Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Men and Women

UN Bans Mothers' Day

Whenever you hear something so absurd as to defy credibility, always remember that it may be the work of the United Nations. A UN treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in order to protect women, proposes to:

Mandate abortion-on-demand (refuse conscientious objection by doctors)
Legalize prostitution
Restrict religious influences on gender perceptions
Mandate (UN-style) sex-ed and contraceptive proliferation
Eliminate gender roles in textbooks and society
Require a "redistribution of wealth among the population"

On the other hand, the "gender experts" crafting CEDAW demanded a ban on Mother's Day and criticized the Czech Republic for "over-protective measures for pregnancy and motherhood." Motherhood is a distasteful biological throw-back which stands in contrast to female progress, and, thus, laws sympathetic to pregnant women or mothers should be opposed. Women shouldn't be rewarded for limiting their freedom through pregnancy (and refusing to abort), after all.

When you're too radical for the most radical extremists in your own country, and you recognize there's no chance of converting others of your radicalism, you can always find a home in the UN and try to force your views on others through international conventions. The world envisioned by these people is a place few would want to live.

Categories > Men and Women


Ohio's Pro-Life Pride

John Boehner, the House minority leader from Ohio, has been awarded the "Henry Hyde Defender of Life" award by Americans United for Life. Boehner got a bit chocked up during his remarks. Though his status may have been an influence in the decision, Boehner is a worthy recipient of the accolade and a disciple of Mr. Hyde. Paul Mirengoff provides a short narrative of his pro-life credentials here.

Categories > Bioethics

Foreign Affairs

Greek Kristallnacht

Protestors in Greece have now firebombed several buildings and killed several people. Their banners are the communist hammer and sickle. Their leaders have responded to German charity conditioned upon sensible fiscal reform by denigrating them as Nazis and demanding funds as an entitlement.

Any pretense of innocence by Greeks continuing to support the protests has been lost. A rational conversation concerning the extent and shape of reform is necessary, of course - but those now marching in the streets are knowingly countenancing lethal violence as a political tool.

While attentive to our own self-interests, the U.S. and EU should allow Greece to starve until she has again regained her sanity and put her house in order. The lunatics running the asylum must be restrained in favor of a completely reformed perspective of economic leadership.

This is a European country, for God's sake. How far have they fallen? 

greek riot.jpg

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Jefferson's Originalism

Over at Bench Memos Matthew Franck and Ed Whelan are having fun at the expense of Joseph Ellis's attack on originalism. (Follow the chain of links to get all the posts and the original piece).  Ellis highlights Jefferson's comment:

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did beyond amendment. . . . Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs . . . Each generation is as independent of the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before.

Ellis, however, makes no distinction between the idea that we ought not to be afraid to change the constiution and the question of how such change ought to be done.  Jefferson, who wrote in 1776, "Let mercy be the character of the lawgiver, but let the judge be a mere machine" did not think that the Court, the branch of government least accountable to the people was the proper branch to do it. 

If a statute, say New York's Rent Control statute, is clearly an anachronism (it dates from the "temporary emergency" of World War) II, is out of date, that does not mean that Courts may simply say it is no longer in effect since the emergency which led to the creation of the law is no longer with us.  On the contrary, the representatives of the people of New York are the only ones who may change the law.  So too with constitutional provisions.  If, as many Americans (though not a majority) think, the right to bear arms or the death penalty are out of date, it is the job of the people (via the amendment power in the former case) and the legislature (in the latter case. Or the people via amendment again) to change it.  Why liberals find that logic so strange is beyond me.

Categories > Courts


Petraeus as Insurgent

Is Iraq the model for dealing with Progressivism and its fruits?  Gen. Petraeus describes his war of ideas on the army bureaucracy and their results in Iraq, at the AEI annual Irving Kristol dinner:

But [Army Chief of Staff] General Schoomaker wanted even more change, as he, too, was beginning to recognize the urgency of the situation in Iraq. And so, when he sent me to Fort Leavenworth, he gave me some simple, direct guidance. "Shake up the Army, Dave," he told me. I was delighted to salute and help do just that.

So there we were. The Army had just put an insurgent at the controls of its Engine of Change. The Chief of Staff had ordered me to shake things up. And that's what our team set out to do. Irving Kristol would have loved it...

Categories > Military


From the Old Despotism to the New

To add to Andy Busch's anti-Obamacare focus (highlighted by Julie below) read Matt Spalding on the connection between the Declaration's denunciation of the old despotism of Britain and the bureaucracy's new despotism: 

The greatest political revolution since the American Founding has been the shift of power away from the institutions of constitutional government to an oligarchy of unelected experts. They rule over virtually every aspect of our daily lives, ostensibly in the name of the American people but in actuality by the claimed authority of science, policy expertise, and administrative efficiency....  

Either the party of the modern state will unify its control and solidify its centralized model of government, or a new coalition of its opponents -- unified by a healthy contempt for bureaucratic rule and a determination to reassert popular consent -- will gain control of the political institutions of government and begin the difficult task of restoring real limits on government.

Categories > Progressivism


Keep Obamacare Front and Center for 2010 (and beyond)

Andrew Busch makes a powerful case for Republicans to keep the health care reform legislation debate front and center in the coming election and beyond. 

Upon first reading the title of his essay, I thought I was probably going to have to disagree, even if only slightly.  It's not that I disagree with him about the implications of Obamacare or that I don't understand what a problem it will be for the country if fully implemented, but I did wonder how and why this single issue could or should be the focus of GOP efforts.  There are many important issues before voters and this one is getting tiresome . . . Aren't people weary of it, I wondered?  I wondered that because in some ways, I suppose I am weary of it . . . I'm weary of the endless talk of mandates and premiums and the tiresome ideological preening that sometimes accompanies it.  I'm tired of the constant spewing of the mind-numbing details buried within 2000 pages piece of legislation and commented upon by "experts" who claim to understand it (but, one often thinks, maybe don't).  I'm tired of so much talk that seems at once to miss the point and, also, to be able to find it long enough to shroud it in an impenetrable fog.  So I wondered not only how Obamacare could remain front and center but, also, why Busch thought thinks that it should.  Then I read these two paragraphs:

The place to start [understanding how and why the GOP should keep Obamacare front and center] is by understanding what it is that people do not like about Obamacare. The answer here can be reduced to two points: Americans do not like the substance-mandates, taxes, spending, regimentation of health care. And they do not like the process-the way the bill was rammed through in a purely partisan vote against the manifest preference of the nation by members of Congress who made unseemly deals and did not even really know what was in it.

Health care reform is potentially such a powerful issue because it not only featured these flaws but has come to symbolize them. It is now a metaphor for both bloated and grasping government and sleazy, irresponsible government.

Bingo!  Busch goes on further to say, "As a result, it [health care reform] can be brought into the conversation any time either (or both) of those themes are present in other issues."  That's it.  Democrats have successfully created their "meme" and though it may not be the meme they hoped to create, it will be the one that they are forced both to lie and to lie in . . .

That's a good taste of the thing, but you should read all of Busch's article and digest all of his good insights.

Categories > Elections


Cooler Heads Should Prevail on the Question of Off-Shore Drilling

Mac Owens writes a brief, clear, and straight-to-the-point argument calling for reason to prevail in the debate over whether or not we should proceed with plans to allow off-shore drilling.  Without dismissing the tragedy of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, Owens is able to see through the fog of emotion and give us three compelling points--including one previously noted here by our own Steve Hayward--for consideration.  In brief, the costs (in lives, toil, treasure and environmental risk) are too great to permit us to rush to a hasty and regrettable reaction.  We should, of course, do what we can to prevent future large scale disasters.  But the moment we imagine we can eliminate the risk of them from life is the moment we begin the deliberate creation of far greater disasters. 
Categories > Technology


Fencing Arizona

Because the federal government is not doing a good enough job securing the Arizona border, the result has been a rise in crime along the boder and elsewhere in Arizona. Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the U.S.  Since border policing is a federal job, Arizona has chosen to enforce immigration law by checking the residency status of people who law enforcement officers have already stopped and who they have reason to suspect may not be here legally.

Alternatively, could Arizona use the power of eminent domain to take over a patch of land parallel to the border, declare it a state park, and fence the entire thing?  Then they could enforce trespassing laws there if anyone breaks through the fence.

Categories > Politics


Defend Constitutionalism

Joseph Wesley Postell, assistant director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for American Studies and Ashbrook graduate, writes a solid piece in today's Washington Times delineating the difference between constitutionalism and the bastardization of it that is represented in our unthinking adulation of its opposite, the administrative state;  an excellent primer on the both the founding and the progressive turn.  RTWT . . .
Categories > Politics


This Explains Why Half Our Students Can't Read, And the Other Two-Thirds Can't Write

I mentioned last week that the Los Angeles Times ran an article of mine on California's tax-limiting Proposition 13. It is based on a longer essay that appears in the current City Journal.

One point I made in the Times concerned the relation between classroom overcrowding and teachers' compensation:

Make teachers expensive, and schools will hire fewer of them. According to statistics for 2008-09 from the National Education Assn., California's public schoolteachers are America's most highly compensated, with an average salary of $66,986, 24% above the national average. A job that requires nine months of work for $66,986 corresponds to one that pays $89,312 for 12. The majority of California taxpayers not only earn less than $89,312 a year but cannot receive, as Los Angeles teachers can, guaranteed lifetime tenure after a drive-by performance evaluation in their second year on the job.

One of the letters to the editor the Times ran yesterday read:

Voegeli's math regarding California teachers' salaries is illogical and odd. He states that the average teacher's salary is $66,986 for nine months of work, which corresponds to a job that pays $89,312 for 12 months of work. Many teachers work only 9 1/2 months because that is the length of the school year. That $66,986 is all there is.

Some teachers may get additional jobs, but probably few make enough during summer --which is about 10 weeks--to bring their salaries up to Voegeli's fictitious $89,312.

It certainly has never happened in my two-teacher household.

We can only hope neither of the educators in that household teaches English, mathematics or logic.  There isn't anything that tricky about pointing that a job paying $66,986 for nine months of work corresponds to one paying $89,312 for 12, is there?  $7,442.89 per month yields $66,986 over nine months and $89,315 (after rounding) over 12. 

My instructor sounds aggrieved that few people in her line of work have the chance to work during the summer at the same salary they receive during the school year.  It's hard to believe that no one mentioned, as she was going through the certification process, that this country does not have 12-month school years.  Those ten weeks off during the summer - plus two in the winter, one in the spring, and a generous sprinkling of other holidays - seem to be a huge part of the reason so many people start the certification process.  Conversely, a lot of auto mechanics and store clerks would be happy to have the option of taking one fourth of the year off, but it's a package that's rarely made available.

Any questions?
Categories > Education


Sense, Sensibility, and the Art of Conservative Realism

In thinking about criticism that might be rendered of the current social and cultural order, we are, I think, remiss if we immediately translate its finer points into political consequences. Hanson's post and my linking to it was never an exercise in "reclaiming conservative pessimism" or engaging in "conservative whining." Rather, it was an attempt to highlight one of the more unintended consequences of the enormous economic comfort and opportunities that have happened in our country over the last 30 years. This is the complacency of comfort and the endless choices it fleetingly promised so many. American life, characterized from the beginning, as the search for God and mammon, both being held in a delicate balance, seems to have forgotten the former in crucial ways. We wanted endless prosperity. Instead, we might be in a period of reversal of fortune. Of course, American conservatism, with significant exceptions, has for understandable reasons defined itself in terms of offering more choices, opportunites, and comforts if its policies are given an opportunity. This is not to deny the authenticity of the claims, claims that I agree with wholeheartedly. But it must not deny larger consequences that issue from life lived on these terms without contact with firm moral realism and the awareness of how fragile our situation is.

Hanson's thoughts on the dread 20somethings, or on the bobos of Palo Alto, are intimately related because both groups are quite divorced from the moral, philosophical, dare I say religious, and labored grounding of a great republic. I think it obvious that Hanson comes not from a place of "whining" but the cool reasoning and observation that flowers from a life spent in the classics. From his perspective, we are woefully lacking in the firm stuff of civilization, and thus we continue to fretter away our advantages. Cut off from the generational reserves of virtue and mercy, we seem peculiarly unable to insist on the imperatives of a free society. Ms. Ponzi is, of course, exempted from this claim.

We are in the condition of a great freedom but without the moral authority and guidance necessary to its fruitful consequences. To note these glaring instances that exist most prominently in university towns, or in the multiplying instances of economic inpatient care amongst recent graduates, is of imminent value. This does not lead to the "ought" of pessimism and retreat from the public square, but does help the public intellectual understand the evolving terms of engagement. In many ways, the rush to condemn cultural observation because it does not comport with needed political narratives is terribly unwise. Shortened intellectual time horizons are unbecoming in an intellectual movement whose task is to make real in our time the enduring truths of our constitutional order. We must have all the information and be fully aware of the moment. Otherwise, we are doomed, doomed!  

Categories > Conservatism


The Politics of Immigration Reform

I was watching Juan Williams on Fox last night, and he was pointing out, almost certainly correctly, that people with darker skin in Arizona will be more likely to have their immigration status checked than will light skinned people.  He seems to think that because he comes from a minority group and has dark skin that he has a special duty to police such things.  No doubt it is good to have people paying special attention to the issue.  On the other hand, it is wrong for someone to be the sole judge in his own case, which is precisely the position Williams, and minority rights advocates generally seem to take.  They seem to think that their personal interest in the issue gives them clarity, and not bias or interest.

On this point, many people seem to think that merely having officers ask people for their papers makes the U.S. like Nazi Germany.  Hardly.  There's a big difference between checking whether people who have committed crimes are citizens and or of they are here illegally, and sending people whose families have lived here for centuries to gas chambers. Amazing that one needs to point that out.

P.S. Since Mexico is complaining about U.S. immigration law, perhaps we should change our law, to Mexico's.

Categories > Politics


The Go To Article on Election 2010

Bookmark it for reference!
Categories > Elections


Obey to Retire

Chairman of Appropriations, David Obey is to announce his retirement today, according to CNN.  This is a bit of a surprise, although maybe less of one when you consider the low Democratic turnout in yesterday's elections (OH, NC, IN).  GOP turnout was up across the board.
Categories > Elections


Pesuasion and Conservative Whining

With all due respect to the illustrious Mr. Marshall of our blog--to say nothing of the often insightful, witty and perceptive Victor Davis Hanson--I can sum up my feeling about their speculation of a "lost generation"of young people in American politics with one word:  poppycock!

The only thing that might be called a "loser" in the description Hanson and Marshall (with his gloss of "loser" upon Hanson's "lost") offer of the lives and thinking of young people is the inclination in both toward smug judgment and the political resignation that seems swiftly to follow upon the heels of that judgment.  Honestly, I am at a loss--judging solely from these posts--as to how Hanson and Marshall arrived at this "understanding" of the thinking of young people.  Hanson appears more to have examined them under a microscope--as if they were insects . . . or, perhaps, he is a Dr. Zaius figure in a world that has passed by the rest of us with no need of the time travel Mr. Paulette disposes of here?  Hanson eavesdrops on people's conversations uninvited, for example, instead of bothering actually to engage them in conversation . . . you know, as if they were men and fellow Americans, like him, and worthy of the effort.  Marshall appears happy to accept these descriptions on the basis of Hanson's authority.  Or perhaps it confirms his own assessment of reality? 

While I've no doubt that there are plenty of people now happily fitting the descriptions of sloth and disengagement Hanson offers, I have serious doubts about both the newness of this phenomenon (after all, the relative "poverty" of even 40 years ago was something shoulders above what it was 40 years before that . . . and I suspect that there was, at that time, more than a few VDHs around to point out the "problem," pontificate about the disconnect it creates between human beings and the struggle of life, and pronounce it an unsustainable development) and about the depth and breadth of the problem--even if the nature of the thing is exactly as he describes.

How, for example, does he know that he is right about this:
While many were fit, and seem to work out, bike, ski, and hike, none understood the mechanics that lie beneath the veneer of the good life -- the chain-sawing, hammering, drain-unplugging, tractor-driving, irrigating, and welding that allows a pleasant afternoon Greek salad and cappuccino on University Avenue -- the disconnect between those Pennsylvania "clingers" and Obama's arugula-eating crowd.  [emphasis mine]

Did he ask any of them if they'd ever wielded a chain-saw or unplugged a drain?  Some of them, surely, must know how to do these things because there is still plenty of lumber and I've heard nothing of the "great drain-clogging crisis" in America.  If he were to spend some time in my community--say, talking with the dads at the Little League field--he'd discover plenty of line-men, plumbers, electricians, policemen . . . you name it--all comfortably middle-class, shopping at Wal-Mart and Best Buy, raising their children and engaged, as much as possible in a life filled with work, family and other "distractions," in the politics of our time.  And guess what?  Plenty of them eat arugula and enjoy going to Starbucks!  The two are no more mutually exclusive.  Moreover, there are a good number of these "regular guys" who are very much connected to the workaday world as well as to "what it takes" to put together a Greek salad who, despite all this material understanding and connection to the physical world, think and vote as Liberals.  And, if you ask them, they will likely give you a decent argument--be it based in interest or in ideology--as to why they think and vote that way. 

I am well aware that Mr. Hanson, especially, works mightily to keep himself close to his agricultural roots and feels a deep sense of connection with the common-sense approach of the hard-working men and women of America.  That is to be applauded and he is right to be critical of politicians and pundits who sneer instead of sympathize with this essential part of America.  But I wonder if Mr. Hanson does not, himself, engage in another kind of sneering.  If that common sense approach to life that he so cherishes is threatened, is it really threatened, in the main, by changing material conditions?  That seems too easy an explanation to me.  And also, it's a bit of a cop out. 

I say it's a cop out because it allows the holder of the view to cling to an imagined "noble" resignation; a particularly distasteful attitude that I find to be far too common on the right.  It permits exactly the kind of disengagement for conservatives that conservatives bemoan in others.   It allows a good number of would-be conservatives to write off an entire generation of Americans as "lost";  just as so many of them are happy to write off blacks or immigrants because they find persuading them or engaging them in manful conversation . . . well, difficult. 

It's far easier to point to changing physical realities--government policies, relative prosperity, even obesity!--for a possible explanation than it is to question whether or not your side has bothered to put together a cogent argument that can resonate with those realities and with that audience.  However "lost" these Americans are by Hanson's lights, they are Americans.  At bottom and at heart, they are Americans (or, perhaps, in some cases only potential Americans) no matter how disfigured the times, their president, the Democrat party, and their parents (more than likely of Mr. Hanson's generation) have made them.  Either men are capable of self-government or they are not.  This kind of fundamental equality, Coolidge famously noted, if true is final.  It does not change with the times or the circumstances. 

I am so weary of this tendency of conservatives when faced with the significant moral and intellectual challenge of real political persuasion--be it with blacks or with Hispanics or, now, with young people--to throw up their hands and pronounce it impossible.  Is it?  How do we know? 

If conservatives really believe that, they damn themselves and not just in the obvious way of pathetic electoral and political results.  They damn, above all, their intentions and motives.  And this is the basis of so much of the distrust that actually does make persuasion impossible.  The charge leveled against conservatives is that we "do not care" about minorities, young people and the otherwise downtrodden of society.  If leading conservatives persist in this meme that blacks, Hispanics, and young people are not persuadable (no matter how the sentiment is masked by reference to the manipulative ways of class-conscious leftists) they betray a fundamental belief in the left's assumptions.  Or, if not quite that, they betray an astounding lack of ambition that ought, really, to condemn them to the fate of those they appear to find "impossible" to persuade.   With thinking like that, why should anyone in those groups bother to buy it?

It is fair to note the difficulty of the problem of persuasion, certainly.  It is fair to note the ways in which downtrodden groups can, have, and will be manipulated by n'er do well left-leaning pols for the purpose of extracting their votes and adulation.  It is fair, even, to make cogent observations about the material conditions around us that contribute to making persuasion more difficult.  One needs to know one's audience--not to pander to it, but to eliminate the possibility of stupid unnecessary blunders that work to sever trust.  Does Hanson really know it?  Can one know it using his methodology of microscopic/anthropological observation?  It seems to me supremely unfair for conservatives who are either too tired or too intimidated to engage in this conversation to accept the designation of "losers" implicitly offered by the patronizers of the Left about groups neither one of them seems willing to be bothered actually to engage.  It is to lose the argument without even taking it up and to accept a reality at odds with the principles we are supposed, as Americans, to defend.

This kind of dismissive whining is unbecoming in Americans--all of us.  We ought not to indulge in it.

UPDATE:  For something amusing that also speaks to the point of conservative pessimism and seeming enjoyment of "loser-dom", look at this today from Jonah Goldberg.
Categories > Conservatism


Radicalism of the Revolution

Earlier this week, the favorite historian of the American establishment, Gordon Wood had an op-ed piece in the NY Times reminding us that "the men who led the revolution against the British crown and created our political institutions were very used to governing themselves."  He notes that one thing that set Americans apart from just about everyone else in the world in the 1760s and 1770s was that large numbers of people could and did vote.  Moreover, they were used to politics. They knew the difference between compromising and selling out:

If one wanted to explain why the French Revolution spiraled out of control into violence and dictatorship and the American Revolution did not, there is no better answer than the fact that the Americans were used to governing themselves and the French were not. In 18th-century France no one voted; their Estates-General had not even met since 1614. The American Revolution occurred when it did because the British government in the 1760s and 1770s suddenly tried to interfere with this long tradition of American self-government.

After the revolution, Americans made some efforts to guarantee rotation in office, but, in the end, they decided that such rules were problematic, for they would deprive the government of expertise. Taking dead aim at anti-incumbent sentiment, he concludes, "Yet precisely because we are such a rambunctious and democratic people, as the framers of 1787 appreciated, we have learned that a government made up of rotating amateurs cannot maintain the steadiness and continuity that our expansive Republic requires."

The founders also knew that establishments grow insular, and need to be shaken up from time to time.  They did not live in a world where incumbents won re-election more than 90% of the time. 

We should also remember that in the early republic there was virtually no permanent bureaucracy, and the legislative branch was jealous of its prerogaties.  Nowadays, the legislatre often delegates legislative power to tenured civil servants.  That's hard to square with government by consent, and, therefore, with the principles of 1776.

It is also amusing to see someone who claims to think that the "historical process" is the driver of history employing history in the "philosophy teaching by example" mode.

Categories > History

Foreign Affairs

The Costs of Containment

I link so often to the Sage of Mt. Airy that I should probably turn in my NLT blogging license (I await wry comments).  In his latest post, the former Air Force flier (and political theorist) recalls a conference he attended in Bahrain, in 1999.  He applies his observations to our Iran policy.  I'll state his conclusion, in hopes that you read the build-up.

In order to relieve the boredom, the pilots had turned the mission into a game, in this case a game of luring a particular Iraqi pilot into the air in order to shoot him down.

Now imagine that attitude, our mission is a bore, spreading to an entire army. At the very least this is not conducive to the maintenance of a highly disciplined fighting force. With respect to Iran, containment may well be the policy our political leadership finally decides to pursue. Or, in the absence of more decisive action, it may come to be so by default. In either case, we should be under no illusion that it's a strategy of defending the nation on the cheap. The costs are considerable and they are not always immediately apparent.

Addendum:  The Sage's previous post commented on a piece on Iran by Michael Anton.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Health Care

A Health Care Suggestion

I'm trying to think of a politically feasible first step for moving our health care system in a more consumer-oriented direction.  Why not start with the government?  Health care costs for municipal employees are putting a major structural strain on budgets.  One possible way out of this is to get the government employees to contribute more in premiums or somethng, but that is only a band aid and only good unitl that particular public employee union's contract expires.  Why not try something more radical?  One alternative would be for the state government to enroll state and municipal employees in an HSA/catastrophic coverage plan like the one that Mitch Daniels implemented in Indiana - though it might have to be phased in as public employee contracts expire. If Daniels is right and HSA's reduced Indiana's health care costs for state employees by 11% at 70% enrollment, it would represent a huge savings to the taxpayer with no negative health outcomes for the employees.  This kind of plan seems to be popular with Indiana state employees, but I can see resistance from current employees who are attached to their own plans.  Thats okay.  Resisting unsustainable health expenses for government employeees and replacing the current system with one that will provide quality health care (and maybe put a few extra dollars in the pockets of those employees) while saving the taxpayers millions of dollars shouldn't be an unwinnable fight.

Ony one problem.  It might be be against federal law.  I think the Indiana HSA plan for federal employees is grandfathered in, but it seems like new rules on HSAs in Obamacare would involve complicated rules that would make HSAs much less attractive in any future plan.  For one thing, you wouldn't get to keep money left over at the end of the year, You would just roll it over for retirement costs or future payments to Cobra if you should lose your job.  You have to give Obama credit.  He can even turn HSAs into a form of comprehensive prepayment for health care expenses.

But thats okay.  It gives the Republicans in Congress something to do.  They can a push for waivers for the states to experiment with HSAs for government employees.  They can sell this as a bailout for struggling states and cities in which the taxpayers will actually save money. They can explain the refusal to grant waivers as Washington arrogance that is forcing towns and cities to raise taxes and cut back on government services.  That is also probably a winnable fight on the level of public relations.  And Obama won't be President forever. The first step is winning the argument.  I can see one seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  Even if, in 2012 or 2016, there is a Republican President and a Republican majority in Congress, it is very unlikely that Republicans will have the required 60 vote supermajority in the Senate.  The Democrats would have the ability to use the filibuster to resist changes that would push the American health care system in a more consumer-driven direction rather than further along the state-run path (and Obamacare is only the first step.).  I have one word for you: Reconciliation.  

Categories > Health Care

Foreign Affairs

My Kind of Terrorist?

Jonah Goldberg posts a very thoughtful (and thought-provoking) few paragraphs over at The Corner today on the unfortunate tendency--both of the right and of the left--to wait with bated breath, in the aftermath of an attempted or actual terror attack, to discover if the perpetrator was "their kind of terrorist"--by which I mean the kind of terrorist who will not cause negative attention to be directed toward their side of the political aisle.  While Goldberg is quick to point out that it is ridiculous to assume that anyone (at least anyone worth regard) from either side is actually gleeful upon receipt of such news, there is good reason for both sides to check this tendency to be relieved when it turns out to be less of a political nuisance and inconvenience to their side.  We all need to remember that all people who would do violence to our nation or to our people deserve our contempt--whatever their motivation--and all would-be terrorists demand our best efforts at curtailing theirs.  We would be making serious progress toward the goal of limiting terrorist activity of all varieties if and when both sides of our national political divide feel safe enough to trust the good faith of the other at least insofar as we are united in this purpose.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Properly Disposing of Time Travel

I try not to talk about these things too often, but Stephen Hawking, speaking loosely and probably after knocking back one-too-many, has publicly suggested the possibility of time travel. He reaffirms that travel into the past is impossible, so there's no need to quibble on that point. However, he posits the potential to travel forward, relying on Einstein's theory that objects nearing the speed of light progress through time at a "relatively" slower rate than objects on Earth. That is, a person moving at 98% of the speed of light for 20 years would find the Earth had "aged" 7,500 years.

Yet this is not due to a traveler having stepped outside a "stream" of time and reinserting himself in an extant, "future" age already in place and waiting to be discovered. Rather, in accordance with static theories of time as a non-progressive measurement of "aging," it simply reveals the unified application of time's effect on various objects in a consistent manner, according to their relative conditions (i.e., speed). So, there is no future world (or infinite worlds) already in place, merely awaiting our arrival. Time is simply the observation of material entropy and the extinction of potential possibilities (i.e., thoughts and actions) through the free-willed choice of particular decisions during a single, ever-present moment.

Steve is so sloppy about these things sometimes.

Categories > History


Only in New York

NYC's Mayor Bloomberg, asked by Katie Couric as to the identity of the would-be Times' Square bomber, suggest a "homegrown" and "mentally deranged" loner ... like someone opposing Obama's healthcare bill.

BLOOMBERG: Home-grown, maybe a mentally deranged person or somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something.

I assumed Bloomberg was joking. He doesn't seem to be. Note that when these remarks aired, the Taliban in Pakistan had taken credit for the attack, the Washington Post reported it was "coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links," and the AP identified a suspect as "a man of Pakistani descent who recently traveled to Pakistan."

Is Bloomberg simply displaying the absurdity of New York style political correctness, where Muslims simply may not be named in association with terrorism, or does he truly believe that the tea-party is behind the attack?

Categories > Journalism

Pop Culture

Victor Davis Hanson on the propect of a lost generation

Victor Davis Hanson's excellent post on his recent trip to Palo Alto fuels thought on Obama's racial and age-driven appeals to voters. Not much has been written on the phenomenon of those aged 21-30 who already, unlike their boomer parents, have to contend with a supremely competitive globalized labor market, and who also now face unemployment approaching 20%. Their entry into middle-class life will be delayed as well as marriage and children. Hanson hints that the real casualty will be yet another group divorced from real citizenship as their primary means of support are "outsourced" to their parents  and social service agencies while they maintain consumerist trappings with their reduced incomes. This divorce from responsibility will certainly not aid this group in being independent and capable of self-government. Gone are the qualities of their grandparents and great-grand parents utilized in even tougher times.


In appealing to this group of situated losers as losers, and in need of his policies, Obama continues the work of the classic redistributionist politician. Frugalities, suffering, hardship are so difficult and unnecessary. Hanson's note on trips to Bestbuy and to get the latest iPod are instructive of the mentality.

Categories > Pop Culture

The Founding

White House Drops "In the Year of our Lord"

See my previous posts on Presidential Proclamations dating of the designated event in explicitly Christian terms and from the Declaration of Independence.  Despite professed good intentions, the alteration in fact makes the honored Jewish Heritage Month less included for political purposes.  And such a feeling (and reality) of inclusion is what a presidential proclamation is intended to bring about.  Of course, the next move will be to drop the Proclamation dating system--and separate Proclamations from the Constitution's original dating language and the Constitution.

Can you imagine George Washington's Touro Synagogue letter rewritten by the Obama White House?  Do the descendants of those Americans feel less secure than their spiritual ancestors?  "May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants--while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Categories > The Founding


Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State

Bill Voegeli's book just landed on my desk.  Very impressive.  This really is a "must read" book!  As Steve Hayward says in his foreword, "It is about nothing less than the meaning and character of Modern America." Congratulations, Bill.

Categories > Education

Shameless Self-Promotion

Kudlow & Co.

Video of my appearance last night on the Kudlow Report is now up on the Interwebs.  I come in at about the 2:30 mark.


Free Speech and "Liberal Tolerance"

A Christian preacher in England was arrested over the weekend for telling a woman that engaged him in conversation that he believed God disapproves of homosexuality. While the arrest alone is foolishly deplorable in a country nominally committed to free-speech, the details are more interesting.

[The preacher] was handing out leaflets explaining the Ten Commandments or offering a "ticket to heaven" with a church colleague ... when a woman came up and engaged him in a debate about his faith.

During the exchange, ... he quietly listed homosexuality among a number of sins referred to in 1 Corinthians, including blasphemy, fornication, adultery and drunkenness.

After the woman walked away, she was approached by a PCSO [police community support officer] who spoke with her briefly and then walked over to [the preacher] and told him a complaint had been made, and that he could be arrested for using racist or homophobic language.

The street preacher said...: "I am not homophobic but sometimes I do say that the Bible says homosexuality is a crime against the Creator".

...the PCSO then said he was homosexual and identified himself as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender liaison officer for Cumbria police. [The preacher] replied: "It's still a sin."

... Three regular uniformed police officers arrived ..., arrested [him] and put him in the back of a police van.

First, what is a "police community support officer" and are tax-payers funding the local police's "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender liaisons?" Second, is there any doubt that this PCSO is the one with the complaint, and not the woman he approached? Third, is there any doubt that the PCSO's intention was to intimidate and silence the preacher because he personally disagreed, as a gay man, with the message? Fourth, does this arrest, and others like it, for simply having a conversation in public, not demonstrate the comparative weakness of personal liberty in the face of European-style liberal tolerance?

The Public Order Act was intended to curb rioters and (no kidding) football hooligans in England. It was immediately used by liberal activists, however, to target Christian groups for messages with which they disagree. Yet Democrats, inspired by such events, are staunch supporters of "hate crimes," the conservative-talk-radio-targeting "fairness doctrine" and university "speech codes" - all intended to duplicate the European model in the U.S. This is not the "freedom" intended by the Founders. 

Categories > Progressivism

Foreign Affairs

Unions and Commies

Greeks are striking again. No surprise there. But, a cursory glance at the protests organized by "Greek civil servants" seems to reveal a few unifying symbol: hammers, sickles and lots of red flags.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that events organized by European labor unions are always dominated by communists and Marxist propaganda. But I doubt it. 


Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

The (UN) World We Live In

A UN watchdog notes (with commentary) recent UN election results:

Such is the consequence of cultural relativism and global equivalency. The essay goes into further depth on the "dictatorships and human rights basket-cases elected to UN leadership roles and positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their qualifications."

Categories > Foreign Affairs

A False Middle

Obama's Saturday speech at Michigan University was really good at showing off Obama's skill as a rhetorical strategist and also showed that Obama has relearned some old liberal tricks.  Obama's speech was, on the surface, a defense of civility in political life, but was actually an implied defense of his administration's economic policies.  Several rhetorical approaches stuck out.

1.  Like FDR before him, Obama co-opts the language of skepticism of overly large or expensive government.  Just like FDR said excess government needed to be cut, Obama said that skepticism of the government was "a strand of our Nation's DNA", but a strand that needed balancing with the idea that "government must keep pace with the times."  This reduces the idea of limits on government to the judgement of the technocrat who must balance his "skepticism" about expanding his own power over society with the needs of the times. Is there really any doubt that the needs of society will require the technocrats to expand their power?  We had to take over GM, we could do no other.  I also think that this is in some ways an insight into the mind of a certain kind of left-leaning technocrat.  They don't want the government to intervene in the economy any more than they have to.  If it was up to them, GM would be profitable without much government involvement.  Same thing with the environment and energy.  If the Earth could be saved and millions of awesome green job created without a huge program of taxes and subsidies, that would be best, but the pace of the times call for cap and trade.  Now on to health care...

2.  Obama is smart to implicitly defend his statist policies in nonpartisan terms.  Obama implicitly puts himself in the tradition of TR trust busting and Eisenhower highway building rather than focusing on the building and expansion of the welfare state under FDR and LBJ.  This is a smart move and is in contrast to the crude and transparent partisan history of the most overpraised liberal speech of the 1980s. 

Political Parties

The Portrait of Charlie the Gray

The Florida Republican Party has placed a portrait of Charlie Crist painted in oil and originally commissioned by the FL GOP on eBay.  The accompanying text about a politician who would sell his soul--to say nothing of the fortunes of Florida Republicans--for personal power and glory is . . . priceless. 

Unlike the picture of Dorian Gray, I hope this picture never ages.  The RNC should purchase it and put it in a place of national prominence in order to remind itself and its constituent members of what can happen when Republicans make the mistake of elevating men of low-minded ambition and insufficient self-reflection.  It is one thing to throw caution to the wind and pursue your ill-conceived self-interest to the point of personal self-destruction . . . but to do it upon the backs, the donations and political fortunes of your fellow citizens and former supporters is beyond the ordinary sort of Faustian bargain.
Categories > Political Parties

Shameless Self-Promotion

Media Alert

I'm scheduled to appear on the Kudlow Report on CNBC at 7 pm eastern time to talk about oil spills.  Should be the lead segment right at 7 pm, but these things sometimes change at the last minute.


Italian Soccer-Politics

During lunch at the local mensa today, it was explained to me that Lazio, one of the two soccer teams in Rome, may have thrown yesterday's game to Inter Milan, because Rome, the other club in Rome, is vying with Inter for first place, and the rivalry between Lazio and Rome is so intense that Lazio would rather throw a game and allow Milan to take the trophy rather than see their rival ranked #1.

And this was accepted by my Italian companions are non-startling and rather mundane.

My questions:

1) Would American sports fans default to another local team (probably a rival) if their team were knocked out of contention, or would they support "anyone but..."? (The NY Yankees and Dallas Cowboys don't count for this question.)

2) Would American sports fans ever accept Italy's degree of rivalry, whereby games are fixed and significant rival losses are more important than one's own wins?

3) Does this sort of thinking in soccer shed a great deal of light on the rise of Berlusconi and Italian politics?

Categories > Sports

Political Philosophy


Kathryn Jean Lopez writes today of some bracing and beautiful tales of Americans who know what it is both to enjoy and to fight for their freedom.  I am speaking, of course, of Americans who have had to emigrate here because they were born in places that were hostile to the spirit of freedom and to the manful capacity of human beings to govern themselves.  Their gratitude reminds us--even as their courage and determination ought, also, to shame us--that we are among the fortunate of the earth.  In our freedoms and in our remarkable Constitution (designed, as it was, to preserve those freedoms), we have been given something rare and precious in the history of world.  

But we native-born Americans tend, often, to forget this.  Maybe we get lost in our charming but naïve idealism--finding every imperfection intolerable and a cause for damning the whole project.  Maybe we forget how difficult (nay, seemingly impossible) the original task of securing that freedom was.  In the face of imperfection and our feeling that we deserve its opposite, we don't remember to appreciate real achievement--as if doing so might suggest that we are satisfied.  Or maybe, conversely, some of us actually are satisfied; too satisfied.  Perhaps we get complacent in a smug assumption that history has progressed (or is progressing) to a point where the rights of man can never safely be denied--at least not here.  Maybe we think we can afford a little intellectual laziness because tyranny can't touch us. 

In reality, there is something of truth--both of the ugly and of the beautiful sort--in both of these attitudes.  There is something very American in both and for all the trouble they sometimes bring, I wouldn't will either away.  But it is also true that by themselves (and even working together) these attitudes are insufficient to the preservation of our liberties.  We shouldn't be satisfied with imperfection and we can't pretend that we are above reproach--but, darn it, we need to get a grip.  We need to be grateful as we recall how remarkable our situation is.  Forgetting to be grateful is the same thing, really, as forgetting to love and life becomes unbearable when we do that.  True love is an action, not a sentiment.  And all love that is not divine love begins in gratitude.  Gratitude, in turn, ought to inspire us to understand, to preserve, to protect and, above all, to bring honor to our beloved.  We have to remember to be grateful for America.

Reminding us of this is what Americans who were born in the wrong place do better than anyone nurtured in the relative freedom and prosperity of this country can do. 

If after reading Lopez's column you can do with more of this medicine (and it's difficult to OD on this stuff), remind yourself of this, and this and, of course, this.


Should GOP Rent-to-Own Congress?

The WSJ forwards the proposition that Republicans may wish to win enough seats in the House to remain just shy of a majority. The strategy has been circulating for a bit, and Gerald Seib does a fine job of fleshing it out: they would be well positioned for 2012, but as a minority would take less blame for Washington's dysfunctions.

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line strongly dissents, on both strategic and ethical principles. The GOP would share only a small percent of the public's discontent due as a majority in the House, but those seats would be easier to defend as incumbents. And a House majority could prevent further legislation harmful to the country. "To the extent that Republicans wish to avoid responsibility for controlling the House in 2011, they betray a lack of fitness to control it thereafter."

My heart is with Paul - take all you can while you can get it, God only knows what will happen tomorrow in politics - but in the event that the GOP fails to win a majority, I admit that the WSJ's reasoning will offer great consolation.

Categories > Elections


A Primer in Relative Risk Assessment

Over at NRO's Corner, I explain why the political overreaction to the oil spill in the Gulf will likely increase environmental risk and environmental damage over the long run.  Not that it will matter: the memes that take hold after these extraordinary catastrophes are more persistent than organophosphates.
Categories > Environment


No More Entry: "Equal Justice Under the Law"

This news has me nodding my head in agreement or, at least, in half-agreement with Justices Breyer and Ginsberg.  The closing of the stately and impressive main entrance to the Supreme Court building is--at a minimum--"unfortunate."  I do not presume to know whether or not it is "unjustified" but I do hope that this and similar measures shutting off access (or, at any rate, making such access difficult and unpleasant) does not become a permanent feature of American life.  There is just something about it that does not suit our character as a people or our stature as a nation.  It may, indeed, be necessary in the face of real threats that cannot otherwise be handled or prevented, but it seems to me that we need to do more to remind ourselves that not every threat can be eliminated.  The example this posture sets does not appeal.  We appear, at once, to be punishing ourselves and also cowering in fear.  I will not go so far as to say that such a posture is always unjustified . . . but I will say this much:  I don't like it.
Categories > Courts


I'm thinking my way through Obama's University of Michigan speech form this Saturday.  It is a cunning defense of his administration.  But one line jumped out at me.  Obama said, "But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad."  He is probably pretty busy as President what with terrorism, Iranian nukes, high unemployment, and such.  He could probably save some emotional energy by being less troubled at the thought that Murray Rothbard has too many followers. 


At Last, FDR's Partisan Perfidy Noted

It took the Arizona illegal immigrant law debate for someone to remind a large national audience of FDR's imputing of fascism to his Republican opponents in his 1944 SOTU ("Second Bill of Rights" speech; note 5th graph from the end).  Thank George Will's column in today's WaPo.  Plus ca change....
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

South Korea Vows Revenge

Though the Koreas are prone to confrontational bouts and false-starts, the aftermath of the sinking of the "Cheonan" seems to have ignited a fire under the South which is steadily growing in intensity. South Korea's president has vowed "revenge." The navy chief of staff swore vengeance: "We will track them down to the end and we will, by all means, make them pay for this."

And evidence is mounting that North Korea is responsible, having planned the strike in retaliation for a skirmish last November which they are seen to have lost.

Many are apparently claiming "the time for war has come." An editorial in S. Korea's leading newspaper declares:

There is no doubt that South Korea would suffer huge losses if it clashes militarily with North Korea. But another thing is also clear: a military confrontation with South Korea would spell the end of the North Korean regime.

Keep in mind: These countries are still formally at war. North Korea is a nuclear power. And there e are nearly 30,000 U.S. service-members currently stationed in South Korea. If the Koreas near the brink of war, the only outside actor in a position to affect their conduct is Barack Obama.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Taking Stock of Hometown Races

News coverage of Ohio's congressional and gubernatorial races and the latest Quinnipiac poll reveal: 

Democrats have small leads for governor and U.S. Senator in Ohio, while President Barack Obama's job approval remains stuck in the mid 40s, and the new health care legislation is decidedly unpopular.

Ohio is upholding its reputation as a battleground state. Democrats seem to have a slight edge in the key races, but those leads are small and have gone back and forth in recent months. As has historically been the key in Ohio elections, the undecided vote - many of whom are independents - could well hold the balance of power come November.

As regards Strickland, a mere "37% of voters say he has kept his campaign promises," and his fortunes aren't helped by scandals of his personal use of the state prison's workforce and tax revenues, or that his "top cabinet officials lied under oath about a decision to scrub a criminal investigation at the governor's mansion to save Strickland from political embarrassment." Further, "62% of voters don't know enough about [his Republican challenger, John] Kasich to have an opinion of him." Kasick's room-for-improvement can only bode poorly for Strickland, who isn't likely to gain over many new supporters of his own.

"The Senate numbers reflect the same level of voter unfamiliarity with the candidates." Republican Rob Portman will face the winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary between Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

The GOP has its work cut out for it if it plans to contribute to a GOP revolution in November.

Categories > Elections