Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Pop Culture

Klingon Versus Esperanto: A Lesson in the Spontaneous Order

So the Wall Street Journal has one of their legendary "B-heds" on the front page today about a drama troupe that has produced a version of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol . . . in Klingon.  The story is full of fun tidbits such as how the Klingon Dictionary produced as a promotion for the 1984 installment in the Star Trek movie series has sold 300,000 copies and gone through 20 printings.  There's even a Klingon Language Institute in Pennsylvania.  (Does the civil rights community know this?  Another faction in need of affirmative action?--Ed.  Don't give them any ideas. . .)

Contrast the durability of Klingon with the other famous artificial language: Esperanto.  Back in my California days I liked to drop in on Earth Day fairs just for grins, and you could always count on the most forlorn table--even less traffic than the tables for home-made, hemp-related cancer cure remedies--was the table for the World Esperanto Association (which apparently doesn't even have a website).  Esperanto was one of those Progressive enthusiasms that made perfect sense to the "rationalists"--a universal second language that everyone could learn easily.  Well, it never caught on, and English has become the universal second language of the world.

So what to make of a language that caught on and has popularity without ever intending it, while the "rational" project of Esperanto got nowhere?  Another lesson in the unplanned, spontaneous order, if you ask me.

The other lesson here is the towering genius of William Shatner.  As connoisseurs of Star Trek IV know, he spoke a line of two of Klingon in the film.  But recall, too, that the only feature film ever made in Esperanto, the 1965 shlock-horror film Incubus, starred . . . yup, William Shatner.  Which means Shatner is the only actor who has ever starred in movies with two made-up languages.  That is true greatness.
Categories > Pop Culture

Shameless Self-Promotion

Who Speaks for the Artists?

I have an op-ed in Friday's Washington Times, weighing in on the latest absurdities in the Smithsonian's ants-crawling-on-Jesus exhibit scandal. The article begins:

A good share of conservative commentators have avoided remarking on the Smithsonian scandal involving the gay-themed "Hide/Seek" exhibit featuring a video of ants crawling over a bloody, crucified Christ, among other lewd, sado-masochistic porn displays. There was no need to comment because it all had been said before. The cowards and hypocrites who constitute the chattering-class activists of the art world dogmatically avoid offending those corners of society deeply in need of critical reflection, such as Islam and the Middle East, or considered sacrosanct, such as feminism and racial/ethnic/sexual minorities, under the banner of tolerance and diversity. Yet these same noble paragons ruthlessly and intentionally insult Christians and everyone with a modicum of taste and decency, all the while praising their double standard as speaking truth to power.

The Smithsonian pulled the offensive piece after the Catholic League raised a fuss and called for an end of public funding. Yet I can't see praising the Smithsonian for this decision, as it's rather akin to praising an acquaintance's decision to stop beating his girlfriend - he shouldn't have done it in the first place. Belatedly pulling the piece merely represented the Smithsonian's grudging adoption of the common decency obvious to any adolescent of average intelligence and morality.

However, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts - lacking an adolescent standard of intellect and morality - has protested the Smithsonian's decision:

"Such blatant censorship is unconscionable ... we cannot stand by and watch the Smithsonian bow to the demands of bigots who have attacked the exhibition out of ignorance, hatred and fear."



Happy Birthday, Rich Uncle Pennybags!

Monopoly, the classic and most-played game in history has turned 75.

My Czech relations tell me that they even had an underground variant, Dostihy a sázky, when such capitalist games were forbidden under communism. Ironic, since the original intent of the game was to reveal an evil of private land ownership. Also ironic in that the board game outlived the evil empire.

Categories > History


How Lame

Matthew Spalding notes how previous lame-duck Congresses have conducted themselves and singles out the current one for its extremist behavior.  The Senate has never ratified a treaty in a lame-duck session.
Categories > Congress


No European Roe v. Wade

The European Court of Human Rights today upheld Ireland's abortion ban and ruled that the European Convention on Human Rights does not contain a general right to abortion.

Does anyone expect that this is the sort of international law which liberal Justices on the Supreme Court intended to take into consideration when formulating their decisions?

Categories > Courts


Quote of the Day

From Matt Miller in today's Washington Post:

If we keep taxes low on America's high earners, the terrorists win.

Categories > Journalism

Political Philosophy

The Insatiable Left

Just an observation of related sentiments from the left in recent, diverse news stories. First, everyone is noting that Obama has come under intense scrutiny from the left, which is furious at his failure to implement a radically liberal agenda and irrationally refuses to accept political (and economic) realities as an excuse. Second, a public event regarding the Smithsonian's decision to pull the ant-covered-Jesus exhibit hosted a furious group of leftists planning public protests of the gallery and refusing to accept political (and economic) realities as an excuse.

In both cases, the angry left are well aware that the targets of their scorn and rage are absolutely on their side. In fact, both figures publically admitted that they "hated" the decisions to compromise, but were forced away from "purist" positions due to realities beyond their control - realities which could have had far more damaging consequences if they'd not compromised.

The left seems to have unresolved anger-management issues from the Bush years. Having survived their anti-Christ, they had high expectations of their new messiah. But God's new-best-thing-since-sliced-bread just isn't walking on water and working miracles in their midst, and the betrayal of their fanatical faith and fantasies has evoked zealously passionate (and irrational) indignation and self-righteous rage. They want a new world order, and they want it now - but they're not going to get it. So false-prophets and mere realists alike should take cover, for the pitchfork-wielding left want a martyr or a sacrifice for their cause... and either will do.


California Dreams

Michael Anton is a writer who lives in New York, but he was born and raised in California.  He is a native.  I lived in California for thirty years, and he is the second native I have ever met.  He talks for about thirty minutes about the great state, it's history and its flaws.  He is not optimistic.  Thanks, Michael.
Categories > Politics

Literature, Poetry, and Books

The Oak

The Oak, Tennyson

Live thy life,
Young and old,
Like yon oak,
Bright in spring,
Living gold;

Then; and then
Soberer hued
Gold again.

All his leaves
Fall'n at length,
Look, he stands,
Trunk and bough,
Naked strength.

I came across it in an obscure explanatory volume of poetry, the sort I generally don't like because such are written to check further questions, you know, like a bad high school English teacher.  Also, they never have the effect of getting you to love the thing it is trying to explain.  It was therein explained that "The Oak" is an example of "Cretic (or Amphimacer), a trisyllabic foot whose sequence is accented-un-accented-accented.  Poems in English amphimacers are rare and are mostly novelty items in monometer."  I like the poem.


The Filibuster And Health Care Reform

Political scientist and all around smart guy Carl Scott asks why I think the filibuster will have to go if we are to truly get rid of Obamacare.  The short answer is that I have trouble seeing how we get sixty votes in the Senate to either restore the pre-Obamacare status quo or to enact, on a national level, one of the several kinds of market-oriented health care reform.  I'm under no illusions that the David Goldhill or James Capretta-style health care reforms you will find in the above links are popular.  In fact the vast majority of the public (probably including most self-identified conservatives) have barely even heard of them in any detail.  I can imagine a (not especially likely) scenario where some version of the above policies win majority support within Congress and the electorate (though like I said, the obstacles would be huge), but I don't see the breadth of support you would need for a bill embodying those kinds of policies to get sixty votes in the Senate. 

The Democrats know how high the stakes are on health care.  The Democratic leadership, the liberal-leaning media institutions, and the Democratic base would go all out against free market-oriented health care reform.  Unless we have the kind of Republican Senate supermajorities that we haven't seen in eighty years or unless red and purple state Democratic Senators think it is death to vote against cloture, I don't see how there aren't 41 Senate Democratic votes to filibuster free market-oriented health care reform to death.  I don't expect that, even under an optimistic scenario, the public will support David Goldhill or James Capretta-style health care reform by the same huge margins that the public supported Lawrence Mead-style welfare reforms in the 1990s.  I don't expect the Senate Democrats to split down the middle regarding whether to block free market-oriented health care reform.  Alice Rivlin is a former Clinton OMD Director and she worked with Paul Ryan to come up with a plan to voucherize Medicare and block grant Medicaid.  If more Democrats were like her I would be more optimistic, but I don't think there is (at this moment) any significant constituency within the Democratic political coalition for free market-oriented health care reform.  The issue of opposing a Goldhill or Capretta-style reform is more likely to unify than divide congressional Democrats.  I do think there is room for creative conservative politicians to form alliances with local elected Democratic politicians to advance certain kinds of state-level reforms like allowing cities to offer municipal employees an HSA/catastrophic coverage option that might save municipalities money on rising employee health care costs while avoiding layoffs.

I might still favor retaining the filibuster if I didn't believe that the Democrats would ditch the filibuster themselves if they had a narrow majority in the Senate and a narrow majority among the public in favor of single-payer and the filibuster was all that stood in the way of government-run health care.  

Categories > Politics

Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

From FDR brain truster Rexford Tugwell, on the New Deal and the constitution: "To the extent that these new social virtues developed, they were tortured interpretations of a document intended to prevent them."

Categories > Quote of the Day

Shameless Self-Promotion

NLT in FRC's Social Conservative Review

Family Research Council has released their latest edition of The Social Conservative Review, which includes three articles of mine and two articles from No Left Turns writers Michael Schwarz and John Moser. Among the many luminaries, I'd also like to mention a friend of mine from Catholic University Law, Seana Cranston, who does good works at the UN watchdog, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.

So go ahead, annoy the Southern Poverty Law Center and read FRC's latest edition of conservative literature. It's categorized by topic, and I promise you'll learn something.


Rescind Earmarks

Bill Kristol says this about the earmarks: "I can't believe the Democratic Congress will be foolish and hubristic enough to go ahead and jam though the omnibus appropriations bill with its 6,488 earmarks totaling nearly $8.3 billion. But if they do: Shouldn't the Republican House leadership commit to making H.R. 1 in the next Congress a bill rescinding all the earmarks and the whole $8.3 billion?"
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Nice Oil Business You Got There...

I've an article at one of my favorite old stomping-grounds, Intellectual Conservative. An excerpt:

Obama is holding offshore drilling (and the American economy) hostage and demanding concessions to his otherwise-doomed, voter-rejected, ultra-liberal environmental policies. He's demanding passage of his agenda if the U.S. ever wants to see its economy alive again.

Foreign Affairs


Certain people or groups are so identifiable with an idea that their name becomes a shorthand verb encompassing the idea. Consider being "Borked" or "swift-boated." Well, I'd like to suggest another:

To Berlusconi: To act in the most egregiously juvenile manner while in a position of utmost authority without ever suffering the slightest consequences.

Of course, the verb would indicate something you do to other people, rather than something they do to you. Buck the odds, break the rules and tell everyone who would hold you responsible to bugger off - and get away with it - and you've Berlusconied them!

I'm not certain if he is the fox or the hedgehog, but il caveliere (the knight, as he is formally titled) takes the Teflon Presidency to undreamed heights. He has weathered scandals related to politics, finances, influence, mobsters, dictators, Islam, sex with prostitution, sex with minors and just plain old sex. Last month, at 74, he introduced "bunga-bunga" to the world - contributing his own Afro-sexual research to the global deposit of erotic terminology. And his prevailing defense has been: You wish you were me!

Today he did it again: Berlusconi survived another vote of no confidence, retaining his hold as Italy's second longest serving PM. Ironically, despite his utter unpredictability, Berlusconi has provided Italy with its longest run of political stability in recent times - pretty much simply because he refuses to go away!

How bland the world would seem if Berlusconi had gone the way of the Dodo.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The New Deal's Looking Stale . . .

Michael Barone asks whether President Obama in saying things like, "The single most important jobs program we can put in place is a growing economy," is speaking out of the desperation born of having to come to grips with the possibility that the New Deal template that has dominated Democratic politics since the 30s is . . . uh, well . . . no good.  Barone does not suggest that there has been a "fundamental transformation" in the President's outlook on the world.  Rather, what he seems to suggest is that the operational usefulness of these policies has finally reached what may be an undeniable breaking point.  In other words, "The Obama Democrats' attempt to freeze their political benefactors in place is proving unsustainable."

This could be a useful for jumping off point for an important public conversation that reminds people about the differences between constitutionalism and progressivism.  Barone notes in passing that,

FDR, like his cousin Theodore, was an affluent heir who had contempt for men who built businesses and made money. They were "economic royalists" and "malefactors of great wealth" -- sentiments echoed by Barack Obama last week.

Do sentiments like this echo with the majority of Americans today?  Barone points to the amazing resonance of the Joe the Plumber incident to suggest that they do not.  Folks like TR, FDR and, even, Barack Obama are not representative of the average American experience that encompasses actual contact and familiarity with the character of America's small businessmen. These are not economic royalists.  They are just hard-working Joes trying to make a buck.  And what is wrong with that?  Americans do not need government intervention to protect us from hucksters . . . for all that ever does is put the hucksters in charge of the government! 

But when your foundational belief is the inherent creepiness of business and money making, then your every instinct is going to push you in the direction of quelling what you perceive to be the potential evils of this activity.  Your object will not be to free up and grow the economy; it will be to restrict and control it so as to set up artificial barriers that will, you believe, protect the innocent from the ill-effects of chance.  You will put your faith in the power of government (a.k.a., the wise) to manage growth in "healthy" ways.  And then, instead of encouraging the real growth that is necessary to maintain the governmental structure you've created, you end up working diligently to maintain the status quo

This earns you political cronies of a certain type;  the kind who don't like competition mainly because they can't or don't want to be bothered to compete.  So even as you begin your political life thinking that you're working to protect the little guy from the tentacles of "economic royalists," over time you will discover that the entrenched interests you've fought so diligently to protect become exactly the kind of octopus you thought you were fighting against.  You have created a monster and it is now about to eat you.

I thought that there was some delicious irony in the fact that Jerry Brown will now have to lie in the messy bed he and the California Democrats made.  Could it be that the Democrat Party, as a national proposition, is now on the verge of the same dilemma on this larger stage?  Is the New Deal finally up against itself and about to discover that there never was anything "new" in this stale, old form of elitist cronyism?   And will freedom--in all of its messy glory--finally reassert itself in the firm understanding that we cannot really protect ourselves from its potential downside if we mean to keep that freedom and, therefore, the possibility of better days ahead.
Categories > Politics

Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

From President James Madison's veto of the Bonus Bill in 1817:

"The power to regulate commerce among the several States" can not include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses in order to facilitate, promote, and secure such commerce without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms strengthened by the known inconveniences which doubtless led to the grant of this remedial power to Congress.

To refer the power in question to the clause "to provide for common defense and general welfare" would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation, as rendering the special and careful enumeration of powers which follow the clause nugatory and improper. Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms "common defense and general welfare" embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust. It would have the effect of subjecting both the Constitution and laws of the several States in all cases not specifically exempted to be superseded by laws of Congress, it being expressly declared "that the Constitution of the United States and laws made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges of every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." Such a view of the Constitution, finally, would have the effect of excluding the judicial authority of the United States from its participation in guarding the boundary between the legislative powers of the General and the State Governments, inasmuch as questions relating to the general welfare, being questions of policy and expediency, are unsusceptible of judicial cognizance and decision. . . .

I am not unaware of the great importance of roads and canals and the improved navigation of water courses, and that a power in the National Legislature to provide for them might be exercised with signal advantage to the general prosperity. But seeing that such a power is not expressly given by the Constitution, and believing that it can not be deduced from any part of it without an inadmissible latitude of construction and reliance on insufficient precedents; believing also that the permanent success of the Constitution depends on a definite partition of powers between the General and the State Governments, and that no adequate landmarks would be left by the constructive extension of the powers of Congress as proposed in the bill, I have no option but to withhold my signature from it, and to cherishing the hope that its beneficial objects may be attained by a resort for the necessary powers to the same wisdom and virtue in the nation which established the Constitution in its actual form and providently marked out in the instrument itself a safe and practicable mode of improving it as experience might suggest.

Categories > Quote of the Day

Refine & Enlarge

Boehner's Common Ground

The seeming chaos in our political universe continues. But, as we know, the heavens themselves, the planets and everything else--and this includes politics rightly understood--observe degree, priority, and place.  So the discord and sick enterprise will turn to proportion and form soon enough.  I now begin to see that turn.

The talk of "compromise," "bi-partisanship," and so on, (never mind the silly No Labels attempt to institutionalize it) is so broad and deep (at least among the chattering class) that sometimes they actually say that that is what the people voted for in November.  In the 60 Minutes Leslie Stahl Interview with John Boehner (about half way down on the transcript), note how aggressive Stahl gets about partisanship.  She tries to push a definition of governing (and therefore of politics, on the incoming Speaker of the House) as compromise.  I like Boehner's manly reaction to it:  He rejects the word in favor of "common ground,"  I think this is--in today's context--both wise and prudent. In order to get a clearer understanding on the difference, and connection between, principle and compromise we must start thus. 

We need to articulate what the common ground is in our politics before we can divide on those things that the common ground allows, maybe even demands, us to divide on.  This, of course, has to do with the Constitution broadly understood, indeed, with the possibility of self-government.  We need to talk about citizens rather than constituents, for example.  The latter is merely a justification for taking, while the former has a moral components.  The common ground has to do with us understanding why becoming partisans of the Constitution first is the necessary condition for the establishment of good government based on reflection and choice.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Health Care

Restoring "We the People"

Michael Ramirez published this the day after Obama signed the health care bill. Here is his redux the day after the first federal court ruling against the individual mandate.

Categories > Health Care


Arm Your Brain

I wouldn't read too much into today's decision on the individual mandate for two reasons.  First, the issue of the constitutionality of the individual purchase mandate is exactly where it was yesterday - in Anthony Kennedy's head.  Second, because removing the individual purchase mandate does not, in itself, take us off the road to government-run health care.  Obamacare is designed to decompose and result in higher insurance premiums and dropped coverage for millions.  Under Obamacare, insurers won't be able to deny coverage or charge premiums based on a customer's health.  The obvious incentive is for a consumer to avoid getting health insurance until after getting sick.  The individual purchase mandated was designed to partially mitigate this tendency (though it was probably too weak to do so and part of a lousy plan anyway.)  If the individual purchase mandate is found unconstitutional, it won't remove the keystone to Obamacare.  Guaranteed issue (insurers not being able to deny coverage) and community rating (insurers not being to charge rates based on health) would still be there. 

Removing the individual purchase mandate would just speed up the death spiral of the health insurance companies as employers and individuals dropped coverage until individuals got sick.  And what kind of world would it be as the health insurance industry was collapsing?  Premiums would rise on those dumb enough to buy insurance even as more and more insurance companies fled the industry.  There would be a bitter argument about which direction to go.  A system of price controls and single-payer (with some kind of supplementary system for the wealthy) might seem like the way to go in such a situation.  You don't need an individual purchase mandate to get to government-run health care.  Whether we have a mandate or not, conservatives don't need a strategy for getting back to the pre-Obamacare status quo.  They need a strategy for getting to a reformed health care system.  It won't be easy.  Try reading the work of free market-oriented health care analysts.

David Goldhill in the Atlantic, Paul Howard and Stephen Parente in National Affairs and James Capretta and Thomas Miller for AEI have all come out with plans for moving the health care sector in a more free market-oriented direction.  From reading all those plans, one thing that jumps out at me is the complete lack of a reformist conservative public rhetoric on health care reform.  Even if the majority of the public were willing to give one hour of undivided and active attention (which it ain't), I still doubt that they would walk away from the above essays with a very clear understanding of what was being said.  David Goldhill comes the closest to an accessible account but even he takes over ten thousand words to get there.  The outlines of several (not wholly compatible) conservative reform agendas exist.  The next step is to find ways to explain the key insights, policies and benefits of those agendas in several minute chunks that use plain English and draw from everyday experience.  I know it sounds tough (it is tough!), but that is what Reagan would do. 

Another concern I have with all of the above approaches is that they are all proposals for enormous system wide changes.  I'm for that kind of change, but we need to recognize the practical barriers to achieving huge nationwide changes as a first step.  The elected braches of the federal government have multiple veto points.  It was only the combination of Democratic supermajorities and an implacable President that got Obamacare through.  Getting the anti-Obamacare through will be equally tough though not impossible given enough public support (and the abolition of the filibuster.)  But getting the required breadth of public support won't be at all easy.  For one thing, the vast majority of the public has not yet heard of the Goldhill, Howard, Capretta, etc. proposals.  As far as most of the public is concerned, the positive conservative position on health care is tort reform plus nothing.  Just explaining the reformist proposals will be a huge public education effort and I'm not sure most people will like what they hear at first.  Market-oriented health care reform will transform how people pay for their health care (not getting insurance from an employer and paying more routine expenses out of pocket.)  If we aren't careful, we might make single-payer sound good. 

That doesn't mean conservatives shouldn't try to popularize the case for national, market-oriented health care reforms.  Conservative members of Congress, conservative journalists and media figures and conservative presidential candidates would do us all a huge service if they dedicated more of their time to explaining the ideas of James Capretta in accessible language. But policy progress will probably come from the federal government last and if we put all of our efforts and hopes into the Ryan-Rivlin plan, we make it more likely that we will get single-payer rather than reform.

Market-oriented health care reform, if it is to happen, will probably have to happen in the states first.  The key points for supporters of market-oriented health care reform to get across is that our current system of virtually comprehensive prepayment for health care services costs you too much money without improving your access to quality health care.  Goldhill's homely analogy of what would happen if you paid an insurance company for "grocery insurance", bought food where you wanted (and where most stores didn't post prices), and then faced ever rising "food premium" bills should be deployed at every opportunity. If you paid for routine health care costs out of pocket and got to keep the savings from wise spending and provider competition, you would have more money in your pocket at the end of the year, still have access to great health care and still be insured against a catastrophic health care event.  But even if you explained market oriented health care reform in the best way possible, it would still be tough going.  Decades of experience have made the idea that you can save money by paying out of pocket for routine medical expenses counterintuitive.  People are risk averse when it comes to health care policy and nothing will convince like real world demonstration. 

That is why it is so important to have concrete examples of market-oriented health care policy where going (for example) to HSA/catastrophic coverage saves real people real money while maintaining their access to quality health care.  That is why I'm going to keep linking to Indiana's HSA/catastrophic health care program until a torch bearing mob marches on my home.

The important thing to keep in mind is that state-centered and federal-centered approaches to health care reform need to be complementary if we are to avoid government-run health care.  If there is no national health care reform movement and no congressional Republican pressure, the Obama HHS bureaucracy will strangle state health care reforms.  If there are no (or very few) state-level examples of promising market-oriented health care programs, passing a federal market-oriented health care reform becomes much more difficult if not politically impossible.      


Categories > Politics

Health Care

Keeping Obamacare at Bay, or Sending it up the River

Henry Hudson rules the individual mandate unconstitutional.
Categories > Health Care


Reading the Constitution Closely

The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the right "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes."  Wouldn't that necessarily imply that there is commerce that is not "among the several states"?  If not, wouldn't the clause read "to regulate commerce," without any specifications?  Wickard v. Filburn suggests that the federal government does not see it that way, of course, but it's still worth raising the point. (And we're not even raising the question of what the constitutional definition of "commerce" is.  When the people ratified the constitution, a great deal of business activities were not thought of as "commerce."

Of course, if we have a "living constitution," we can simply reinterpret the language to suit current needs. But if that's the case, we can reinterpret it again, however we want.

Finally, back to Wickard.  The Court ruled that a man growing his own wheat on his own land was "commerce among the several states."  They did so because New Deal regulations on crop growing could not function if Wickard could legally do what he was doing.   The Court, at the time argued that since Wickard's acts impaired a certain type of regulation of commerce among the states, his action could be regulated under the commece clause. But it might be that the precise language of the constitution puts limits on both what and how it may regulate even commerce that is certainly "among the states."

Categories > Courts


Reading Around the Christmas Tree

The Claremont Institute posts a Christmas Reading List Symposium today with 24 distinguished contributors and, also, me.  I note, too, that a good number of the contributors recommend this important book (which is now available in a Kindle edition).  Readers of this blog will be familiar with most of the contributors and with the author of the above mentioned book, too.  Enjoy!
Categories > Leisure

Foreign Affairs

Wherefore the Refugees?

Michael Mernstam's The Palestinian Proletariat is a deeply insighful exploration of the rise and progress of the Palestinian refugee problem.   The whole essay is worth reading. Here are a few key paragraphs:

The core issue is a phenomenon we can call "refugeeism." For 60 years, UNRWA has been paying four generations of Palestinians to remain refugees, reproduce refugees, and live in refugee camps. It is UNRWA that put them in refugee cages and watched the number of inhabitants grow. The Palestinian refugee population in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza has exploded from 726,000 in 1950 to 4.8 million in 2010. About 95 percent live under UNRWA care. The unprecedented nature of this guardianship is rooted in the unusual nature of this institution. UNRWA is a supranational welfare state that pays its residents not to build their own nation-state, for, were they to do so, they would forfeit their refugee status and its entitlements of cash, housing, health care, education, credit, and other largesse.

It is these perverse incentives above all that have undermined efforts to improve the lot of the Palestinian people, such as those measures aimed at fostering economic development in the West Bank undertaken by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the Israeli government. If the international community truly wishes to serve the needs of the Palestinians and improve their lot, its first task would be the abolition of UNRWA. . . .

UNRWA is unique by design. Whereas all other refugees and deportees fall under the jurisdiction and care of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Palestinians belong to UNRWA. Only ­actual refugees qualify for aid under the UNHCR, and that on a short-term basis. This draws a clear line between refugees as such and various ethnic diasporas. The UNHCR's mandate is to resettle and integrate all refugees in their historical homelands or in new host countries­--to un-refugee them, so to speak. Out of the millions of refugees and deportees who emerged after World War II and since--Germans, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Finns, Russians, Ukrainians, Japanese, Indians, Pakistanis, Jews, Turks, Chinese, Koreans, Algerians, Cubans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and many others--the UN provided Palestinians a different sort of relief.

The UNRWA charter specified that the Palestinians who lived in British Mandate Palestine during the years 1946-48 and who subsequently fled in 1948-49 qualified for refugee status together with all their descendants. This open-ended definition of refugees applies for generations to come. It bestows housing, utilities, health care, education, cash allowances, emergency cash, credit, public works, and social services from cradle to grave, with many cradles and grand-cradles along the way, to its beneficiaries. In practice, this means multigenerational refugee camps and ghettoes in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza. Close to one-third of today's refugees, about 1.4 million, live in 59 refugee camps. There is no room in UNRWA's mandate and agenda for resettlement and integration.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


More Climate News

With the Cancun summit having concluded with a bold agreement to meet again next year, I might as well flag my review of Roger Pielke's The Climate Fix in the current issue of The Weekly Standard.

Key quote: "By conceiving the issue as a morality play, the climate campaign has done great damage to science and policymaking alike."
Categories > Environment