security being a federal-level program of intergenerational transfer and/or forced savings.

The only candidate who has had anything real to say on Social Security has been Herman Cain with his proposal of moving to Chilean-style private accounts.  The problem is that Social Security is suffering a medium-term funding shortfall.  The amount coming in from payroll taxes isn't going to keep up with benefits.  Diverting the payroll tax contributions of younger workers into private investment accounts only makes that shortfall worse over the next several decades.  That means the shortfall has to be made up with either greater government borrowing, higher taxes, lower benefits for retirees or some combination of the above.  What am I missing?  This isn't even getting into the political problem of selling private accounts after the stock market gyrations of the last eleven years.

Health care policy - All the Republican presidential candidates hate Obamacare.  I heard some stuff from Perry about tort reform.  Romney mentioned something about interstate purchase of health insurance.  If you were just the average voter, you had little idea what either of them were talking about or how you might benefit by the weird-sounding policies they passingly mentioned.  Not one of them can produce a coherent and concise critique of Romneycare  Romney is (amazingly) getting away with hiding the policy similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare.  Perry's explanation of Texas' high rate of uninsured residents is that the dog Washington ate his Medicaid waiver.  Not one of the candidates has mentioned (for instance) how moving more of the working age population to system of HSAs/catastrophic coverage might maintain health care security while increasing worker take home pay,  At the presidential debate level, the quality of the Republican message hasn't improved even a little bit over 2008.  All we have done is seen "stop socialized medicine" replaced with "repeal Obamacare."  This issue (along with Medicare) is where Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan are missed the most.     
Categories > Politics


Ford Wimps Out

Ford has pulled its anti-bailout commercial.  Fortunately, the web is forever, and it is available here.
Categories > Progressivism


The Clutch

Fall and October beckon and, with them, come the conclusion of baseball season and the beginning of another long season of hopeful anticipation of the spring.  I have often thought that if a man cannot study philosophy and will not reflect upon his religion, there may yet be some hope for a meaningful life if he will, at least, study baseball.

Elizabeth Scalia waxes poetic on some of the reasons for this over at the First Things blog, On the Square.  At the heart of her musings is her recollection of the dread and then heartbreak she witnessed in a fan of one of her rival teams as her team rode the wind to glory.  The capacity of baseball to "break your heart," she reflects, is what makes baseball great.  And the reason baseball can do this is because of the way it can put you "in the clutch"--that is, in a state of suspension between certainty and uncertainty; the place where you have offered up your best, but can only hope for an agreeable outcome.  As the potential for tragedy spins on this roulette wheel of fate, love prevents us from calling in our chips.  We double down and are drawn in, yet again, for another spin.  We are caught in the clutch and the love that drives us compels us to surrender to it.  The pitcher may have perfected balance and form and strength and speed but, at some point, he must release the ball. 

It is a grand read.  Enjoy.
Categories > Leisure


Faith Barriers

Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Germany the other day, and apparently both Catholics and Protestants are disappointed that he did not work to break down faith barriers and bring the churches closer together. Apparently there are many in Germany asking why old divisions between the faiths still exist. Though not quite the theologian myself, I find the answer quite simply expressed in much of the philosophy of classical liberalism, as a chief reason why we seek to separate the political realm from that of the religious: you cannot compromise on religion. One cannot negotiate or haggle over how to save one's soul. There cannot be a deal struck over how to interpret what is God's law and what is not. Locke handles the issue very well in his Letter Concerning Toleration and Essay Concerning Human Understanding, as to why we must separate the sword and the cross in order to have political peace--politics requires principle, yes, but also compromise, and give-and-take, which cannot exist within religious discourse. There is no room for compromise in true faith. Government must account for this, which then-candidate Obama actually discussed rather well in a speech a few years ago. 

Religions must lay down the sword and be tolerant of each other's existence in human society, but they have no need to break down barriers between each other or negotiate their beliefs with each other. And while religions can have dialogues with each other, can seek where they agree on matters of theology and living, can try find where they can work together towards common goals, they are under no obligation to rectify their beliefs with each other. This "tolerance" does not mean, either, that one faith cannot call another out for its shortcomings or say that only through their own church can one's soul be saved. It just means that it must respect and act within the laws of man. Good for the Pope for not giving into this silly and relativistic idea that one needs to work to break down the barriers between faiths. 
Categories > Religion

Foreign Affairs

Tsar Putin Returns

After months of speculation about whether or not current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would go to battle over reelection, the question has now been settled: Medvedev will bow to his master and not seek reelection, instead swapping spots with the Russian strongman who has run the country for the last decade. It is likely that Medvedev was considering running, but the fact that most of his chief ministers were likely to back Putin probably changed his mind (as well as Putin critics sometimes seeming to turn up radioactive on their deathbed). Indeed, the former KGB's tactics of ruling are as ruthless as many of the other thugs to govern throughout history, but just a bit more targeted. He does not engage in wanton cruelty over his subjects or complete oppression; he has figured out how to control his country through the public affairs while seeming to leave the private ones alone. Yes, it means that a journalist or a former spy or an activist lawyer need to die sometimes, or that an occasional billionaire oligarch or political rival need to be tossed in jail for a while, but the violence is not wanton enough to cause the Western world or the Russian people to really do more than sometimes express some displeasure with it all. Between the West just watching Russian tanks roll into Georgia without lifting a finger and the United States quickly capitulating on the new START treaty with Russia and Europe's newfound subordination to Russia due to energy resources, Putin has little to fear as he continues to mold his fiefdom in whatever image he may.

And an image it is, alone. Putin is feeding Russian dreams and ambitions and aspirations for greatness. He represents a strongman, a hero, someone bringing them the glory of their old empire. He is willing to stand up to and challenge the United States. Beneath the image, though, right through the surface, there are cracks. Russia has real problems, both economic and political, and its military advancement may not be able to keep up with any future arms race between the United States and China. Additionally, now that it seems we will have to deal directly with Putin again for the next decade or so, there is the question of what happens after the Tsar is dead. This is not to say that Russia will no longer be relevant on the world stage; on the contrary, the sheer fact that it maintains an arsenal powerful enough to wipe out most human life makes it relevant, regardless of all its other importance to world politics. But the Russian people, I think, will find life a little less enjoyable under Putin 2.0 than they did in the first season, and I hope that they eventually decide to do something about it.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Breaking the Laws of Physics

In school, students are taught the laws of science--the rules of how things work, if you will. Within this there is a perhaps minor issue that at times needs clarification: there are, even technically speaking, no pure laws in science. This is because scientific theory is not based on truth and cannot discern truth; just probability, based on experimentation. Science exists to prove things wrong, and to give us the most probable truths about life that it can give--but never any absolute truth. There is no way in science to prove something is absolutely true. Yes, if I toss my pen up into the air, I will bet a lot of money that it comes back down, and the law of gravity tells me it will. The theory of gravity explains why this is to me. However, it is only highly probable that it will come back down with that theory's understanding; not absolutely true. This theory seems to be the most true right now, and until it is proven wrong, is the theory that we most like to work with. This does not mean that someday, somehow, the theory cannot be overturned. No where else is this oft-forgotten part of scientific pursuit being revealed this week than at CERN, the large laboratory in Europe whose experiments of late were cosmic enough to cause people to seek shutting them down for fear that they would create a black hole with their Large Hadron Collider.

For a century, the scientific world has lived mostly under Einstein's theories of physics and relativity. Much of this theory is anchored in the idea that nothing is faster than the speed of light; that is the north pole for the compass of the theory currently accepted as law. It looks like CERN, however, seemed to consistently make some particles go 60 billionths of a second faster than the speed of light. Naturally, this is now causing the entire scientific community to scratch its head. The physicists at CERN quickly published the results of their experiment so that other scientists around the world could critique it and do their own studies. I am sure right now there are many-a-physicist crossing their fingers and hoping that someone finds a flaw in their experiment, rather than upending a century's worth of scientific theory. Apparently this kid, Jacob Barnett, who I referenced some months ago really was onto something when he said that parts of Einstein's theory of relativity don't compute. I'd be happy to see what he makes of the data!

Good luck to them in their pursuit of knowledge. If the current theory regarding time and space is proven wrong, all-the-better for us and our continued efforts to figure out how things work. Science should be ever-changing and ever-learning to try and understand the physical things of life. But perhaps this can serve as a lesson to people to remember that science presents only theories and probabilities--useful, yes, but theories nonetheless. If you want truth, go read some Aristotle.
Categories > Technology


Liberty From Religion

Three stories show us what "diversity" and "toleration" often mean to the religious Left, and to the bureaucratic powers that be:

In sunny California:

Chuck and Stephanie Fromm already have been fined $300 for holding Bible studies for their friends at their home, and they face the potential for additional fines of $500 for each study held, according to a legal team taking their case to court.

The newest conflict over Bible studies in homes in America arose in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., where city officials say city code section 9-3.301 prohibits religious organizations in residential neighborhoods without a conditional-use permit, a sometimes very expensive procedure.

Meanwhile at Vanderbilt University:

Vanderbilt University's Office of Religious Life quietly deferred its annual approval of several mostly conservative Christian organizations.

Groups affected included the Christian Legal Society, InterVarsity and the graduate chapter of Campus Crusade. These organizations face an uncertain future because of a new policy that prohibits religious organizations from requiring that their leaders share the same beliefs and goals of the organizations they seek to lead. The policy goes one step further by hamstringing Bible studies.

According to a letter from the acting director of the Office of Religious Life, Bible studies are suspect because they "would seem to indicate that officers are expected to hold certain beliefs.'' The letter goes on to explain: "Vanderbilt policies do not allow this expectation/qualification for officers.''

(Thanks to Phi-Beta-Cons )

Meanwhile, Drudge posted this story, about a boy who was suspended from school for saying that homosexuality is immoral.

Categories > Religion

Political Philosophy

Jaffa and the central idea

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the Old Man is going to be 93 on October 7th and that a good way to celebrate his birthday would be to bring to our attention something interesting by him or about him.  So I note this Master's Thesis, Increased Devotion: Equality, the American Founding, and Abraham Lincoln, by Sara Whitis.  It is on how to understand equality, the thing that both defines us, and about which we have disagreed--arguably--from the beginning.  She asserts that no scholar of the 20th or 21st century "has more thoroughly and thoughtfully" explored the subject of equality and its implications for our political life than Jaffa.  She then explores his writings, emphasizing Crisis of the House Divided and A New Birth of Freedom, and says this: "These books themselves add to the legacy of Americans' disagreements over their central idea, because between Crisis and New Birth, a profound shift takes place in Jaffa's understanding of the meaning of equality in the Founding."  She explores the journey of his thinking and with graceful intellect interprets his work.  This may be the best thing ever written on the subject.  You should read it.


Get Rid of Holder

As Operation Fast and Furious continues to rise as the most serious of the many scandals now engulfing the Obama Administration, new evidence reveals even more damning evidence of Attorney General Eric Holder. Newly-released audio recordings of a conversation between an ATF Agent and the Arizona gun dealer who sold the weapons that killed Border Agent Brian Terry reveal several things. First, they were concerned early on about one of the main whistleblowers. Second, elements of the Department of Justice were actively working earlier this year to mislead Congress and shield the illegal gunrunning program from the inquires of several senators and Congressman Issa. Finally, they seem to imply that not only did Holder know of the program, but he was involved in trying to get Congress out of the way. It also implies that the FBI and others throughout the Department of Justice knew of the program's existence earlier than February, meaning much of the recent story by Justice officials has been wrong. It must be stressed that the tapes do not come out and explicitly state that Holder knew of the program, but they heavily, heavily imply that he did--or that he should have, at least--and thus may have lied to Congress when he informed them that he had only learned of the program sometime in May.

Eric Holder has proven himself to be either grossly incompetent or shamefully criminal. Either way, he must go. It is time that a special investigator be established to begin officially subpoenaing Department of Justice and White House officials to get to the bottom of this increasingly-tangled web of lies being spun by Holder and his staff. Bring the Department of Justice to justice.
Categories > Politics

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Apples of Gold in Pictures of Silver

The latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer considers--with the help of Madison and Lincoln--the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and the rich legacy they bequeathed to us.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Foreign Affairs

Palestine, the UN, and Statehood

Diplomats are scrambling right now as the sometimes-leaders of Palestine seek official membership within the United Nations this week. The Palestinians are saying that they are doing this so that they can be an official state, and opponents, led by the United States and Israel, are saying that the United Nations should not give Palestine statehood until a peace deal is reached. Both the pro-Palestine and pro-Israel sides are being completely absurd, as the United Nations in absolutely no way wields any type of authority to determine what is a state and what is not. This unelected, international, and voluntary organization has no sovereignty nor right to bequeath sovereignty to others. This organization says that stateless Somalia is a state. This organization says that gangsters like Muammar Gaddafi, Than Shwe, Robert Mugabe, and Omar Al-Bashir are sovereign leaders of states on equal footing with others. This organization defines sovereignty purely as an independent government effectively exercising control over a defined territory. There is no mention of the interests or will of the people in these nations; no belief in the idea of sovereignty being inherently held by individuals and partially surrendered to the governments they form. So while the thugs may wield force and thus de facto sovereignty over the states of this world, their rule is neither legal nor legitimate. Recognition by the United Nations does not lend them legitimacy; it just recognizes the unfortunate reality that tyrants must be dealt with in the international sphere if we are to maintain any sort of international stability.

The Israeli-Palestinian crisis is a tough one, with two peoples claiming sovereignty over much of the same small stretch of land. It cannot be decided on until those two entities come to some sort of agreement. Whatever recognition that the United Nations gives to any side is inconsequential as far as legitimacy is concerned, and in this particular case as far as reality is concerned as well-- Palestine really exercises neither de facto nor de jure control of their territory; say what they will, Palestine is still relatively subject to Israel (which is part of the complaint). This Palestinian bid for UN Membership will certainly give the United States headaches and further complicate our relations with Arab states in the increasingly-chaotic Middle East, and this is very much part of Palestine's plan to ramp up pressure on us, but recognition by the United Nations does not automatically grant you statehood. It would do well if President Obama or Ambassador Rice reminded people of this all, but, given their inclinations, I doubt they will. I would also propose that any nation who votes against us in the General Assembly have the foreign aid they receive from us terminated immediately. But, again, I don't expect a presidency that is guided by "humanitarianism" (whatever that is) to actually use the tool of "aid" in a proper and pragmatic way-- that is, actually serving American interests. It would be a good start, though.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


A Cultural Watershed?

Ford's new commercial might represent a cultural milestone.

"Chris," the character in the commercial, does not want to buy a car from a company that the government has bailed out.  Moreover, Chris attacks the basic idea of the entitlement state when he says "that's what America's about."  We try our best. "When you fail, you've got to pick yourself up, and go back to work." 

Behind the veil of ignorance, an American wants the opportunity to succeed or fail on his own merits.  That implies that failure has real consequences.  Hence the strictures against bailouts.

Since the 1960s, when commercials touched political themes they have tended to reflect Lefty themes, since, as a rule, Progressivism has had chic cachet.  That has not always been the case, but it has been the general rule.  But this commercial goes after the bailout state.

Categories > Economy


Brian Kelley

Former CIA operative Brian Kelley passed away last night. He was a remarkable man. During my time as a fellow at the Institute of World Politics, I had the opportunity to interact with him several times and listen to him speak. He was one of the country's leading authorities on counterintelligence, and was very involved during his time in the Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency with many of the biggest espionage cases in American history. Kelley and his family suffered greatly during the hunt for the most notorious Russian mole within the United States intelligence community-- traitor Robert Hanssen, whose capture was the subject of the motion picture Breach. Kelley had a similar profile to Hanssen, doing much of the same type of work and happening to live relatively close to where the real spy lived. It did not help that Hanssen was involved in hunting for the spy. Kelley ended up suffering interrogation, placed on administrative leave, was rejected by the American intelligence community, and had his privacy subject to wiretaps. Suffering this for nearly two years, he was vindicated at last when Hanssen was discovered to be the spy and arrested. Hanssen now sits in the Supermax prison on a life sentence without parole, spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, convicted of doing more damage to the American intelligence community than any other individual person in our history. Kelley was restored to his status, and spent much of his later life teaching counterintelligence studies at the Institute of World Politics. He was a patriot and a wise warrior, who served his country and his neighbors well. He will be missed.
Categories > History



Some fascinating things in the news about the stars above. Astronaut Ronald Garan, an American who lived up in the International Space Station, snapped this fantastic photograph of the Aurora Australis dancing around the Earth. Stunning. The northern lights are caused by electrically-charged particles colliding with atoms in our atmosphere, and these particles are usually created near our magnetic poles. Then there is this photo of Saturn's rings, completely unaltered, delivered to us by the spacecraft Cassini-Huygens orbiting the planet 800 million miles away from us. The ringed planet appears even more illusively beautiful. Finally, for fellow fans of George Lucas' Star Wars saga, NASA has discovered a planet with two suns-- just like the planet Tatooine in the films. Called Kepler-16, it is considered uninhabitable for life, but is a fascinating discovery nonetheless. Amazing things up there, and even more to be discovered!
Categories > Technology


Pennsylvania and the Electoral College

A fight is brewing in Pennsylvania as some Republicans indicate that they wish to transform the way the state allocates its electoral votes for the presidency. The President of the United States is not elected by the national popular vote, but rather by the popular vote in each of the 50 states--if one candidate in Ohio gets 55% of the popular vote in Ohio, that candidate receives Ohio's electoral votes. To win the presidency, one needs to win at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes; these votes are divvied between the states based on congressional representation, plus three for the District of Columbia. The Electoral College is designed to support federalism by forcing candidates to campaign across a broad spectrum among the states and also maintains for us a relatively stable and fraud-free system, especially compared to other nations. Yes, there is occasionally a fluke when the popular vote and the electoral votes do not match up--the 2000 Election an example of this--but these are rare, and not a reason to discount the entire system.

Every state except for two operates on the winner-take-all system mentioned above. Maine and Nebraska use the Congressional District System, which apportions the votes by district rather than the entire state. In these states, elections are held within each congressional district and whoever wins in those districts gets the votes, and the winner of the popular vote in the state receives a bonus two electoral votes. Pennsylvania is considering adopting this method of voting instead. Some people seem to be decrying it as unconstitutional or an attack on the Electoral College; this is plainly wrong. The Constitution allows each state to decide how its electoral votes are split up. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 states: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors." So, there are no constitutional arguments to be made against this way of divvying up the Electoral Votes.

There are, however, some practical and political concerns with shifting over to the Congressional District System. While it is a bit more democratic and may comfort those seeking to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote, it may have the adverse consequence of increasing gerrymandering, which is already a huge problem in the country; parties will have further incentive to strengthen districts for themselves in order to ensure electoral success. The fact that the GOP in Pennsylvania is trying to do this purely for partisan reasons rather than concerns of suffrage and whatnot is also disconcerting (and strengthens my concern about gerrymandering), and furthermore foolish as it would very well harm Republican candidates in the future as well as Democrats. It is also worth noting that, based on the various data and articles I've been looking over, if every single state operated on a Congressional District System for their electoral votes, it would not change the outcome of any single election in recent history.

So, while it is perfectly within the constitutional rights of Pennsylvania to apportion its electoral votes in whatever way it sees fit, it is foolish to do so for the perceived political gain of a party, and could have some bad consequences. I have also seen proposed that one divvies the electoral votes up by percentage (if someone wins 55% of Ohio, they get 55% of the Electors, and second place gets their percentage and so-on), but my chief concern with that is that it would give more success to third party candidates which may cause systemic problems by making it more difficult for anyone to receive 270 votes in the college, opening the way for Congress to vote on the matter. The winner-take-all system is not perfect, but it is better than any alternative yet put forth.
Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Paul Ryan on the Constitution

Paul Ryan on the Constitution, speaking at Hillsdale.  Serious, good, Long. Worth reading.

Foreign Affairs

The Libyan Intervention and Iran

While the fall of the mad dog of Libya is indeed welcome, the intervention of the West into these affairs can have several unfortunate results. President Obama's degradation of the Constitution and the capitulation of Congress to the breaking down of the separation of powers notwithstanding, there are real and practical problems that will arise within the international system that can be very bad. Chief among them is the emboldening of Iran's determination to pursue nuclear power, emboldened by the back-and-forth foreign policy (and general lack of grand strategy) exhibited by the West.

Though a pariah in the 1980s and early 1990s, Moammar Gaddafi was welcomed back into the international club during the past decade after negotiating to give him his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Fearing something similar to the United States invasion of Iraq, he bought the West's assurances that we would not destabilize his regime if he gave up the bad stuff. This is essentially the same type of negotiating tactics we are using with the Islamic Republic of Iran; we are imposing sanctions and constrictions on the Iranian regime, and saying that military intervention is not off-the-table, in an attempt to get them to give up their nuclear program. With our intervention in Libya, though, our position at the negotiating table has been severely limited. If less than a decade after peace was made with Libya we proceeded to actively seek the destruction of the Gaddafi regime anyways, in response to humanitarian concerns, then what incentive does Iran now have to give up their nuclear weapons? After the quashing of the 2009 uprising in Iran, the chances of a "humanitarian crisis" breaking out in that country are high, meaning that, with this doctrine of responsibility to protect, we can excuse ourselves to attack the regime whether they give up their nuclear aspirations or not.

Additionally, the mixed messages in regards to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il further embolden Iran. Hussein did not have nuclear weapons at his disposal, and was promptly toppled. Kim does, and is left alone to bully and whine from his North Korean palaces. The logic would imply that we will not invade or attack a nation with a nuclear weapon, even if they commit grave atrocities against their people--Gaddafi gave his weapons up, and so when he threatened to crack down on his people, the West readily attacked without fear. If Iran were to launch another harsh crackdown, even worse than before, it could open them up for strikes as well; if they had a nuke, though, the chances of that would be far lower. Our intervention in Libya will serve to embolden these rogue nations and give them more excuse to pursue dangerous weapons that threaten to destabilize international security. This means that unless there is a successful internal change within the nation of Iran, it seems to me that there are now only two likely scenarios: a Western military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, or the acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. Neither is very comforting. 

Our intervention has put us in a tough spot between stemming the tide of nuclear proliferation and being able to let regimes know that massive infringements on human rights are intolerable. This is a big mess to clean up, and one that must be cleaned up soon---while I completely understand the necessity and importance of the economy and domestic concerns within the electorate right now and thus at presidential debates and press conferences, spending some time addressing this issue is important, particularly due to the timeliness of Iran's nuclear program. With Israel already feeling threatened by the collapse of Mubarak and the end of peaceful relations with their neighbor, the entire situation in the Middle East is set to blow. We need to start talking about this.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

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Congress and the Constitution

Robinson's note below, and the fact that we are moving toward Constitution Day--reminds me to bring to your attention the latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer, appropriately entitled, Congress and the Constitution. It makes the case that Congress is at the very heart of our experiment in constitutional self-government.  You should subscribe to the Farmer's Letters, if you haven't already done so.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


Pestritto on the Constitution

Ronald Pestritto, a professor at that other school and for the MAHG program, spoke yesterday before the Congressional Constitution Caucus here on Capitol Hill. Speaking on the rise of the administrative state, progressive attacks on the Constitution, and how to defend against them, he started by lamenting the fact that Congress even needed a caucus dedicated to looking at and defending the Constitution. The good talk was followed by a good question-and-answer session, focusing much on the role of the courts in today's world. He reiterated concern by others that people are pinning their hopes on the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare, rather than Congress or the White House-- while he'd love to see the healthcare boondoggle shut down, Pestritto cautioned that the very fact that we are looking to the courts to be the heavyweight and support the Constitution is part of the problem. The professor hit the nail in the head towards the end of the session: "Most of politics today is a fight between the two unelected branches of government: the courts and the bureaucracy." The rebirth of constitutional seriousness is needed, and Congress needs to once more be filled by partisans of the Constitution. Good to remember this Constitution Day.
Categories > Progressivism


Salam On Perry

Reihan Salam has been writing lengthy and thoughtful posts that are skeptical of Gov. Perry's record and chances of winning an election against President Obama. I'm less down on Perry at this point.  I think it is possible that he will prove to be shrewder and better able to appeal to persuadables than people think.  Or maybe not.  Salam is surely right that Republicans need to be more careful about tailoring their messages to the sensibilities and priorities of voters that are open to voting for Republicans but who have not fully bought into a conservative narrative.  

One way to do that is for Republicans to distance themselves from the Ryan budget without offering any specific entitlement reforms.  But just ducking the issue of crafting a sustainable budget isn't good enough to meet the moment.  Who cares if Republicans hold office as the US spins into a Greece-like fiscal crisis?  Well, some Republican office holders might care, but what is in it for the rest of us?  So Republicans, if they are to be serious and prudent, need to thread the needle of offering a policy program that will lead to a sustainable federal budget consistent with economic growth and a political strategy (which includes policy formation) that will allow them to win over enough voters to win enough elections to implement and institutionalize that program.  Not easy.   
Categories > Politics



I opened the teach-yourself manual and it pointed me--after pages on fingers and their numbers, wrist placement, and posture and such--to middle C and then some other notes.  I touched it and it made a sound, a good sound.  I liked it, even though it filled me both with wonder and terror. Evelyn  Certainly this is not yet rhythm and melody, but move we will. So I brought her home about two weeks ago and she fit at an inside wall, under Ben's portrait, with a couple of porcelain Hungarian peasants, drunk, on her top, next to gifted flowers.  So I am pushing along, maybe an hour a day, and getting to know her, Evelyn, or Evie (because all good things have to have names).  She is a console, not young, but in fine condition, a lovely thing actually, with simple and elegant lines, darker complexion. Simply beautiful, even graceful, and all her movements are primitive poetry, music, something like the soul's primary speech.  She does not complicate anything.  She sounds very good, seems to like me making noise, the only thing I am capable of yet.  Eventually it will become moody food, maybe even poetry, that may push folks to dance.  I'll work on it.  She is a great good and a fine pleasure. 
Categories > Leisure

Foreign Affairs

Pora Valit

When Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, hope and a sense of upward mobility filled the people of Russia, finally freed from the central economic planning and political oppression under the Soviet Union. They could get jobs, raise children, and live in peace and happiness, they felt. Now, Putin is set to retake control of the presidency from his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and the mood of the nation could not be more opposed to what it was when he first came to power, as the Economist describe in this study of a sickening Russia. The Russian people are emigrating, or at least planning to or want to, and taking their money with them. The first to want to get out are entrepreneurs, followed closely by students, fleeing the oppression of a nation whose politics is so rotten that dissenters are thrown in jail or forbidden from travel, and where investors are hesitant to put money into new businesses--if a rival is friends with the local government, you could be jailed and your assets seized. In Putin's Russia, nostalgia for the Soviet Union is now coming equipped with some similarity to the circumstances of Soviet rule.

The Economist is quick to point out that Russians will not emigrate in droves; the vast majority of them will stay home, unhappy with their lot in life. How the Russian people react to their situation is of great importance though, and something we need to study very closely--not least because Russia still remains the only nation on the planet physically capable of destroying our own. It would do well to try and understand where they are going.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Importance of a Liberal Arts Education

I've been too busy to post much these days, and I don't see that changing anytime soon, but I just had to share this article, perhaps the best thing I've ever read on the subject of education.  It explains precisely why a liberal arts education is so important, as well as why it is so difficult to get one these days.  My favorite quote is this:

Education is about finding out what form of work for you is close to being play--work you do so easily that it restores you as you go.

It is long, I admit.  Please, if you are at all interested in the subject, make time to read it.
Categories > Education


New York Special Election

In a special congressional election to fill the seat vacated by the disgraced Anthony Weiner, citizens of New York's 9th congressional district--encompassing parts of Queens and Brooklyn--voted for businessman Bob Turner over Assemblyman David Weprin, electing a Republican for the first time in its history by a handed 54-46% of the vote. In a district with a large Jewish population and where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1, the fact that Weprin, an Orthodox Jew and established member of the Democratic Party's NYC political machine, lost can at first seem surprising. While I do not think Republicans should get too hopeful over the victory--wedge issues like gay marriage and Israel were substantially more important in this race than they would be nationally, I think--it does indicate massive problems for Democrats in particular elections next year. The citizens of this district do not trust Democrat's leadership on the economy right now, and even voters who typically vote for Democrats they disagree with on major issues--Jews with Obama on Israel, for example--because they're good on everything else, are not buying into that "they're good on everything else" line anymore. Losing a district with a heavy Jewish and Catholic population may indicate that there could be damage to Democrats in their traditional strongholds--cities--and also hamper fundraising efforts.

Additionally, it appears that the Democratic strategy of using GOP entitlement reform attempts to defeat opponents--as in the New York 26th District special election earlier this year, where Democrat Kathy Hochul ran more against Paul Ryan's plan than her actual opponent--is not a winning bet at this point. Weprin attempted to pin Turner with the same thing, but it did not work in exactly the same way as now Democrats have said in the ongoing debt negotiations that entitlement reform is not off-the-table, but have otherwise not been really forthcoming in how exactly they plan to address it. While voters may disagree with various Republican plans to fix the problem, this indicates they seem to trust the GOP more for at least having a plan. Obama's jobs bill also did not seem to assuage worries that the Democrats lack a feasible plan. Democrats still have a year to figure out their message on this, though, and Perry's schtick with "Ponzi scheme" probably isn't going to be helping the GOP case.

All in all, I think after this race you may see congressional Democrats begin to distance themselves from Obama, particularly on Israel. One example that springs immediately to mind is in California, where several Democratic lawmakers may have to challenge each other in primaries due to new redistricting. Congressman Howard Berman, one of the most senior Democratic voices in foreign policy (who once famously said, "I was  Zionist before I was a Democrat"), and Congressman Brad Sherman have both been placed in the same Los Angeles district; both are Jewish Democrats, and both have defended President Obama's foreign policy. As they battle each other for the new seat (I've handicapped Berman in the race given his experience, influence, and more charismatic persona), it will be telling if one or the other begins to distance himself from Obama (disclosure: my voting address is currently in the district they are fighting over, hence my particular attention to it). I'd say this joins other indications that the Republicans will have complete control of Congress in next year's election, and that the race for the White House is a toss-up (still leaning Obama, in my opinion) at the moment-- all cause for serious concern among the Democrats. As said, though, don't get too wrapped up in this victory; it is probably not so much a rebuke of Obama (except for explicitly on Israel) as it is frustration with the party in power during a bad economy. That is to say, Republicans appear to be "worth a try" to fix the economy-- not exactly safe footing, but it is an open window to try move the electorate their direction.
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

The Flawed Premise of Nation-Building

Writing in the Claremont Review of Books, Mark Helprin argues that the central proposition of American foreign policy over the last decade is fundamentally flawed. Our belief that we are capable of transforming a single Islamic nation--or the entire Arab world--into friendly liberal democracies with respect for human rights and international security is dangerous and negligent of history, according to Helprin. I am inclined to agree with him. While men have a natural desire for freedom and are capable of self-government, it takes a long time for a nation to reach that point-- and the Islamic nations as a whole are not entirely ready for that. The "evangelical" foreign policy of the United States in the ten years following the September 11th attacks has been futile, and we are in just as much danger today as we were ten years ago.

"To succeed, a paradigm of "invade, reconstruct, and transform," requires the decisive defeat, disarmament, and political isolation of the enemy; the demoralization of its population; the destruction of its political ethos; and the presence, at the end of hostilities, of overwhelming force. In Iraq and Afghanistan none of these conditions was fulfilled, the opposite impression flowing mainly from our contacts predominantly with an expressive, Western-educated elite, and from our failure to understand that despite the universal desire for freedom, equity, safety, honor, and prosperity, the operational definitions of each of these objectives can vary so much as to render the quality of universality meaningless."

We need to reinvent our foreign policy if we are to achieve its primary goal: the safety of the American people and their interests. We ought to support the cause of human liberty, yes, but not at the expense of our security, and with an understanding of the world around us. Read the whole thing.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Harvard College, Still a Religious Institution

From Minding the Campus:

First-years are being pressured to sign a "Freshman Pledge" committing them to create a campus "where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment" -- all in the name of "upholding the values of the College" including "inclusiveness and civility."

Categories > Education


Wacky Wisconsin--Race and Admissions

Why do universities think they are doing minorities a favor by these policies?  The Center for Equal Opportunity strikes again, this time against grotesque racial disparities the University of Wisconsin undergraduate and law school admissions process:

The odds ratio favoring African Americans and Hispanics over whites was 576-to-1 and 504-to-1, respectively, using the SAT and class rank while controlling for other factors. Thus, the median composite SAT score for black admittees was 150 points lower than for whites and Asians, and the Latino median SAT score was 100 points lower. Using the ACT, the odds ratios climbed to 1330-to-1 and 1494-to-1, respectively, for African Americans and Hispanics over whites.

For law school admissions, the racial discrimination found was also severe, with the weight given to ethnicity much greater than given to, for example, Wisconsin residency. Thus, an out-of-state black applicant with grades and LSAT scores at the median for that group would have had a 7 out 10 chance of admission and an out-of-state Hispanic a 1 out of 3 chance--but an in-state Asian with those grades and scores had a 1 out of 6 chance and an in-state white only a 1 out of 10 chance.

CEO chairman Linda Chavez noted: "This is the most severe undergraduate admissions discrimination that CEO has ever found in the dozens of studies it has published over the last 15 years."

The studies can be downloaded on PDFs from the linked site.   UW's lame response here.

Categories > Race


Regensburg logos

Samuel Gregg has a worthy note on Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture, offered five years ago today.
Categories > Religion


Human Ingenuity

Here is a remarkable story of a man brightening people's lives with a seemingly unremarkable object. "Solar Demi" saw a problem, had an idea, and is now improving the lives of his neighbors. Now charities have teamed up to bring a Liter of Light to many people in similar situations. Good for them.
Categories > Economy

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The Phoenix

Michael Ramirez on the tenth anniversary of 9/11:
And while it may be a small story in light of all of the other events of 9/11, here is a beautiful and characteristically American story about the Boatlift that took place that day in lower Manhattan.

Categories > Refine & Enlarge


Don't Blow It

Sorry I've been away.  Browser issues.

The tough economy is going to have people looking for someone else for President.  Unless the economy takes an unanticipated sharp upward turn, Obama's only chance will be to win a negative victory.  It is possible he will do just that if the Republicans help him out. 

Rick Perry's strong record of job creation in Texas should put him in a strong position to take on Obama.  The problem is that Perry will need a convincing message on entitlement reform.  Putting aside the correctness of calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, rhetorical hostility to Social Security hurts the chances for reforming our largest social welfare programs.  Some kind of substantial (as in trillions and trillions over any given decade) federal-level role in funding and/or forced savings is going to persist whoever wins the next presidential election or the one after that.  The open question is what that federal role will look like.  Any right-leaning reform that leads to a sustainable system is going to involve huge cuts (somewhat in Social Security and more so in Medicare) and substantial restructuring (especially in Medicare and Medicaid.)  Even if these cuts and other changes are gradual and designed to minimize impacts on the most vulnerable, the changes are still going to sound scary.  They are going to sound even more scary when Democrats describe them.

As Maggie Gallagher pointed out, right-leaning reforms are more likely to be implemented and sustained by politicians who seek to reform those programs in a humane and responsible ways, rather than politicians who seem like enemies of any kind of Social Security and Medicare, and who seem poised to use the looming fiscal crisis to swoop in for the kill.     
Categories > Politics


When Freemen Shall Stand

After walking across Capitol Hill on errands this morning, seeing the greatly enhanced security that has been brought out in light of a potential terrorist threat this weekend, I sat at my computer and started reading through the news. A 5-minute video on Yahoo went through the events of that terrible day, starting with the carefree news on the early morning about Michael Jordan rumors and other things, and then the belief that this plane crash was an accident, and then the horror in the newscasters' voices upon learning that it was not. I felt that heart-wrenching feeling, that labored breathing, that welling up in my eyes that has been common ever since the creation of YouTube allowed such clips of that day to be replayed over and over again. One of the main pictures at the Los Angeles Times page remembering the attacks was an image that has been burned in my mind for ten years, flashing on those difficult nights of sleeping--a lone man, white shirt and black pants, falling from the towers. Tears well up in my eyes. Another picture of the crowds gathered at the windows in the tower above the burning hole, fighting desperately for air-- I choke and remember the confusion I felt watching that in my classroom before the teacher shut it off. A video, next, of reactions to the attack from around the world-- screaming of an old woman in New York as she sees the tower collapses, our noble friends in Britain playing our anthem at their palace as weeping crowds stand at the gate, people in Poland and Russia and Vietnam and Australia and Brazil and France weeping on their knees, holding our flag, and placing flowers outside of our embassies. I begin to weep, and just sit in my room and do that for a short while, reliving that day as most others are.

As the stories often start, it was a beautiful day. Normally I watched television when I ate my breakfast, but for whatever reason--I can't remember it--I did not turn it on that morning. I ate my breakfast and got ready for school; my brother and I always had to be there extra early because Mom worked in the school office. We pull out and begin driving down the road; I flip on the radio-- there was a show we usually listened to in the mornings that played good music and had funny hosts, a man and a woman. Today, though, they were not that funny. I frowned and turned it up; they were talking about planes crashing into the Twin Towers. My first thoughts were of disappointment; only a few weeks prior, I had seen a preview for the upcoming Spiderman movie that had a helicopter trapped in a giant web between the two towers, and I had thought it looked cool and eagerly added them to a list I kept of buildings around the country I wanted to see some day.

When heading past the train tracks, we see two students walking along-- Jill, in my brother's class, and Kate, in mine. We pick them up; I'm too distracted to say hello, because the radio said they think a plane had hit the Pentagon too. This is when I start to worry, and look at my mother. "That's where the military is run from, isn't it?" She nods, a frown on face. The female host starts to cry, as the man tells us that one of the towers had just collapsed. We pull into the school parking lot. It is a small, Catholic school; 120 students total. A third of them were Air Force brats; most of the small town, Lompoc, was tied to nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base. My mom goes into the office, my brother and I to our respective classrooms. My teacher is sitting there, staring at the television with wide eyes as it replays a tower falling; as usual, I'm the only student there yet, and I sit with him and watch. They confirm the Pentagon was hit. My teacher heads to join the other teachers and staff in the office; I stare at the running masses and clouds of dust. Suddenly, I get worried; my father was on business in Australia, and due to be coming back today or tomorrow. I go into the office and peak my head inside the teacher's lounge, looking for my mom; I listen to their conversation a while. They are worried. Are we under attack? Should we cancel school? If this were an attack, Vandenberg--which controls most missile defenses on the West Coast--is said to be one of the primary targets to attack. No, we'll not cancel classes yet. Let's see what people say. I get my mom and tell her my father is supposed to be coming back today. She says he'll be okay, we'll get in contact. I am about to insist I talk to him immediately when a 1st-grader walks in, quiet and slow. She comes over to my mother, tears in her eyes, and whispers that her mother--in the Air Force--is in Washington, D.C. this week. I sit with her a while and we hold hands.

The teachers tried to keep to routine, but especially among us older students they just let us watch, turning it off when the images became too brutal. At the end of the day I remember getting home and flipping through every TV channel, shocked at how many had coverage--even the ones that normally don't show news. I stay up late as firemen and other people are trying to get people out, and they talk about people stuck in the rubble using their cellphones to call for help. It is well past my bedtime, and I'm just standing in front of the TV; why aren't they getting people out? They need to be getting more people out. There has to be more than that who are getting out. My mother sends me to bed. Teachers try to talk about it during the next week, but they can't. A few days later we are sitting at dinner, the television on the country music channel in the other room-- a patriotic song comes on, my mother suddenly stands and runs into the other room; my stepfather chases after her as she sobs and asks why they did that to all those people. My brother and I look at each other and keep eating in silence. At Mass that weekend, I sit with my mother, brother, and some of the other teachers. We end mass by singing the National Anthem; on the walk back to the parking lot, I remember Mrs. Ofstead remarking on how much more real the anthem seems now. Rocket's red glare, bombs bursting in air-- and our flag still there.

I pick up on that and look up the full lyrics of the song about a week later. It is the first time I ever read any of the additional verses to our song. I read the startling line-- "Then conquer we must, when our cause is just, and this be our motto: in God is our trust." It is the first time in my life I ever really looked at that word, justice, and tried to figure out what it meant. I had a sense of it; I knew that what had been done was not justice--and thought that, maybe, justice was the opposite of what had happened. The people around the world crying with us, the groups of Americans going there to help find people and clean up, the food and clothing and money drive my school did, the trying to find out and stop those people who did it. Maybe that was it. I would not seriously consider the subject until college, of course, but for the first time I looked at it.

Life did become somewhat different after that; or, rather, I became more aware of things in life, perhaps. I'm still not sure. It is hard to remember, and even harder to describe, what childhood in the 1990s was like-- the only thing to note is that it ended on that day. Seeing those people jumping to their deaths changed it all, and our responses altered seemingly simple things. The only time I had ever seen men with large machine guns standing alongside the road was in Mexico; now I had to pass by such men and other fortifications every morning outside of Vandenberg's main gate on my way to high school. I flied a lot as a kid, and now when I flew they treated everyone as suspicious; I used to love airports-- they were fun and happy places. More military planes seemed to fly in and out of the base after that; loud and rattling our windows. As I grew up, friends and classmates of mine, and my brother's, would join the military and be sent to fight in places I couldn't even find on a map that morning. Few have been hurt, thank God. But the idea when we were riding our bikes around town as children that they would be getting shot at later in life was so, so foreign. I am grateful to them and their bravery, and pray for them, and pray that their work may help make it so that my nieces and nephew and their classmates, born after the attacks, will not have to do the same thing.

This week, there is another reminder of some change. I was sitting and watching the president's speech the other night with a group of students from Hillsdale College, and afterwards the news came of this car bomb threat in Washington and New York this weekend. Briefly, concerned looks were exchanged by some--should we ride the Metro or go to any of the monuments or memorials this weekend? Such concern never existed ten years ago. Neither, though, I think, did such resolve-- the consensus was no, we aren't going to let these puny men keep us in fear. "Triumph we must when our cause is just." And the American cause surely is. We will mourn the dead, reaffirm our belief in justice, and cheer the demise of the beasts who did this to us. We will cry, sit in somber silence, and then continue to live with the memory of those who perished. The image that most stood out to me today when looking at these pictures was taken on the dusty streets of New York after the attacks: Liberty remains unscathed, and it is the only way forward. Thus be it ever.
Categories > History

Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

From John Adams, Defence of the Constitutions:

Such severe frugality, such perfect disinterestedness in public characters, appear only, or at least most frequently, in aristocratical governments. Whenever the constitution becomes democratical, such austerities disappear entirely, or at least lose their influence, and the suffrages of the people; and if an unmixed and unchecked people ever choose such men, it is only in times of distress and danger, when they think no others can save them. As soon as the danger is over, they neglect these, and choose others more plausible and indulgent.

Categories > Quote of the Day


Woodrow Wilson

Steve Hayward on another reason to hate Woodrow Wilson. It may not surprise you; it did me. He really was a shallow ideologue. I wonder what he would have thought about motorcycles?
Categories > History

Refine & Enlarge

9/11 at Ten

If prose is a potato and poetry is a bird, then both these items are birds.  The first is Billy Collins reading his poem one year after 9/11 (he was then the Poet Laureate): The Names.  And here is a Letter from an Ohio Farmer reflecting on what has not changed since 9/11, it is called the Regime of Liberty.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


Waking Up at Ten

In a little over a month, our son will be ten years old.  Of course, this means that he was born in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country.  It also means that on the morning of September 11, 2001 when my husband screamed, "Julie!  Oh my God . . . come look at this!" I lay in bed, heavily pregnant, and not very inclined to be accommodating to his request.  "What is it?" I shouted back.  "There's been a terrible plane crash!" he explained.  All I could think of at that moment was how annoyed I was to be roused for that news.  Plane crashes are terrible tragedies but, unless you have a direct tie to it, there is no news in it that changes your life or necessitates your getting out of bed.  Nevertheless, I obliged him, and tottered into our den to see what why he was so agitated.

No sooner had I recognized the building and recalled the terrible luck of that place (thinking, of course, of the 1993 bombing) than the second plane struck the second tower.  This was a new order of things.  I thought it was impossible for me to swell any more than I already had in the 8th month of my pregnancy, but this was not true.  Anger filled every pore of my being and I thought I might explode.  And then, as I watched the horror unfold--the tumbling of the buildings, the ash covering those who were able to flee, the realization that innumerable brave souls must have sacrificed themselves in order to save others as they ran into instead of running out of those buildings--the anger receded a bit and gave way to bitter heartache.  Yet the anger found a permanent little refuge ever to dwell in my soul and I accepted it--though not without some regret.  I would never, could never forget this.  Nothing would make it right.  Nothing could ever fully avenge it.  It altered everyone who witnessed it as it would alter everyone who remembered it.  

I remember sobbing much of the day and desperately clutching my curly-headed daughter, then only a toddler.  She had no way of understanding what was going on or why her parents were so gut-stricken that day.  But even she sensed that the world--which just the day before had included a carefree trip to the county fair--was now different and that joy, should it come, would come along with caution.  The confidence that assures the vulnerable and makes them forget their condition was shaken.  We were all vulnerable now.  In truth, however, this was not a new state of things.  It was just that a generation of Americans unaccustomed to acknowledging it except in abstractions, was rudely awakened to a fundamental truth of human existence:  the good things in life are fragile.  We had taken our security and prosperity for granted and, even more, we had assumed that our liberty was a given and a permanent fact.  Coming to know what to do with this realization would be the hard (and often thankless) work of the next decade (or more).  Remembering that realization--though it then seemed impossible that we could forget--will be the work of the decades to follow this anniversary. 

On October 10, 2001 I woke up in the pre-dawn hours to realize that I was in labor.  Since my daughter had been born in less than six hours and second babies generally come faster, I had been advised to get to the hospital at the first sign of contractions.  When I arrived, however, the nurses examined me and I could hear them murmuring to each other about possibly sending me home.  "She'll probably just be back later tonight or tomorrow," said one.  "Tomorrow?" I thought, "No!"  In addition to wishing to avoid anti-climax and continue with the dragging discomfort of heavy pregnancy, I could not bear the thought of birthing a son on the one-month anniversary of the attacks.  A television, tuned to CNN, blared in the delivery room with pictures from the mammoth efforts to clean-up at Ground Zero.  "Tomorrow will mark the one-month anniversary of the September 11 attacks," the anchors dutifully announced, as if anyone could forget.  I pulled aside one of the nurses.  Her son had just been mobilized to head over to Afghanistan and she read the look on my face.  "He will be born today, not tomorrow.  I understand," she assured me, and then she got my doctor to order a pitocin drip.  It turned out, actually, to be barely necessary.  My son was born about an hour and half after this conversation with the nurse.

As she brought him to me, I looked upon his little face and remembered my fears about raising a boy (as I come from a family accustomed only to girls).  Even then, in that summer of calm before the storm, I knew that we would have to raise him to be strong in ways I did not fully comprehend.  Yet I did not understand just how strong he would need to be until after 9/11.  Ten years on, however, I understand that 9/11 did not alter the truth of this necessity.  It only underlined it for me and, I hope, for a generation of mothers like me.  And, yet, I wonder . . .

I understand the reluctance to remember and the wish to avoid unpleasant associations.  But my children--both of them--have grown up in a post 9/11 world that, in the main, is marked by nothing but fear or solemn silence as it recalls those events. 

We remember it when we line up like sheep to take off our shoes and have our persons probed at the airport.  I remember one awful incident when my son (then 3) was traveling with a cast on his broken arm.  He was whisked away from me to a separate room and swabbed for traces of explosives.  Try explaining that to a toddler. 

During most of the years of their schooling, 9/11 came and went without any formal acknowledgment or remark.  Earth Day, on the other hand, has taken up to a week of acknowledgment and instruction.  We don't fear teaching children to fear man's folly as it applies to pollution and the raping of the Earth's resources.  But we still cannot look outright evil in the face.  I expect that this year, being the 10th anniversary of the event, will mark some change.  It will be necessary to say something.  Yet I am betting that what gets said will be something like solemn regret for the so-called "tragedy" . . . as if this really were just another terrible plane crash.  This is the beginning of forgetting--this choosing not to remember or to pass on what our parents' parents (though probably with better personal reasons) must also have chosen to forget to pass on:  that every good thing we have is vulnerable when we do not understand how we got it or what it takes to keep it.

In the wake of 9/11 it appeared that a generation many had discounted was ready, quietly, to step up and do the job of securing liberty to themselves and their posterity.  As we pass the 10 year mark, it is time for that same generation to consider whether their inclination to labor in reflexive silence and, often, without self-reflection is the best they can do for posterity.   
Categories > History


9/11 Lessons

Two Claremonsters, Bill Voegeli and Tom West, reflect on the meaning of 9/11.  Our NLT colleague Bill recalls the evacuations he and his fellow New Yorkers stoically endured.  Tom West always fights for the wisdom of the founders: 

My first reaction to the attack was anger -- certainly against the terrorists, but also against our government. The FAA disarmed pilots in 1987. Passengers and crew were ordered to submit quietly to hijackers' demands. In the name of safety, government banned the very thing that could have prevented the murder of thousands: the Founders' agenda of self-help, self-defense, and gun rights.

Their brief observations can be found at the end of this link on NRO.

Categories > Politics


Public Nudity Pushes Boundaries

A city official introduces a measure to put limits on nudity and provide posterior protection for public seating. The proposal has ignited a debate on acceptable behavior in the notoriously open city.  San Francisco is going to legislate something they would prefer not legislating, but are compelled to for reasons of "basic public health."  Sorry, I couldn't resist bringing it to your attention!
Categories > Politics


Salvatore Licitra

A tragedy in Italy this week. Tenor Salvatore Licitra, seen by many as the successor to Pavarotti, has died in a terrible motorscooter accident. He was 43 years old. Licitra gained his big break in 2002 when he had to sub for Pavarotti in a performance of Puccini's Tosca, and absolutely wowed the crowd. The tenor and his voice represented much of the beauty of Italy. Here he is singing the classic O sole mio--a fitting song for the heir of Pavarotti--and here he is again performing Nessun Dorma in Moscow.
Categories > Leisure

Foreign Affairs

We're Still Cool

Americans are still cool people, according to the rest of the world, and that is problematic for China. A recent poll asked 30,000 people across fifteen countries to list the coolest nationalities. Americans topped the list, followed by Brazilians, Spaniards, and Italians. All the way at the bottom were Belgians, marginally better than Poles, Turks, and Canadians. Kudos to Canada, typically regarded as home of the uncool, for pushing ahead.

A more serious indicator of America's desirability--and the belief that people who say they are from here are just, well, cool and successful people--is coming from China. Though the Eastern dragon is continually touted for its growing economy and presence in the world, there is sweat upon the brows of the communist leaders. Those titans responsible for the booming Chinese economy all seem to have one long-term aspiration in mind: leaving China. Their top destination of choice? The United States.

China's wealthy certainly live far better lives than the vast majority of their compatriots. They realize, though, that the lives they live are not near the standards of living they could achieve in the West. While the country's economy is slowly liberating, the government clamps down even harder on any cries for freedom from their oppressive yoke. So while the affluent in China have money, they would like other things-- they would like to have more than one child, they want their children to go to better schools, they are jealous of American healthcare standards, they want to breathe air that isn't poisoning them, they want to be able to speak their mind without threat of retribution. Importantly, they want their property protected as well--China's innovators and businessmen know that, at the end of the day, the communist government will claim all of their assets. They want to be able to buy a home and own that home, and for their children to be able to own that same home, and their children after that.

We can say what we will about America today, but the rest of the world still looks at us with envy, and yearns to have what we have. China may be catching up to us economically, but so long as they continue to oppress their people, as rich as they are, they will still see us as the best example of pushing the bounds of human potential. Not too bad.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Hazy Shade of Winter

Chance of an additional stimulus passing, "less than zero," says a GOP aide.
Categories > Politics


Fox's America Versus Muslims

A Brookings Institution panel interpreting its poll on American attitudes towards Muslims finds:  Fox News increases biases against the Religion of Peace, Americans oppose Sharia Law without knowing what it is, and so on.  In contrast, consider this intrepid late question (start at 1:44:30) from an audience member who seeks to stir things up, finding the proceedings appalling.  Bill Galston of Brookings responds thoughtfully, as he had earlier on the panel. 
Categories > Religion


A Glimmer in the Dulled Golden State

The California state song, never heard except for perhaps at the funerals of former governors, speaks much of the enchanting beauty of the great state. The chorus lovingly decribes, "Where the snow crowned Golden Sierras/Keep their watch o'er the valleys bloom,/It is there I would be in our land by the sea,/Every breeze bearing rich perfume./It is here nature gives of her rarest. It is Home Sweet Home to me,/And I know when I die I shall breathe my last sigh/For my sunny California." And for generations this was true for many people-- including many of the brightest, most creative, and most innovative people that this country was host to. Titans of aerospace and technology, farming and winemaking, art and literature, music and cinema, architecture and education-- all called the land of honey, fruit, and wine their home. From the wonders of the Mulholland Aqueduct bringing water down to dry Los Angeles to the Golden Gate Bridge gleaming proudly in the bay, from farms that supply this country with its fruit and wine to pastures that bring us milk and cheese, the diverse and ingenious leaders of the California economy were long the envy of the world. People flocked to the rich landscape, the plenty jobs, and the chance to become rich or famous. They viewed it as the incubator for their dreams and aspirations.

Now, though, things have changed, and the Golden State is looking more and more dull. For the first time in decades, California did not gain a new congressional district, and the number of people leaving the state for other states rather than moving to California actually increased this past decade. They are moving to Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado, seeking cheaper climates and less competition for jobs. My mother and stepfather are excellent examples of this; frustrated with California, unable to afford living expenses, and struggling to keep hold of decent-paying jobs, they migrated to Ohio a few years ago. Today they have no intention of ever going back to California, and usually deride the state and caution anyone with fancies of going there not to.

Oppressed by taxes and burdened by regulations, businesses in California are fleeing elsewhere-- last year, it ranked 50th among the states in creating new businesses. I had the opportunity to participate in a round table briefing with the CEO of Carls Jr./Hardees, Andrew Puzder, a few months ago. He was discussing this very problem, and said that Rick Perry had personally called him and asked him to move to Texas, waving incentives in front of him. The headquarters of the highly successful fast food chain are indeed moving, with its jobs and taxes and 300 new restaurants. Additionally, the restaurant chain is expanding---in Asia. "It is easier to build a restaurant in Shangai than it is in California," lamented the business leader.

As unemployment climbs higher and higher, and as business continues to flee at an alarming rate, the Golden State will spiral downward into a dustbowl-like abyss. Even Hollywood has to lobby for special dispensations to continue to do business in the state-- evidence that, as Puzder mentioned, businesses don't actively want to leave their homes. It isn't like a CEO comes in, cackles, rubs his hands together, and figures out how he's going to put his neighbors out of a job. They are being forced out by this burden. The main exception to this for now is Silicon Valley, but as Amazon's recent spat with California may evidence, the tech industry is not as permanently tethered to the Golden State as one might think. At the end of the day, they, too, are businessmen. And, as it stands right now, only the famous in Hollywood and the billionaires in the Bay Area are capable of affording the state-- the middle class seems firmly content to resettle to business-, job-, and home-friendly Texas, Arizona, and Colorado. Magazines, polls, websites, and common sense direct many college graduates to those states as well--there are jobs and affordable homes-a-plenty in Texas. Until California rids itself of this hostile climate, the gleam will not return to the Golden State.

However, a recent poll shows a glimmer of hope. The vast majority of Californians believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction and, normally not known for being spendthrifts, reject a stimulus approach and think that the government needs to tackle the deficit. The Californians agree that government needs to cut back a bit. But, of course, the parties disagree on the best way to get there-- Republicans want to cut, cut, and cut spending, while Democrats want to rollback some tax cuts, have targeted cuts in spending, and boost funding in education to get skilled workers. Nonetheless, the language is one of restraining government. Keynes is dying in California. While the poll also indicates that both sides want their representatives to entrench themselves and not compromise, this will be overcome at the ballot box next year. The opportunity is ripe to jumpstart a conversation in the state that is home to more than one in ten Americans; that is home to some of the most innovative, diverse, and industrious of us. For a century it has stood as the playground of so-called "progressive" politics; if the opportunity to play ball now is missed, it may be some time before it comes again-- and by that point it may be pointless playing.

It can glisten again one day. It will just take hard work and, as obstinate as the poll indicates people are, some compromise here and there. Measured tax increases on certain sectors, substantial spending cuts in various programs, deregulation of most business areas, and decentralizing certain things from Sacramento to the county and city governments would go a long way-- even enough to agree to boosts in some educational programs. It is a good opportunity to at least try pull the state a little bit away from the precipice-- it can be a good start. It's time to start talking about how California's best days could yet be ahead of it, if only these things were done. They could make that gold gleam again, perhaps even brighter than before.
Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

End the Euro

The Eurozone Crisis continues to threaten the entirety of the European community with fiscal disaster. While this is certainly an economic crisis as well as a political one, the philosophic ramifications of how the crisis is resolved will have a huge impact on the future of the European Union. The single currency project was and is the flagship of European integration, that which was marching the states of Europe "ever closer to union" over these past years, and is shaping up to become the European Union's greatest failure and liability.

Due to the importance of the Euro to the entire endeavor, the unionists are doing all they can to save it. This past year has seen supposed bailouts of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal-- but this is all clever deception. The bailouts were not for those countries; the bailouts were for the Euro. The resistant response of Ireland to the bailout, involving massive protests and the ouster of the ruling party, highlight that these nations did what they could to try avoid a financial takeover, as these nations are getting very bad deals-- European bankers are receiving the bailout money while the burden of repayment is being placed upon ordinary citizens. The bailouts are not helping these nations. Giving debtors high-interest loans is like helping a drug addict by pumping heroin into his swollen veins. The futures of these individual nations are being sold in order to save the existence of the Euro.

Some may say that the involvement of the International Monetary Fund is evidence that this is focused on the national economies, not the Euro-- after all, the IMF is an international institution, not a European one. Wrong. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a Europhile who continued the process of turning the IMF into a puppet of the European Union. Under his leadership, the liabilities of the IMF are now 900% of what they were before he took over. Typically, when the IMF bails something out, they mandate a devaluation of the currency and enforce strict privatization and deregulation programs-- all forgone for the European bailouts. This policy will not be changing, as Strauss-Kahn's successor is another French proponent of integration--- Christine Lagarde has spent a large part of her recent career practicing EU Law at the European Law Centre. The IMF is an arm of the EU whose primary objective is to support the common currency project. (It is worth noting that the Europeans are demanding austerity measures for bailed-out and soon-to-be-bailed-out states, but they are resisting as they know, right now, they'll get the money anyways).

A single currency does not work. People point and say that the United States has a single currency, so Europe can pull it off too. They do not understand that the Euro is not like the Dollar. The American system allows for greater labor mobility of both individual and corporate members; has greater economic uniformity across its system; and allows easier fiscal transfers with the ability of the Federal government to move money around quickly. We also have more political will to move things around-- the British, who were touting the fact that they have saved over 6 billion pounds in domestic spending prior to obligations under the bailouts increased their expenditures by 12 billion pounds, are going to grow tired of helping maintain a currency they aren't attached to; and, as British MEP Roger Helms pointed out in a recent lecture, the "Germans, who retire at 66, aren't too keen to keep bailing out the Greeks, who retire at 50." Additionally, while the Dollar is doing far better than the Euro and will survive it, our growing regulations and Federal Reserve manipulations aren't exactly making us ideal to follow at the moment.

The European Union must end the Euro, and that may very well be on its way to happening. Soon, a German constitutional court is expected to rule on whether the bailouts violate German and European Union law (Note: IMF leader Christine Lagarde has admitted that the IMF bailouts were probably illegal, but worth saving the Euro for). While the court could rule the bailouts were illegal and thus place the Euro immediately on the path to a catastrophic crash, it is more likely they'll said with caution and begin to enforce tough restrictions on the ability of Germany to move money around. It should be the first step in Germany stepping away from the Eurozone and returning to the once-powerful Deutschmark, and allowing the other nations of Europe to regain their fiscal sovereignty. This will allow the European Union to take a step back and figure out what went wrong these past twenty years. Instead of progressing towards closer union, Europe should instead decentralize the process and remove the power of the European Central Bank from controlling so much. It can roll back the anti-democratic underpinnings of the project.

For those who say it is not anti-democratic, the European Parliament, which supposedly represents the people, had over 90% of its members vote for the Treaty of Lisbon; in referendums, 56% of the French people voted against it, 63% of the Dutch voted against it, and polls indicated that, if given the chance, a majority of Ireland would have voted against it. The leaders of the EU have time and time again proven that this is an elite-driven process with little popular support. It is time to step back, reevaluate, and allow the nations to regain control of their economies. The Euro has been a failed project, and its instability threatens the global economy. End the euro to save what little good is left in the European Union, and use it as an opportunity to improve.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Aristocracy in America

Jimmy Hoffa fights to preserve the fiefdom that his father created. 

"We got to keep an eye on the battle that we face: The war on workers. And you see it everywhere, it is the Tea Party. And you know, there is only one way to beat and win that war. The one thing about working people is we like a good fight. And you know what? They've got a war, they got a war with us and there's only going to be one winner. It's going to be the workers of Michigan, and America. We're going to win that war," Jimmy Hoffa Jr. said to a heavily union crowd.

"President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. Let's take these son of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong," Hoffa added.

Categories > Progressivism

Pop Culture

Change I Can't Believe In

Never content to leave anything untweaked or untouched, Star Wars creator George Lucas has apparently made even more changes to his space saga in the upcoming release of the series onto BluRay. He is renowned for making tweaks any time he does something, constantly seeking to improve upon what he has already created in order to justify it more to his artistic vision. Some of these changes are good ones--editing out some bloopers, enhancing lightsaber images, solving the Yoda-looks-weird problem in The Phantom Menace. Other changes are based more on content than quality, which is where he starts to lose people. While Lucas has notoriously made tweaks and changes that have riled up the fanbase (inserting Hayden Christensen's ghost in Return of the Jedi, having Greedo shoot at Han Solo first in A New Hope, cursing us with Jar Jar Binks), I've usually not really cared too much. One of these new changes, though, is quite disappointing.

In the climatic final battle between hero Luke Skywalker and the evil Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader has an epiphany and famously saves his son by picking his master up and throwing him down a seemingly-endless pit. It is a powerful scene, and tremendous that there is so much feeling in it when you can neither see Vader's true face nor listen to him say anything. It is a wordless sacrifice of the father for the son. Apparently, though, Mr. Lucas does not think that we are capable of understanding that Vader suddenly disagreed with the Emperor's electrifying his son. As a result, dialogue has been inserted to have the Dark Lord of the Sith yell, "Nooooo!", as he throws Palpatine down the pit. Silence is often far more powerful than words. An auteur like Lucas should have known that.

What is the worst of it? Rumors are circulating that Lucas has given Ewoks in Return of the Jedi the power to blink. That sounds terrifying, and is a line too far, Mr. Lucas. Sometimes, George, you just have to let go and let your creation wander free. If it's been successful this long, there is no need to dramatically alter such things. While some change is certainly for the better, a blinking ewok is change I can't believe in!
Categories > Pop Culture


How to Get the Economy to Grow

Some people are saying that we really don't know how to make the economy grow.  I'm sympathetic to the idea, but I also suspect that some, specific steps would help.  In particular, how about a regularory holiday?

Amity Shlaes suggest suspending the Wagner Act for two years.  What I didn't realize until reading her post is that a majority of Americans, including a majority of union members, support Right to Work legislation. (Update: here's more polling data on this subject). 

How about suspending many restrictions on drilling for oil off our coasts, and in Alaska?

Would dropping the minimum wage to $5.00 for people under 25 help lower unemployment? (And should it be 26, in honor of Obamacare?)

Suspending part of the Americans with Disabilities act, or simply restricting its application to people who suffer from serious physical disabilities, would probably help corporate America focus on business rather than lawsuit avoidance.

I bet there are many other regulations the absense of which would help the economy grow.  And I haven't even mentioned market friendly health reforms, like allowing people to buy health insurance across state lines.

From a certain perspective, many of our regulations are luxury items. Only a very rich nation can afford them. Thanks to globalization, that might be changing.

Update. Let's not forget the business impact of California's tendency to favor animals over people:

Now, largely at the behest of greens, California agriculture is being systematically cut down by regulation. In an attempt to protect a small fish called the Delta smelt, upward of 200,000 acres of prime farmland have been idled, according to the state's Department of Conservation. Even in the current "wet" cycle, California's agricultural industry, which exports roughly $14 billion annually, is slowly being decimated. Unemployment in some Central Valley towns tops 30 percent, and in cases even 40 percent.

Categories > Economy


The Best Format Yet for GOP Aspirants

Professor Robert George of Princeton will moderate and question the South Carolina GOP candidates forum.  He is a man of rare substance and grace, who can get to the heart of the matter with few words.  (Read the profile on him in the NY Times Sunday Magazine--damning him with faint praise:  "the reigning brain of the Christian right.")  Having precepted for him years ago at Princeton, I can attest to his ability to get skeptical students to consider questions they would never have thought about otherwise.  If the forum gets boring, I hope Robby pulls out his banjo....

H/t Michael Krauss.

Other candidate forums should consider such non-traditional talent (get the press out of there!):  Peter Schramm of Ashbrook, Larry Arnn of Hillsdale, Brian Kennedy of the Claremont Institute--each could perform such a role superbly and enrich political discussion for not only Republicans but for the general public as well.

Categories > Presidency


Frodo Found

I visited Montana a few months ago and was struck by the scenic beauty, but I seem to have missed one local treasure: a recreation of the Shire from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

There are fans ... and then there are fans.

H/t: Debby Witt at NRO.

Categories > Leisure


Update on Obama's EPA Compromise

Apparently, I overstated Obama's compromise on economically-destructive EPA standards. He hasn't withdrawn them, as originally reported by the media, but merely postponed them until January 2013 - that is, until just after the election.

I'd say this posturing certifies the compromise as a purely political stunt - meaning that Obama hasn't learned anything and is still as determined as ever to wreck the economy on behalf of ridiculous liberal policies.

Iain Murray has a precise summary at NRO.


Categories > Economy


Triangulation Requires Blame

I mentioned below that Obama is setting the stage for his jobs speech by lowering expectations and burying substantive analysis. I forgot to mention the third leg of his preparation: blaming others.

Obama is launching a series of lawsuits against big banks for their role in causing the recession. Whether these banks misrepresented the quality of bundled mortgage securities is a fair question, but Obama's purpose is certainly to frame a scapegoat toward which he can attempt to deflect criticism. Watch for it in his speech. It's not his unprecedented spending, lack of economic proficiency or anti-business regulations which are to blame for the continuing recession - it's the fault of the big, bad banks. (See if he is also able to subtly and indirectly blame the whole thing on Bush.)

Obama has set the stage for a truly meritless campaign speech.

Categories > Economy


Obama's Recession

So much for the "recovery summer." The White House now expects unemployment to remain above 9% throughout the election cycle. "Unemployment will not return to the 5 percent range until 2017," according to the WH budget office.

This is not news in the substance, but rather in the willingness of the White House to belatedly admit the obvious. By their continuing coverage of economic conditions as "surprising," "unexpected" and "worse than predicted," the media still haven't grasped reality.

All of this is pre-text for Obama's "jobs speech" later this week. Obama is trying to lower expectations. There should be no doubt that the speech will contain little to no substance. If it were otherwise, the White House wouldn't have dumped its Midsession Budget Review on a Friday afternoon. The MBR is a by-the-numbers forecast of the President's economic policy effects over the next few years. That is, it isn't a rhetorical campaign speech - so it isn't useful to Obama, who has no ideas to help the economy. This is the sense of the Senate Budget Committee, which clearly and concisely summarizes the President's MBR.

Obama has lost the initiative, and his speech will produce more scorn than relief. The GOP - particularly the candidates - need to step up and seize the moment. There is a vacuum of leadership in Washington waiting to be filled.

Categories > Economy


Predictions I Mostly Believe In

At least partly due to today's jobs report,

1. The President's Real Clear Politics average job approval rating will dip down to 40%.

2.  The Federal Reserve will announce a major open market operation later this month.  There will be a QE3 and it will be big.

3.  Unless congressional Republicans think they are politically bulletproof, there will be a deal to extend this year's payroll tax holiday for workers (which the Obama adminstration wants) coupled with some kind of business or investment tax cut for Republicans.  This could take of an employer-side payroll tax holiday.  The tax cuts will add several hudred billion dollars to next year's deficit.   

Categories > Politics


Related Headlines Reveal Candidate Obama

Today's major headline is that, for the first time since World War II, the economy had "precisely net zero jobs created for a month." And, following on the heels of this economic woe, is breaking news that Obama ordered the EPA to withdraw an environmental regulation that "would cost up to $1 trillion per year and kill thousands of jobs."

It's tempting to hope that Obama has finally learned a lesson, finally become aware of the real harm done to real people by job-killing, economically-ruinous regulations - which, while ostensibly related to environmentalism, are more precisely intended as fines and taxes on "evil" corporations. But, I suspect that Obama has simply been reading the tea leaves and has shrewdly begun "compromising" in order to compete for re-election.

This is the novel sign of practical political savvy from Obama, following years of ideological recklessness with public opinion. That is to say, Candidate Obama has re-emerged. He has finally taken a simple and obvious action intended to create (or, to use his own more exact language, "save") jobs. (These jobs, of course, are being saved from his own regulations, but let that pass....)

Too little, too late? Time will tell.

Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Harry V. Jaffa at 93

Harry V. Jaffa will be 93 years old on October 7th.  We should celebrate his long and good life--he still talks and listens, reads and writes, and goes to the gym three times a week--by noting something interesting he has said or written, or maybe something especially good that has been written about him.  I am grateful that his fine mind has made his body so rich and I'll post something every week until the week of Oct 7th, and will start with this interview (about an hour long) conducted by Edward J. Erler about ten years ago.  It is under the Liberty Fund's "Intellectual Portrait Series: Conversations with Leading Classical Liberal Figures of Our Time."  This is a fine interview.  The questions are clean and trim, and he is clear and terse, with a fine peroration on something timeless.  Happy birthday to the Old Man, and I thank him.


Nanny State Tackles...Nannies

In a move that is making even me ponder if California is beyond salvation from the regulatory ilk forced on us by Bay Area politicians, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has introduced Bill 889, intended to create "protections" for all domestic employees-- that is, everyone from a nanny and elderly caregiver to the babysitter and house-sitters. Yes, that is right. If this bill passes the California legislature, it would mandate that parents who ask the babysitter to come over on a Friday night will be obligated to pay at least minimum wage, ensure that they have meal breaks and rest times, and receive overtime pay and workers' compensation coverage. The original bill also mandated paid vacation time for every 30 hours worked, but the Senate--in a brief fit of wisdom--amended that out of the bill.

This is insanity. Why is Mr. Ammiano so intent on ridding us of the days when someone could hand twenty bucks to a person they trusted enough to watch their home or children, tell them to help themselves to anything in the fridge, explain how the remote control works, and leave it at that? If someone thinks that they aren't being paid enough to watch some kids or clean a toilet, then they just won't do it. This forced regulation of people's care-taking of their homes and families is only going to end up hurting the housekeepers, babysitters, and nannies in the long-run, as people will not want to go through the hassle of dealing with such a complex and absurd system. The government should trust people to make the right decisions about who they give their parental or homely powers to, and should trust other people to realize that "Hey, if this kid bites me every time I come over, I should either charge more or just not do it." If 889 passes, then it seems California will have quite literally become a nanny state.
Categories > Economy

The Founding

Jefferson-Sally Hemings Revisited

A new book, out today, questions the now conventional wisdom that Thomas Jefferson fathered illegitimate children through his slave Sally Hemings.  The board responsible for its publication includes such notables as Harvey Mansfield, Charles Kesler, James Ceaser, Paul Rahe, and Forrest McDonald and is chaired by UVA law professor Robert Turner.  Here's the amazon link.  The accusation should not have moderated devotion to Jefferson for his extraordinary achievements, though it could not have had any but that effect.  This book should help us readjust our vision of the man.  Jefferson celebrated enlightenment; let us follow in his footsteps on this accusation as well.

Categories > The Founding

Pop Culture

Mama Bears and Feminists Unite?

I bring this story of a supremely stupid t-shirt offered by JCPenny to your attention merely to note how interesting are the kinds of things that arouse the permitted indignation of the mama-bears of today.  Of course, there is always a similar outcry from conservative and religious mothers when a Miley Cyrus poses for seductive pictures called "art" or a clothing company mass produces push-up bras for girls as young as 7 or 8 . . . but those who express outrage on those occasions are roundly sneered by the knowing laughter of the more "sophisticated" and told to get with it.  I would venture a guess that every sensible mother who condemned those two things I mentioned happily joins the brigade of feminists now irritated by this t-shirt.  We would not buy it, cheer it, or allow our daughters to be caught dead in it.  We would support all efforts to keep our daughters focused on more elevated and worthy occupations and decry efforts of the popular culture to distract them from those purposes.  So why don't many feminists join us in this good faith effort when the rot being peddled is not academic but moral decay?  Fill in your own blank.  You are probably right.
Categories > Pop Culture

Mama Bears and Feminists Unite?

I bring this story of a supremely stupid t-shirt offered by JCPenny to your attention merely to note how interesting are the kinds of things that arouse the permitted indignation of the mama-bears of today.  Of course, there is always a similar outcry from conservative and religious mothers when a Miley Cyrus poses for seductive pictures called "art" or a clothing company mass produces push-up bras for girls as young as 7 or 8 . . . but those who express outrage on those occasions are roundly sneered by the knowing laughter of the more "sophisticated" and told to get with it.

I would venture a guess that every sensible mother who condemned those two things I mentioned happily joins the brigade of feminists now irritated by this t-shirt.  We would not buy it, cheer it, or allow our daughters to be caught dead in it.  We would support all efforts to keep our daughters focused on more elevated and worthy occupations and decry efforts of the popular culture to distract them from those purposes.  So why don't many feminists join us in this good faith effort when the rot being peddled is not academic but moral decay?  Fill in your own blank.  You are probably right.

Pop Culture

Exonerating Beauty

Picking up on Justin's post below, I bring your attention to this recent post on the Economist's blog.  It is an uncommonly good and interesting reflection on why it is that an enterprising and ambitious capitalist, Steve Jobs, has been able to escape the snares of the prevailing brand of class warfare animating our popular culture--especially given that so much of Apple's core customer base is comprised of people inclined to be active on the other side of these battles.  Bill Gates of Microsoft was able to purchase his indulgences with his Bill Gates Foundation.  Mr. Jobs, on the other hand, has inspired a kind of prayerful and silent indulgence with the beauty of his products. 

You see, under the direction of Mr. Jobs, Apple has brought to market products that, "add a dash of elegance to the lives of consumers by selling them gorgeously refined devices at a premium."  (Not to mention that cute little Apple sticker you can put on your car and, thereby, telegraph to the world that you are part of the "cool" club . . .)  Not everyone can or chooses to make the financial sacrifice in order to be part of that club.  But everyone is enticed by it and, on some level, they admire it.  All have a sense that there must be some superior mind at work behind these products--a mind that is, in some sense, in better tune with the eternal order of things

So no matter the lack of what our culture considers ordinary philanthropic commitment on the part of Apple.  Their gift to mankind is the fulfillment of their artistic mission and their continued success in the marketplace.  People cheer true excellence even when they are otherwise inclined to scorn the merely "successful."    Whatever the political or economic inclinations of a person, his experience with an Apple product is generally one of those few times in this world where a thing just works precisely as it was intended to do.  It is a symphony of order in the universe.  And he is grateful for it.  It is--perhaps on a less breathtaking scale--akin to what Pope Benedict described feeling when he heard Bernstein conducting Bach in Munich.  It is something like what I feel when watching an effortless and graceful double play or an over the fence, bases loaded, home-run in the bottom of the final inning with the score tied and a little boy catching the ball in the stands.  It is an experience of the "is" and the "ought" coming together for one, all too brief, interlude.  And maybe it is a promise of something better, deeper, and eternal. 

If, as a people, we were more thoughtful, less petty, and less inclined toward envy, we would reflect that we honor true philanthropy when we admire the accomplishments of a company like Apple.  And, as fine as the work of the Bill Gates Foundation is, Bill Gates would be more celebrated for his humanitarian accomplishments in building a successful business like Microsoft than he is for killing mosquitoes in Africa.  But, then, it is sometimes very difficult to see beauty that does not announce itself in arias. 
Categories > Pop Culture


Obama's Hit List

WaPo reports:

A proposal before the Securities and Exchange Commission would require publicly-traded companies to disclose political contributions. 

Aside from the annoyance of ever-greater regulation by the SEC, the disclosure of political contributions seems to be a more reasonable requirement. Stockholders have an interest in knowing the voluntary contributions made by the companies in which they share ownership.

But this leads to a potential problem in the Age of Obama. Ask yourself, why do unions oppose secret ballots? The answer has been made excessively clear since Obama's term began. Retribution is easier when you know your enemy's name.

Obama has proved himself to be a typical Chicago politician in this regard. He's not afraid to use muscle against those who get in his way. The SEC contribution list would be sorted by party affiliation and companies at the top of the "Republican" side would soon learn the reason you don't mess with Obama.

It's a sad commentary on the state of American democracy - but, alas, I cannot say it isn't true.

Categories > Politics


Huntsman's Latest: Too Little, Too Late

Huntsman seems not to have noticed that he has missed the boat. He's not a contender and - unlike other non-contenders such as Paul, Gingrich and Trump - adds nothing to the conversation.

His latest attempt to appeal to ... someone (I'm not exactly sure who) is a promise to strip the tax code of loopholes and deductions (which sounds a bit like Obama's promise to save entitlements and reduce debt by eliminating "government waste"). Of course, this alone is a promise to raise taxes. So Huntsman adds that he would adopt a simplified three-tier tax structure.

But the devil's in the details. I fear a "moderate" Huntsman tax compromise would cut deductions but do little in the way of lowering the overall tax rate - thereby effectively handing democrats a tax (increase) "compromise" victory. Huntsman's does not dissuade me of this uncertainty by the use of progressive rhetoric, identifying "special-interest" as the beneficiary of tax "carve-outs" and denouncing that liberal boogey-man, "corporate welfare."

Categories > Elections


Benedict on Beauty

The Virgin of the Rocks.jpg Pope Benedict XVI yesterday repeated his invitation to experience God through the "via pulchritudinis" or "way of beauty," which "modern man should recover in its most profound meaning."

Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another -- before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music -- to have experienced deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter -- a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds -- but something far greater, something that "speaks," something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul. 

A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human person who stands in wonder before the visible reality, who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colors and sounds. Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man's need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, [opened] to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward.

Benedict then turns to works of art that are inspired by, and reciprocally inspire, faith: Gothic cathedrals, Romanesque churches, sacred music, paintings, frescos, etc. He identifies an appreciation - a true, deeply felt appreciation - of beauty as a "way of prayer."   

Therefore, may our visits to places of art be not only an occasion for cultural enrichment -- also this -- but may they become, above all, a moment of grace that moves us to strengthen our bond and our conversation with the Lord, [that moves us] to stop and contemplate -- in passing from the simple external reality to the deeper reality expressed -- the ray of beauty that strikes us, that "wounds" us in the intimate recesses of our heart and invites us to ascend to God.

It's always worthwhile to be reminded of beauty and it's effects upon the soul. I find it in "The Virgin of the Rocks" and The Iliad. Peter Schramm finds it in Shakespeare and motorcycles. Wherever she finds you, follow her, for "beauty is life when life unveils her holy face."

Categories > Religion