Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Tyranny of Statistics

Most people who have studied the matter note that Body Mass Index is a deeply flawed statistic. What sense does it make to claim that Kobe Bryant is overweight?

Why is the number so popular? I suspect it’s because it is easy to calculate. Our bureaucrats and number crunchers need statistics with which to do their magic. Hence it is important to them that there be reliable statistics. BMI is easy to calculate, and, therefore, is very useful. What use will be made of this and other like statistics as health care gets even more regulated than it already is, one can only imagine. The more unified our health care system is, the harder it will be for a doctor to be skeptical of the standards created in Washington. The trouble is those standards are often created for convenience of calculation, rather than because of their accuracy.

The abuse of statistics is an old story, of course. Why did "disparate impact" become the standard in race discrimination cases? Because it’s much easier to compare the proportion of each race in a given population with the percentage of each race in a given profession or workplace than it is actually to study each population, workplace, etc. closely. The more things we ask Washington to do, the more likely it is that imperfect statistical models will become the standard for operation.

More Shop Class as Soulcraft, on Motorcycle Repair Versus Modernity

More on Matt Crawford’s bestseller Shop Class as Soulcraft, with photos.


"There’s this false dichotomy out there between intellectual work and manual work," he’s saying. "The popular image of the plumber is just the butt crack, not that of a skilled tradesman who sets his own hours, figures out complex problems on the fly and probably earns more than most of his clients. Plus, there’s that satisfaction of imposing one’s will and intellect on the physical world, to immediate effect."

Obama: Be nice to our enemies, but hector our friends

I have an op-ed intoday’s Wall Street Journal about President Obama and Israel. This may be the most anti-Israel adminstration in US history.

Question Authority

Some recent poll results:

A larger majority (60 percent) say major reform isn’t possible without a tax increase. Indeed 79 percent think their own tax bill will go up if ObamaCare passes.

Most Americans have, it seems, learned not to trust what people in Washington are saying. Often a wise thing. Now if we could just start connecting that idea with the idea that it’s not wise to give people you don’t trust so much power.

Noonan on the National "Mood" and the Possible Demise of Obamacare

Sometimes she just gets it. This strikes me as one of those times. Spot on.

Gates and race

Here is Rich Lowry’s sensible take on the matter. And Ben Smith at Politico thinks Obama made a mistake, perhaps a large one, in commenting on it.

A good contest for students!

The Frazier Institute is sponsoring a video contest on "What is the Appropriate Role of Government in the Economy?." There are two seperate contests, for high school students and college students. Mucho bucks are involved.

The Health Darwinians

Betsy McCaughey introduces us to some of President Obama’s main advisors on health care.

There’s Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the Chief of Staff’s brother, who is not much of a saviour for certain classes of people:

Emanuel bluntly admits that the cuts will not be pain-free. "Vague promises of savings from cutting waste, enhancing prevention and wellness, installing electronic medical records and improving quality are merely ’lipstick’ cost control, more for show and public relations than for true change," he wrote last year (Health Affairs Feb. 27, 2008). . . .

Emanuel, however, believes that "communitarianism" should guide decisions on who gets care. He says medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those "who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens . . . An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia" (Hastings Center Report, Nov.-Dec. ’96). . . .

He explicitly defends discrimination against older patients: "Unlike allocation by sex or race, allocation by age is not invidious discrimination; every person lives through different life stages rather than being a single age. Even if 25-year-olds receive priority over 65-year-olds, everyone who is 65 years now was previously 25 years" (Lancet, Jan. 31).

And there’s Dr. David Blumenthal:

Blumenthal has long advocated government health-spending controls, though he concedes they’re "associated with longer waits" and "reduced availability of new and expensive treatments and devices" (New England Journal of Medicine, March 8, 2001). But he calls it "debatable" whether the timely care Americans get is worth the cost.

It seems that the Progressives are returning to their roots. Although historians have covered for them, eugenics was the quintessential Progressive science. William Jennings Bryan attacked Darwin because of how Darwin was being used to attack the idea that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. More broadly, the Progressives thought that social science (recall that the social science PhD was a new invention then, and inspired great hopes in many) could manage society more calmly, rationally, and justly than could the American political system as it had previously been known.


I’m working up a head of steam to do a long comment on "Obama at 200" (days, that is, since there was so much written about the magical FDR-like first 100 days Obama enjoyed), but here’s one large theme that is taking shape in my mind. Bush ran aground in his quest to reform Social Security with private accounts, despite a serious blitz for it in his second term. Private accounts are the Holy Grail for certain types of conservatives. But the political alignment of the planets against it is too powerful to overcome, as FDR intended.

The liberal Holy Grail ever since FDR has been national health insurance. But it appears on a knife edge right now, and may soon prove to be the liberal equivalent of Social Security reform--compelling in the abstract, impossible in practice. In other words, these two grand objectives of Right and Left may simply not be possible no matter how large the partisan majority in Congress--an unappreciated symmetry of the two poles in American politics today. (What about the obvious compromise?--Ed. Interesting question: no one anywhere has even raised the possibility in an op-ed.) Stay tuned: the next three months are going to be fascinating for students of politics (and citizens, too).

The Pathetic Gates

Having once had a stupid run-in with the local sheriff’s department out in California (I was not arrested, because I was sane throughout), I can have some sympathy with Henry Louis Gates, as I’m often testy after flying anywhere on modern air travel. But, my god man, the race card business is really weak even if you are short tempered from jet lag.

As the Wall Street Journal points out tomorrow, "Mr. Gates lives in a city with a black mayor, a state with a black governor and a country with a black President." Get over it, dude, and apologize to the cops. Then STFU.

Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr.

Unlike President Obama, I will not comment (or attempt to qualify or retract a comment) regarding a situation about which I only know what I’ve read or heard.

Generally speaking, however, it is folly to express anger at a police officer when he is in the process of doing his duty as he sees it. He (or she) is probably going to arrest you. If the situation calls for indignation, better to have a lawyer express it by filing a lawsuit after the fact. You’d think that prominent Harvard professors and public intellectuals would know that.

A quick anecdote to illustrate my meaning: About a year ago, we were stuck in Atlanta rush hour traffic on our way to a friend’s house for dinner. As we were crawling past a state trooper who had just pulled over an SUV, the driver of the SUV did someting incredibly stupid: instead of waiting for the trooper to walk up to his car to ask for his license and registration, the driver got out of his car and strode purposefully toward the trooper while reaching into his pocket for his wallet. Of course the trooper immediately pulled his gun and got behind his cruiser. He didn’t know what this guy was going to do and did what he had to to protect himself and gain contol of the situation. The stupid driver of the car--as an eyewitness, I can use the adjective quite confidently--ended up spread-eagled on his car being frisked and receiving a very pointed lecture from the trooper about how he’s supposed to behave when pulled over. (Yes, traffic was that slow; I saw it all.)

The bottom line: police officers have a life-or-death interest in being in control of the situations they face. Those who are in those situations have a life-or-death interest in being cooperative. I know that, but, then again, I’m not an intellectual "Master of the Universe" (apologies to Tom Wolfe).

They Shoot, They Score

The NRA had issued statements expressing concern and ultimately opposing Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation based upon her anti-Second Amendment record, and her failure to adequately allay concerns about that record during the hearings—but the big question remained: would they pull the trigger and score the vote? The NRA grades congressmen based upon gun-related legislation or nomination votes that they choose to “score.” Thus, if the Sotomayor confirmation vote were not scored, a Senator could have a perfect rating from the NRA, even if they cast a vote regarding Sotomayor that could do long-term damage to gun owner’s interests. Today, the NRA sent a letter to Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell confirming that they will be scoring the vote.

Why does this matter? Just ask Harry Reid. He joined 19 other Democrats in voting for Thune’s concealed-carry amendment yesterday—an NRA scored vote. Democrats crossing the line included:

Baucus (D-MT)

Bayh (D-IN)

Begich (D-AK)

Bennet (D-CO)

Casey (D-PA)

Conrad (D-ND)

Dorgan (D-ND)

Feingold (D-WI)

Hagan (D-NC)

Johnson (D-SD)

Landrieu (D-LA)

Lincoln (D-AR)

Nelson (D-NE)

Pryor (D-AR)

Reid (D-NV)

Tester (D-MT)

Udall (D-CO)

Udall (D-NM)

Warner (D-VA)

Webb (D-VA)

Indeed, Reid joined 15 Democrats who, in three other NRA-scored votes this year, consistently voted the pro-gun position. The scorecard ends up being very important in red state races, where voters scrutinize a candidate’s gun-rights record—whether that candidate is a Republican or as a Democrat. The White House will undoubtedly put tremendous pressure on these red-state Democrats to vote for Sotomayor, but given the NRA’s decision to score, they will likely be seeing increased pressure from constituents, as well, whether now, or come re-election time when they have to explain their vote.

Cross-posted at Bench Memos on National Review Online

The constitution, the administrative state, and Health Care

Among the provisions President Obama supports for health care reform is the creation of IMAC--the Independent Medicaire Advisory Council.

The council would be made up of five members, all selected by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The president could fire any one of them for cause. They would have two jobs. First, each year, the council would make recommendations to the president regarding inflation updates to Medicare’s payment rates for hospitals, doctors, and other suppliers of services. Those recommendations, if approved by the president, would automatically go into effect in thirty days unless Congress passed a resolution disapproving them — which the president would also have to sign into law. Of course, if the president approved the council’s original package of recommendations, it is unlikely he would sign a Congressional disapproval resolution overturning them. So, as a practical matter, the proposal would force Congress to find a two-thirds supermajority to stop presidentially-approved IMAC recommendations from going into effect.

This provision is constitutionally interesting, to say the least. Law is made by an unelected body. That law remains law unless Congress disapproves. That would be an unconstitutional legislative veto, except the President also has to sign the legislation blocking the new law. I suspect that’s why it’s in there.

That very provision, however, undermines the checks and balances of our system. In effect, a council would be able to make law for health care, with the consent of the President. In what way will such a body be accountible to we the people, through the people we select to represent us in Washington? Our representatives are supposed to make law. The don’t have the right to let others do it. Government by unelected experts is not democratic, or republican, government. As Justice Cardozo noted when striking down the First New Deal, this is "delegation running riot."

On the other hand, if one believes in a living constitution, checks and balances are antiquated elements of the past, unsuited to the modern world. That has been dogma for Progressives since .Woodrow Wilson’s day.

Blue State Meltdown

Joel Kotkin takes a close look at the blue state economic model--pervasive in the Obama Administration--and doesn’t find it very encouraging. Policies that favor and are favored by the elites of the so-called knowledged-based economy don’t do much for "ordinary working Americans."

What should money buy?

The health care debate raises several interesting questions. Among them is the question of justice.

Americans, as Tocqueville notes, live and breathe equality, even as we praise competition and excellence. Asking what we ought to pay for collectively asks, by implication, what individuals (and families, and private charity, to a degree) ought to pay for themselves.

I suspect most Americans would agree that it’s perfectly fair for people who make more money to be able to afford bigger houses and nicer restaurants. Beyond that, it gets harder. Should wealth buy better schools and doctors? What about less than life-saving surgery? Cosmetic plastic surgery, probably. Would it be fair for a wealthy 65-year-old to be able to pay for hip replacement when someone without the means could not have the same procedure? Tougher question.

Would it be fair for a wealthy person to buy better prescription drugs? On the other hand, would drug companies create such things without such a market? Is the drug market like the TV market. Few Americans think it is unjust that the wealth can buy the latest, biggest TVs. And many understand that, over time, the cost will drop for the rest of us. The market for the wealthy is the entry way. But is the drug market like that? And if so, why is that fair? If there’s an anti-cancer drug, is it just for only people who happen to be wealthy to get it? What if, allowing the wealthy to get it, at first, it is most likely to become widely available most quickly?

On one hand, I suspect most Americans would say that someone who works hard, is prudent, and saves, ought to benefit from that. Is it fair that someone who eats right, works hard, lives within his means, and saves up money for a rainy day can pay for special medical care when bad luck happens? Most Americans, I suspect, would say that’s fine. But what about someone who eats junk food, does not exercise, has run into debt buying fast food, big-screen TVs, etc., and has the same bad luck? Is it fair that he can’t affort health care? Should we not treat him? On the other hand, is it fair to the prudent guy that he has to pay for someone who has been self-indulgent?

But what about people who are poor by bad luck? Should they get less than the prudent guy? If not, what is the incentive to live prudently? If yes, why is that fair to the poor?

How about schools? When we focus on the individual who has earned his way, Americans would probably be comfortable with such a person paying extra for private school for his children. (After all, many Americans do exactly that). They might even say that it is not unreasonable that such a person is, through his children, able to help his grandchildren go to good schools, etc. But when we ask the opposite question, is it fair that a child born in a poor household cannot attend a good school, it bothers most Americans.

The question of who should pay for health care, and how, raises, among many others, this very question of what advantages wealth ought to bring in America.

Kindle and us

Here is something interesting and useful to consider for those of us who like our Kindles.

THE NEW YORKER on Kidney Markets

This pretty fair and balanced article is important mainly because it quotes ME

The Early Stages of the Democrats’ Suicide March

That, according to David Brooks, is what we’re seeing right now. The president isn’t giving us any real leadership, and the result people are losing confidence in his policies, even as they still like him personally. People really didn’t think they were voting for government by Pelosi, especially when it comes to health care. They voted in good faith that Obama would be too smart to let that happen.


Where Is He Now?

John: Cindy Sheehan isn't the only such personality to disappear down a memory hole. NASA's chief climate scientist James Hansen--you know, the one who compared the Bush White House to the Gestapo or the Soviet gulag (because they monitored his media appearances?!?!)--is loudly saying the Waxman-Marley cap and trade bill is a fraud. Yesterday I told a reporter, "James Hansen is the Cindy Sheehan of climate change--great to have around in opposition, but inconvenient, as Gore might say, when you're in power."
Categories > Environment

Where is She Now?

July has proven to be the deadliest month so far for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Cindy Sheehan, meanwhile, has concluded that there is no significant difference between Republicans and Democrats.

For those of you out there who don’t know who Cindy Sheehan is, she’s a peace advocate. She used to get plenty of attention back when there was a Republican in the White House.

Leszek Kolakowski, RIP

The great Polish intellectual and philosopher Leszek Kolakowski has died at 81. John Derbyshire offers his salute over at The Corner, rightly noting Kolakowski’s massive achievement, Main Currents of Marxism, probably the best and most complete account of that malignant fad ever written.

In my forthcoming Reagan book I quote Kolakowski’s prescient prediction made in May 1983 (two years before Gorbachev and his wrecking crew arrived in the Kremlin): "We can imagine that the Soviet rulers, under the combined pressure of self-inflicted economic disasters and social tensions, will accept, however grudgingly, a genuine verifiable international disarmament plan and concentrate their efforts on a large-scale economic recovery, which they cannot achieve without a number of social and political reforms. This might conceivably usher in a process of gradual and non-explosive disintegration of the empire."

In that same article he anticipated the "velvet revolution" of 1989: "Certainly in Poland or Czechoslovakia (or in Hungary) Communism would fall apart within days without the Soviet threat." RIP.

Wow. Cohen Strikes Again

Back in the mid-1990s a conservative editor of an important daily newspaper editorial page (they fit in a phone booth then and now) told me that his biggest problem wasn’t finding good conservative columnists to print, but a good liberal columnist to print. This was shortly after Murray Kempton died, and he seemed the last of the interesting old liberal writers.

In recent years I’ve noticed that the WaPo’s Richard Cohen went off the liberal reservation regularly, and today he does so with his column about the mediocrity of soon-to-be Justice Sotomayor. Sample:

She is, as everyone has pointed out, in the mainstream of American liberalism, a stream both intellectually shallow and preoccupied with the past. . . This is the sad state of both liberalism and American politics. First-class legal brains are not even nominated lest some senator break into hives at the prospect of encountering a genuinely new idea. The ceiling is further lowered by the need to season the court with diversity, a wonderful idea as long as brilliance is not compromised. The result has been the rout of sexism: The women are as mediocre as the men. From all we know, Sotomayor is no Scalia. She is no Thurgood Marshall, either, or even a John Roberts, who is leading the court in his own direction. She will be confirmed. But if she is not, liberalism will not have lost much of a champion or a thinker.

There were lots of other women jurists Obama might have chosen who could go toe-to-toe with Scalia, and also sway the impressionable Justice Kennedy. (Sotomayor is likely to antagonize him if anything.) The only thing Cohen misses here in his column is the conclusion that Obama is unimaginative and, dare we say it, lacking in audacity when it comes to Supreme Court appointments.

The Moon

Needless to say, lots of chatter today about the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. I’ve got mixed feelings, some of them deeply personal. My family’s company (absorbed in the late 1970s into a Fortune 500 company) designed and manufactured the parachute release relays for the Apollo capsules, as well as the stage separation relays for the Gemini booster rockets before that. The dramatization of the amperage problems in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 movie was true to life: dad was up all night that week with all his engineers re-running tests to see if the parachute release relay could work on less power.

I was always jealous that my dad got to go watch the launches at Cape Canaveral, while I had to watch on TV back in LA. But dad always said NASA, as a government agency, was a pain to deal with, so he decided against bidding on any shuttle work when that came along after Apollo. There’s probably a lesson there. Then, too, the narrow scientific argument that the moon program was a diversion of scarce engineering talent is probably right. But--the politics of it was so fun.

Lots of folks-Tom Wolfe in the NY Times yesterday,
Megan McArdle in The Atlantic blog today--say it is a failure of imagination that we haven’t continued our space program in a serious way. They are right, but miss one big reason why: contemporary liberalism. I submit for your consideration a passage from my first Age of Reagan volume:

The reaction to the moon landing in 1969 is a good example of national exhaustion and liberal guilt at work. The moon landing had been set out as a lofty goal by the liberals’ hero, John F. Kennedy, and the moon landing was an occasion of national pride and celebration for most Americans. Here, amidst the rubble and gloom of the 1960s, was something that had gone splendidly right. Many leading liberals, however, could only sniff that while the moon landing was undeniably impressive, the money for the moon landing would have been better spent on social problems on Earth. The popular cliché of the time went: “Any nation that can land a man on the moon can [fill in the blank].” (The total cost of the decade-long moon landing project was less than three months’ worth of federal spending for social programs in 1969.) A 25 person delegation from the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Martin Luther King’s successor), came to the Apollo 11 launch at Cape Canaveral “to protest America’s inability to choose human priorities,” while Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said that “The needs of the people on earth, and especially in this country, should have priority. When we solve these problems, we can consider space efforts.” Even the brother of the man who issued the call to go to the moon, Sen. Ted Kennedy, expressed weariness with the space program: “I think after [the moon landing] the space program ought to fit into our other national priorities.”

Still wish we were going back there, though. And to Mars, too. But we’ve got to nationalize health care first, right?

Common Wisdom

From an article about Regina Benjamin, common sense from a common citizen:

Duffy, a disabled 52-year-old who runs a fruit stand, knows Benjamin’s story well: how she will treat almost anyone in her tiny medical office; how she accepts payments in oysters and shrimp when patients can’t pay cash; and how she elected to stay in this backwater after her clinic was ravaged by two hurricanes and a fire.

"I think she’s done wonders for this town," he said.

But ask Duffy what he thinks about the Democrats’ plan to broaden health coverage with a government insurance plan, and his brow furrows. Sounds like communism, he says. Or, at the very least, an overreach.

"Now we’re talking about [healthcare for] the whole United States, not just Bayou La Batre," said Duffy, a wheelchair-bound victim of an auto wreck whose medical costs are covered by Medicare. "I just don’t know how that’s going to work."

The difference between charity and legal mandates, like the difference between focused progams and general programs, and between local programs and a national system, is obvious to the common citizen. If only the powers that be in Washington had the wisdom to listen.

Crisis of the House Divided at 50

Peter Robinson at NRO does the first of five interviews with Harry V. Jaffa. This one is about 6 minutes long.

Liberal Adults?

Of North Korea, Secretary of State Clinton’s recently comented: "And maybe it’s the mother in me or the experience that I’ve had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention -- don’t give it to them, they don’t deserve it, they are acting out."

Here we find a liberal cliche. It reminds me of Peter Jennings’s
famous 1994 comment when the voters elected a Republcan Congress:

Some thoughts on those angry voters. Ask parents of any two-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums: the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming. It’s clear that the anger controls the child and not the other way around. It’s the job of the parent to teach the child to control the anger and channel it in a positive way. Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week....Parenting and governing don’t have to be dirty words: the nation can’t be run by an angry two-year-old.

I wonder if these comments don’t reflect something central to liberalism, or perhaps liberal self-image?

Whose at Default?

Modifying or renegotiating loans in trouble does not seem to be working all that well. Alan Abelson posted a good chart noting the high re-default rate in last week’s Barrons. As it’s not available on line, this graph will have to do. in brief: "About 30% of modified loans re-default in the first quarter after modification and about half within the first year. This suggests modifications have not been very effective."

I fear that our politicians will conclude that the only way out of the problem is inflation.

But Isn’t This True Every Day??

So I’m reading Ross Douthat’s NY Times column online this morning (ruminating about the future of affirmative action), and at the end there appears the italicized good news, Paul Krugman is off today. But then it occurred to me that this is not news, but truth in advertising: Isn’t Krugman "off" every day?

Malaise Forever!

One of my favorite vignettes from "The Simpsons" is the statue of Jimmy Carter in Springfield with the legend "Malaise Forever!" Everyone is talking about the 40th anniversary of the first moon walk today (more about that in a moment perhaps), but how could I have let last week slip by without noting the 30th anniversary of Carter’s famous "malaise" speech? Fortunately, the Washington Times didn’t forget, and nudged me to write this piece, noting that some folks are actually trying to persuade us that it was in fact a great speech. Next, they’ll be telling us that government spending is the way out of a recession. Oh, wait. . .

P.S. I neglected to call everyone’s attention to Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie’s great piece in the WaPo over the weekend comparing Obama and Carter. Time to get your cardigans out of mothballs.

NASA Needs a Philosopher

Why it makes some sense for Tom Wolfe to think so is explained by ME here. If you scroll down, you can read Jim Ceaser’s report on his summer vacation in Kansas--with a validating picture.

Joe Biden’s revealing mouth

James Lileks writes a terrific piece on Biden’s latest "gaffes" and why they are not, "they’re simply what the administration is really thinking."