Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Economy, Stupid, and Other Saturday Rants

Splendid week last week at Ashland teaching in the summer MAHG program, but that left little no time for blogging.  Now to catch up. 

The Friday jobs number sucked.  Does it mean we're heading for a double-dip?  I don't know.  But John Hussman thinks so, and the dense account at the link seems pretty persuasive, even if it is hard to follow in a few places.  (I had lunch with Hussman once many years ago in New York, were he walked me through a pile of charts demonstrating complete command of the economic scene.)

Meanwhile, this jobs chart presents a much simpler picture of why this recession is worse than than even the Reagan recession of 1982, the previous champ.  The almost-always sensible liberal Bill Galston notes in The New Republic yesterday numerous below-the-headline reasons why things are so bad, including this telling note: "Today, 46 percent of all unemployed workers have been out of work for more than six months, versus 26 percent at the height of the Reagan recession."  

Driving back to DC yesterday on the back roads of Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia I saw lots of signs of stagnation and decay, which contrasts sharply with the view that one sees as one approaches the Beltway: lots of gleaming new office buildings, and many more expensive cars on the road.  No wonder the DC establishment doesn't get it.  Or maybe it does: Washington prospers now because, like imperial capitals of old, it sucks the wealth of the periphery to itself.

Oh yeah, one last rant.  It was not lost on me that I transited West Virginia yesterday on the same day as Robert Byrd's funeral.  One line from President Obama's eulogy jumps out for its unintentional indictment of Byrd: "Making life better here was his only agenda."  How nice for West Virginia.  What about the rest of the nation?  I thought senators (and House members) were supposed to have some notion of the national interest in mind at some point, and not just view their jobs as maximizing their raids on the federal treasury to bribe voters back home.

P.S.  Oh yeah--I see the state of Illinois has stopped paying its bills, and California has started paying state workers minimum wage (which might be what most of them are worth).  But at least the once-Golden State is still charging ahead to build high speed rail.  Yeah, that's the ticket out of the rut.
Categories > Economy


Failing U.S. History

Apparently, over a quarter of Americans don't know from whom we declared independence in 1776.   Gee, even if Americans got their history from Bugs Bunny they should know that. (Sorry about the commercials in the link).  And there's always School House Rock.

On a related topic, President Coolidge's speech in honor of the one hundred fiftieth aniversary of the approval of the Declaration of Independence always bears rereading.  Too bad it's seldom taught in our schools.

Categories > History


Just Go Away

The foreign policy wisdom of Michael Steele. It isn't so much that he seems to be against the Afghanistan counterinsurgency plan (though it would be weird for an RNC chairman to take a position on an issue that divides his party with most of the party's leaders being mostly on the other side of the issue), it is his suggestion that the war was some kind of Democratic Party creation.  I think I get what he was driving at in his incompetent and bombastic way.  He wanted all the American losses in Afghanistan to be blamed on Obama.  But he can't even get that right, and ends up sounding as if he thinks that the war in Afghanistan started in late January 2009. William Kristol wants Steele to go.  Me too, but for slightly different reasons.  Though it is disgusting to see him try to turn the Afghanistan War into a political footbalI and try to extract political profit from American suffering and (potential) failure, I don't think Steele has done any real damage to the American war effort in Afghanistan.  I think that nobody (or almost nobody) takes him seriously enough for his opinion to matter.  The greater problem is that he won't stop saying foolish things.  He seems to have neither the self-knowledge nor the self-control needed to improve his performance.  He should quit quietly and let some more competent person take over the job of RNC chairman.  But the same flaws that make him such an embarrassment as RNC chairman might also prevent him from doing what is best for his party.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Petraeus Rules

This New York Times story is just the latest--and in some ways the most explicit--explanation of what Petraeus got in return for taking this almost thankless job; perhaps ironically, Obama also got the same great good out of it: the overlapping responsibilities (never mind their "substantial personalities") of Eikenberry and Holbrooke will have to end, and that means that Eikenberry will soon be out, and Holbrooke made less and less relevant. If Crocker comes back in some form (especially as Eikenberry's replacement), the irony will fall toward Bush, since Obama will have replaced his own wise (McChrystal was also an Obama man) team with that of the unwise Bush.  In any case, it is Petraeus that is calling the shots in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) and Obama cannot fire him.  And one more irony, it doesn't matter who gets to be CENTCOM Commander (technically Petraeus' boss) because, of course, he will not direct Petraeus.  Although I prefer Gen. Mattis, it is more likely that Gen. Allen will be raised to director from acting: because he worked under Petreaus there will be no possibility of Allen trying to give directions to him.  On the other hand, it's hard for me to imagine that a guy like Mattis would be allowed to retire in these hard times.  Good men are hard to find.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Kagan Agrees With Scalia

And it's not to conservatives' advantage--left-wing legal positivism is no better than right-wing, on this most important question, the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  This came out in exchanges with Al Franken and Tom Coburn.  

UPDATE:  Coburn-Kagan exchange over natural rights and the Declaration.

Categories > Courts


Kagan, Obama, and the Second Amendment

I haven't been paying as much attention to the Kagan confirmation hearings as I should, but I did see her answering questions about the Second Amendment and Heller (don't ask me which Republican was asking her questions cause I don't remember.)  I was struck that Kagan's comments on Heller were almost exactly like John Roberts' comments on Roe.  She (like he) was all "the Supreme Court said", "it is settled law" and "it is a precedent to be respected like any other precedent."  If you were listening like a normal person, you would think she was, if not in favor, then certainly not opposed to the Heller decision.  If you were using your Supreme Court Nominee BS Filter, you heard, "I can't say that I know the decision is wrong but I do, and if I get on the Court and four other Justices agree with me, this precedent is history."

Aside from the obvious constitutional consequences, there are, or should be, political consequences.  During the campaign, Obama managed to talk out of both sides of his mouth on the Second Amendment.  Now he has picked one Supreme Court Justice (Sotomayor) who voted to deny that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms and has almost certainly picked a second Justice who will vote against the individual right to own firearms.  This is a place where litigation and political strategy should work together.  It is important that, once Kagan is confirmed by the Senate, conservative litigators push for a case to come before the Court on the individual right to own guns and put Kagan on the record - and do so within the next year.  If she upholds the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment, fine.  I won't mind being proven wrong.  If she votes against that interpretation, Obama will then be more easily painted as not only an enemy of the rights of gun owners and constitutionalists, he can be mocked as a liar who says he wants to protects your rights but works to produce a Supreme Court who will take them away - and you don't have to spend alot of time thinking about the Second Amendment to not like the kind of person who would do such a thing.

All this political strategery aside, the position of the Second Amendment is much more precarious than it would seem in the aftermath of McDonald vs. Chicago.  If one of the five pro-Second Amendment Justices gets run over by an ice cream truck, we get a whole new Second Amendment courtesy of Obama's appointment power.  If Obama gets reelected, we have to hope that five men whose ages vary from 55 to 74 make it to January 2017 (at the earliest.)  People who believe that Obama supports an individual right to own firearms need to know what he is doing to undermine their rights, and the possible (likely?) consequences of his reelection.

Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

Leo Strauss was Right

About Plato.


Responsibility and Community

One theme of President Obama's speeches has been "responsibility."  For Obama, responsibility seems to mean that people who have money, talent, and power ought to take care of those who are weaker, poorer, and less capable.  This idea comes through in the financial regulations that his party is currently trying to push through Congress.

The trouble with that approach (an approach which, to be fair, is similar in some ways to the big government, compassionat conservatism of President Bush), the middle men in communities across the land are getting squeezed.  The financial reform bill will be good for big banks, but make life more difficult for smaller banks.  As Sarah Wallace, a banker in Ohio, notes in todays' Wall Street Journal the little guy will not be well served by the new regulation.

Here is the problem as I see it. First Federal lends to creditworthy folks who for decades have been well-served by bankers who understand their market and can think creatively to structure credit appropriately. It is what community bankers do. Going forward, we will no longer be able to evaluate loan applications based solely on the creditworthiness of the borrower. We will be making regulation compliance decisions instead of credit decisions. This is not in the best interest of the consumer.

I have said to our employees many times, "We are in the business of helping people!" Sometimes, bad things happen to good people, people we see in the grocery store and at Little League baseball games. We used to believe that if someone hit a bump in the road of life and came to us for financing, we could often figure out a way to help them. I fear this kind of community-oriented banking will end. There will be creditworthy borrowers who will no longer be able to get loans.

Perhaps the tea parties will help the Republicans start to peel back regulations that strengthen the big business, K-street, Washington axis.  As we can see now, the Democrats' approach is simply to accept centralization, and to try to reguate it more.  The trouble is that the U.S. is too big to have one-size fits all regulation.  A nation of diverse communities needs diverse laws and regulations.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Grim Afghanistan

The Economist lays out in about three pages (in the hard copy) what is going on and why "the situation is grim."  This seems relatively--and unfortunately--solid reporting.  It is a mess.  The government is corrupt, more and more warlords (and "private" security companies), now more soldiers, and the "near impossible task now falls to the impressive, persistent, but human General Petraeus."  Despite all, I think he would not wish himself any where but where he is.  Godspeed.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Wendy Cope

Here Wendy Cope explains why those who try to write poetry should also read poetry.  Here she reads her poem Flowers (click on the red arrow for the audio).  And here she suggests that if you like her poems you should buy them (and not read them on the internet!).  Although I have bought them, here is a one I like:

A Reading

Everybody in this room is bored.
The poems drag, the voice and gestures irk.
He can't be interrupted or ignored.

Poor fools, we came here of our own accord
And some of us have paid to hear this jerk.
Everybody in the room is bored.

The silent cry goes up, 'How long, O Lord?'
But nobody will scream or go berserk
He won't be interrupted or ignored

Or hit by eggs, or savaged by a horde
Of desperate people maddened by his work.
Everybody in the room is bored,

Except the poet.  We are his reward,
Pretending to indulge his every quirk.
He won't be interrupted or ignored.

At last it's over.  How we all applaud!
The poet thanks us with a modest smirk.
Everybody in the room was bored.
He wasn't interrupted or ignored.


Publius and Pork

In honor of Senator Byrd's passing, it's worth considering a recent article, about studies which suggest that porkbarrel spending retards economic growth:

A trio of academics at the Harvard Business School, Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval, and Christopher Malloys, based a recent research project on exactly that assumption. They looked at the impact of powerful politicians (heads of spending committees, etc) on local economies, fully expecting that impact to be positive. But the result of their efforts astonished the researchers, as it astonishes me.

The academics discovered, in effect, that federal spending causes local businesses to shrink. The more access a state has to the federal pump in Washington, DC, the more private companies wither on the vine.

Was his career a net plus for West Virginia?

Categories > Congress


Crying over spilled milk

The latest from our friends at the EPA:

New Environmental Protection Agency regulations treat spilled milk like oil, requiring farmers to build extra storage tanks and form emergency spill plans....

The EPA regulations state that "milk typically contains a percentage of animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil. Thus, containers storing milk are subject to the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Program rule when they meet the applicability criteria."

Categories > Environment

Health Care

Health Care And The Customers

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting post about the slow rate of organizational innovation in health care.  He is right that the slow rate of organizational innovation is helping fuel cost inflation in health care, but I think his example tends to tell against the kinds of policies Yglesias favors.  Yglesias uses the example of IKEA and earlier Nordic furniture producers.  IKEA isn't as good, but it is lots cheaper so it attracted lots of customers.  Yglesias list psychology as one of the reasons people don't want that kind of organizational innovation in health care.  Who wants not-quite-as-good cancer drugs?  That is partly true, but not every form of medical care is that high stakes.  You might go for your routine care to a doctor who is ninety percent as good as the best doctor in the world if the fee was one-tenth as much.  Or would you?

Part of the problem is that health care lacks customers in any recognizable form.  To borrow an example from David Goldhill, imagine if we paid for "furniture insurance" which was really just a form of comprehensive prepayment for furniture.  Imagine you sent your furniture bill to an insurance clerk to review your purchases and have the insurance company reimburse the furniture store.  Now imagine the government forces you to buy furniture insurance and forces the insurance companies to provide comprehensive coverage ("no longer will Big Furniture deny people access to needed end tables").  You might as well buy the good Nordic furniture.  It doesn't cost you that much more.  But it is a shame about how those furniture insurance premiums keep going up.  Perhaps we need a law that extends furniture insurance coverage through government subsidies, and makes it even more comprehensive.  Then when costs really spiral out of control and the "insurance" system collapses, government can then directly tell what furniture to buy and put us on waiting lists for purchase.

And no I'm not against health insurance, but I am in favor of health insurance reform that allows health care consumers to act more like health care customers.  Then we might get some of that innovation that saves people money, time, and maybe even gives them more security than the current system.

Categories > Health Care

Pop Culture

All superego, no id

writes Camile Paglia, as she ruminates on the search for the holy grail of a female viagara; always interesting thoughts, not necessarily true.
Categories > Pop Culture


The World Gone Mad, Part 12,896

Seen in California, natch.

Categories > Environment