Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Trouble with Unions

This story reminds us why Unions, however necessary sometimes, can also cause a great deal of trouble.

A Queens teacher who collects a $100,000 salary for doing nothing spends time in a Department of Education "rubber room" working on his law practice and managing 12 real-estate properties worth an estimated $7.8 million, The Post found.

Alan Rosenfeld hasn't set foot in a classroom for nearly a decade since he was accused in 2001 of making lewd comments to junior-high girls and "staring at their butts," yet the department still pays him handsomely for sitting on his own butt seven hours a day. . . .

The DOE can't fire him.

"We have to abide by the union contract," spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

Categories > Economy


Statistic du Jour

Michael Lewis' essay-review of Louis Menand's Marketplace of Ideas in the February, 2010 Commentary (not available online) points to a 2007 survey of the political opinions of America's university professors:

The percentage of social-science faculty members at elite colleges and universities who voted for George Bush in 2004 was--statistically speaking--zero percent. Likewise among their colleagues in the humanities: zero percent.

Lewis comments: "This is the sort of results that usually sends worried statisticians scurrying back to their data  to see what went wrong." The proble, I fear, ain't the quality of the survey.

Categories > Education


Howard Zinn, RIP

The historian and polemicist Howard Zinn died this week.  Bob Herbert of the New York Times believes, as Zinn did, in the urgent need to address "the plight of working people in an economy rigged to benefit the rich and powerful."  It's no surprise that he eulogizes Zinn as "an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it."

It was a surprise, however, to learn from a link in the Matthew Yglesias blog that six years ago Dissent magazine featured a thoroughly critical essay on Zinn's most famous book, A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present.  In that article Michael Kazin wrote, "Zinn reduces the past to a Manichean fable and makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?"  The vast majority of people are good, and the ruling elites are wicked, but the virtuous majority gets hoodwinked and intimidated by the rich and powerful at every turn.  There are only black hats and white hats for Zinn, so he winds up dismissing Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the New Deal, among many others, as frauds that pretended to help the common man but really did nothing more than strengthen the oligarchs.

Zinn was politically active since the 1930s, Kazin notes, and used his writing to make sure that the past "did its duty."  Torturing the facts until they confessed meant, "By Zinn's account, the modern left made no errors of judgment, rhetoric, or strategy. He never mentions the Communist Party's lockstep praise of Stalin or the New Left's fantasy of guerilla warfare."  As a result, his political legacy is "fatalistic vision [that] can only keep the left just where it is: on the margins of American political life."  Zinn is gone, but conservatives can take comfort in the knowledge that by leaving disciples like Bob Herbert behind, he ensures that leftists will continue to be self-marginalizing for decades to come.
Categories > History


Corporate Fascism?

I've been enjoying visiting left-wing sites to see the outrage over the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision. I'm particularly struck by one recurring trope--that the decision places the country squarely on the road to fascism; see, for example, the Huffington Post, but an internet search using the terms "Citizens United," "Supreme Court," and "fascism" yielded some 86,000 hits. Yes, I know that the whole "fascism-as-capitalism" theme was pushed hard by the Communists in the 1930s and 1940s, but it surprised me that marginally intelligent people believe it today. In fact, big business barely existed in the semi-industrialized economy of Mussolini's Italy, and it didn't fare well at all in Hitler's Germany. In fact, a couple of recent economic histories of Nazi Germany--Adam Tooze's The Wages of Destruction and Goetz Aly's Hitler's Beneficiaries--show how corporations were subjected to bureaucratic micromanagement, constant threats of expropriation, or imprisonment of their managers, and, in particular, crushing taxation. Aly points out that, from 1933 to 1939, the only tax that the Nazis significantly increased was the corporate income tax, which reached 60 percent by the final years of the war. Much of this, it should be added, went to fund a cradle-to-grave welfare state.

So where is the line about "corporate fascism" coming from? It seems that many of them have hit on this alleged quote by Mussolini: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."

On the surface this would seem to be pretty damning; however, there's no evidence that Mussolini ever said it. A reading of his most important writing, "The Doctrine of Fascism", yields all sorts of references to a "corporative" system and a "corporate" state, but he clearly wasn't talking about business organizations. Rather, he was claiming that the role of the state was to play a harmonizing or balancing role among the various interests in the nation. In other words, fascism looks a lot more like progressivism than it does anything the Roberts Court mentioned in Citizens United. At the very least, the willingness of the Left to make such breathless claims gives the lie to the accusation that Tea Party-types are uniquely prone toward hyperbolic Hitler comparisons.

Categories > History


From Clerk to Dean to General?

John Eastman enters the battle for Attorney General of California, following his resignation this coming Monday as Dean of Chapman University School of Law.  John has made his mark as a scholar, teacher, legal activist, and public servant, having worked on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, run for Congress, and served as a clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.  John has long been a force in the Federalist Society.  He holds a Ph.D. in Government from the Claremont Graduate University and a J.D. from the University of Chicago.  Now, should those blogs of his on NLT be erased?
Categories > Politics


The Best Line of the Day

Delivered by William Galston: "Last week, [Barack Obama] told Diane Sawyer that he'd rather be a successful one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. Unfortunately, there's a third possibility."
Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

"Democracy in America" at 175 (UPDATED)

Can't let January pass without noting that this is the 175th anniversary of the publication of Alexis de Tocqueville's enduring classic, Democracy in America.  It may well be the best book on democracy and the best book on America ever published, as Harvey Mansfield has argued.  (I dispute the second claim.) 

A recent re-reading affirms that Mansfield's edition is by far the best.  So far as I know it is the only one that catches Tocqueville's altering of Madison's words in Federalist 51 from "popular form of government" to "tyranny of the majority" (p. 249).  Other translations simply adopt the text of the Federalist.  The attractive Penguin edition commits politically correct atrocities such as translating "sauvage" as "primitive people"--he means savages!  The readable Lawrence translation just makes passages up.  Now comes James Schleifer's beautiful, four-volume bilingual edition of Democracy, published by Liberty Press--indispensable for the serious Tocqueville student. 

Noteworthy too is Jim Ceaser's essay on Tocqueville on China, part of AEI's Tocqueville on China project.

UPDATE:  I found this CSPAN Tocqueville Tour program, featuring Mansfield, the late Delba Winthrop, our own Peter Lawler, Schleifer, Dan Mahoney, and some other characters, engaging in Tocquevillean meditations with Brian Lamb.   


The Failure of Head Start

That's the conclusion of the latest and most comprehensive study of the program ever conducted, writes Andrew Coulson, "This study used the best possible method to review the program: It looked at a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start."   The conclusion, "by the end of the first grade, children who attended Head Start are essentially indistinguishable from a control group of students who didn't."

Yesterday in the State of the Union address, President Obama suggested we use "common sense" in reforming our laws and instutions.  According to Coulson, "the president already raised spending on the program from $6.8 billion to $9.2 billion last year."  In light of the latest, peer-reviewed science, perhaps he should call for ending Head Start, and using that same money for voucher and charter school programs that have shown more promise for improving our schools.

Categories > Education


The Crisis of the New Order (Cont.)

There are two prevailing interpretations of the recent financial and economic unpleasantness.  Liberals tend to blame the Reagan/ Conservative order which, they say, has prevailed since the 1980s.  The financial collapse shows it to be a failure, they say.  Others suspect the true cause is that the New Deal Order, which Reagan et al did not really change, is no longer viable.  Walter Russel Mead has some intersting thoughts on the latter thesis.  In the 1970s, he says, the private sector side of that order fell apart:

As the old system dissolved, companies had to become more flexible.  As industry became more competitive, private sector managers had to shed bureaucratic habits of thought.  Lifetime employment had to go.  Productive workers had to be lured with high pay.  The costs of unionization grew; in the old days, government regulators simply allowed unionized firms to charge higher prices to compensate them for their higher costs.  The collapse of the regulated economy (plus the rise of foreign competition from developing countries) made unions unsustainably expensive in many industries.

But the government side did not.  It is crashing now.  It simply costs more than we can afford, and does not deliver goods and services nearly as well as do private companies. (Perhaps I should say truly private companies, and not ones that are overly regulated, like health insurance companies).

The collapse of a social model is a complicated, drawn out and often painful affair.  The blue model has been declining for thirty years already, and it is not yet finished with its decline and fall.  But decline and fall it will, and as the remaining supports of the system erode, the slow decline and decay is increasingly likely to bring on a crash.

Meanwhile, Arnold Kling argues,

that there is a discrepancy between trends in knowledge and power. Power in the United States is remarkably concentrated. We are creating increasingly specialized knowledge, which means that the information needed to make good decisions is located outside of Washington, D.C. And yet we have a central government attempting to do for 300 million people what governments in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, and Switzerland do for many fewer people. . . .

These days, most of the people who complain that the U.S. is ungovernable are looking for solutions that would allow progressive technocrats to be even more powerful. I believe that the solution is to decentralize government.

To push things a bit further.  Reagan did what was politically feasible in the 1980s. As a result, he gave the New Deal Order an extra twenty or thirty years.  Finance became an industry in and of itself, rather than the industry that supports and enables the others.  Manufacturing in the U.S., meanwhile, remains difficult thanks to a regulatory structure that is out of date. The goal should not be simply to scrap these anachronistic regulations, but rather to change them to make them less onerous. Obama is right, we need a new politics. The trouble is that the "new" politics he wants is an extension of the the old politics that got us in trouble in the first place.

Categories > Politics


Foreign objections?

Justice Alito's disagreement with President Obama's interpretation of the Citizens United case is drawing much comment.  The consensus is that Alito is correct.  Even a Lefty like Linda Greenhouse thinks so.  I'm not so sure, however.  The question is whether the case, by overturning the restrictions on independent expenditures by corporations and unions, also overturns the prohibitions on like expenditures by foreign corporations.  My question is this: for several years now, the Court has been collapsing the distinction between U.S. citizen and foreigner, (and, to a lesser degree, between U.S. law and foreign law).  By what logic can U.S. law discriminate between U.S. corporations and foreign corporations in elections, when it can't discriminate between the two in so many other ways?

Categories > Courts


Obama's Second Joe Wilson Moment

Ben Boychuk does a nice job both of examining the political event of Justice Alito's muttering "Not true," during the SOTU speech last night and of citing the truth behind Alito's comment--whether rightly uttered or not.  
Categories > Courts


Obama's Same Game with a French Bath

Jonah Goldberg's latest great line:  "In fairness, the president took a French-bath of Clintonism before he took to his beloved TelePrompTer. He doused himself with the scent of the deficit-fighter and trade-promoter. He unveiled a slew of small, easy, applause-gathering proposals and populist appeals that he knows will go nowhere."  This is Goldberg's way of saying that there's no there there in Obama's promise of change, primarily because the one most incapable of change in Washington is Barack Obama!

Goldberg notes, too, the President's propensity to blame the inadequacies of others for his failures.  He blamed Bush (of course) and, with special relish, he blamed recalcitrant Republicans in Congress for their "partisanship" and general unwillingness to let him do whatever he wants. What about the mass of public opinion that is opposed to his policy proposals?  Is that completely meaningless?  To the extent that it got a mention, it was buried beneath the only part of the speech where Obama seemed to attempt to shoulder some blame for the failure of health-care.  That is, he claimed that he and his administration did not do enough to explain health-care!  What!?  We needed yet another speech?  One more would have done it?  Yup.  That's it.  We needed to hear some more from him . . .
Categories > Presidency


Chris Matthews' Stubborn and Revealing Memory

Chris Matthews, famous--among other things--for his case of the tingles upon once watching  Obama take a room, now tells us (and later defends it on Rachel Maddow's show) that he "forgot [Obama] was black for an hour" while watching the SOTU.  Whatever his explanation, I find this a strange and a revealing thing to be compelled to say.  His point, I guess, is to continue or, really, to re-introduce the whole "post-racial" meme that Obama is supposed to represent.  But isn't it interesting that Matthews and people of his political persuasion, are the folks who seem continually to be the ones bringing up the question of Obama's race?  Well, maybe them and a few wingnuts from the American Nazi Party or the KKK.  But that's not company I'd be proud to keep . . .

The thing is, it isn't really Obama, per se, who is post-racial.  If anything, it is America.  And I'm rather tired of the argument that Obama is anything but the beneficiary of this fact.  He didn't make it so (and he's not old enough to have had anything to do with it); it just is so.  I think the thing that really shocks Chris Matthews is that most of America--that is, the only important or meaningful segments of America--really doesn't care about Barack Obama's race one way or the other.  He is accepted or criticized by most Americans in much the same way that any other president has been or would be.  The only outliers, as I say, are the knuckle-dragging and last remaining racist hold-outs (of no significant political importance) and the self-important, guilt-ridden, condescending, liberals of the Matthews variety.   Matthews can't seem to wrap his mind around the concept that America is not the frightful racist bogey man of liberal nightmares.  It's constantly surprising and shocking to him, especially when he finds himself forgetting the default position of his ideology--that America is an intensely imperfect place forever guilty of great injustice and in need of constant reminders of that imperfection. 

It has been suggested to me in the past that, perhaps, I should cut guys like Matthews more slack because this is, in most ways, a generational thing.  People who lived through a time (as I have not) when race relations were abominable might justly be entitled to feel more surprise than I feel at the absence of racism.   But I'd like to suggest that its time for them to cut America more slack.  It's time to recognize victory, proclaim it and accept it.  This is, in the end, the only real way to assure that it remains one.   Scratching old wounds tends only to make them sore. 
Categories > Race


DADT--Yeah, That's the Ticket

Okay, so Obama pledged to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and allow gays to serve openly in the military.  I am sure he sincerely believes in this, but I suspect he is making an issue of it now to throw a bone to the disappointed left.  With health care deform, card check, and cap and trade doomed, at the end of the year, or even at the end of the first term, lefties will be left saying, "You mean repealing DADT is all we got???!!!"

And I'm not sure they'll even get that.  I believe repealing DADT requires a vote of Congress.  Think all those Blue Dog Democrats from red-leaning districts want to cast this vote?  Pat Moynihan famously remarked that Clinton's promise to "end welfare as we know it" was "boob bait for Bubba."  There must be a gays-in-the-military equivalent phrase for Obama's rhetorical flourish, but I'm not sure I can post it on a PG blog.
Categories > Politics


Stick with Zinfandel

I never had any use for Howard Zinn, who died yesterday; I always said I preferred zinfandel when someone asked.  But check out what he has to say about Obama in the latest issue of The Nation!  Key sentence:

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president. . .
Categories > History


How Low Can Obama Go?

While extraordinarily partisan, even demagogic, Obama's SOTU still does not approach FDR's 1944 SOTU (aka his "economic bill of rights" speech), which likened conservative Republicans to Nazis (see fifth paragraph from the end).  And people wonder why Nixon (et al.) relished linking Democrats to Communists.
Categories > Presidency


SOTU Thoughts

Over at The Corner, Kevin D. Williamson has some interesting thoughts on the political ritual of The State of the Union speech that are worthy of consideration.  Hint:  he's not a fan.

Regarding this specific SOTU, there's not really much point in talking about the content of a speech that has yet to be delivered.  On the other hand, if anything David Axelrod says is to be taken as a clue about the likely tone of the thing, I am willing to bet that what he describes as Obama's "feisty" mood causes the President to continue his finger-wagging, misguided attacks on the values and opinions most Americans still hold dear.  I am moving closer to the opinion that Obama is actually incapable of being persuasive--perhaps because he mistakenly believes that Americans fully understand and support the ideas that he champions.  Or perhaps it is something more cynical, as some have suggested, and he really does think that the force of his own personality is all that is needed to persuade them. 

On the other hand, as they watch our feisty President try to box himself out of a corner, I hope Republicans don't get so caught up in the spectacle that they imagine the rest of America is as cheered by it as they might be.  This isn't a time for sneers, and hoots and hollers . . . it's an opportunity for Republicans to show that they can be persuasive where the President is not.  It's a good time to remember that whatever their basic values and opinions, the American people are not full on board with Republicans just because they're disappointed in the Democrats.  There's a lot of work to be done between now and November.
Categories > Presidency


For Dems "Much Deeper Trouble" Than in '94

This is what Michael Barone is saying the numbers currently suggest about the Democrats and their prospects in 2010.  Moreover, he points out that in '94 he wrote his first column suggesting the possibility of huge Republican gains in July.  In case you haven't noticed . . . this is January.  Of course, what makes politics so interesting is that anything can happen.  Scott Brown climbed 30 points in December, after all.  But, as Barone--an analyst not given to hyperbole--puts it:   "I have not seen a party's fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office."
Categories > Elections

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Conservative Fiction or Fictitious Conservatives?

John Miller has compiled a top ten of contemporary conservative fiction writers--the usual suspects are there, such as Drury, Dos Passos, Wolfe, McCarry, and Helprin, but not always for the novels you might have urged.  I have no particular quarrel with this list (though Tolkien deserved a mention), but compare it with the greatest novelists (or poets) at hand--Henry James, to name one.  Or just consider some from the 19th century:  Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoi, and Trollope.   David Lodge would have been a daring choice for this list.  Whom would you have picked?

CORRECTION:  As per Richard Adams' comment #2, below, my mention of the Europeans is inappropriate; John clearly intended this to be an Americans only list.  An even greater blunder on my part was to omit Melville and Twain from my list of 19th century authors. 


The Family

Marriage on Trial

The Wall Street Journal reports on the Proposition 8 prosecution tactics of David Boies, who wants California not just to ignore but to condemn common sense and human nature.  The article on the same-sex marriage trial mentions the scholarly work of Ken Miller (now safely tenured) of Claremont McKenna College.  His book on direct democracy in California is invaluable for conservative activists in every state with the initiative or referendum.
Categories > The Family


Focusing on Jobs

According to this morning's Wall Street Jounral President Obama "will make small-business hiring the centerpiece of" his "jobs agenda."  Question: does anyone have confidence that there is a politically feasible way, in current circumstances, for the federal government to foster the creation of jobs in the private sector?

Part of me wonders whether that explains the turn to health care.  If the administration concluded that it could do little, other than get out of the way and wait, as the economic crisis runs its course, then why not try to do something else in the mean time.

Categories > Economy


Obama is Right

When he says that "the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office." The trouble is a good deal of that anger is aimed at the very things that he, even more than President Bush, represents. 

Here's what I wrote on this subject in June, 2008.  So far, it's looking fairly accurate:

If Senator Obama becomes president, and if the Democratic party has control of both houses of the legislature in 2009, as seems quite likely, governing might be a rude awakening. The benefit of being in opposition is that one needn't be specific. The trouble with governing is that one must be so.

If part of the reason why President Bush has had such a rough time of things is that Americans are tried of the modern administrative/ bureaucratic state (even as they don't want their own benefits cut, or many regulations eliminated), and if Democrats think that the reason why Bush is unpopular is that he's been governing as a conservative, they could be in for a rude awakening.

Bush turned his back on the limited government/ leave-us-alone side of the conservative coalition.  Now that the party of government is fully and obviously in charge blame is being placed where is more properly belongs.

Categories > Politics


Obama's Belly Flop in Graphic Form

Brought to you by John Judis (another straight-shooting lefty) at the New Republic website.
Categories > Politics


Cohen on Edwards

I've noted in the past that Richard Cohen frequently departs from the liberal party line (unlike, for example, E.J. Dionne, who is no longer worth reading), and today he delivers another sparking commentary on the Edwards business.  A number of people have observed that the same folks who decried McCain's selection of Palin as a running mate have been strangely silent about John Kerry picking Edwards in 2004.  Cohen steps up:

I have been particularly harsh on McCain for his irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became -- astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency. She proves, if anything, that McCain was, too.

But what, then, can we make of Kerry's choice of Edwards? It is not quite in the Palin category, since Edwards had been in the Senate for one term and had made a career for himself as a stunningly successful trial attorney. Still, not only did he lack legislative achievement, but, in retrospect, it's clear that little was known about him. He dazzled as a political matinee idol -- a profile, a speech, a mirage of a marriage.

But along the way Cohen raises doubts about Barry Obama, too:

I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.
When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I'm not sure what that is. For the moment, it's a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to "let Reagan be Reagan," we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn.
Categories > Politics


TR on Financial Panics

I ran across this comment from Theodore Roosevelt, made around time time of the 1907 panic, that applies to the current rage against banks and Bernanke:

When people have lost their money, they strike out unthinkingly, like a wounded snake, at whoever is most prominent in the line of vision.
Categories > Economy


Am I Missing Something Here?

Or has post-modernist ambiguity come to the news pages of the Wall Street Journal?  The following "Corrections and Amplifications" note does nothing to correct or amplify:

Corrections & Amplifications:

Passage of Measure 66 would increase Oregon's personal-income-tax rate by nearly two percentage points for the state's richest taxpayers. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it would increase the rate by almost 2%.

I'm alarmed to learn, after half-a-century of speaking and writing English, that there is an important distinction between "nearly" and "almost" that no one has ever explained to me.

Categories > Journalism

Pop Culture

Great Nations Can . . . and That's Who We Are

On Friday, when I along with the rest of Southern California, was subjected to the breathless and non-stop television coverage of this rescue of a dog from the rushes of a bulging LA River (the result of our recent storms), my first reaction was to be a little bit disgusted.  It's not that I don't like dogs or don't admire the selfless work of rescuers.  I'm a big fan of both dogs and rescue personnel.  But here we were at the end of a week in which the human tragedy of a natural disaster in Haiti was palpable--where people died because there were no tools or emergency personnel available to prevent it--and Los Angeles was gripped and, then, elated by a (no doubt outrageously expensive) helicopter rescue of . . . a dog.   And then, just for good measure and because no good deed goes unpunished, the darn dog bit and severely injured his savior.  Perfect.  "Don't people see the horrible and sad irony here?" I indignantly asked myself.  Aren't the lives of those people in Haiti worth more than the life of a dog?  What an extravagant and ridiculous people we have become, I mumbled to myself. 

But what a silly, self-righteous prig I was in that moment.  Still, everyone's entitled to a momentary lapse of rational judgment in the face of life's inequities.  This was (one of) mine.  As I thought about it or, rather, groused about it, I began to wonder and to re-think.  Is it fair to suggest that there is something off in my fellow citizens because they were so interested in the fate of a dog that they were willing to invest their tax dollars, the lives and safety of their rescue personnel, and their good wishes and captivated interest in seeing him rescued?  Was it really taking anything away from the horrible scope of the tragedy in Haiti for rescue workers in Los Angeles to attend to this matter?  In the end, I think the answer to both questions is "no."

Of course, such a daring rescue of a dog would be an unlikely event in a place like Haiti.  And one can't blame them for that.  The animal/human distinction is a good thing to remember and a thing that too often gets blurred in a rich country like ours.  Of course, it gets blurred in poor countries too . . . though in the opposite direction. 

Really, it says something wonderful (if not entirely rational) about us as a people that we CAN do this and that, when given the opportunity, we do it as a matter of course.  We have the luxury to worry about a dog to the amazing degree that we can call out a rescue team to assist it!  How does a nation get to that point?  It is not because it is a bad or a degraded place, that's for sure.  And it ought to be assuring, too, in contemplating what a natural disaster in a country like ours would look like versus what it is in a place like Haiti.  Say what one wants about the worst of the response to Katrina . . . it looked nothing like the tragedy of Haiti and that's not only because the earthquake was more violent than the hurricane.  Badly governed nations are poor and poor nations aren't known for their efficient rescue operations--even when the hearts of their people yearn for the freedom and prosperity that allows them.

Almost as if he sensed it the glaring inequity between what went down in the LA River and the efforts in Haiti, the man who rescued the dog (and, for his efforts, was willing to get bit) explained in an interview that his concern, ultimately, was less about the dog and more about the safety of the public.  Good sense mixed here with compassion.  You see, he knew what kind of people we Americans are.  Someone, if not the rescuer, would have tried to save that dog and, likely, that someone would then have been in need of rescuing.  Sometimes our hearts are bigger than our brains . . . but that's just who we are as Americans.  Anyway, we're all entitled to a momentary lapse of rational judgment in the face of life's inequities--particularly when we are so blessed.  Very often, we do some good . . . even if we sometimes get bit.

Categories > Pop Culture


Bubba's Not a Boob Man Anymore

In a smart column today, Michael Barone notes that the elite among the Democrat party--though mainly attracted to the big-idea, left-wing, and sexy issues like equal justice for terrorists, gay rights, and global warming policy--have always supported big government programs (even when they mean higher taxes and more expensive private-sector services for high income elites like themselves) because these programs are, "in the words of the late Sen. Pat Moynihan, 'boob bait for the bubbas.'" In other words, this is the price they are willing to pay for the right to rule.

If the election in Massachusetts last week signifies anything, the trouble for Dems appears to be that Bubba's not much of a boob man anymore.  There are two demographic facts from this race which lend credence to Barone's assertion.  The first has to do with a surge of high to middle-income suburban voters opposed to these intrusive and expensive proposals.  The second has to do with the old standby constituent of Democrat politics:  lower income and minority voters. Barone notes, "In a race where the Republican promised to be the decisive vote to kill the Democrats' health care bills, working class and minority voters did not rally to save them."

But "voters in middle-income suburbs -- some with many college graduates, some with only a few -- who mostly work in the private sector" largely have been unimpressed with the offerings of Democrats since sleeping off their hope and change hangover.  These voters, "took a different view" of the boobs and baubles offered by the Democrats, Barone suggests, because in the end they lack the faith of their betters in the elite Democrat ranks.  They lack faith either in the ability of experts to "re-engineer" institutions in workable ways or, perhaps, in their own ability to navigate through the muck once the abstract theories of their betters are in place.   Although elites, confident in their own capacity to master and manipulate words to their advantage, may not fear the tangles of bureaucratic maze, people who do not pontificate or theorize for a living apparently believe that they have cause for concern.  "They surged to the polls in far larger numbers than in off-year elections and cast most of their votes, often more than two-thirds, for Scott Brown."

This, combined with the lack of enthusiastic support from "working class and minority voters," ought to present a telling moment for Republicans contemplating strategy in 2010 and beyond.  In the long run, it will not be enough to keep these middle-income Americans dissatisfied with the Democrats.  Dissatisfaction will drive you to the polls . . . once.  And it would be pathetic in the extreme to merely hope that working class and minority voters remain unenthusiastic Democrats.  It would be cynical in the extreme to work to keep them so.  Why can't they be enthusiastic Republicans?  There is no logical reason for Republicans to continue running from this fight.
One place to start might be to stop with all the "Bubba" nonsense.  How about, instead of all this talk of "Bubba v. the elite," Republicans move on to something a little more high-minded and focus their minds on the question of self-government and what is required for its perpetuation?  Self-government requires habits and virtues on the part of all people--not just the elite--and, at least until now, Americans have always assumed that we are a people worthy of the assumption that we were capable of it.  Do Democrats with their policy prescriptions now suggest something different?  This is a fair and a serious question and it is one that Republicans should be asking.  But they should also remember to remind voters of the virtues and the work that is required for self government.  They may have to sacrifice some security and they may have to work harder for their bread . . . even as they earn the self-respect and confidence of the self-governed.  Give Americans that fair choice and make sure that they understand the consequences.  Republicans ought to remember that the GOP has always stood for (and they should continue to insist that it keep standing for) the notion that all Americans--regardless of education, race, background, or perceived disadvantage--can make themselves capable and competent judges of what is best in their own lives.  The wisdom of an "expert" is no argument for his justice.  And the justice of the American people is no guarantee of their perfect wisdom.  It is likely that we cannot have both (or, really, either) in perfection.  So which way do we, as a people, prefer to lean?

Further, why don't Republicans start talking about how much more success Americans are likely to have when they own it?  Why don't Republicans start assuring voters who find themselves at sea inside a murky washtub of bureaucratic rules and regulations (passed for the ostensible purpose of making their lives better), that they can ACTUALLY make their own lives better by pulling the cork on this tub?  Why don't we start talking about all of the great things Americans can do and have done (for themselves) and begin building the confidence of an electorate that, in the end and with respect to the greatest principles and traditions of our country, rarely disappoints.  Eighty years of Progressivism won't be undone in one election cycle, certainly.  But the self-perpetuating myth of American incompetence that has been the driving force of Progressivism's political success is beginning to unravel in the face of the astonishing incompetence and failures of their own experts.  It is time for the opponents of Progressivism to remind Americans what it means when we recite the pledge for "Liberty and Justice for all."

Categories > Politics


Buyer's Remorse Syndrome

That a lot of independent voters are having buyer's remorse about Obama is setting in as a meme of his still-young presidency ought to be an ominous sign for Democrats, because even if it is mistaken in some ways, it can establish an unshakeable hold, as was the case with Jimmy Carter's perceived weakness and "incompetence" (that term was used a lot about Carter) in his single misbegotten term.  Today comes news that Obama used a teleprompter a few days ago--to speak to a sixth grade class.  Not a good sign.  And if you like good polemical writing, see Conrad Black's scorching takedown of Obama in the National Post, which also centers around the question of Obama's basic competence.  Haven't seen scorn this lively since R. Emmett Tyrrell's serial demolitions of Jimmy Carter 30 years ago.

UPDATE:  Apparently Obama thinks his personal popularity will shield Democrats from the voters' wrath in November.  I know this guys thinks well of himself, but really. . .
Categories > Politics

Men and Women

Girls' Room Insights on Health-Care

The Hill reports that there is footage of a female Democrat describing Capitol Hill girls' room chatter, wherein a female Republican suggested the whole health-care package could have been resolved if they just sent the boys home and let the women handle taking care of the family. The statement was received with bipartisan applause and a general accord that women know more about caring for their own.

I really don't see a scandal here - my better half is an angel when I'm sick, whereas I'm reduced to asking if she can stop being sick long enough to remind me where we keep the medicine and heating pad. I'm actually delightfully surprised that ladies of both parties still make jokes about men in the bathroom! That's encouraging.

The episode reminds me of perhaps the most controversial passage in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, wherein he mentions, as a defense of the traditional role of men as the head of the house, that women are too willing to abandon justice in the defense of their families. Women, Lewis observes, harbor an "intense family patriotism" and are the trustees of the family's interests, whereas the function of the husband is to moderate the family's "foreign policy" so as to protect other people from this natural preference of the wife.

Categories > Men and Women


Obama Loses WaPo on Terror

Describing Obama's decision-making following the attempted Christmas Day bombing as "myopic, irresponsible and potentially dangerous," WaPo retracts its original support of federal prosecution. Powerline has the story and commentary here, as well as a good perspective on the overarching failures here.

Such language from the WaPo editorial pages was par-for-the-course during the Bush years, but if Obama is losing this bastion of liberal talking-points....

Categories > Military


Winesburg, Ohio

I talk a lot, and not just in the classroom.  I average giving one or two talks a week, next week it will be four.  I almost never turn down an invitation to give a talk and accept even the formal ones, although I insist on bringing those down a notch or two, to a popular level.  I try to say things so that everyone around me understands what I am saying, including me.  This has the healthy effect of encouraging conversation, with minimal pretense.  Sometimes this surprises folks, because after all I am a professor, so they expect me to obfuscate (make things less clear).  I sometimes flatter myself in thinking that this is the way Twain or Lincoln would talk, if they were around.  The topic chosen for me doesn't matter, because I always say the same thing: I talk about what talking has to do with self-government.  I mention all this because I spoke at Winesburg about ten days ago (three days after a talk in Colorado).  The group calls itself a Community Roundtable, and they are after self-improvement and education. There are Constitution booklets at the door and a basket for donations, from the able and the willing, to pay for the hall and the coffee. The town's a little-bitty place, not even a stop sign in it.  They said come to the building across the street from fire station, on Main Street (of course).  I found it and discovered a useful hall with just under a hundred folks there, from bearded Mennonites to austere Calvinists to Baptists, with maybe even a few Catholics, with a half dozen kids and mothers and even a few teenagers.  The atmosphere was Lyceum-like, friendly and respectful, but busy.  I talked for an hour and then conversed for another, then lingered with folks for yet another hour.  Wit and humor were our constant companion and I was comfortable from the first minute.  After all, these are the folks who practice honest industry, have some rational foresight, and know something about how restraining the passions leads to not only wealth and happiness, but also self government.  In other words, these are not Harvard PhD's, but are simply Americans.  I am at home with them.  I don't have to persuade them of anything and there is no pretense.  I merely remind them of something they already know.  I toss around the idea of natural rights and right and the Constitution, bring in Madison and the boys as needed.  So heads nod as I talk, and hands go up (or not) as they (rightly) jump in with observations and comments, sometimes with questions.  But mostly, we just talk with one another.  I mention this in passing because sometimes the educated-sophisticated class gives us the impression that we are on a downhill slide toward collapse and degradation and are about to give up governing ourselves.  I actually don't need election returns from distant states, or a good Supreme Court decision, to remind me that we are still capable of governing ourselves.  I just have to go to places like Winesburg (and they are everywhere).  By the way, one of the organziers of the group gave me a hand-made rocking chair as a present.  A gift from some friends, he said.  He placed it gently in the back of Clarence for me.  I didn't get a good look at it until I got home, when my moist eyes were clear once again.  It's lovely and very comfortable and I am grateful.
Categories > Conservatism


For God's Sake, Blog!

So say's the Pope! Just wanted to point out (as I always knew) that we here at NLT are but pious pilgrims under the imprimatur of the Holy Father to carry out the Lord's good work....

Categories > Religion

Foreign Affairs

Tucker on Terror

This is my fourth conversation with David Tucker on terrorism, and the first we had since the attempted attack over Detroit and the death of our agents in Afghanistan.  I think these talks are very helpful, although, of course, always incomplete.  But we'll stay on it.  I thank David.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


A Citizens United Case Video!

Starring my other half.  I had missed this before somehow.
Categories > Courts


For a Laugh

I've not been a big fan of Jon Stewart since he stopped being funny during the Bush-Kerry election, but sometimes he strikes gold - such as his take on Olbermann's meltdown over Brown's victory in Mass.

Categories > Journalism


They're Calling it Glacier-Gate

And the hits just keep on coming.

So, here's what happened: In 1999, a freelance writer in England was told over the phone by an Indian "glaciologist" that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. The Englishman published the prediction in a magazine read by a environmentalist group which used it in a campaign ad. The UN's IPCC cut-and-pasted the campaign ad into its official global warming report (the basis for global warming alarmism for which it won a Nobel prize).

The claim was so ridiculous that it only took the global warming community 10 years to take notice - at which time, of course, the glaciologist (the single source for the unverified prediction) denied making the claim and admitted, if he did, it was mere conversation with no foundation in science or research. The IPCC chief, after mocking those who cast doubt on the glacier data, "was forced into a humiliating apology and admission."  

Climategate, Warmergate, Glaciergate... none of them decisively refute global warming, but each of them sweeps away purported evidence thereof and reveals the corrupt and political nature of the pro-warming community.

Categories > Environment


The Fierce Urgency of Eventually

The bitter video archive assembled by Talking Points Memo suggests that rapture is yielding to contempt. Two years ago Ezra Klein beheld Barack Obama, and saw that he offered "not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair."  Klein's assessment today?  "That candidate bears little relation to this president," because "Obama ran promising to change Washington. Instead, he's done more than any president in a generation to settle into its norms."  Jonathan Cohn was hopeful, too, yet writes an essay this week titled, "Where's The Obama I Voted For?"  The titles of two of Cohn's subsequent blog posts about health care reform - "Dead or Only Mostly Dead?" and then, "The Abyss" - suggests that he and other Democrats are going to have further reasons to wonder whether the Obama they voted for was a case of seeing what they wanted to see instead of what was there.  What was there was a young, inexperienced politician whose meager record of accomplishments provided no basis for the belief that he was up to the job he sought.
Categories > Politics


You Need Yoo

But not as much as the Obama Administration, which announced indefinite detention of as many as 50 Guantanamo prisoners.  The Administration seems fixated on providing lawyers for terrorists while threatening the Bush Administration lawyers such as John Yoo, who tried to deal with terrorists.  In the last segment of his Uncommon Knowledge interview Yoo surprises with his sympathetic account of the Obama Administration's terrorism policies.  John was promoting his new book, Crisis and Command, a history of presidential power.  He recently spoke at AEI, fresh from his drubbing of Jon Stewart, who apologized for his inept performance.

Highly notable in this regard is Ben Kleinerman's Lincoln-focused conception of executive power in time of crisis.  He urges a much more politically astute presidency when it uses its powers for controversial purposes, however justified.  This is much in line with the advice of friendly Yoo critic Jeff Rosen, at the AEI panel above.

Categories > Presidency


"Supreme Court Settles Abortion Issue"

So wrote The New York Times on that most controversial of decisions handed down by the Supreme Court on this day, 37 years ago. As usual, the Grey Lady was reporting wishfully, rather than prophetically.

Due to the economy, Roe v. Wade is not presently commanding public attention and will not likely play a significant role in November. Abortion presently ranks as the 10th most important issue to Americans, with 41% ranking it as "very important" (I'd wager 5%-10% are single-issue voters). Abortion won't likely emerge again until a Supreme Court seat opens up, and even then will be muted, as Obama will likely swap pro-Roe justices.

However, abortion has established itself as a permanent feature of American politics. The economy will recover and wars will diminish - and abortion will again dominate the headlines. This is unique to the U.S. and provides an insight into a peculiarity of American democracy.

The clamorous and convictional abortion debate which has marked American politics for 40 years owes its persistence to two factors: morality and democracy.

First, Americans have not surrendered morality to the private sector. Europeans consciously eschew hard moral debates in public - having lost the boldness and sense of obligation to battle over profound issues - deferring to the guidance of government agencies. They have abandoned the pursuit of public morality on the grounds that they individually lack the authority, and should reserve the judgement, necessary to enforce personal preferences. Tolerance has triumphed over substantive moral conviction in the hierarchy of virtues. Let others lose their souls, they privately think, who am I to judge?

Secondly, pro-life Americans feel a bitter sense of indignation at the Supreme Court's pre-emption of this moral decision and usurpation of the democratic process. Roe completely altered the nature of the abortion debate in America, introducing a provocational lightning-rod which expanded and came to dominate the debate (protesting Roe v. Wade is now synonymous with opposing abortion).

Like slavery before it, abortion is an issue of moral absolutism marred by legal intrusion which divides the nation along irreconcilable fronts. Its perseverance indicates that Americans are still morally and intellectually alive, full of fight and vigor, devoted to the principles of a just democracy.

Categories > History


The Man Doesn't Do Anything Small

FT reports that Obama has "proposed the most far-reaching overhaul of Wall Street since the 1930s."

One cannot help but wonder if Obama learned nothing from his disastrous overreach on health-care.

Of course, this over-night policy priority is an attempt to change the subject from the Dems' legislative collapse and to ride the populist wave which washed away his health-care sand-castles. It remains to be seen whether this attack on the banks will parallel and channel voter unrest or be received as a smokescreen sham imposing yet further taxes to be passed on to the public.

The answer will likely emerge after Obama features this new initiative as a centerpiece of his State of the Union speech next week. I predict Obama may be surprised that his credibility has sagged to such an extent that even his lofty rhetoric will fail to heal voter disillusionment. 

Categories > Politics


Watch Joe Klein Lose Barack Obama's Trust

Joe Klein the journalist:

"Unlike most politicians, Obama doesn't thrive on sycophancy; he mistrusts it."

Joe Klein the interviewer:

Klein:  Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that -- just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to -- the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

The Best Week Ever

First, Scott Brown trounces Martha Coakley in Massachusetts.

Then the Supreme Court finds for the good guys in the Citizens United case.

And now, AirAmerica has announced that it's filing for bankruptcy.

What could make this week better?  Oh yeah--tomorrow I'm headed for Boca Raton to give my talk on Captain America.


Cable News Race

Drudge has the cable news returns for Tuesday's election.

FOXNEWS BECK 3,446,000
FOXNEWS SHEP 3,241,000
CNN KING 1,681,000
CNN COOPER 1,508,000
CNN BROWN 1,308,000
MSNBC MADDOW 1,236,000
CNN BLITZER 1,135,000

Let me do the math for you:

Fox: 28,461,000
CNN: 6,477,000
MSNBC: 3,308,000

Seems the public is expressing its opinion on far left agendas both at the polls and on the tube.

Categories > Journalism


Good Writing

William Zinsser thinks that good old short words are best of all.  Winston and Abe agree.  His four principles are : Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity, and Humanity.  Note that Zinsser's good speech is meant for those whop speak English as a second language (folks like me), yet it might be of value to some of you natives! Enjoy.
Categories > Education


Another job at Ashland

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we had a job in international relations here at Ashland.  Please note that we have just posted another tenure track job, this time in American politics.  Once again, pass the word, please, to those who may be interested in working with great colleagues and fine students.  I suspect we are going to move quite quickly (can academics do that?, ed.) so encourage those interested to get to it soon.  Thanks.
Categories > Education

Health Care

The Dems Fail

From WaPo: "Speaker of the House says she does not have enough votes to pass the Senate version of the health-care bill." 

The bill is dead.

We now enter an entirely new phase of the health-care debate. Everything now weighs upon how the parties react to the brave new world in which they find themselves. I expect a new debate will begin, and I hope Republicans struggle to take ownership of a more reasonable health-care package.

It's in the Democrats' interest to pass something, even at this late hour when no glory will be taken from the battlefield. The GOP should have the upper-hand now, forcing the Dems to pay a price for the bi-partisan cooperation they once scorned.

Categories > Health Care


Free Speech Vindicated!

I'm still out getting soaked in the El Nino-fueled monsoon here in California (my trip to Napa Valley today takes on a whole different character in a downpour), but I want to flag today's hugely significant Supreme Court ruling in the long-awaited Citizens United case that strikes down large parts of campaign finance regulation.  They overruled one very bad old key precedent, based chiefly on the amicus brief of someone named Hayward (not me--the better-looking one).  From page 48 of the opinion:

When neither party defends the reasoning of a precedent, the principle of adhering to that precedent through stare decisis is diminished. Austin abandoned First Amendment principles, furthermore, by relying on language in some of our precedents that traces back to the Automobile Workers Court's flawed historical account of campaign finance laws, see Brief for Campaign Finance Scholars as Amici Curiae; Hayward, 45 Harv. J. Legis. 421.  (Emphasis added.)

Guess I should buy an extra nice bottle of wine somewhere up the the valley today.

UPDATE:  On the wine front, Mission Accomplished!, as President Bush might say.  One especially spirited benefactor bestowed a bottle of York Creek Vineyards 1971 petite syrah, which I'm going to pair with a very dry-aged steak some time soon.  

But more to the point, the better half appears today in the New York Post on the Citizens United case.
Categories > Courts



Is it possible that a Puffin would be more fun than my Isabella (or Clarence)?
Categories > Technology


The First Year

Andy Busch considers Obama's first year and wonders which Obama is going to show up for work tomorrow.  A year ago we thought it could be either the liberal ideologue or the moderate who wanted to unite the country.  We think we know which decision he made then.  Which way will he go now?  Also, Andy points out that the setbacks he has encountered may well prove to be to his advantage (others, including Steve, have mentioned this possibility), if he proves he is not tin-eared.  Good article.
Categories > Presidency


The Power of One-Liners

Scott Johnson over at Powerline reminds us of the power of a couple great one-liners. Senator-Elect Brown certainly used this to his benefit, saying again and again that it's not Kennedy's seat, it's the people's seat. That one certainly worked. But President Obama's comment in Massachusetts last week -- "Forget the truck. Anybody can buy a truck." -- was a one-liner that did nothing but help Brown. And last night, Brown was able to use Obama's mistake even more to his benefit: "It all started with me, my truck, and a very few dedicated volunteers. However, it ended with Air Force One making an emergency run to Logan. And I didn't mind when the President came here and criticized me and talked about some of the things he disagreed with me on. But let me tell you, when he started to criticize my truck, that's where I draw the line." And my favorite, "When I spoke to the President, the first thing I said was, 'Would you like me to drive the truck down to Washington so you can see it?'" Not a bad way for a new Senator to begin his relationship with the President of the United States. 

His election is already having an impact on the health care bill. President Obama said today, "Here's one thing I know and I just want to make sure that this is off the table: The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. People in Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process." Good. That's a start.

But in a sure sign that the President's tone-deafness does not end with pick-up trucks, he also said, "People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years." Yes, it is George Bush's fault that the Democrats lost their 56 year reign over a Senate seat in the dark blue state of Massachusetts. This is a nice attempt to spin this election, but it is so wrong it is silly. This line by the President probably indicates that he will not be clever enough to take this friendly advice from NRO and distance himself from the liberals currently running things in Congress.
Categories > Congress



Mustn't gloat.  Well, okay, gloat a little.  It was hard last night not gloating watching the long, sad faces on MSNBC, which is my favorite network to watch when Democrats have a bad night.  But as I said before, Republicans had better be careful not to think they're back in the promised land, despite the fact that the noisiest lefties seem determined to see Obama make a suicide march.  Obama seems more ideologically rigid than Bill Clinton, but I guess we'll see.  John Judis and Thomas Byrne Edsall, both serious and thoughtful lefties, offer sober warnings this morning to their ideological soulmates.  Will they pay attention?

Which brings me to my long-wave theory of American politics.  I had noticed a while ago that ever since 1938, every 14 years there had been a GOP landslide at the polls (1952, 1966, 1980, 1994), which meant that the cycle was due to reoccur in 2008.  Of course that didn't happen.  Maybe the Massachusetts result, and the prospects for this November, show that the cycle is just slightly out of phase.  Thought experiment: What might the result have been in 2008 if a Democratic president (Gore?  Kerry?) had presided over the collapse of the housing bubble?  Who knows.  If there is anything to this theory, it is probably that since the New Deal a majority favors Democratic expansions of government, but looks to Republicans to temper excesses.  (This is not my own original theory: Jonathan Rauch has been arguing something like this for a while.)  

Separately, I got to see Gov. Schwarzenegger last night at the Hoover Institution.  He was in good form, saying that all day long he had been asking Maria, "So--how are you feeling about Massachusetts today?"   I asked him if he might go back to making movies after he left office, reminding him that Gov. Reagan had answered the same question from Johnny Carson in 1973 with: "Oh, no, Johnny, I'm much too old to take off all my clothes."  The Governator laughed, noted that he still worked out every day, and therefore that "I'm not too old to take off all my clothes."  Despite all his mistakes (I was careful not to introduce myself as the author of the NR cover story "Governor Girly Man"), we'll miss his personality in the statehouse.

Categories > Politics


Happy Anniversary, Mr. President

On the eve of his first anniversary as President of the United States, Obama was given a spoonful of bitter medicine. The election of Scott Brown as Republican Senator #41 was a clear rejection of a President and political policy agenda which were embraced with hopeful optimism a mere one year ago. This assertion is supported by the earlier gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, the wide-spread disenchantment with health-care reform and leading polls which have Obama at the lowest approval rating of any president at this stage of his first term

Furthermore, the President will likely be stopped in his tracks for the foreseeable future. Yesterday's shocking election does not simply deprive the democrats of their essential super-majority in the Senate, but Democrats are surely losing confidence in their own security as they reflect on recent election results. The path to survival may require a show of independence, which would paralyze the hyper-partisan legislative course upon which Obama staked his success.

So, with his first year a demonstrable disappointment (a conclusion which will be mercilessly repeated during the looming State-of-the-Union Address) and nothing hopeful upon the horizon (particularly given the Democrats' prospects in the November mid-term elections), Obama might need a second glass of Champaign to wash down his year-end celebrations. 

Categories > Presidency

Men and Women

Be a Man

Dennis Prager wonders if anyone ever says that to a kid today . . . well, anyone besides the twelve people he probably knows who do.  But, he further wonders, if anyone does say that, does the kid have any frame of reference worthy of note from which to gauge what a man is?  Increasingly, the answer appears to be "no" or "not much of one."

Prager outlines a series of potential causes for what he views as a sad decline in American manhood.  Many of the themes are familiar and things about which we have had some good discussions here.  But one that strikes me, perhaps because I had never really questioned it, is the mindless practice of men in authority (think coaches, teachers, etc.) "high-fiving" a boy instead of shaking his hand when he's done well.  I'm not sure that a kid can't respect a man who gives him a high five instead of offering a handshake.  And I am pretty sure that, in many contexts, a hand extended for a shaking might get a slap in any event.  Indeed, I'm pretty sure that a handshake suggested might cause, at least at first, a snicker or a mocking in some places.  But I wonder, too, if there isn't something to this.  Maybe a real man would insist on a handshake.  Maybe a handshake is more serious,  more dignified, more manly.  And maybe, just maybe, a kid might sense this and, in turn, comport himself more like a man and less like a boy. 

It's a small thing, I know.  But it strikes me as a good one. 
Categories > Men and Women


Bayh Says It's Time to Make "Common Cause"

. . . with moderates and independents.  The Democrats have gone too far left.  This is interesting stuff.  The dangers of populism are, of course, worth noting.  But there is also something very heartening about being able to agree with Evan Bayh when he notes that Americans just don't like it when those they elect try to tell them how to think and what is best for them and then try to force it on them.  We still will not be ruled.  And it's very fitting, it seems to me, that this sentiment is emerging most dramatically in Massachusetts--the cradle of the Revolution and home of the Adams'.  Let us hope that we imitate John more than Sam in the end . . . though tonight may be a good night to toast the old brewer.

H/T:  Hugh Hewitt
Categories > Elections


Some Very Basic Electoral Math

In November 2008 Barack Obama won 53% of the popular vote in the state of Virginia. Twelve months later, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate there won 41% of the popular vote, 12 percentage points less. Obama won 57% of the vote in New Jersey, one year before incumbent Democratic governor Jon Corzine won 45%, also a 12-point difference. In Massachusetts Obama won 62% of the vote. Martha Coakely appears likely to wind up with 47% of the vote in today's special senatorial election, a drop of 15 percentage points.

One way of connecting those three dots is to say that any Democrat running for senator this year in a state that Obama carried with less than, say, 56% of the vote is likely to have an interesting election. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, which gave Obama 45% of the vote in 2008, has already decided to spend more time with his family. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, which gave Obama 39% of its vote, has one of the most difficult challenges facing any incumbent in 2010.

Among the states Obama did carry, but not overwhelmingly, are these:

  • Indiana, where Obama received 50% of the vote, and where Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh is seeking election to a third term.
  • North Carolina, where Obama got 50%, and where Republican Sen. Richard Burr is seeking reelection to a second term.
  • Florida, where Obama got 51%, and an open Senate seat held by an appointed Republican will be contested. 
  • Ohio, where Obama got 52%, has an open Senate seat due to the retirement of Sen. George Voinovich.
  • Colorado, where Obama got 54%, and where Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet will run for election to a full term after being appointed to fulfill the term to which Ken Salazar was elected in 2004.  (Salazar became Secretary of the Interior in 2009.)
  • Iowa, where Obama got 54%, and where Republican Sen. Charles Grassley will seek reelection to a sixth term.
  • New Hampshire where Obama got 54%, has an open Senate seat due to the retirement of Republican Senator Judd Gregg.
  • Nevada, where Obama got 55%, and where Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, will seek reelection to a fifth term.
  • Pennsylvania, where Obama got 55%, and where Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter is seeking a sixth term.

If the pattern in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts holds that would be five Republican holds and four Republican gains.

Categories > Elections


If Brown Had Lost....

Could we have blamed the relentless phone bank callers, as Pete (Comment 1, #4) suggested?  That is, could potential Brown voters have been turned off from voting by the blitz of calls, live and robo?  As a sometime phone banker myself, I could see this happening.  When I brought my concerns to the phone bank boss, she maintained there were political science studies supporting the over-the-top calling strategy.  I've found some support for that viewpoint, but I have also come up with some research suggesting that Pete may be right.

Here is one study by a Princeton prof, arguing that phoning increases turnout.  He goes after these profs, below, who claim it decreases turnout (sorry, no links):

Gerber, Alan S., and Donald P. Green. 2000. "The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment." American Political Science Review

Gerber, Alan S., and Donald P. Green. 2001. "Do Phone Calls Increase Voter Turnout? A Field Experiment." Public Opinion Quarterly

Here is another scholar who says the calls don't make much difference.  But this scholar says the calls can provided they are of good quality.

Had enough? The quality argument appeals to me. I've gotten fewer nasty responses than my colleagues by beginning my call with "Thank you for voting today..." I guess all I need to do now is to reproduce this result, so I'll have data instead of an anecdote and publish it in a big-time poly sci journal. I prefer door-to-door campaigning, meeting real voters and chatting with them.  Ultimately, though, it comes down to the quality of the candidate or issue.  That is the element these putatively scientific studies need to control for, and I don't think the rules of science allow them to factor that in.

Political campaigns waste a lot of their budgets. Like the welfare state, these hired guns throw money at a problem to solve it. Yet they also send ill-informed doorbellers out with inaccurate street maps and bad voting records.

UPDATE: Classy Brown remarks.

Categories > Elections

Health Care

Time for a Populist Pivot?

Some commentators are saying that President Obama will "double-down."  He'll now follow the FDR strategy of bashing economic royalists, and use that to push even harder for the further nationalization of health care. Banks are not popular now, and neither are insurance companies.  Hence he has room to run, focusing on what needs changing, instead of what's in the bill.

That being the case, the opposition probably should follow suit. To block the "the other side wants the status quo" argument, it's time to push for a very simple bill: tort reform, opening the interstate market, a pre-existing conditions fix, and a portability law.  Perhaps those aren't exactly the ideas to push, but you get the general idea.  It's time to start talking about a genuine bipartisan reform, rather than a transformation and takeover.

Categories > Health Care


Education, Credentials, and Spending

A short distraction from today's election.  Of late, I have been reading an increasing number of people saying that America is sending too many people to college.  They neither want nor need to spend the years after age 18 in college, but do so because it's what the system tells them they have to do.  Meanwhile, an increasing number of students in college need remedial education because they're not learning what they ought to learn in high school.  Plus our schools of education are not producing quality teachers.  On top of that, education funding at all levels is being squeezed.  In particular, campuses are feeling the pinch.

Obvious solution: close some of the campuses in America and reduce the size of others.  Plus, change the law so that an advanced degree in a subject is sufficient qualification to teach that subject in high school.  And let the teachers who no longer have a place in higher education go to the high schools.  I see synergy.

Categories > Education


David Brooks' Whale of a Tale

Obama drives David Brooks crazy.  He praises Obama for his "pragmatism," commitment to open debate (Fox news?), and "moderate temper"--while condemning him for seeming to become "like the sovereign on the cover of [Thomas Hobbes'] 'Leviathan'-- the brain of the nation to which all the cells in the body and the nervous system must report and defer."


President Obama has shown himself to be a fine administrator, but he erred in trying to make himself the irreplaceable man in nearly ever sphere of public life. He erred in not sensing that even a pragmatic government could seem imperious and alarming.

This is the error of a pragmatic man?  Sounds more like the ideological fanatic that Hobbes strove to contain but instead spawned.

UPDATE:  A sidebar on the Brooks article contains a brief symposium on the first complete Hebrew translation of the Leviathan.  It also has the striking Leviathan frontispiece Brooks mentions.  One contributor mentions that only recently "complete Hebrew editions of Locke, Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill have appeared for the first time -- each restoring material about the Bible and religion that earlier Israeli translators had elided."  What these commentators miss is that Hobbes founded two traditions--the liberal one that the state exists to protect individual rights and the totalitarian one that the sovereign defines all legitimate activity. 

Categories > Presidency


Implications for 2012

As the next storm front rolls onshore out here on the Left Coast (truly epic surf outside my front window right now), no doubt knocking out my power again at any moment, I'm contemplating a factor in the Brown campaign that has attracted very little notice and comment.  

Who was the last Republican to do well in Massachusetts?  That Mitt Romney fella.  It has been reported that he has taken a significant role in the Brown campaign, or that the Brown campaign staff is largely drawn from Romney's politicos.  If Brown wins handily (keep your fingers crossed, but the polls are simply incredible), I would think this would help burnish Romney's status as the front runner for 2012.
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

One Can Always Depend Upon the French

Aside from sending millions of dollars in aid to Haiti, the U.S. has deployed thousands of troops to restore safety, accepted thousands of refugees into its own borders and, critically, established the rapid and competent leadership which keeps airports open, facilitates international logistics and allows massive relief efforts to execute.

In another world, this would be recognized as the behavior of a great and noble nation exhibiting compassion and courage in the face of tragedy. U.S. troops have already died while attempting to quell mob violence and national appeals for ever-greater aid increase by the day. America has shown the sort of leadership and selfless-sacrifice befitting the kingdom of heaven.

France, of course, will have none of it. Though international aid groups devoted to humanitarian assistance have expressed complete satisfaction with America's administration of relief efforts, the French, in full temper-tantrum mode because one of their flights carrying aid was prioritized below a U.S. flight carrying peace-keeping forces, has accused the U.S. of "occupying" Haiti.

Note that such language is not arbitrary. Haiti has been occupied by both the French and U.S. during the last century, so the accusation is intended to aggravate old wounds and incite resentment and suspicion among the Haitians (potentially exposing U.S. soldiers and aid workers to greater risk of violence).

Further, this is the sort of slander which European news outlets find irresistible. Rather than commending the U.S. and offering our example as a model of international charity and partnership, European news media is fostering resentment toward the U.S. by portraying America as an arrogant, bully nation hampering European aid efforts simply because we can.

When one ponders European prejudices against America, it would be prudent to remember the efforts of nations like France and episodes such as this. Nations, like people, possess a sort of character - America's character has been exhibited by our response to Haiti, and France's character has been exhibited by its response to America. 

UPDATE: "EU plays down talk of Haiti rift with US."

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Parties

Can Republicans Steal the Show on Health-Care?

In the wake of Massachusetts' stunning special-election results - filling Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, safely in Democratic hands since 1953, with Republican Scott Brown - all attention is fixed upon the Democrats' national health care proposal. Indeed, the Massachusetts election was almost certainly a referendum on that albatross legislation. And "Republican Senator #41," as Scott Brown should be titled, has shattered the Democrats' all-important, filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority and will likely derail the entire health-care bill.

President Obama and the Democrats thus find themselves in a no-win situation: they can attempt various procedural tricks to force the bill through Congress (shady, desperate tactics which would show an utter contempt for prevailing public opinion), they can scale back the bill to lure a Republican defection (infuriating a liberal base which would consider this tantamount to failure) or they can simply accept defeat (conceding an incapacity to govern on behalf of the people). Though the ball is still in their court, Democrats are on the defensive and damage-control is likely vying with legislative success as the highest priority on their agenda.

On the other hand, Republicans are in a position of flux. Voter rejection of the Democrats might promise an incidental boon to the only other viable alternative - but it does not yet translate into approval for the GOP. Americans are starving for leadership attentive to their will. They thought they had found it in Obama, and their retribution for having been fleeced was apparent in Massachusetts. They'll give Republicans a chance to show them a worthy alternative, but they aren't going to hold their breath.

So, Republicans can either be satisfied with the detritus of the Democrats' disintegration, or they can seize the unmanned reigns of leadership and try their hand at governing.

First, they must present a unified, principled and populist resistance to the current health-care bill. The American people want health-care reform, but reject the Democrats' solution. Republicans must reflect the peoples' opposition to the latter while assuring their commitment to the former. While embracing the Democrats' spur as "the party of 'no,'" as applied to their stance on the current bill, Republicans must emerge as a party of idea, cleaning up the mess of a failed Democratic end-run.

Should the health-care bill founder or Democrats begin to show signs of retreat, the GOP must immediately - in full view of the public - seek bipartisan support for a handful of broadly-popular, practical and achievable health-care measures. Options on the table include: tax credits for low income families purchasing insurance; resource pooling by states and businesses to lower premiums; dependents under 25 remaining on a parent's insurance; tort reform; facilitating the purchase of out-of-state insurance; expanded health savings accounts; mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions; policy security in the event of serious illness; closing the Medicare Part D prescription drug "donut hole;" and an appeals process for grievances against abusive insurers.

Again, these measures should be limited to select, popular reforms. The GOP mustn't overreach - that was the Democrats' doom - but rather they should target specific reform measures appealing to a broad majority of Americans. A certain amount of debate and controversy will accompany even the most popular of proposals (the Devil's in the details, after all), but such bi-partisan negotiations and compromises are expected by the public and construed as the product of a healthy democracy. Proposals might even be submitted as individual bills, so that poison pills cannot be shoved into a bundle of proposals to complicate matters.

The GOP would potentially claim victory regardless of the ultimate outcome. If the measures pass, Republicans have (at least partially) usurped a centerpiece of the Democrats' policy platform, boasting a success (as a minority party) in providing at least a few common-sense reforms to the system (with the promise of more to come if vindicated at the polls in November). If they fail, the GOP have further evidence that an ideologically-paralyzed Democratic party is simply unwilling to compromise and have prioritized the government's control of medicine above the health-care needs of the country.

The essential element of this strategy is a Republican party offering sensible, practical ideas emanating from the public. Resistance posturing must swiftly evolve into proactive and energetic leadership. The GOP must listen to public sentiment - as they have in opposing the Democrats' plan - remaining flexible and responsive to shifting public concerns and opinions. Then they must demonstrate the practical competence to translate what they hear into achievable goals. A bit of competent leadership over the coming months would go a long way in November, and Republicans may not see a better opportunity to define themselves - to the country, and themselves.

Categories > Political Parties


Should They Lose the 60th Vote...

The NYTimes considers the Plan B options for Dems if they lose in Mass. today.

1) "[P]ersuade House Democrats to approve the health care bill that the Senate adopted on Christmas Eve, obviating the need for an additional Senate vote.... Democrats could move forward with the Senate-passed bill and then push through a raft of changes during the upcoming federal budget process." This is the best option for the Dems, but a Democratic House aide relates that, as of now, "the House view of the Senate bill had not changed."

2) "[T]ry to pass a revised health care bill in the Senate before the new Massachusetts senator is sworn in." But, this tactic "would prompt howls from Republicans and accusations of foul play." A legislative victory (of any sort) might be worth the reprisals likely to follow such an obvious smack at the prevailing public opinion (as will be indicated by today's Mass. vote), but this definitely puts the Dems between a rock and a hard place. 

3) "[T]ry to use a procedural tactic known as budget reconciliation that would require only 51 votes." But, "budget reconciliation would most likely require scaling back the scope of the health care changes." And it would, again, seem to the public that the Dems had done something underhanded.

It is probably noteworthy that the Times does not even bother to offer up persuading any of the GOP as an option.

If they realize that they are going to fall short of 60 votes, I expect that other Dems will jump ship in an attempt to save their political careers back home. Even Harry Reid would likely see the benefit of shifting gears in order to preserve a few more Democratic seats in November, rather than having vulnerable members go down with the ship by voting lock-step for a lost cause. But, perhaps I am being too generous....

Categories > Politics


What Makes a Parent?

The courts have asked this question in a recent case in New Jersey.  Here's what happened:

A New Jersey judge has ruled that a gestational surrogate who gave birth to twin girls is their legal mother, even though she is not genetically related to them.

The ruling gives the woman, who carried the babies in an arrangement with her brother and his male spouse, the right to seek primary custody of the children at a trial in the spring.

This reminds me of another case from 2007:

A New York man who said he donated sperm to a female co-worker as a friendly gesture and sent presents and cards to the child over the years likely will owe child support for the college-bound teenager, according to a judge's ruling.

This is a trend. (here is another case, and here is the first one I recall seeing, a case from Sweeden in 2005).  Our friends on the Left like to say that marriage is a social construct. Yet our Courts keep putting biology (sometimes as raw genetics, and sometimes as the fact of carrying a baby to term) back in.

A further, and related point.  I have wondered before whether, given the rise of out-of-wedlock births, our courts will re-create something like common law marriage.  If they may impose obligations on, and discover rights for, people who agreed not to be considered parents, so much more would it follow logically for the law to impose obligations on parents who were a couple when the baby was conceived.

Categories > Bioethics


If you'd have told me a year ago . . .

. . . that Massachusetts, the only state in the union which already has social health care, would elect a Republican to replace Ted Kennedy, and he would cast the deciding vote to derail the Democrats' national healthcare legislation, leaving Obama, who ran for president as an anti-war candidate, touting a "surge" of troops in Afghanistan as his only achievement during his first year in office . . .

Well, I'd have laughed, but admitted, "Anything can happen in politics."

Categories > Politics


Jewish-Catholic Relations

Pope Benedict XVI visited the Synagogue of Rome yesterday, continuing along the path of reconciliation and dialogue spearheaded by his predecessor, John Paul II. Aside from the usual chatter which accompanies such high-profile agendas (the improvement of Judeo-Christian relations amounts to a "theological obligation," in the Pope's words), the meeting provided a forum for discussing the controversial role of Pope Pius XII's Vatican during the Holocaust.

Pius XII seems to me to be one of the most maligned figures of modern history. Whereas Allied powers did nothing to directly prevent the Holocaust (except, of course, by winning the war against Germany), Pius was consistently and unreservedly critical of NAZI Germany and is credited with saving nearly a million Jews by siphoning them through local parishes into foreign nations. Jewish and world leaders fully recognized Pius' "heroic virtue" until his name was defiled by a seemingly KGB-sponsored German play which portrayed the Pope as a devotee of Hitler. The German government and Jewish leaders condemned the historical revision, but the myth (welcome among those who always welcome such derisive slurs) endures today.

I should hope that historians of good will might take the opportunity to repair the historical record and ensure that propaganda and soft bigotry do not prevail. Historical veracity has not defined the academic profession as regards Church history.

UPDATE: A commenter provided the following link to "a nearly-exhaustive list of articles and texts on this topic." The resource deserves front page coverage:

Categories > Religion


Thoughts on the Brownout

It's a good time for me to think about the potential "Brownout" in Massachusetts tomorrow, since my electricity keeps going out under the brunt of the storm blowing in this morning out here on the Left Coast.  If the polls are right, Scott Brown is headed for an upset of historic proportions tomorrow in Massachusetts.  Someone has rightly said that a Brown victory--especially if by a large margin--would deal a psychological blow to Democrats as large as the Gingrich victory of 1994.  But I fear it may also have some unwelcome effects on Republicans.

I have marveled for months now about the political ineptitude of Obama and the Democrats, allowing Republicans up off the mat much faster that anyone might have expected, and faster than the GOP deserved.  Reagan essentially threw Democrats off balance for a decade; they really didn't get their mojo back until Clinton in 1992, though they did regain the Senate (very narrowly) in 1986.  Obama could have replicated Reagan's performance had he and his party's leadership been more clever about it.  Instead their lurch to the left has simply shocked and outraged many independent voters.  (Lefty Robert Kuttner takes Obama and his team to the woodshed for their ineptitude in the Huffington Post today.)

The hazard for Republicans, though, is that a Brown triumph and the backlash it heralds will make them intellectually lazy, and lead to breaking off the hard work of revitalizing the party's leadership and ideas.  If Republicans think they can just coast back into power by sitting back and exploiting Democratic mistakes, they will do themselves, and the country, no favors.

Now, where did I put my candles?
Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Martin Luther King and the Great Tradition

Unappreciated is King's emphasis on natural law and the western tradition.  That emphasis gave legitimacy and moral transcendence to what could have been a merely lawless movement.  One sees this attention, for example, in his Lincoln Memorial speech, Letter from Birmingham Jail (about a third of the way down), and his final speech (see third paragraph).  Doubtless much of this derived from documents in the black American political tradition such as this extraordinary 1774 slave petition for freedom (it's a short document, RTWT and look at the last sentence): 

That legacy is what makes this American our greatest political spokesman for natural right and therefore our most sigfnificant conservative.

This book supports the argument here. 


Two Massachusetts Rallies

Republican senate hopeful Scott Brown's Sunday rally featured Curt Schilling, Doug Flutie, and Cheers star John Ratzenberger (Cliff).  Coakley's featured the entire Democratic establishment and the President (whose remarks seemed pretty tone-deaf).  Whom would you rather show up for you?  The key stat to remember is that Hillary beat Obama 56-41% two years ago in the Massachusetts primary (h/t Patterico).  Moreover--and please correct me you descendants of the original Tea Partiers--Massachusetts politics remains white ethnic politics; they elect black politicians (Brooke, Patrick), but the racial edge remains. 

Just consider the Boston Celtics, long regarded as a white team (just as the Cubs are in Chicago; Obama of course is a White Sox fan, as he said at the Coakley rally).  I recall Clarence Thomas saying to a group many years ago that he experienced more racial animosity in Massachusetts than he had in Georgia. 

To recognize such realities is of course not to endorse them.  In this context, Obama's appearance may aid Coakley, but it could help sink her. 

UPDATE:  See Pete's comment below.  

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Czech's Apple of Gold

On the flight from Rome to Prague, I caught up on my Czech politics with the blessed, English-language Prague Post. The lead story covers a lawsuit by the government to formally ban a tiny, fascist political party with neo-NAZI sympathies. Intriguing as this scenario may be, it is largely recognized as a test case for an anticipated assult upon a far more formidable opponent: the Communists. The latter represent the third largest party in Czech, though its critics claim that it is incompatible with, and seeks to destroy, democracy.

The argument reminds me of Lincoln's belief that man did not have the right to vote himself into a state of slavery. The Czechs are claiming that the democratic process cannot be used to elect totalitarianism. It is a largely historic allegation to which I, as a Western foreigner who became acquianted with Communism in a classroom, feel somewhat unqualified to speak. But it raises compelling questions as to the limits of democracy imposed by human nature, natural law and a just God.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Political Earthquake in Massachusetts

Because suspicion always haunts the guilty mind, I took a walk this cold and sloppy and ugly morning. I have to see my doctor soon (just a regular checkup) and because I like the guy (a Navy man) I'm trying to shape up so he will be less disappointed in me.  He's a straight-talker, knows we all owe a debt to God, so he's never panics, just asks me if I prefer living more days or fewer.  I say more.  Well, then drink more V8, walk more, and drag another fat man out for racquetball from time to time, says he, or can't you do that? Am I asking for too much?  So I had a nice quiet walk, showered, made strong coffee, lit up a Fonseca 10-10, and pondered the world.  Tiring of the bad press reports coming out of Haiti, I read the papers (on Kindle) and sun light entered the cave.  Even the L.A. Times reports that the Dems are on the edge of the abyss in the Bay State.  (Also see Boston Globe, WaPo, NY Times).  That this is going to happen the day before Obama celebrates (?!) his first year in office might be attributed to bad fortune, or to good.  And it will happen in the most Democratic of states, the one with the late Senator wedded to nationalizing health care?  But what is certain in all these news stories in which ordinary folk's opinion are featured is that they know what to do when their opinion is being ignored and justice is no longer abstract and it looks like the great ax will fall.  Can Obama turn it around with a day trip?  I doubt it.
Categories > Elections

Men and Women

The Purpose of Marriage

In honor of the ongoing California Supreme Court trial of Prop 8, I thought I would post a bit of wisdom about marriage in general.  Many today say that marriage is not about child-rearing.  On the contrary, they say, marriage is fundamentally about the partnership of two adults.  That's not how most people used to think (I suspect it's also not how many think about it today). 

Anyway, here's a young John Adams, in his diary, thinking through the question of when divorce ought to be legal. (Adams was a son of the Puritans, and Puritans, as you may recall, were open to legal divorce.  For them, of course, marriage was a civil, not religious ceremony):

Is it for the benefit of society, for the convenience and happiness of human life, to allow divorces, in any cases. I think it is. I think that either Adultery or impotence are sufficient reasons of divorce. But Quere, if Dissonance and Disputations is a sufficient Reason."  [Adams suggests] "this may be known, if sufficient caution is taken beforehand" [to get to know the person]. "But would an unlimited toleration of Divorces promote the multiplication of Mankind or the Happiness of Life.

Suppose every Man had a Power by law, to repudiate his Wife and marry another at his Pleasure. Would not such a power produce confusion, and misery?  After a man and woman had cohabited 7 years and had as many Children a separation would be very inconvenient and unhappy. If either retained all the Children the other would be deprived of the Pleasure of educating, and seeing [them]. But if the Children were divided, each would want to see and provide for the others half.

Categories > Men and Women


The Opiate of the Intellectuals

James Ceaser's latest, The Roots of Obama Worship is characteristically insightful.  I hesitate to quote any of it, for it's a deep analysis, but to whet the appetite, here's what I take to be the central paragraph (I didn't actually count), Ceaser writes:

The combination of confidence in science and a religious-like enthusiasm was the hallmark of the Obama campaign, just as it is the most salient characteristic of the contemporary progressive impulse. Confidence in experts and the pledge to "restore science to its rightful place" went hand in hand with chants of "Yes we can" and with celebrations of the gift of charismatic leadership.

When the modern "religion of humanity" meets political necessity, the result is not a happy one.  The result may be post-partisan depression.

Update: I wrote a bit hastily yesterday. I should also note that Ceaser ties those ideas quite intelligently to Comte's "Religion of Humanity."

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

A Short History of Disasters

In the WSJ a leftist historian surveys the economic consequences of and responses to disasters from the Lisbon earthquake to Haiti.  (Great artwork and photos.)   I would add one reason for the suffering:  The absence of Wal-Mart.  (They've donated $600K to Haiti.)  See David Brooks' column earlier this week for the importance of civil society institutions:  "This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story."  And "we don't know how to use aid to reduce poverty."

Since the New Deal, liberals have exploited Puerto Rico as an experimental subject for their Third-World poverty policies (e.g., artificial contraception).  The telling instance is FDR's appointment of New Deal theoretician Rexford Guy Tugwell as the Commonwealth's governor.  The Clintons can scarcely come up with something worse for Haiti.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

The Civil War & Lincoln

Attn: California Readers

You may be interested in attending this event at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Sunday beginning at 2:00 p.m. and featuring a host of interesting and compelling speakers ranging from Jesse Jackson, Jr. to the distinguished Harry V. Jaffa.  Sponsored by the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, the theme will be "Lincoln and King's Unfinished Work." 

Saturday Musings

Lots to talk about this morning, including Charlie Cook's National Journal article about how Democrats have made a serious miscalculation about health care. Cook shoots pretty straight on politics--will Democrats listen?  I'll come back to this later.  The more arresting piece I just stumbled across is Herbert Meyer's American Thinker article on "Why Intelligence Keeps Failing?"  

Some background first.  I always sit up and read Meyer with special interest.  In the fall of 1983, Meyer, then vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council within the CIA, wrote an extraordinary, 8-page single-spaced memo to director William Casey titled "Why The World Is So Dangerous." Remember the time: the Soviets had shot down KAL 007, and we were on the cusp of installing our medium range nuclear missiles in Europe.  Unknown to the public, we had a serious war scare in the early weeks in November.  In the midst of this, Meyer wrote that "If present trends continue, we're going to win the Cold War."  (You can find the whole memo, now declassified, at this CIA site: just type in "Herbert Meyer" in the search window, and the document will pop up a few places down on the list.)

So what does Meyer say now?  Sample:

There isn't a chance that these clowns will come up with the right answer, because they're the problem.  Simply put, the reason our intelligence service keeps failing to connect the dots is because the officials in charge don't know how.

Meyer is on the same track as my graduate school teacher about intelligence matters (Harold Rood) that intelligence is much more a matter of political insight than social science, and hence that intelligence cannot be conducted by a bureaucratic process.  

Read the whole thing, as the blog saying goes.


Obama to the Rescue of this Woman

Remember the Amirault case in Massachusetts, about the family who allegedly sexually assaulted young kids in their care, in spectacular fashion?  Dorothy Rabinowitz details Martha Coakley's role in the sordid prosecution.  This is the world inhabited by liberals.

If the current attorney general of Massachusetts [Coakely] actually believes, as no serious citizen does, the preposterous charges that caused the Amiraults to be thrown into prison--the butcher knife rape with no blood, the public tree-tying episode, the mutilated squirrel and the rest--that is powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat. It is little short of wonderful to hear now of Ms. Coakley's concern for the rights of terror suspects at Guantanamo--her urgent call for the protection of the right to the presumption of innocence.
Categories > Politics


Weekend Update

So I'm passing a few days at the beach out on the Left Coast, thawing out from all the global warming in the east right now, attending a couple of conferences and this and that.  Time for some updates.

A few days ago I made the out-on-a-limb prediction that Dick Blumenthal would lose the Connecticut Senate race this fall, but right now you'd be advised to take the other side of that wager.  A new set of polls all have Blumenthal crushing his prospective GOP opponents. Of course, six weeks ago, all the polls had Martha Coakley crushing Scott Brown.  More on this later.

Meanwhile, the latest bit of evidence of my thesis that environmentalism is headed the way of the Dodo bird, with their mainline organizations displaying all the intellectual vitality of the World Esperanto Association (which still exists--I've seen their forlorn tables at Earth Day fairs in California), comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education, where a guest columnist wonders what Nietzsche would make of environmentalism.  Money quote:

But environmentalism, like every other ism, has the potential for dogmatic zeal and obsession.  Do we really need one more humorless religion?  Let us save the planet, by all means.  But let's also admit to ourselves that we have a natural propensity toward guilt and indignation, and let that fact temper our fervor to more reasonable levels.

All I can say is, given today's environmentalists, good luck with that.  But if you've lost the Chronicle of Higher Education. . .

Categories > Politics



Brown has raised one million a day every day this week.  Not bad.  The Suffolk Poll shows Brown ahead, 50 to 45%.  Pollster David Paleologos said bellweather models show high numbers of independent voters turning out on election day, which benefits Brown, who has 65 percent of that bloc compared to Coakley's 30 percent. Kennedy (the Libertarian) earns just 3 percent of the independent vote, and 1 percent are undecided.

Update: Today's Washington Post has an article about the Poll and Brown's dramatic surge, and confirms the panic that Dems are in.  Also note that if it really turns out to be a close race, the Libertarian (oddly, named Kennedy), with circa 3%, may be the determining factor.

Categories > Elections


Obama At Year One

National Journal Poll shows 50% would probably or definitely vote for someone else, if they could vote now. According to the poll, fully 37% say they would definitely cast a ballot against Obama. Meanwhile, just 39% would vote to re-elect the pres. to a 2nd term, and only 23% say they definitely would do so.  How the President Obama lost his authority one year into his term probably merits a long conversation.  I can't do that but I can say a sentence or two (you guys do the rest, as you please).

I would say that his rather un-political disposition has been revealed.  Hillary may have been right about him.  He doesn't understand politics, especially American politics (he reminds me of Edmund Morris the guy that wrote the bad biography of Reagan, yet could write a great one of the young Teddy Roosevelt).  He thinks he is cool and collected and very smart.  Maybe he is.  But folks also want a little eros and a little spiritedness, depending.  He is either unwilling, or unable to deliver.  His insistence on moving along on a health care bill (of any kind) when people either question it or are opposed to it, has cost him dearly.  Perhaps if the context was not a bank crisis, then a huge expenditure of almost $800 billion, then running GM, all the high unemployment not getting better, never mind being reminded that there are bad guys out there....perhaps then he could have gotten away with it.  Even if he gets a bill passed, it will do him no political good.  The fact that he hasn't been able to persuade the people reveals that there is more to persuasion than intelligence.  He has lost the trust of the people (if he ever really had it); even progressives don't really trust him  It is possible the he will regain it, but that is unlikely.  The good good news for him is that he can only uphill from here. Maybe.

Categories > Presidency

Political Philosophy

Robert A. Goldwin, RIP

Constitutional scholar Bob Goldwin died yesterday after a brief illness.  His lengthy career included a Deanship of St. John's College and service in the Ford Administration, in the White House, DOD, and NATO.  He may be best known to an older generation of students as editor of a series of books featuring a diverse array of viewpoints, stemming from Kenyon College's public affairs conference series.  Here are books from his AEI series.  These works often introduced young Straussian scholars to a growing audience of appreciative students.  We should honor his memory with our own scholarship and public service.

Ashbrook Center

A Prayer for Haiti

In case you've been locked away from media today, the impoverished Caribbean island of Haiti has been devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake which struck near, and largely destroyed, the capitol city of Port-au-Prince. Thousands are thought dead, infrastructure has collapsed and the country is largely without electricity - all indicators that disease, hunger and desperation are staged to kill many more without a rapid response.

We offer our heartfelt prayers for the dead and mourning.

If you'd like to help save lives, may I recommend donating here.

Categories > Ashbrook Center


On CNN No Less!

I never thought I'd hear a CNN commentator refer to Nancy Pelosi (twice) as "a horrible woman."  Here's the video; watch or skip to the end.  If you've lost CNN . . .
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Is The Berlin Cyber-Wall About to Fall?

Yesterday's news of Google's very public smackdown of Chinese censorship and hacking, culminating with Google's threat to pull out of China altogether, is potentially explosive news.  Let's hope it is not a bluff.  My guess is that Google has had it with Chinese government-sponsored meddling with their technology, and that what was revealed publicly is only the tip of the iceberg.  There have been rumors for a long while of Chinese government-sponsored cyber-spying not only against U.S. companies but also U.S. government intelligence agencies, and even our power grid.

We now may see a serious test of the theorem that it is possible to have a mostly market economy without democracy, or whether China, which may be an economic house of cards waiting a Japan-like collapse, will have to relent in its authoritarianism if it wishes for its prosperity to continue.  It is hard to imagine that China's growing technical class will stand for a Google-less existence.

I still remember an extremely bright Chinese exchange student I had in my Georgetown class a few years ago.  Her English was perfect, as was her writing.  But I was stunned when she said one day after class when we all went to the local pub: "I've looked at your Internet.  Everything on it about Tiananmen Square is totally wrong.  The students were killing policemen and soldiers."  Amazing they can keep this up.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Smiling Yanks

I missed this new year's eve story in the NY Times (Who reads the Times on new year's eve anyway?--Ed.) on why we Americans are more friendly, and probably more happy, than our Brit cousins.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Reid and other problems

John Fund thinks Reid is done for: "In the end, I don't believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will run for re-election. Whether or not the health-care bill he muscled through the Senate becomes law, the 70-year-old will bow out of his race for a fifth term."  For what it's worth, I agree.  And there is a connection between the possible political earthquake coming regarding "the people's seat" in Massachusett.  Should Brown beat Coakley, for the Democrats black chaos and desolation will follow. But, it can be easily argued that even if Coakley wins by, say 12 points, the fact that it is even a question--in the most Democratic state in the Union--one week before the election, is already a victory for the GOP.  Either way, I don't thionk Reid will run again.  He cannot win with a  52% unfavorable rating.

Update: The Quinnipiac Poll released today: "American voters are split 45 - 45 percent on whether Barack Obama's first year in office is a success or failure and split 35 - 37 percent on whether the U.S. would be better off if John McCain had won the 2008 election....As he marks the first anniversary of his inauguration, President Obama's approval has slipped slightly into an even 45 - 45 percent split for the first time."
Categories > Politics


The Last Acceptable Prejudice

Anti-Catholicism has been called the last acceptable prejudice, and its occurrences are consistently monitored by the likes of Bill Donohue's Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Of course, the bias can easily be extended to Christians as a whole ("poor, uneducated and easy to command," in the Washington Post's opinion) if not the entire conservative movement (consider NPR's bias). 

Over here in the EU, Italy's Rocco Buttiglione was rejected as an EU Commissioner when it was revealed that he, as a Catholic, privately believed in marriage between men and women. Buttiglione lamented: "The new soft totalitarianism that is advancing on the left wants to have a state religion. It is an atheist, nihilistic religion - but it is a religion that is obligatory for all." Luxembourg's Viviane Reding may also be derailed for no reason other than reputedly being a practicing Catholic.

Yet such intolerance is not confined to Europe. Obama's nominees have been a virtual "who's who" list of extremists, from Van Jones to Cass Sunstein and John Holdren to Kevin Jennings (nevermind associates such as Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers). Recent nominees, however, go beyond merely anti-Catholic views.

Obama re-nominated Dawn Johnson to head DOJ's powerful Office of Legal Counsel, though she has published anti-Catholic literature and claims the Catholic Church ("The real enemy" of the U.S.) should be legally punished for promoting pro-life views. Obama appointed Erroll Southers to lead the TSA, though he has stated that the nation's highest security risk is posed, not by Muslims with bombs in their undies, but by the homegrown threat of ... pro-lifers and groups with a "Christian identity." As FRC notes: "Unfortunately, that makes him the perfect choice for Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano, who last year included pro-life and pro-marriage conservatives on the domestic 'watch list.'"

I'm reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, and he writes that he enjoys the liberal perspective of Christianity, which allows one to believe in large portions of the world's complimentary religious traditions, as opposed to the intolerance required by his former atheism, which forced him to conclude that nearly all people at all times in history were simply wrong on the most fundamental level.

Categories > Religion


Some Call it "Arrogance"

Froma Harrop is (revealingly) unimpressed with Peggy Noonan's latest insight (explained here in her WSJ column from over the weekend).  In that column, Noonan notes the stunning (and ironically similar) flaw of both President Obama and President George W. Bush:  their dangerous lack of regard for public opinion.  Of course, Noonan is not the first to note that--in what some call "arrogance"--Obama and Bush may be but two sides of the same tarnished coin.  But Noonan--always a thoughtful observer of the ways (or lack of ways) any particular President has of shaping public opinion--gives us one better by offering a serious reflection on why a thing sometimes labeled "self-confidence" or "courage" can swiftly degenerate into "arrogance" in a republic like ours:

I am wondering if the Obama administration thinks it vaguely dishonorable to be popular. If you mention to Obama staffers that they really have to be concerned about the polls, they look at you with a certain . . . not disdain but patience, as if you don't understand the purpose of politics. That purpose, they believe, is to move the governed toward greater justice. Just so, but in democracy you do this by garnering and galvanizing public support. But they think it's weaselly to be well thought of.

Froma Harrop's criticism of Noonan's piece centers on her selective and limited reading of this quote.  Harrop is correct to notice, but wrong to object, that Noonan (and many other conservatives) now critical of Barack Obama's disregard for the polls were, at one time, equally critical of Bill Clinton for his transparently poll-driven operation and full of echoes about Reagan's greatness precisely because his opinions were not poll-driven.  In that spirit and because of the Reagan example, many Reagan conservatives were also loath to condemn Bush 43 for his oft remarked-upon willingness to advance unpopular positions.  They preferred to advance a view of Bush--whether born out of firm conviction or labored for out of the suggestive power of hope--as American cowboy saddled with foresight. 

I am disappointed in Harrop for this simple-minded "gotcha" critique.  Noonan, like all thoughtful conservatives, does not disagree with the suggestion that a statesman's purpose is to "move the governed toward greater justice" (though, clearly, she and Harrop--to say nothing of Barack Obama--may differ greatly in their understanding of what greater justice is).  Noonan here is making an argument about political prudence and, moreover, an argument about the nature of justice in American politics.

Early on in his career, Abraham Lincoln called public opinion, "the great moving principle of free government." Many years later, in his first debate with Douglas, Lincoln said, "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed."  So Lincoln understood that this "great moving principle" must be regarded--and heeded--even if it was not always deserving of unalloyed respect.  The role of a statesman, therefore, is always to move public opinion in the direction of a closer relationship with truth and justice.  Lincoln, having more respect for the people he might so "move" preferred to describe this as persuading them to "rise to the level of equality"--that is, to make themselves equal in merit to the precious rights their birth as human beings demanded all just governments (and all just men) to regard.  Lincoln, being a just man, regarded those rights and respected the people he sought to govern by making the best case possible for the policies he wanted to carry out.  But he did not imagine that he could do it without them.

His views did not always make Lincoln a popular man--at least they did not make him popular in all quarters.   In many ways and among many people he was (and is) a most unpopular man.  Bush's defenders were not wrong, therefore, in saying that unpopularity by itself, is not the best gauge of goodness or righteousness, even in a democratic republic.  By the same token one can say that popularity, by itself, is an insufficient guide to goodness and righteousness.  Assuming a fundamental and elementary goodness on the part of the American people, there must be something fundamentally wrong with the statesmanship of a president who--over the long course of public debate--cannot secure to himself a majority if his proposed course is just.  And it is also fair to suggest, in the final analysis, that there may have been something wrong with his course . . .

President Obama and his defenders, though eager to denounce the arrogance of the Bush administration, seem to be doing this while preparing to jump off the plank of their own party's eye.   It is as though the elections of 2006 and 2008 never happened . . . they came to victory entirely by their own merits and by their own sheer "wonderfulness," I suppose.  They appear to have done what all sensible political men ought never to do; that is, they believe their own good press.

It remains to be seen what Republicans in 2010 will do with this opportunity once it can no longer be denied that it is being handed to them.  If they act as statesmen and use this chance to refine and enlarge the public views by making powerful arguments on behalf of Republican ideas and, in so doing, demonstrate a respect for the native good sense and intelligence of the voters, it is hard to seem them failing.  But Noonan's closing in which she examines the situation on the ground does not cheer me.  Waiting for the Democrats to destroy themselves is a crass strategy and, what's worse, it is lazy . . . perhaps, even, indicative of a lack of ideas.  There is a stirring of public sentiment happening right now in the so-called "tea party" movement that is happening in spite of Republican efforts.  It ought to be happening because of them and, moreover, it should not take a wizened old tea-leaf reader like Peggy Noonan to tell them that it will be better for the country if that tea were filtered. 

Categories > Politics


America on Race, and on Obama

At the risk of injecting facts into the Reid dust-up:  "Despite being hit especially hard by the bad economy, job losses and the high rate of foreclosures, African Americans' assessment of race relations and prospects for the future has surged more dramatically during the past two years than at any time in the past quarter-century, according to a new [Pew] poll."  Here's the complete report

This surge in black optimism was all to be expected.  What the poll also confirmed is that most whites and Hispanics (if one takes this group separately) don't regard Obama simply as black, not that this particularly helps the embattled Majority Leader:

The study also found that Americans tend to construct their own view of the president's race based on their backgrounds. In response to a question about Obama's racial identity, 55 percent of black respondents said Obama is black, while about a third said he is mixed race. Among whites, the pattern reversed. Fifty-three percent said he is mixed race, while just a quarter said he is black. Hispanics were even more inclined than whites to see him as mixed race; 61 percent identified him that way.
Categories > Race


Early Prediction

Okay, I'm going to go way out on a limb here and make an upset prediction for the November election: the Republican candidate in Connecticut will beat Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.  Everyone considers Blumenthal a lock at this point, but I've noticed in his first few media appearances that he is bland, boring, and noncommittal.  

It reminds me of a similar race for governor of Oregon in 1990.  There, another Harvard-educated state AG, Republican Dave Frohnmayer, was poised to be anointed governor.  It was a slam dunk.  Everyone loved Dave.  He had massive cross-party appeal.  He was smart, pragmatic, etc etc.  Everyone thought election day was a mere formality, including Frohnmayer, who ran a listless, diffident campaign. On election day, he lost to a non-entity the Democrats put up as a sacrificial lamb. (I can't even remember now who it was--Barbara Franklin maybe?).  I'm guessing the same dynamic may play out in Connecticut this year, especially if the bland Blumenthal runs a defensive campaign (defensive of Obama, etc), which is likely.

Footnote: The Oregon governorship came open in 1990 as a result of the surprise decision of first-term governor and political powerhouse Neil Goldschmidt not to seek a second term.  We learned 15 years later that his decision was the result of a hidden scandal: he had been sleeping with his 14-year old babysitter.  Stepping down kept it under wraps for more than a decade, but it finally came to light.  But even this was a lesson in media bias: The Portland Oregonian newspaper had the story, but sat on it for several days out of their favoritism for Goldschmidt, and only published it when an alternative weekly got hold of the story and threatened their scoop.  And even then, they referred to to Goldschmidt's acts as "an affair."  
Categories > Politics


How Race Matters

Like Harry Reid, Bill Clinton is in a little trouble.  During the 2008 campaign, Clinton told Senator Kennedy "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee."

In the abstract, the phrase is not racially charged.  Clinton may have, and probably has, used the phrase countless times to describe someone who has risen quickly, and, he thinks, undeservedly.  That's often unfair, but not racially charged.   But when he used the phrase about someone whose father is African, it is considered to be such.  Not sure if that's right or wrong, or good or bad, but that's how it has played out, and how most pundits, and politicians, see it. 

Categories > Race


Conservatism and Common Sense

Three instances of conservatives saving Republicans and fellow conservatives from ludicrous arguments:

  • Matt Franck on Ted Olson's attempt to build a conservative case for same-sex marriage.  UPDATE:  I missed Ed Meese's op-ed on the Prop 8 trial in San Francisco.  UPDATE 2:  At the trial Ted Olson disgraces himself and reveals a lot of contemporary confusion at the same time.
  • Ross Douthat's sober defense of Brit Hume's charitable recommendation of Christianity to Tiger Woods.
  • Jonah Goldberg rebuking those who allege racism in Harry Reid's remarks about Obama's light skin color.  UPDATE 3:  Jan Crawford interview with Clarence Thomas from 2008 (h/t Patterico, my favorite left coast blogger).

The Reid episode seems the work of leftists within his own party.  He simply repeated what is common knowledge among American blacks:  That there have long been separate social institutions for lighter-skinned blacks.  Obama's Dreams from My Father grapples with such themes.

Categories > Conservatism


30 Year Mini Ice Age?

Since I've written so profusely on global warming - and because my lovely lady is a European, spoon fed the doctrine of environmentalism since birth and yet resistant to my rehabilitation efforts - I feel compelled to provide updates as scientists and politicians plug their ears and dig in their heels at the mounting evidence (mostly piling up just outside their windows) contradicting their beloved theory.

David Rose's article in Britain's Daily Mail (where "climate-gate" is coined "warmer-gate") reports that leading members of the global warming community are now admitting that the cooling trend which began during the last decade was only the beginning of a progressively cooler trend likely to continue for another 20-30 years! That's a total of 30-40 years of cooling.

Scientists are daily more able to explain why computer climate models have proven wrong 100% of the time, the Arctic (rather than two years from complete thaw) has expanded 26% in the last two years, and we are battling record cold even as we are supposedly on the brink of overheating. The article bears reading as much for the perspective it lends on "die-hard warming advocates" as for its evidence against global warming (man-made or otherwise).

UPDATE: I have belated become aware that the veracity of the underlying article for this post has been forcefully disputed. Such is the nature of real-time blogging that we must depend upon external reporting, and sometimes that reporting is inaccurate. Hopefully, the mockery of such media bias or cluelessness is the subject of a blog post. But, alas, sometimes we are taken in by such errors and opine on the basis of fallacies. For a refutation of the Daily Mail story, go here.

Categories > Environment


John Edwards, Sociopath

For a long time I toyed with the idea of writing a small book reflecting on the soul-warping megalomania that is required to run for president and other high offices.  Ambition is not enough; you need to think very well of yourself indeed to feel you are the person best fit to lead the nation and the world.  Then I discovered Jeremy Paxman's terrific book, The Political Animal, that does the job of describing the preternatural weirdness of politicians.  I highly recommend it as a great read, offering a lot of insight about familiar traits.

I'm not sure Paxman or any other single book can help us discern very well when ambition and egomania elide into a megalomania so egregious that it makes you want to throw up.  Case in point: John Edwards.  While Harry Reid's moronic comments about Obama's skin tone and dialect are getting all the attention from the forthcoming John Heilemann and Mark Halperin book Game Change, the long excerpt from the book published this week in New York magazine about John Edwards doesn't just make you cringe and rejoice that we dodged a potential disaster.  It makes clear that Edwards and his even more despicable wife were completely unfit to serve in the high station they sought.  And yet the media and many liberal elites took this total fraud of a human being seriously.  It's a long excerpt, and I'd normally include a two-cup-of-coffee recommendation, except that it would put your keyboard at risk from the numerous snort-worthy revelations in the piece.  Kudos to Heilemann and Halperin for terrific reporting.  Where was the rest of the media on this?  Why did they cover for this guy?
Categories > Politics


Sunday Observations

I have been amused for a long while now about the self-conscious image of Obama as the second coming of FDR, and I think I'm starting to come around.  He can be seen as the second coming of FDR--but Obama decided to skip straight to FDR's disastrous second term, with his health care debacle looking like the rough analogue to FDR's ill-conceived court packing plan.
Categories > Politics


Would This Man Arrest Schwarzenegger?

And other worthy California pols?  At the very least, this former Clarence Thomas clerk would write a most persuasive brief.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

More Evidence of a New French Resistance

Not only do Sarkozy and other French leaders think Obama is weak, but now we get evidence that the French are experiencing a Churchill revival.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Economy, Stupid

I've been thinking for a while now that the current recession, though comparable in general terms to the severe recession of 1981-1983, is in fact much worse, based mostly on a gut feeling.  Stephen Spruiell over on The Corner rounds up the reasons why this is probably the case.

In the meantime, at least we can look forward to this important film achievement in June.  Didn't the first A-Team debut near the end of the great recession of the 1980s?  Maybe history will repeat itself.
Categories > Economy

Health Care

The Sick Men of Europe (and America)

Two pieces today contrast health care in the U.S. and Europe, and beyond that the rest of the world.  Peter Pitts relates a personal story of quality and efficient care in the U.S.:

The Europeans -- who suffer under socialized medicine -- were mostly amazed.

Amazed that we didn't wait hours for an emergency-room bed.

Amazed that we saw a doctor in less than five or eight hours.

Amazed that we weren't told to go home and come back at a later date -- because her white-blood-cell count was only slightly elevated and the appendix wasn't in danger of bursting.

And not amazed but astounded that the surgery was done immediately. That there was actually a room available and that it was vacant -- at a large urban hospital -- they couldn't even fathom.

Here is one verbatim comment from a continental comrade: "I waited three days in London to see a GP and 20 hours at ER for an 'exploratory op.' It burst and I nearly died (to say nothing of the two life-threatening incidents whilst I was being 'cared' for). But hey! The public option is better . . . right?"

Meanwhile Mark Constantian notes that's the general story:

The comparative ranking system that most critics cite comes from the U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO). The ranking most often quoted is Overall Performance, where the U.S. is rated No. 37. The Overall Performance Index, however, is adjusted to reflect how well WHO officials believe that a country could have done in relation to its resources.

The scale is heavily subjective: The WHO believes that we could have done better because we do not have universal coverage. What apparently does not matter is that our population has universal access because most physicians treat indigent patients without charge and accept Medicare and Medicaid payments, which do not even cover overhead expenses. The WHO does rank the U.S. No. 1 of 191 countries for "responsiveness to the needs and choices of the individual patient." Isn't responsiveness what health care is all about?

Update: Added the link for the second story.

Categories > Health Care

Pop Culture

Elvis or the Beatles?

I have long believed that everyone (of consequence) in the world is either a Beatles of Elvis person. And the decision between the two expresses a deep insight into the cultivation and state of a person's soul. I was always a Beatles guy, but admit that, as time has passed, to have undergone the sort of inner crisis Allen Bloom would well understand.

Nevertheless, today would be Elvis Presley 75th birthday. 

Powerline runs a must-read annual post on Elvis which pays particular attention to his 1970 meeting with President Nixon. The altruistic patriotism and almost child-like innocence in his letter to Nixon (in which he requests to be secretly deputized by the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) permits an endearing and ultimately tragic (given his eventual demise from drug-use) glimpse into his uncanny character.

So here's to the King! If only he'd reigned a bit longer....

Categories > Pop Culture

Pop Culture

"Greening Our World"

GE, Chevron, and other corporate giants who tout their greenieness in splashy ads get their comeuppance from this Veridian Dynamics spoof from ABC's Better Off Ted.   And if you like this one, check out their spoof commercial about diversity.  Both are evidence that even Hollywood sees through the pretentious nonsense of these PC crusades.

The show is obviously derivative of The Office, and is said to be on the verge of cancellation by the nitwork, I mean, network, which probably thinks we're all sitting around waiting for another cheap reality show.

UPDATE: And now, courtesy of Onion Radio, the news that the the EPA is "putting good single men on the Endangered Species List," and will relocate them to "Federal Man Preserves."  I'll look forward to Julie's comments on this one.
Categories > Pop Culture


Signs of the Times

From today's Wall Street Journal:

The office market in Washington, D.C., is poised to topple New York as the nation's most expensive, reflecting the declining fortunes of the nation's financial center and the government expansion under way in the U.S. capital.

Rents declined in almost all of the 79 American cities tracked by Reis Inc., a New York based-research firm, in the fourth quarter of 2009. The largest fall was in New York, where average effective rents -- or the net amount tenants pay after landlord concessions -- fell nearly 20% to $44.69 per square foot annually. It was the sharpest decline in rents ever recorded by Reis since it began compiling data in 1981.

By contrast, average rents in Washington were $41.77 per square foot, down 3% annually. Reis estimates that by the end of this year, rents in New York will come down to around $41.07, slightly below their estimates for Washington of $41.27.

"The financial crisis hit New York hard, which is why it's down so much, whereas the government is one of the few sectors that has actually added jobs," said Robert Bach, chief economist for Grubb & Ellis, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based brokerage firm.

Categories > Economy


Irony du Jour

Many conservative commentators have noted that President Obama often blames Americas problems, at home and abroad, on President Bush, (often with some justice).  The irony is that at the start of his term he did not go as far as would have been politically wise.  A year ago, when he took office, he could have said, "Our economy is in very bad shape. It is quite likely that we will face 10% unemployment and slow growth for quite some time.  On top of that, the deficit has expanded greatly. It will take several years for us to fix things, and it will get much worse before it gets better . . ."

But Obama did not go that far, however much he blames on Bush.  Instead, he sold a huge stimulus bill by saying it would keep that from happening.  Hence he is currently taking some of the heat.

Categories > Politics


Loving Learning and Learning Love

Yale Senior, Matt Shaffer, writes a thoughtful essay reflecting upon his own regret at not coming to Yale's so-called "Directed Studies" program (which is really just an intense one-year introduction to the Western canon) in the freshman year.  Because of his association with so many peers who did have the good fortune to be so inclined or to be so directed, Shaffer, to his lasting credit and (very likely) eternal felicity, was able to re-direct his own studies and move away from the professional training bent of his Biomedical Engineering major in order to take more courses in the Humanities. 

Shaffer has a few insights as a result of this experience that ought to be instructive to young people contemplating what to do with themselves in college and instructive, moreover, to their well-meaning but (too often) simply career-oriented parents.  There is this:

There is one point that might appear superficial but is hard to miss. Quite simply, the students of Directed Studies and the Humanities appear very happy. . . . They show a love of college and learning that I do not see from the students brooding over econometric regressions or deconstruction.

and this:

Part of the reason students (like me, initially) don't pursue traditional liberal arts education is that they simply don't know why they might want to. . . . Nobody doubts the value of the sciences or the utility of the social sciences. But freshmen aren't so sure about the liberal arts. As such, the duty should fall to university administrators to ensure that freshmen at least give it a try and can find classes about literature that aren't actually about politics.

Of course, what Shaffer is talking about is the pursuit of something worthy and serious--a pursuit inspired, above all, by love.  Because so many people today think that love is just a feeling that comes of its own accord and offering no explanation or justification for itself, our educational system is loath to suggest to students that they can develop better and higher loves than those their adolescent brains suggest to them.  These more fleeting passions and temporary rushes of excitement--necessary, perhaps, to spark an interest--are not in themselves sufficient or satisfactory to the work of the human mind.  Thus, a kind of passing interest in anatomy or mechanics will not sustain a man in long career focused on those things--no matter how "expert" he becomes in that field.  Human beings need to love.

In order to grow real love--the kind that inspires devotion and genuine happiness--one needs to develop some powers of discrimination.  All things are not equally worthy of our love--however necessary they may, in fact, be.  There is a need for an ordering of the soul and a need for coming to understand not only that one loves a thing, but also why one loves it.  What makes it worthy? 

This discovery is always a watershed moment in the education of students.  And, while it manifests itself in different ways in different souls, its general impetus is to propel students in the direction of something higher than the practical, the useful, or the necessary.  It puts students in touch with something higher in their own nature and, while encouraging them to appreciate that spark of the divine within themselves; it also points to the possibility of something beyond them which is even higher.  It fills them with a life-altering and overwhelming desire which, in a balanced soul (and knowing what that is also takes some effort!), works to produce human beings and citizens who--because now freed from the shackles of intellectual tyranny--are now capable both of self-government and of true excellence in any number of the practical endeavors.  A chef who understands his work and has learned to love it in its proper place in human happiness, will always be better and more inspired than a mere cook who has mastered technique.  A lawyer who appreciates the majesty and the purpose of the law may (though not without much effort!) exempt himself from Shakespeare's injunction about which class of citizens needs offing in the first instance . . .  And so on . . .

In short, better human beings make better everything they touch.  This used to be the purpose of a liberal education and it used not to require so much explanation--certainly not at a place like Yale.  In the past, the acquiring of such an education was not so much of an accident or, even, a choice for undergraduates.  But such has been the fate of our "enlightened" times of segmented and specialized "education."  That Mr. Shaffer was able to rise to the occasion and elect to travel this older and better path is something that will always remain to his great credit and, no doubt, will serve him well in a lifetime of other more practical pursuits. 

On the other hand, had he had the good fortune to consider this program (and the stuff to prove himself worthy of admittance to it), these things would not have been left up to his own virtue or to accident.  Here he would have had the kind of "directed studies" that have, at least by my observation and experience, left not a few Yalies (and, among them, the best) reeling in a good-spirited sort of intellectual jealousy.   If fortune is a woman, she will be found both good and serviceable in the Ashbrook Scholar program . . . and without much force required at all.
Categories > Education

Shameless Self-Promotion

A note on the American Mind

Since Steve Hayward is promoting himself (again), and the latest On Principle, maybe I ought to point to my article in the same issue.  I'm a great writer, for every book Steve composes, I'm capable of composing something like an op-ed.  It's a good thing my salary isn't based on merit!

Men and Women

No More French "Kissing and Making Up"

Why?  Because France now proposes to outlaw "yelling" at your spouse.  Don't they already have enough of a demographic problem?  So what happens when there are no more "oopsies" from the "make up" sex?  Negative population growth?

The linked story also contains a few gems worth noting.  The first is the suggestion that, while the law would apply equally to male and female offenders, women are more likely to suffer from verbal attacks.  Really?  I'd suggest that they are more likely to "suffer" from it (because they actually "hear" it) and, therefore, maybe they're more likely to report it . . . but, seriously?  Are they less likely to commit it?  I guess nagging doesn't count.  I'll be sure to keep that piece of information in my quiver . . . and use it.  Count on it.

But the best is the quote from the French sociologist, Pierre Bonnet: "Next they will be making rudeness a crime, and the police and courts will be overrun with work."  In France?  Really?  I can't imagine!
Categories > Men and Women


Another New, Even More Surprising Critic of Government Employee Unions and The Pensions They've Secured

Matthew Yglesias argues today that "the viability of high-tax political units is driven by a belief among citizens that they are receiving valuable public services in exchange for their taxes."  This was the central point of two articles I've published recently.  "Paying off pension obligations to now-retired public employees, however, doesn't fit that bill," Yglesias says.  As I wrote in the Los Angeles Times, the advocates for imposing high taxes that fund extensive public benefits "ought to be leading the charge against every excess and inefficiency that deprives taxpayers of good value for their dollars."  No such advocate can argue with a straight face that Californians are "receiving valuable public services in exchange for their taxes" when 9,223 retired public employees currently receive pensions worth more than $100,000 per year.  It would be nearly as difficult to contend that the best and highest use of the money available to the state is to guarantee that, before they retire, California state and local employees receive higher compensation than their counterparts in any other state. 

A blog post from a prominent liberal writer like Yglesias, combined with a strongly worded column from a retired Democratic muckety-muck like Willie Brown, doesn't add up to "leading the charge" against wasteful, ineffective government spending, and the unions that insist on it.  The two arguments are, however, signs that some people realize liberalism is a house divided against itself.  It can favor expansive and ambitious government, or acquiesce in sloppy and wasteful government, but doing both is increasingly becoming untenable.
Categories > Politics

Health Care

The Health Care Fiasco

Andy Busch feels like he is on the Titanic. Oh, I should explain, the article is on the health care fiasco in Washington. "The nation, which a mere ten years ago felt itself unsinkable, is headed toward an iceberg that could capsize her, both financially and politically. Though it is not unavoidable--and might yet be avoided if only one Senate Democrat steps up to the challenge--it looms near." A good article.
Categories > Health Care



I've been thinking for quite a while now that the health care bill would turn out to be the Panama Canal treaty of our time--a controversial and unpopular measure that barely passed, but ended up costing several Democrats their Senate seats in the next two election cycles.  Indeed, this is the thesis of Adam Clymer's latest book.  But it turns out many Senate Democrats aren't even waiting for final passage and an election to heave them from office: they're throwing in the towel now, seeing the clear handwriting on the wall (i.e., the Dorgan and Dodd announcements today).

Other signs of liberal unease are building.  Harold Meyerson, whom the WaPo shrewdly recruited to its pages from the obscure LA Weekly a while ago (unlike E.J. Dionne, Meyerson doesn't just spout DNC talking points, which is why he is worth reading), writes today about the absence of a serious liberal movement behind the progressive politics he wishes to see move forward: "But if there's a common feature to the political landscapes in which Carter, Clinton, and now Obama were compelled to work, it's the absence of a vibrant left movement."

Now, on one level this is an odd thing to say, since the Media-Entertainment-Academic Complex represents a left movement of considerable proportions.  But maybe we should focus on Meyerson's all important and non-superfluous modifier: "vibrant."  After all, how many NY Times editorial pages and screaming lefty academic departments and gung-ho labor unions do you need to have a "vibrant" movement?  The fact that no one would regard NY Times house editorials as vibrant (does anyone really read them except for the mothers of the anonymous authors?), but this speaks to a deeper problem, which is that leftist thought or leftist ideas are still weary, used-up things.  Ultimately it is the ideas that matter to political movements, and the left still doesn't have any new ones, trading instead on the exhaustion and misfortune of Republican rule for a brief opportunity to rule big.  Which makes all the more startling the growing despond of Democrats: it took Republicans more than a decade to slide into corruption and ineffectuality, and it took several years for George W. Bush's popularity to sink.  Obama and the Democrats have accomplished it in a barely a year.

Add to this the angst of prairie populist Thomas Frank, the museum piece of cliche leftism that the Wall Street Journal keeps around for laughs, who worries in today's column that the GOP might successfully become the populist party that attacks big business: "it might be the Republicans who seize the opportunity to capture public outrage this time around, denouncing concentrated economic power, insisting on holding big business accountable, and promising to settle scores with the nation's erstwhile financial rulers."

Hmmm.  This sounds a lot like something I recommend on my latest Ashbrook essay for On Principle.
Categories > Politics

Political Parties

Democrats' Cat Fight

The fur is beginning to fly inside the beltway.

First, C-SPAN has apparently become openly hostile with President Obama and congressional Democrats for their insistence on holding the final health-care negotiations in secret.

Then, asked if such closed-door meetings were not a violation of Obama's campaign promises, Speaker Pelosi attacked the President: "There are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail." The quip (as a Pelosi aide coined the phrase) charges Obama with betraying his campaign promise not to tax the middle class by supporting the Senate bill's "Cadillac tax" (which would tax the lavish health-care packages enjoyed, for example, by many labor unions - a vital Democratic voting block).

Tempers are flaring as final negotiations near. Obama wants a health-care "victory" (read: anything will do) for his state-of-the-union speech in February. Senate Dems have already discarded the public-option centerpiece of their health-care ambitions and House Dems are likely helpless but to follow suit. And all of the infuriating compromises are being forced by dissenting Democrats!

All a Republican can do is sit back and try to enjoy the hissing and clawing.

Categories > Political Parties


The Smart Set

David Brooks' latest column has generated a good deal of commentay. (here's a good example of the critique).  Brooks' writes:

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

Very suggestive.  (I'm reminded of Peter Jennings' famous comment that in the 1994 elections, the people "threw a temper tantrum.")  Brooks, although he sometimes makes light of the prejudices and lemming-like behavior of America's elite class, ultimately fits comfortably in that group.  Many liberals define their positions as those that intelligent people take. Hence any critique is uninformed, by definition.  But what happens when what is called "intelligence" is something else?  (I suppose it might be something similar to what happens when what is called "science" is defined as nothing more than calculations and correlations).

P.S. It might also be worth noting that the "educated class" is probably much less unified in opinion than it was thirty years ago. (Back then, there were many fewer conservative law professors, journalists, magazines, and think tanks). Perhaps that's partly where the anger comes from. It is becoming harder and harder to claim that there is a unified "educated class."  As that becomes the case, the myth that smart people agree on issues becomes harder and harder to maintain. As that happens, the myth of technocracy (build on Pragmatism) is exposed.  I suspect that it is disagreement about that ideal that gets under Brooks' skin.

P.P.S. Brooks writes "The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country's problems." An I thought they believed in diversity?  Only a truly federal system would allow that.  But technocrats don't want there to be fifty different sets of laws regarding health care, etc.

Categories > Politics

Health Care

Random Thoughts

Is it ironic that the push for universal health insurance is NOT being driven primarily by concern for the poor? The truly poor already have Medicaid. In other words, this is not a safety net issue.  It's about the relationship between citizens and the government. Should government guarantee health care for people other than the very poor?  (It already does so, of course, with Medicare, and that might be part of the story too).

As I understand it, What's the Matter with Kansas suggests that lower-middle class whites in rural America ought to vote for liberals who will give them hand-outs, rather than conservatives with whom they agree on social issues. By the similar logic, shouldn't the AFL-CIO support reducing or eliminating immigration into the U.S.? On the other hand, in The Road to Serfdom, Hayek wrote, "the erroneous belief that there are purely economic ends separate from the other ends of life. Yet, apart from the pathological case of the miser, there is no such thing."

Is it possible that the tax on "Cadillac health plans" if it goes into effect will be, ultimately, a way of means testing the health care hand-out, rather than making it an entitlement of all Americans? In principle it could, over time, create a situation where a certain, basic items are covered for all Americans, but, above that line, individuals and families (other than the truly poor) have to pay, either out of their own pocket, or through insurance for which they pay themselves. Given bracket creep, and some inflation, in time most health insurance will be in the "Cadillac" category. I know this seems unlikely, and probably is, but more ironic things have happened.

Categories > Health Care

Pop Culture

New, and Weird, Frontiers in Sponsorship

They're selling naming rights for things you can't believe naming rights could be sold for.
Categories > Pop Culture


Double Agents and Tiny Assassins

The New York Times reports that the attacker in Afghanistan who killed seven CIA agents (and wounded more) was a double agent.  There is more.  He was recruited by Jordanian intelligence, taken to Afghanistan to infiltrate Al Qaeda by posing as a foreign jihadi.  But, he proved to be a bad guy and blew himself up and a bunch of good guys.  There are many bad things about this (not the least of which is the publication that Jordan is very close to us in this kind of work) that are worth noting, and lamenting, but much is also to be learned from it.  On the good side is this: We are infiltrating (have infiltrated, will infiltrate) the bad guys.  This is both necessary and very hard work.  This is the real heavy lifting.  It is beyond dangerous.  This is daggers in their smiles kind of danger.  There is nothing more dangerous than this.  All honor to those who try.  Of course, sometimes (more often than not) we will fail.  This one happend to be a public failure.  On the bad side is this (a quote from a former official): "Double agent operations are really complex," he said. "The fact that they can pull this off shows that they are not really on the run. They have the ability to kick back and think about these things."

It's too bad that techne can't solve all these problems.  Yet, Project Anubis (jackal-headed god of the dead in Egyptian mythology), may help.  It is the ultimate assassination robot: a tiny, armed drone for U.S. special forces to employ in terminating "high-value targets."  It's not perfectly clear to me that it's operational, but I just installed a Blue-Ray DVD and my TV started having a conversation with it on its own.  Amazing.  Anything is possible.  And note this:

"If so, Anubis would solve both of the problems associated with the Predator-Hellfire combination. It would follow and catch the most elusive target, and its ability to take a video sensor close to the target should mean it can be positively identified before the operator has to make a go or no-go decision.  (There may be a classical reference here: The god Anubis was responsible for weighing the hearts of the dead to judge whether they would have eternal life. The Project Anubis MAV will have to make similarly fine judgments.)"
Categories > Military


A Dissenting View on the 2010 Midterms

In the interest of equal time (because, hey, she might be right) Froma Harrop suggests that it is way too early to be speculating about likely outcomes in the 2010 midterm elections.  Of course, this won't keep anyone from doing it.  Including her . . . in this article!  
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

God Bless the Danish

The Acton Institute's Powerblog just brought to my attention an editorial by the Danish English-language news-service, Politiken, which asks (and answers) whether Obama is greater than Jesus.

The answer won't surprise you, coming from the Danes, but the reading is fantastic. (The byline of the article reads: "The U.S. president - the practical saviour of our times.") 

I guess not everyone overseas has grown disenchanted with Mr. Obama.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Revitalizing the Ohio GOP

After a delightful two-week Christmas/New Year's respite in the Buckeye State amid snow, ice and sleet, I write today ensconced in my sunny Southern California home office with a view of our abundant orange, tangerine and grapefruit crop.  As I admire the way the warm sunshine (near 70 degrees) brightens our snow-capped San Gabriel mountains (where I could go were I--for some bizarre reason--actually interested in seeing more of the white stuff), my thoughts naturally turn to friends, family and fellow citizens now engaged in the soul-purifying pursuits of shoveling driveways and scraping windshields.  You will be better men for it . . . but let us not dwell on these inequities.  Let us look onward and upward to a cold (and, likely, wet) Tuesday this coming November . . .

At National Review Online Jim Geraghty writes today about a coming Buckeye Lazarus story . . . and I don't mean the once famous department store in Columbus which now, sadly, defies its original namesake.  I am talking about the Ohio GOP-- for which, as Geraghty notes, one would not have been insane to have written an obituary in 2008.  But what a difference two years can make in a bellwether state like Ohio!  The party's fortunes now seem to be writing themselves, in part, because of a failure of leadership on the part of Ohio Democrats like Gov. Ted Strickland.  Strickland failed to deliver on promises of reform and job growth.   But there also have been awkward and embarrassing missteps (near-scandals, really) on the part of subordinates in Strickland's administration, that far too closely resemble the troubles of the embattled Ohio GOP of 2006 and leave the Ohio Democrats open to the charge of hypocrisy.  Moreover, there is the larger issue of over-reaching and surprising (to Ohioans, anyway) liberalism on the part of the National Democratic Party.  Healthcare and, especially, Cap and Trade, remain extremely unpopular in the Buckeye state. 

These are all factors--though negative ones--that suggest a resurgence of GOP strength in the 2010 elections. 

On the positive side of things, Geraghty does suggest that John Kasich is a particularly strong candidate for the Governor's mansion and even cites our own "gushing" Peter Schramm as evidence of Kasich's persuasive and political abilities.  He further suggests that the GOP US Senate candidate (should he win the primary), Rob Portman, is in possession of some serious and potentially mobilizing ideas on the economic front--IF Democrats are unsuccessful in painting him as a "Bushie" and, "therefore," one of the architects of Ohio's current economic woes.

In this, Geraghty--perhaps unwittingly--points exactly to the missing ingredient for a truly successful 2010 GOP revival in Ohio (and, indeed, across the nation).  The GOP is going to have to forcefully address the causes of and the prescriptions for the economic downturn.  It cannot shrink from that fight.  While it would be unwise to appear to engage in a simple defense of the Bush administration and its policies regarding the economy, it is a good time to force the Democrat's hand by returning to an argument about the basics of economics.  Is freedom or the "expert" administration of government bureaucrats more likely to produce prosperity?  Is liberty (including the liberty to fail) or government chaperoned efforts to provide economic "security" more likely to result in justice?  Ohioans, like most Americans, still seek real justice and economic prosperity.  What does real economic justice and prosperity look like and which party will best work to assure them of that result? 

This year the Ohio GOP had better be ready with good answers to those questions.   

Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

Foreign Emboldening

Speaking to the United Nations in September, Barack Obama stated, "I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world." No doubt, Obama believed that such high expectations would be accompanied by a concominent commitment of cooperation from a sympathetic world community. Indeed, global praise greeted the news of Obama's election, and a new era was promised by the harbinger of "change."

Of course, political rhetoric, even when sincerely spoken, and $5 will buy you a cup of Starbuck's Joe. The news seems to daily multiply the countries which have become disillusioned, if not outright defiant, of America's all-talk president.  

Iran, for example, has shown the most boldness in rebuking and seeking every opportunity to humiliate America. Over the weekend, Iran announced that Sen. John Kerry had sought to meet with members of the Iranian parliament - a request which Kerry had hoped to keep quiet until Iran had agreed to the visit. In broadcasting the news, Iran also stated that the request would likely be denied.

In response to a U.S.-led, UN-sanctioned ultimatum with a 2009 year-end deadline to use Iran's own stockpiles of enriched uranium as the raw material for producing nuclear fuel rods for Iranian research reactors, Iran responded with its own ultimatum to buy the fuel outright or swap in small installments (preserving sufficient uranium in Iran for weapon-grade conversion). Obama may have agreed to support the regime in opposition to demonstrators for democratic reform in exchange for Iran's secret consent to the plan it has now rejected. 

Iran has now declared it will hold massive war games to coincide with the deadline it has set for the West to decide upon its counter-proposal. Not an entirely subtle message. If the West fails to concede to the Iranian ultimatum, the rogue nation has threatened to produce its own nuclear fuel - which would require the sort of uranium enrichment methods used to produce nuclear weapons and which the West is desperate to halt.  

Even among our allies, Great Brittain has announced that information relating to the Christmas day underwear-bomber was passed along to the U.S. prior to the flight. In this breach of protocol, which would usually have matters of intelligence gathering and dissemination remain undisclosed, the British government seems to have intentionally thrown the Obama administration to the wolves.

Further, many countries have simply ignored Obama's call for heightened security measures on all U.S.-bound flights. Such resistance might have been expected from the likes of Lebanon, Syria and Libya, but the uncooperative countries also include Germany, France and Spain.

As noted in Robert Lieber's similarly themed L.A. Times article criticizing Obama's well-intended but inept operational style on foreign policy, nations on every continent "have failed to accept Obama's outstretched hand." In fact, some of these countries are trying to bite the hand that feeds. Russia is again asserting itself over Eastern Europe while stalling progress on Iranian sanctions, China sent Obama home with absolutely nothing to show for his visit, all of Europe is reticent to support Afghanistan or to accept Gitmo inmates, Israel is beginning to simply ignore U.S. peace talks while it is likely preparing to strike Iran in direct defiance of U.S. requests and Obama was personally scolded at the UN on the issue of nuclear proliferation by the French.

Lieber blames Obama's foreign engagement failures upon his penchant for projecting himself as the personification of U.S. policy, his belief that our adversaries simply react to U.S. rhetoric rather than pursuing their own self-interests and Obama's inexperience and aloofness. All of these causes are likely valid, as is Lieber's tally of Obama's many foreign policy blunders. The question is whether Obama will learn from his mistakes and adjust.

I wouldn't expect much in the way of improvement in year two. On the one hand, people simply do not quickly undergo the sort of fundamental ideological change needed by Obama. His naivety toward human nature and its expressions in global diplomacy requires a complete reassessment of first principals and reformulation of political doctrine. Such revolutions of thought are not swiftly resolved.

Furthermore, it has not become at all clear that Obama is aware of his failings. Perhaps he believes the process of his rhetorical diplomacy is slow but sure, and time will justify any perceived shortcomings. Bush adopted this view as a matter of conviction, as was clearly observed in his ordering of "the surge" in Iraq. Events in Iraq have favored Bush, but his faith was justified by a belief in the U.S. military.  Will Obama's faith in Putin, Chavez, Ahmadinejad and Assad be similarly rewarded? 

Categories > Foreign Affairs


A Humean Thought Experiment

The name "Hume" is usually associated (at least among intellectuals) with David Hume and his empiricist philosophy.  Just now Brit Hume is the more widely known Hume, and his suggestion on Fox New Sunday that Tiger Woods get religion (not just any religion--the Christian religion) has set off a firestorm of blogosphere controversy.

Consider this thought experiment in the spirit of the older Hume, though it violates Humean epistemology: Suppose Tiger Woods was an evangelical Christian, and that Brit Hume had suggested that Tiger acquire some personal peace and serenity through an embrace of Buddhism.  Think there'd be the same controversy?  I'll bet even David Hume could intuit his way to a solid conclusion.
Categories > Religion

Health Care

The Least Dangerous Branch

With all the ruckus of the presidential election, two wars and an economic recession, America has been preoccupied with the President and Congress over the past year or so - allowing the Supreme Court to enjoy a period of relative peace and quiet. Most of the fervor surrounding judicial issues has arisen from the trial court level, reflecting Obama's decision to try terrorists in civil courts rather than military tribunals.

Tocqueville observed, however, that political controversies inevitably turn into legal controversies in America. WaPo is reporting that opponents of the health-care bill are likely to bring immediate challenges in federal courts as to the constitutionality of the bill's individual mandate clause (which requires that people purchase health insurance or pay a fine of 2% or more of their income).

Conservatives make two primary arguments against the mandate. The first is that an individual's inactivity -- in this case, the failure to buy health insurance -- does not qualify as interstate commerce, and thus Congress does not have the power to regulate it under the Commerce Clause. The second is that the financial penalty the law would impose goes beyond Congress's ability to lay and collect taxes.

Randy Barnett has an article at The Heritage Foundation advancing this opinion. The article begins by quoting a 1994 memorandum from the Congressional Budget Office:

A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.

I have doubt as to the viability of such a claim in the Supreme Court. As is customary, the result may depend upon the swing vote of Justice Kennedy. (For a noble attempt to dispel the prevailing notion that Kennedy's centrism is the result of a lack of actual judicial philosophy, see Frank Colucci's newly released Justice Kennedy's Jurisprudence: The Full and Necessary Meaning of Liberty).  

When questioned as to Congress' constitutional authority to impose individual mandates, majority leader Nancy Pelosi responded by repeatedly asking in mocking disbelief, "Are you serious?" While I have reservations that even the Robert's Court can reign in the unlimited power of Congress under the Commerce Clause, I expect that Pelosi's arrogance reflects something in her character and statesmanship other than a profound sense of juridical certainty.

Liberal justices on the Supreme Court are responsible for discarding judicial deference in favor of an expansive judicial review of legislative policies. It would be ironic if this activist trend were to derail the liberal centerpiece of the Democrat's health care reform. 

Categories > Health Care


California's Civil Servants Draw a New, Severe and Surprising Critic

As Julie, Peter and I have mentioned on NLT before, I've recently written two articles about the cascading failures of self-government in California, emphasizing the important and lamentable role played by public employee unions in the state's decline.  Ross Douthat of The New York Times recently said that liberals have their own narrative, in which the passage of Proposition 13 in June 1978 is the senseless, tragic blunder that guaranteed the state's doom.  It's a thesis with many adherents, including Douthat's colleague Paul Krugman and an overwhelming majority of the people who commented in response to Douthat's blog post.

One prominent liberal who does not think the power and compensation of California's public employees is a small part of the state's problems is Willie Brown, who was the powerful and prominent speaker of the General Assembly (the lower house of the legislature) before taking a victory lap as mayor of San Francisco.  He spent his long political career out-maneuvering, defeating and infuriating the state's Republicans.

Brown now writes for The San Francisco Chronicle, where he got the New Year off to an interesting start yesterday by assigning most of the blame for the state's fiscal crisis to its workers:

The [state's civil service] system was set up so politicians like me couldn't come in and fire the people (relatives) hired by the guy they beat and replace them with their own friends and relatives.

Over the years, however, the civil service system has changed from one that protects jobs to one that runs the show.

The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life.

But we politicians, pushed by our friends in labor, gradually expanded pay and benefits to private-sector levels while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages that pay ex-workers almost as much as current workers.

Talking about this is politically unpopular and potentially even career suicide for most officeholders. But at some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact that 80 percent of the state, county and city budget deficits are due to employee costs.

Either we do something about it at the ballot box, or a judge will do something about in Bankruptcy Court.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Iranian Rope-a-Dope?

Most everyone expects that Israel is poised to launch an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities in the near future if the US and Europe fail to dissuade Iran from continuing its nuclear weapons program--a pre-emtpive attack that at least one knowledgeable person of my acquaintance says might include the use of nuclear weapons by Israel.  One can imagine the international outcry if such an attack occurs.

The one thing that might stay the Israeli move is "regime change" in Iran, as an Israeli attack would very likely derail the protests now under way, enabling the mad mullahs to rally the nation.   And the prospect of a revolution expelling the mullahs also makes it marginally harder for the US to impose real sanctions against the regime.  And what do you know?  The people are out in the streets again in Iranian cities, giving rise to fond hopes that the regime is facing inevitable collapse, perhaps soon. 

Which makes me all the more suspicious.  If the Iranians know that the prospect of revolution deters Israel and increases the likelihood that the US is leaning hard against Israel on the subject of a pre-emptive attack, then I'd want to stage-manage some very large and visible street protests.  I know, I know, it is hard to control a process like that once you set it in motion, (See Gorbachev, Soviet Union), but the idea should not be discounted that much of what we are seeing is street theater for western consumption.

Israeli intelligence was among the first to perceive correctly that the Shah was doomed more than a year before he was driven from office (our CIA thought the Shah perfectly secure for at least the next decade--harumph), so I would expect they are watching closely to judge the staying power of the mad mullahs.  That doesn't mean they could convince the Obama administration that time has run out.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Finally: Racial-Profiling

It's about time.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has belatedly realized that acts of terror are often conducted by people from terror-sponsoring states. According to the NYT, TSA has ordered a "'full body pat-down and physical inspection of property' for all people who are citizens of or are flying through or from nations with significant terrorist activity." The list of countries seems to include Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen. Savory places, all. 

As was to be expected, protests have issued. While most Americans no doubt scratch their head in bewilderment that travelers from these destinations were not previously subjected to elevated security checks, civil-rights groups and the government of Nigeria have both cried foul, citing racial-profiling as the basis for opposing these new security standards.

And, in truth, they are correct. In fact, it is racial/religious/cultural-profiling, dressed up in a more palatable disguise. Most of the listed countries are predominantly Muslim (Cuba is a communist aberration), and they are on the list because they are dominated by Islam. The connection between Muslims and terrorism may be unfortunate, but it is a simple reality. The Religion of Peace website estimates 14,626 acts of Islamic terrorism since 9-11, and Religious Tolerance notes that Muslims are involved in 21 of 25 current global religious conflicts.

While technological and behavioral methods of locating a would-be airline-terrorist should be fully endorsed, it seems absurd that other characteristics which are almost universally common to all terrorists should be ignored: Ethnicity (Middle Eastern), Religion (Muslim), Age (20s-30s), Gender (Male). TSA's new security implementation is a good beginning, but it should immediately be expanded to include a full spectrum of relevant characteristics - of which nationality and country of departure are only two examples. 

Such criteria have been successfully implemented by a country which has never boarded a would-be terrorist onto a plane, despite unparalleled terror threats: Israel.

The left's fear of profiling should be shared by Obama, but for a different reason. At present, the TSA's heightened measures will only be applied to foreign flights (which require a national passport). But should another act or terror arise upon a domestic flight, a flight which did not implement TSA's foreign security profiling guidelines, would I be premature in calling for the broadest series of executive resignations in the history of the United States?

As my good friend Christopher Armstrong wisely noted, my favorite civil liberty is the one that says I get to not be blown up. Here's to lingering common sense.

Categories > Religion


Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

After years of relentlessly humorless comics attacking conservatives and the GOP, the WaPo finally shifts its sights and strikes gold:

Categories > Presidency


In the Wake of Copenhagen


So reads the "above the fold" on Drudge Report this morning, proving that the 1970's "global cooling" scare might have been a better angle for the environmental movement than the global warming charade they finally settled upon. (I spent the past weeks traveling between Italy and Czech - the former was paralyzed by the worst blizzard conditions in 20+ years and the latter was so cold that it must certainly be the ground-zero epicenter of global - if not universal - cooling.)

The Australian predicts that, following Copenhagen's collapse, the odds of producing a post-Kyoto treaty at the next conference in Mexico City are "virtually zero." Four reasons are provided, all relating to the "changing climate in Washington":

1. Democrats have other priorities.

2. Americans are rapidly "losing faith in the science of man-made climate change." 

3. If the rest of the world can't agree on a global warming strategy, why should America disadvantage itself by going-it-alone? 

4. Massive energy taxes are unpopular in election years.

Coinciding with the international halt on climate change initiatives, the Democrat's domestic initiatives have also stalled. Obama's only recourse now is to ignore the popular outcry which has frozen cap-and-trade in the Senate and to use the EPA's carbon-as-a-pollutant designation to unilaterally implement a national regulation.

I can't see environmental issues becoming more popular among America voters in the next few years. A growing number of skeptics are reminding people that "it didn't start with Climategate." (See also, "Global warming is too big to fail.") The deceptive manipulation of evidence and corrupt suppression of dissenting opinions have been staple practices of the environmental lobby since its inception. The foundation of global warming policy from Kyoto to the present day rests upon the scientific consensus of the UN's 1996 IPCC climate report - even though we now know that, following final consensus, the document was secretly altered by a leading alarmists to remove language and evidence casting doubts on man-made climate change. A sample of the redacted language:

"None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed [climate] changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases."

"No study to date has positively attributed all or part [of the climate change observed to date] to anthropogenic [man-made] causes."

Rather spoils the whole "scientific-consensus" mantra, doesn't it? But then, suppression of dissent has long been synonymous with universal consent among the petty tyrants of the world.

Further, I don't expect the Democrats to walk away from next November unscathed. While they will likely retain control of Congress, their filibuster-proof super-majority in the Senate will likely vanish. 

Hence, the good money rides on a respite in climate change initiatives for at least the next few years. And as the world continually fails to end as continually predicted by the experts, popular opinion will continue to sway against the urgency and credibility of a climate-related catastrophe.

Categories > Environment


Keep Your Eye on the Census

And your hand on your wallet.  WaPo reports diversity outreach at the Census Bureau.  What do the Thai Tennis Organization, the Koya Progressive Association, Serbian Unity Congress, and the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance have in common--I mean other than the desire to get more federal bucks for their burgeoning memberships? 
Categories > Race


NFL MVP: Madieu Williams' Gratitude

Seeing The Blind Side yesterday reminded me of this November story I've neglected:  At age nine an immigrant from Sierra Leone, Madieu Williams graduated from the University of Maryland and wound up playing free safety for the Minnesota Vikings.  He recently established the Madieu Williams Center for Global Health Initiatives.  "The former U-Md. star is providing a $2 million endowment. It is the largest gift to the flagship school from an African American alumnus and the largest sum donated by someone so young."  Whatever their means, all immigrants should express gratitude to this country (as should all citizens and potential Americans throughout the world).  Recall these remarks.

I recently asked an inspiring local parish priest, a Cuban immigrant, whether he had heard anyone confess to the sin of being in this country illegally.  He hadn't.  But isn't this a worse sin than, say, shoplifting?  Now priests should not be in the business of trying to get people deported; in fact, I'd take our parish congregation, illegals and all, over any other random group as fellow Americans.  As with this and other political debates, more is involved than rights or legality; attitudes toward fellow citizens weigh heavily.

Categories > Politics


Perhaps Every University of California Class is a Tutorial

Tad Friend's New Yorker article (subscription required) about the University of California is largely sympathetic to the student protesters and faculty activists who oppose state budget cuts that have caused higher tuition, salary freezes and layoffs.  The usual tragic arc is invoked: Mario Savio in 1964 begat Ronald Reagan in 1966, who begat Howard Jarvis in 1978, whose Proposition 13 "broke the government."  One consequence is that in 1990 the state government's financial support for UC worked out to $16,430 per student (in 2009 terms), while it now pays $7,570. 

The article notes in passing that UC, with ten campuses, has "two hundred and twenty-nine thousand students and a hundred and eighty thousand faculty and staff," numbers consistent with the UC website's fact sheet.  I ask this question because: a) I don't know the answer; and b) some NLT contributors and readers familiar with academia from the inside-out might.  Is that ratio between students, on the one hand, and faculty and staff, on the other, normal for American colleges and universities?  We're saying that even after cutbacks that are routinely described as "draconian," the University of California can't possibly teach and tend to 1,000 students with fewer than 786 professors, deans, secretaries, librarians, cooks and groundskeepers.  If that ratio isn't normal, if it's possible to imagine 1,000 UC students being wiser on graduation day than during freshman orientation despite having been taught and looked after by a mere six or seven hundred professors, deans, secretaries, etc. then we need to consider the possibility that the University of California is not so much underfunded as overstaffed.
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