Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


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