Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Thomas Marks Twenty Years on the Court

One of the first "jobs" assigned to me as a young undergraduate attempting to earn my keep around the Ashbrook Center was to do some research for one of my professors about a man named Clarence Thomas.  Thomas was then being considered for an appointment to DC Court of Appeals and my professor, a former clerk at the Supreme Court, was asked to write a letter in support of the appointment.  So when, only a year and some change later, Thomas was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, I could not have been more delighted.  Having read a good deal of his writing and learned about the way his mind worked, I knew that Thomas would not have an equal on the Court.  I knew he would be one of the great Justices of all time.  Then came the hearings.  And when first they could not make case that Thomas was unqualified, they took the other--now infamous--route.  It was a great lesson about the way that the Left in America works.  They knew that they had much to fear from this man--that he could undo a great deal of the twisting and turning of Constitutional jurisprudence it had taken them generations to execute and pass off as authentic interpretation. 

Ken Masugi, who worked for Thomas during the time that he was Chairman of the EEOC, writes a thoughtful and thought provoking tribute to Justice Thomas as this October marks the twentieth anniversary of his appointment to the Court.  In it, Masugi notes the ways in which even Thomas' greatest critics must now concede his massive import and influence on the Court.  May it continue for many, many years to come.    
Categories > Courts


Farm Dusts the US Senate

It was a chaotic night last night in the United States Senate, with one of the most heated and important debates that chamber has seen in a few years. I was over at the Heritage Foundation for a screening of part of the 1978 Panama Treaty debate between Ronald Reagan and Bill Buckley, with Lee Edwards, Grover Norquist, and Fred Barnes participating in a discussion panel afterwards, when I got a few texts telling me to turn on C-SPAN. I checked into my Twitter feed to see what was going on, and reporters in the Senate press gallery were uncharacteristically active for a Thursday night. Indeed, they were even coming across as excited. I took an opportunity during question-and-answers at the event and slipped away to go plop down in front of a television and computer and figure out what was going on.

The Senate was in discussion on the Chinese currency manipulation bill last night. The Republicans had introduced a group of amendments to attach to the bill, including a procedural vote on the Obama jobs plan--as the President continues to yell at Congress to pass his bill, Senator McConnell (R-KY) decided to obey our commander-in-chief and introduce a vote on the bill, which would have surely failed to pass and embarrass the president and some Senate Democrats. Republicans and Democrats had been negotiating these amendments all day, and by Thursday night seemed to have reached an agreement. At the last moment, though, Senator Johanns (R-Neb.) introduced an amendment regarding EPA regulations on farm dust. Yes, farm dust. Democrats did not want to vote on that amendment, so they tried to substitute an amendment offered by Senator Paul (R-KY) on the Federal Reserve. This set off a complicated and legalistic battle on the rules and arcane procedures of our Senate, and led to an unscripted and tense battle of words between the senators.

Procedurally, Senator Reid (D-NV) raised a point of order against the GOP's motion to suspend the rules in order to introduce the amendments, including McConnell's amendment to introduce President Obama's jobs package. Reid's argument was that the GOP's motion was "germane" as it was only intended to slow down the passage of the Chinese currency bill. The chair, on the advice of the parliamentarian, disagreed with Reid's point of order. Senator Reid then pulled an unprecedented maneuver, and motioned to overrule the decision of the chair--after some arm wrangling with moderates, 51 Democrats voted to overrule, 48 Republicans voted against. The Republicans were fuming, and for once the normally-empty chamber was stacked with members of the Senate, watching the debate unfold. C-SPAN, the Twitteratti, and most people were completely baffled as to what was going on in the cascade of events. Initially many people thought that Reid had finally pulled out the famed "nuclear option" and ended the ability to filibuster in the Senate.

Rather, what Senator Reid did was change a precedent in the chamber. While historically the majority party could block amendments to bills by the minority, it could not stop motions to suspend the rules in order to introduce amendments. Now it can, and it has become much more difficult for the minority party to change legislation once it has been introduced. Senator Reid's aides spent most of the day on Thursday advising him against this move, fearing the debilitating position it will leave Democrats in once they are again the minority party. For an hour and a half afterwards, Reid and McConnell, with several others senators chiming in, debated over this procedural change and even the nature of the United States Senate itself. It was fantastic; watch it here. The limiting of the powers of the minority party will indeed haunt the Democrats whenever they are returned to the minority (probably 2013); for the rest of this term, it is likely going to make things even more tense and combative in the already-tense chamber. Additionally, this move will likely diminish the role of many of the Senate's moderates who had previously negotiated the major deals to avoid any type of wonkish procedural showdown like this---McCain, Snowe, Nelson, Collins, Lieberman, Pryor, McCaskill, Warner, Graham, and Grassley. It will be interesting to see what things are like when the chamber reconvenes to vote next week. All of this over farm dust!
Categories > Congress


Policy Mic Tax Debate

I would just like to draw your attention to an interesting debate over at Policy Mic between libertarian Harvard professor Jeffrey Miron and Center for American Progress tax specialist Michael Linden. It is a real debate focused on this important issue, and the discussion taking place there is taking place in a way that it should be taking place elsewhere--that is, without people blocking traffic in the streets or members of the government getting lost in over-the-top campaign rhetoric. Arguments and other viewpoints are very welcome in the comment section, so feel free to go participate in the debate. Both Professor Miron and Mr. Linden are actively responding to comments and engaging people in the conversation. Chime in!
Categories > Economy

Political Philosophy

Jacobinism in New York

From the proclamation of one of the groups leading the protests in downtown New York City:

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people . . .

One of the reasons why the French Revolution went off the rails is that many different groups claimed to represent the true nation.  Perhaps it's endemic to the Left (and in this sense it's not inproper to use the term, which goes back to locations in the French Assembly, if memory serves.  What's called the "right" in America is, for the most part, rather different than the defenders of the Old Regime (even if many on the Left are willfully blind to that reality)), but the people protesting in New York hardly represent our nation or "one people," other than themselves, and, perhaps, a certain small percentage of other Americans.

Unlike France, ours is a political nation.  The nature of American nationhood has always been in contention.  Our political system is designed with that reality in mind.  Even so, we have always had a certain number of people who don't like that reality, and wish the U.S. to be more like a European nation.  That has long been the Progressive dream.  I'm betting it still is not what most Americans want. 

Quote of the Day

Statistics du Jour

Robert Bryce in the Wall Street Journal:

Over the past decade, carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. fell by 1.7%. And according to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. is now cutting carbon emissions faster than Europe, even though the European Union has instituted an elaborate carbon-trading/pricing scheme. Why? The U.S. is producing vast quantities of cheap natural gas from shale, which is displacing higher-carbon coal.

Meanwhile, China's emissions jumped by 123% over the past decade and now exceed those of the U.S. by more than two billion tons per year. Africa's carbon-dioxide emissions jumped by 30%, Asia's by 44%, and the Middle East's by a whopping 57%. Put another way, over the past decade, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions--about 6.1 billion tons per year--could have gone to zero and yet global emissions still would have gone up.

A few years ago, I heard a Cal Tech climate science guru give a talk.  He arranged it so that no questions were allowed, which was disappointing.  He said that according to the prevailing science, which he said he supports completely, we have a handful of years to change course, or the earth will be alterted forever.  His proposed solutions were to cut emissions radically.

Had questions been allowed, I would have said something like, I study politics, not science. As a student of politics, I can almost guarantee that the kinds of hair shirt cuts he demands will never happen, almost certainly not in any major country, and certainly not in all of them.  If that's the case, the challenge for science is, to paraphrase Publius, how to manage the effects of human actions, rather than impose the kind of tyranny that it would take to tackle the causes.  Still a relevant observation, it seems to me. 

(I would also add, that we need also to be sure we know what we're doing.  Sciences are at their most speculative in their infancy.  Such is the study of the enviornment.  That being the case, my guess is that scientists are guessing, more than they like to admit, about the consequences of human actions on the environment across the globe.

P.S. Why do Progressives think it is reasonable to think we can control mankind's global carbon footprint, but also think that it is impossible for most individuals to control their sex drives?

Categories > Quote of the Day


Judicial Philosophy

I a review of Justice Stevens's new book, I stumbled over this bit:

Justice Stevens never offered broad theories of constitutional decision-making. Instead he styled himself as a minimalist, wary of (as he put it years ago) "the danger that the glittering generality will turn out to be an overstatement that fails to anticipate the contemporary garb in which a basic theme will appear in future cases."

Criticism of "glittering generalities" was centeral to the critique of the Declaration in antebellum America.  Although he seems not to have been the first to use the phrase Rufus Choate is generally credited with popularizing the term, and associating it with opposition to natural right.

Categories > Courts


Steve Jobs

Only a short time after turning over the day-to-day operations of his company, the man who brought us the Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, and Pixar, has died. Truly one of the most remarkable innovators of our day, he transformed the way we shop, the way we obtain media, and the way we interact with each other. For the past decade, Steve Jobs has created for us something totally new, and while others scrambled to catch up with him in competition, he was already moving on to newer and better things. A meticulous inventor and clever businessman, he brought Apple from scruffy 1984 start-up to one of the best companies in the world, his unbridled genius attending to every detail and challenging others to think different about technology and comfort and commerce. I draw your attention again to Julie's wonderful homage to Jobs just last month. The man was a titan of industry, a visionary genius, a man who exemplified the American dream, and one who helped improve the lives of millions with his inventions. He will be missed
Categories > Technology

Foreign Affairs


As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues his bloody crackdown on the Syrian people, the rest of the world continues to grapple with how to address such wanton abuses. A European-backed measure in the United Nations Security Council calling for international sanctions on Assad's regime was vetoed on Tuesday by China and Russia, the two nations claiming that calling for an end to the abuses so harshly was not conducive to negotiations. Turkey has independently decided to take a more proactive role and has put sanctions on the regime, while Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, still lamenting the ouster of his "brother" Gaddafi in Libya, has pledged to stand in solidarity with al-Assad against "Yankee" aggression. American Ambassador Robert Ford, who has been the target of several attacks by pro-government mobs over the past month, was unanimously confirmed to his position by the U.S. Senate this week in a sign of solidarity against the Syrian regime (Ford had been a one-year recess appointment, as Republicans had originally filibustered President Obama's appointment of him last year).

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) has become the highest-ranking American official to call for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria, which may start us down the troubling path to another military intervention. Syria, though, is far more problematic that Libya. Its military is not only much more organized and powerful, but it is a very close ally of Iran's and maintains favor with Russia and China. Additionally, Assad said that if NATO does absolutely anything against his regime, he will launch missiles at Tel Aviv--and he has the capability to do this. Syria represents a complicated geopolitical situation for the world, and many different global and regional powers are influencing what happens there from different directions. Any sort of military intervention by the United States would open a Pandora's box and best be avoided.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Philosophy

Jaffa at 93

I talked to Jaffa the other day. He will be 93 years old on October 7th. He called me and we had a good talk, at the end of which he said with broken voice: "Marjorie died exactly a year ago today and I can't get over it. I guess I'm not supposed to after 68 years of marriage."  I couldn't say much to such pathos. The Old Man has said that July 14, 1941, was an important day in his life for two reasons. First he "reported for salaried employment for the first time in my life." The second reason is this: "But on that morning at breakfast in the boarding house in which I had become an inmate the night before, I found myself looking into the eyes of the most beautiful and wonderful girl I had ever seen. I made a date for that evening and never looked back." He got the job in Washington because he passed the Civil Service Exam in Public Administration.  He passed that exam because he took public administration classes which he loathed and found infinitely boring. He only stayed with the courses at the recommendation of his professor, Frank Coker. Jaffa writes: "This advice turned out not only to be good advice, but the foundation of every good thing that has happened to me in all the years that have followed. I remain grateful to Coker, but even more alert to the mystery of the ways of Providence, which often proceeds by the most inauspicious indirection to accomplish its ends." Allow me to quote part of Sonnet 104, for both of them:

"To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still."

Below is a photograph of Harry and Marjorie in 1942.


Caesar in the Shadows

Economic turmoil, long and spread out, resulted in a tremendous amount of unemployment and the huge accumulation of debt. Foreign enemies, from a mighty rival to more puny but nonetheless dangerous bands of attackers, threatened the nation decades after it had seen its greatest enemies vanquished. Government meddling redirected a substantial amount of wealth to those whom most people did not think deserved any more. For fear of their safety, tremendous power was placed in the hands of the executive to counter the threats posed to society. For want of material security, these same people were given a mandate by the people to rid the nation of economic inequity. Over a long period of upheaval caused by this mess and coupled by widespread political corruption, a republic saw itself destroyed and reborn an empire.

I do not like to speak often of the similarities of Rome and America, as people seem to simplify them in a way that makes the comparisons seem even greater. Nonetheless, as the greatest republic to exist before our own, and as our Founders and their posterity have always looked at that ancient republic as a sort of eagle in the dusty mirror we gaze into, it is fitting to think upon the problems that faced the Romans and to see if we Americans can learn anything from them.

Today, a growing populist movement that began as Occupy Wall Street and has now spread to other cities around the country has surprised people in rise from ridiculed obscurity to its present size, thanks much to the use of social media in organization. There seems to be no central message or motivating philosophy other than frustration with the economy and the blaming of large corporations for our woe. Apart from taking to Twitter to make fun of the messy job these people are doing in coherently getting their absent message across, I really do not take too great a issue with what they are complaining about. The big banks cheated their customers, and then were handed a tremendous amount of money from our government. Rather than allowing these big businesses to be punished for their arrogance and greed, the Bush and Obama administrations indulged them all and let most of them get away unscathed. I would just recommend they camp outside of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department rather than Wall Street.

Thus while I find some of their grievances to be justified, some of the outliers begin to disturb me, and the populist furor seen around much of this is reminiscent of our ancient predecessors. Take, for example, this proposed list of demands from some of the protesters. While many of the demands on that list are ridiculously untenable to the point of humor, the 11th one is of particular interest as I have seen it popping up now and then a few times over the past two years: forgiveness of all debts. This was a signature reform enacted by the populist Gracchi brothers after the Third Punic War, when the waves of republican degradation began to hit Rome. Marius, Cinna, Clodius, Crassus, and (for a time) Pompey all attempted to win over the masses with similar tactics. This period of back-and-forth, though (for the Populares would certainly be challenged), was very, very bloody. Soon the Romans were not only feeling economically disadvantaged and angry, but they were so very tired as well. Caesar came to solve all of their problems for them, and they willingly submitted to his dictatorship in exchange for relief and peace.

The fervor and populist underpinning of both the Tea Party movement and this new Occupant movement give me some pause as they may lead to shorter tempers and stronger factions. Americans are guilty of the human precondition towards thinking good things are permanent, something which I am sure plagued many-a-Roman senator until they woke up to a tyranny. Revolutions are rarely expected, and not all have a transparent collapse of what came before them. There are always would-be Caesars lurking in the shadows. Popular prejudice is also not as much a safeguard as always expected; the Romans would not stand a king, but they would gladly take a Caesar. Nonetheless, it is only a brief pause for concern as I do believe that the American people and our institutions are resilient enough to temper such things, and still thankfully do not have much stomach for actual politically-motivated violence behind all the "eat the rich" rhetoric. The fact that there is clamoring among both decentralized groupings for transparency and against corruption is hopeful, as is the fact that one of these popular movements is devoted in great deal towards diminishing the power of government. Furthermore, the rancor is not nearly as bad as it has been in the past. We survived the political fighting of the 1830s, the carnage of the Civil War, and the chaos of the 1960s. People today gripe about how our government almost shut down three times this year, forgetting that it suffered actual shut-downs in the 1990s. The "hostility" is very much exaggerated by the media. There is hope yet! But, it is always good to keep a cautious eye out, just in case.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

"Yes, we can!" Obama Goes to Greece

If you needed a perfect analogy to the fatal fiscal fantasies enrapturing Europe, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has provided it. He recently echoed Barack Obama in a speech before a German audience.

Is there any hope? Will we ultimately succeed? My answer is yes, we can!

Papandreou was speaking of the feasibility of Greek reforms on the heels of a German vote to expand the already massive bail-out fund for Greece. Clemins Wergin, writing in The Telegraphasserts that "the question for Germany is still unanswered."

Are Germans right to continue, grudgingly, to help their southern European cousins out of the mess that their bad habits have got them into? Or are we simply pouring good money after bad?

Ring familiar? Perhaps Merkel could call her latest bail-out a stimulus bill, and chant a refrain of "Pass the bill." After all, she's already adopted Obama's stimulus tactics.

First, threaten doomsday if your latest spending bill isn't passed - even if there is no evidence whatsoever that this spending spree will prove any more effective than the last (several) spending sprees.

Germans realise that they are throwing their money at a mess that nobody seems able to control, and their anger at having to bail out the wrongdoers is checked only by doom-laden warnings about the consequences of the eurozone's failure. "If the euro falls, Europe falls," is one of Angela Merkel's oft-repeated slogans.

Second, demonize opposition - even if that opposition arises from the very people you are supposed to represent: 

And the reaction of Germany's political and media elites nurtures this notion of a conspiracy. Anyone who opposes the bail-out is labelled as anti-European. And although polls show that an overwhelming majority of people oppose giving more money to insolvent countries, no political force is taking up that case.

Spending addictions apparently exists equally among "social democracy" advocates both here and abroad. One might have hoped that Europe would learn from the mistakes of America, or vice versa. But continuing riots among radicals in opposition to necessary reform, as well as stubborn disregard for objective economic realities and popular opinion among politicians, clearly indicate that reconsideration of failed policies are not in the cards.

At least America has a Tea Party movement and the hope of economic restraint. Are there any indications that Europe has even the beginnings of such a bulwark to pending fiscal disaster? One wonders how far Europe and America must fall before the people finally say, "No, you can't!"

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Nobel and the Final Frontier

The Nobel prizes for peace, literature and, increasingly, economics, have unfortunately been severely degraded over the years. This diminishment is a result of awards to such luminaries as Yasser Arafat, Mairead Corrigan, Jimmy Carter, Paul Krugman, Al Gore, Dario Fo, multiple awards to the utterly useless United Nations and, most recently, Barack Obama (as well as notable snubs to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Pope John Paul II, to name but two).

However, prizes in the hard sciences - while not without their scandals - have largely avoided the disgrace heaped on their soft science counterparts. Today, the award for physics was announced:

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says American Saul Perlmutter, U.S.-Australian citizen Brian Schmidt and U.S. scientist Adam Riess share the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics.

The trio were honored Tuesday "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae."

The more expansive Nobel press release is here. Beautiful work by these (American) scientists. Fascinating research area. Dark matter. The expanding universe. The end of the world, no less. Fascinating.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Colleges Failing Students

American colleges are failing our students, and not by giving them failing grades. Rather, through coddling and laziness and arrogance, our universities are producing a generation of graduates unprepared for life and for the workplace, as Kathleen Parker writes. While our current recession, by most accounts destined to get even worse over the next few years, is certainly playing a large role in the fact that today represents the highest unemployment rate for 16-29 year olds since the Second World War, the hard truth is that students are not graduating with most of the basic abilities needed to have a successful career. Writing skills are deficient, arithmetic skills largely undeveloped, and critical thinking abilities almost absent.

Graduates are not only unaware of the details of our government and history, but most of them have little-to-no interaction with Shakespeare, economics, algebra, Aristotle, piano, chemistry, or foreign tongues. Most are unfamiliar with the wonders of Egypt and Rome, the wisdom of Solomon and Socrates, the tales of Twain and Hemingway, the art of Michelangelo and Beethoven, and the statesmanship of Lincoln and Churchill. Instead, they are well-acquainted with luxurious student apartments, high definition television screens littered around campus, and state-of-the-art recreational facilities. They breeze through relatively simple classes for four years and then accept a piece of paper that they expect to be a boarding pass onto the job market, only now awakening to the fact that the debt they have buried themselves in will not be so easy to pay off.

This shift, though, is not for the lack of want on the part of students to be challenged and to learn these tough and hard things to learn. Recent experience at Ashland University is proof enough of that where, for five or six years, students demanded through their Student Senate and through events and articles and public forums and even a 24-hour sit-in that the university offer classical languages to students. During my time involved with the issue, the Student Senate also attempted--albeit with less unity than the classical language debate--to make it mandatory for all students to take a foreign language, which was met with opposition from both some faculty and the admissions office for fear of discouraging students from attending such a rigorous program. Early on in the fight for classical languages, I remember one of the many arguments attempted to bring against teaching Greek and Latin was the issue of funding (the same argument that was brought forth when Ashland ended its German language program); I then remember the following year sitting in on a committee meeting going over funding for building the new athletic complex and renovating student dormitories. Students grow accustomed to this coddling as well; I still sometimes get grief from old friends over a decision to agree in negotiations with the administration to shortening the hours that the AU Rec Center was open during Ashland's budget crisis a few years ago ("What? I can't go workout in the gym on Sunday before noon!?"). I say all this with the understanding that Ashland is one of the best options out there for a quality education, and that even a school like this is prone to the mistakes that have poisoned most of higher education.

Students want to be challenged. Young people want to think about hard and noble things. Employers want entry-level workers who can think critically and string a few coherent sentences together. Our nation needs citizens aware of our history and our way of governance. It is difficult, though, for students to deal with this alone--especially with such lavish comforts being dangled before them. Faculty are largely obstinate across the country, and refuse anything that would in their mind diminish their power in their departmental fiefdoms. Parents seem to still be willing to blindly dump tens of thousands of dollars into this ill-fated venture. As Professor Richard Arum of New York University recognized in a recent letter, the responsibility for getting us back on track rests with the trustees of this nation's colleges and universities. From experience I again know the truth in this, as during my brief struggles with the administration and faculty in college, wise adjudication was always given by Ashland's Board of Trustees in the greater matters. May they continue to safeguard the university wisely, and may others across the country take heed of the warning that Parker and Arum have given them.
Categories > Education


The Established Church of Liberalism

The latest from the radicals in the Obama Justice Department:

To the surprise and consternation of religious groups across the political spectrum, the Department of Justice is now arguing, for the first time, that the widely recognized "ministerial exception" to employment-discrimination laws shouldn't exist at all.

The implication. Under current law,

Catholics and Orthodox Jews can have an all-male clergy. Jews, Muslims and Hindus can base leadership decisions on ethnicity and descent. And where marital-status discrimination is prohibited, churches can "discriminate" based on celibacy.

Absent the ministerial exemption, all that might be hard to protect.  The liberty of practicing one's religion would be weakened. If the Obama administration holds true to form, they might offer waivers, aka dispensation to some groups, so long as they play ball with the powers that be in other ways.

(Note: I wrote this post quickly before heading off to a religious service.  I have since edited it for clarity).

Categories > Religion