Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Foreign Affairs

Obama's No Fly Zones

WaPo reports that the Arab League today "called on the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya." This is significant because "NATO has said that an Arab endorsement of the no-fly zone was a precondition for taking such action."

The White House responded:

We welcome this important step by the Arab League, which strengthens the international pressure on Gaddafi and support for the Libyan people. The international community is unified in sending a clear message that the violence in Libya must stop, and that the Gaddafi regime must be held accountable. The United States will continue to advance our efforts to pressure Gaddafi, to support the Libyan opposition, and to prepare for all contingencies, in close coordination with our international partners.

Note the common theme highlighted by the bold words. I'm an international law attorney - I like international cooperation. But the President of the United States is the Leader of the Free World. Foreign countries (free and oppressed) and the White House itself are treating America as an inconsequential player in a game above its class.

In Egypt, Obama waited for a victor to emerge before taking sides in the conflict. In Libya, he is waiting for others to lead. Cooperating with the international community does not require indecision and submissiveness. Nations are calling upon the UN and NATO because the US has ceded authority to the UN - which has proved itself, again and again, incapable of responding to war and genocide. Obama is submerging America within misguided interpretations of internationalism and egalitarianism. He is degrading our leadership in the world.

P.S. The New York Times has a more complimentary view of Obama's "pragmatism in the Middle East."

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Japan's Big One

As a child growing up in California, I remember constantly being taught about earthquakes and earthquake preparedness in school; we would have disaster drills that consisted of taking cover under our desks then congregating on the open schoolyard, and were told what was suggested to keep at home in terms of an emergency kit and supplies. So well-trained were we that I remember on several occasions in middle and high school we would hear that rumbling hum that quakes often come with, and hear the windows rattle, causing us to dive under our desks-- only to find out that Vandenberg Air Force Base was just shooting a rocket into space. In the two large earthquakes I've been in, this "training" was of little use-- Northridge struck while we were sleeping with enough force to make me fall out of bed (and I was too disoriented and scared, being a young child and all, to remember to crawl under the bed), and the 2003 Central California quake hit on a morning I was doing last-minute Christmas shopping in a Wal Mart with really no where to take cover at all. So in the end I suppose the training was somewhat useless personally in those earthquakes, a 6.7 and 6.6 on the richter scale respectively. But it continues anyways, just in case it might do something to help when the "big one" comes off of the San Andreas.

Japan has had its big one now-- an 8.9, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded. To put that in perspective, it was 22 times more powerful than the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and equivalent to a 336 megaton underground explosion (the largest nuclear explosion was Tsar Bomba at 50 megatons of TNT). Of all nations in the world, Japan is absolutely the most prepared to deal with a natural disaster. In a precarious position on the Pacific Ring of Fire, surrounded by volcanos and earthquake faults, the wealthy and industrious nation has invested billions of dollars in preparing for disasters. Their building codes are the strictest in the world in terms of seismic safety, disaster drills are performed ad nauseam, and emergency kits exist everywhere you turn. Following the disastrous 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which set off a tsunami that killed over 230,000 people in 14 different countries, Japan joined the rest of the Pacific nations (America included) in installing advanced warning systems for tsunamis.

Despite all of the preparation, nothing can be done to prepare for something as unthinkable as an earthquake of that magnitude. They just do not happen near population centers. They are unstoppable forces of nature; acts of God that mortal men cannot withstand, no matter how much we try. The quake hit with unimaginable force, and the immediate tsunami hit without any time for the warning systems to respond. The images of the sheer destruction and awesome power of nature are a strong reminder of the fact that, for all we have accomplished technologically (and the genius Japanese have, in that area, excelled further than all others), we are ultimately powerless against the universe; fitting that last Wednesday many Christians were reminded that "from dust ye came and to dust ye shall return."

The United States, at the request of the Japanese government, has dispatched several warships, search and rescue teams, and FEMA recovery teams to help with the disaster. The tsunami warning system put into place after 2004 worked excellently; countries throughout the Pacific initiated the warnings immediately and authorities oversaw evacuations from the coasts of Hawaii and the Western US. The waves did eventually hit, striking the California coastline from Santa Cruz and Crescent City down to Santa Barbara and Ventura; about $50 million of damage was done, and one person was killed as he tried to take pictures of the tsunami in defiance of the warnings. Otherwise, shops were closed and the beaches remained relatively empty; people scrambled to take boats out of the water, and one US warship was moved safely out to sea. The damage, and death toll, would likely have been more severe. We will study this quake to see what could happen when we face a similar disaster. In the meantime, we pray for the Japanese people during this tragic time and express our sincerest condolences for the losses suffered. The good people of Japan are among our greatest allies in the world, and we will be by their side helping them recover from this act of God. We pray that they are able to confront the other terrible disasters facing them in the quake's aftermath.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Parties

Words of Welcome in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has harsh (but righteous) words of welcome for the prodigal Democratic senators.  

Today, the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin are going to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras. They're going to pretend they're heroes for taking a three week vacation.

It is an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois -- with pay.

Their appearance at the Capitol today is in direct violation of the contempt order issued by the state Senate earlier this month, and it proves their absolute disregard for the institution of the Senate and the constitution they took an oath of office to serve.

But the people of Wisconsin won't forget what they were really doing these past few weeks.

Sen. Tim Cullen refused to come back to save 1,500 jobs.

Sen. Mark Miller refused to come back even to make sure his own staff were safe in the Capitol he abandoned.

Sen. Fred Risser refused to come back out of respect for the institution and dignity of the state Senate.

Sen. Bob Jauch refused to come back even though our side was negotiating in good faith to try to find a reasonable compromise.

Sens. Jon Erpenbach, Chris Larson and Lena Taylor were all too happy to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras in Illinois, never mind their constituents here in Wisconsin.

And Sens. Dave Hansen, Kathleen Vinehout, Tim Carpenter, Spencer Coggs, Jim Holperin, and Julie Lassa refused to come back to actually do the job they were elected to do.

To the Senate Democrats: When you smile for the cameras today and pretend you're heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted. And I hope you're embarrassed to call yourselves senators.

H/t: Power Line

Categories > Political Parties


Hey-Hey, Ho-Ho, Leftist Chanting Has Got to Go!

Yup, I took in the scene in Madison Friday, and offer up another 4-minute highlight reel, this time with my own voice-over narration, and a special assist from Monty Python at appropriate moments.  Wish I could have stuck around for Saturday's festivities.
Categories > Politics


The Motive Behind High-Speed Rail

In the wake of mob violence, government shut-downs, absconding Democratic senators, death threats against Republicans and a breakdown of the democratic process in Wisconsin, a detached President Obama's only response was an endorsement of unions.

"I owe these unions," the President once confessed. How far would he be willing to go on union behalf, and how deep is his pro-union conviction? What other policies might have a union motive? Consider this report from Der Spiegel:

A crippling strike by train drivers in a dispute over wages caused havoc across Germany during rush hour on Thursday morning, with countless delays and cancellations. Around 800 drivers walked off the job for six hours between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m., leaving thousands of commuters struggling to get to work--and the dispute is threatening to become a long-term nightmare for travelers.

Communal transportation which leaves the public dependent upon (unionized) government workers surely empowers public employee unions. Conservatives have been pondering the motive for Obama's stubborn insistence on America's adoption of an inefficient, expensive and unwanted high-speed rail system. Perhaps Germany provides a clue.

H/t: James Taranto

Categories > Economy

Obama Plugging Leaks

During the Bush administration, those who leaked classified information were hailed as heroes "speaking truth to power" by a haughty left which dared Bush to attempt prosecution. The New York Times and others aided and abetted those who wished to publish America's secrets with the impunity guaranteed by certainty they would vilify Bush if he brought charges against those breaking the law (including the NY Times). Slate sums up a politico story on the radically different situation now that Obama is in charge.

The Obama administration's pursuit of federal officials who leak classified information has been so extensive that it has shocked legal experts and transparency advocates, who say these kinds of efforts end up quieting whistleblowers. The moves are particularly surprising considering that Obama promised to usher in a period of unparalleled openness in the White House. Instead,  prosecutors have "filed criminal charges in five separate cases involving unauthorized distribution of classified national security information to the media," reports Politico. Over the last 40 years, "the U.S. government brought such cases on three occasions." 

The article is revealing in a very "you shall know them by their works" sort of way. Obama defended his investigations by insisting they are "only pursuing individuals who act with reckless disregard for national security." George W. Bush wouldn't have said it any better.

Obama, of course, is correct to relentlessly pursue leaks and plug them by stuffing the leakers in prison. The left is offended that Obama is not governing with "transparency," which is to say, without the government discretion required to wage war and conduct diplomacy. But this insurrection can be laid at Obama's feet - he made these unrealistic promises during his anti-all-things-Bush campaign.

Obama's intensity in prosecuting leaks is a decision liable to interpretation. Either he believed the media would give their favored son a pass, or his Chicago-forged ego is so sensitive that he cannot abide the betrayal he praised when directed against others (consider his vendetta against Fox News).

In sum, Obama is doing the right thing - perhaps with slightly flawed motives - and is therefore causing the left to murmur in discontent. Perhaps the left can be forgiven, though - things haven't been going their way lately.


This Side of Paradise?

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald on why talks with the Democrats broke down:

This afternoon, following a week and a half of line-by-line negotiation, Sen. Miller sent me a letter that offered three options: 1) keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 2) take our counter-offer, which would keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 3) or stop talking altogether.

No word on weather the negotiations were to have taken place in East or West Egg.

Categories > Politics


Hope and Change?

Robert Reich opens a fascinating window into the enraged Lefty mind in a recent post complaining of the recent "coup d'etat" in Wisconsin.

It is fascinating in a few ways. In the middle of the post, Reich expresses his fear that the protestors will get out of hand, giving a public relations victory to the Republicans. Reich even goes so far as to say that "Walker would like nothing better than disorder to break out in Madison"--a vicious charge that says more about Reich than about Walker.  Reich worries  that his fellow Lefties won't keep their protests civil.

That leads to the strange ending of Reich's post: "The American public may be divided over many things but we stand united behind our democratic process and the rule of law. And we reject coups in whatever form they occur."

Wisconsin worked well within the confines of the democratic process.  Changing the rules that govern government unions is hardly regime change.  How is that a coup?

Governor Walker was willing to negotiate with the Democrats on several issues, but not on the matter of making the payment of union dues voluntary, and making the re-certification of unions by the members a regularly recurring thing.  As some Lefties have noted, such a law takes dead aim at a major source of Democratic power.  Hence they regard it as cynical.  But why is that the case?  The rules of the game, before the law passed, tilted the playing field heavily to the Democrats.  The Republicans are trying to tilt it back. 

That's a coup d'etat if one believes that the current regime is not, simply, the American, federal, democratic-republic, but rather the broader regime of laws we have now (or at least until yesterday in Wisconsin).  For Riech, the additions and changes that were made to the American republic in the 20th century are supposed to be permanent victories for his side, which he things is Progress.  Hence making paying union dues voluntary is a coup-d'etat, and not simply politics as usual.  In his view, one side is Progress, and the other side is Reaction. The philosophy of History makes that point of view posible.  The right of people who work for the government to organize and to bargain collectively is on a par with the right of the individual to the fruit of his labors.  The idea of Progress masks a power-play by the Left.

If, however, one believes that there are no permanent victories in politics, the world looks rather different.  What looks to a Progressive like an assault on rights looks to somone with a more classic liberal view as a mere argument about how to calibrate labor regulations in the republic. 

It's not the first time that the failure of the world to change has frustrated and confused men of the Left.  It also suggests that many Democrats who are over 40 or so still have not gotten over 1994.  From their perspective Congress is supposed to be a Democratic house, and, beyond that, policy changes are supposed to be those the Left wants.  Making laws that not only undo or limit some bits of Progressive legislation, but that go after some of the roots that made the American establishment Democratic is, from Reich's perspective, a coup.  Once the Democrats fix the rules of the game, Republicans are not supposed to change them, even decades later.

Categories > Progressivism

The Family

Marriage Saved in Maryland

At least for the time being:  the so-called "marriage equality" bill is sent back to Committee, after supporters feared losing in the Assembly.  It had passed the Senate 25-21.  Supporters never explained the consequences for families, in the new conception of marriage.  They blithely assume all the benefits of "traditional" marriage will extend to same-sex marriage. Praise the good sense of urban ministers in Prince Georges County and Baltimore and the weariness of blacks who resent being exploited so sophisticated suburban elites can enjoy their pleasures. 
Categories > The Family


Almost Live from Madison

Yup, I'm actually in Madison, Wisconsin, at the moment, for reasons completely unrelated to the drama at the capitol.  Nonetheless, I wandered by with my Flip video camera, and herewith my six-minute highlight reel from last night.  Hopefully more to come today.

(Cross-posted at Power Line and The Corner.)
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs


It was bad enough two years ago when our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, mangled an attempt to be lighthearted with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, by giving him a so-called "reset" button that actually said "overcharged" in Russian.  That was a stupid attempt at humor in the first place, but to mangle the translation showed an astonishing incompetence.

Now, we have our Vice President, Joe Biden--never known for his felicitous turn of phrase, to be sure--bungling the pronunciation of Russia's most famous political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  As Biden was trying (apparently?) to express America's sense that justice had been denied to Mr. Khodorkovsky, Biden pronounced his name (after much hesitation) "Kovinsky."  He finished his performance with a sheepish apology amidst giggles. Nice. 

In the meantime, our President spent the morning giving a somber address about bullying in the nation's schools . . . as the news out of Libya seems to indicate that Gaddafi is gaining ground.  Good to know Obama knows all about handling bullies.  Should school yard victims take comfort in this or see about finding (or hiring) a new "big brother"?

Really, this is nothing short of embarrassing.  Of course, nothing that Joe Biden says or fails to say should surprise anyone--he of the "big f'ing deal."  But this man continuously demonstrates himself to be so lacking in anything approaching seriousness, that it is worth taking note of it from time to time.  This is particularly true since the mainstream media seems either to be inured to it or willfully repressing it. We should be reminded of Biden so that we may see in him the reflection of the man who thought it would be a good idea to send him abroad as America's representative.  Interesting choice, that.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Shameless Self-Promotion

Of Heaven and Home

The good folks at Houston Baptist University produce a fine journal called The City; the editors of and contributors to which will be familiar to many readers of NLT (including especially, Joe Knippenberg).  They were kind enough to publish one of my offerings in their Spring issue and you can find it on-line at this link along about page 76.  It is a review of a book that deserves to be commended but can only be recommended to those with a heart stout enough to receive and endure deeply sad (though beautiful) truths born of tragedy.  The author of said book, Tony Woodlief, is also the author of one of my favorite blogs (and on the subject of fatherhood, it is my absolute favorite blog), "Sand in the Gears."

Foreign Affairs

The Republic of Tibet

The Dalai Lama hopes to relinquish political power as the head of Tibet's government-in-exile. He has asked the Tibetan parliament to amend the constitution and seeks the speedy election of a new prime minister to lead the country.

The reason for the alteration is likely the Dalai Lama's anticipation of death. When he dies, China will pounce on the opportunity to replace him (as they have attempted to usurp the Catholic church by installing their own bishops) and will pressure foreign countries which recognize the Dalai Lama to abandon Tibet in his absence. As proof, President Obama today announced that he will not meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington this week, and has postponed a scheduled meeting until after a summit with China next month. Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, is attempting to preserve the political existence of Tibet.

The last theocracy of Asia will thus soon vanish, leaving only the Holy See at Vatican City under the authority of the Pope in Europe and, arguably, several Middle Eastern and African Muslim nations as the world's remaining theocracies.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Not Letting the Patriot Act Go Gentle into that Good Sunset

Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 - 2009, and Michael Mukasey, attorney general from 2007 to 2009, have penned a WaPo article arguing against the Obama administrations reversal on extending key provisions of the Patriot Act.

The net effect of imposing sunset provisions [which terminate roving wiretap, NSLs and "lone wolf" authority as of Dec. 31, 2013], changing presumptions and adding layers of review and other administrative and judicial burdens on use of these intelligence tools, absent evidence that any of them has been abused - and there has been none - is that intelligence professionals will regard these regimens as transitory. Confidence and initiative will be degraded. The wall between intelligence-gathering and criminal investigation, thought before Sept. 11 to have been required by statute or the Constitution, but realized afterward to have been unnecessary, will be rebuilt. If intelligence bureaucracies are taught that they incur only burdens and risk criticism by seeking to gather intelligence, they will revert to pre-Sept. 11 mode, and await the next cycle of criticism for failing to connect "dots" they have been discouraged from gathering. The existing procedures for obtaining even an "emergency" authorization under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act already generate reams of documentation through several layers of bureaucracy; there is no need to find out how many more straws the camel's back can bear.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


King's Speech and Hearing

Congressman Peter King's hearing on radical Islam shows once again (see Wisconsin) the some of the left's contempt for the rule of law.  It's precisely hearings and subsequent deliberation that can illuminate an issue.  Would that there were hearings on the relocation of ethnic Japanese in World War II--an hysterical comparison to make:  All men are created equal, but each ethnic group is unique (and diverse within itself), and not all religions are essentially whitebread Protestantism.  We should keep this in mind as we hear the courageous denunciations of radical Muslims by their fellow American Muslims.  (See one Muslim witness's exchange with MC Sanchez, who clearly had contempt for him.)  We should also recall the beatings openly loyal Japanese-Americans were subjected to in the relocation centers--not from non-Japanese but from Japanese-Americans who demanded loyalty to the Emperor of Japan.
Categories > Congress

Foreign Affairs

Our Steadfast Ally

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the United States to mark the fiftieth anniversary of our alliance with Australia. Earlier this week she addressed a joint session of Congress to speak on our alliance with the people Down Under. Taking into account French President Nicholas Sarkozy's remarks on the anniversary of the French-American alliance a few years ago, it seems that at times it takes a friend to remind America of herself, what she means, and what she can accomplish.

"In 1942, John Curtin--my predecessor, my country's great wartime leader--looked to America. I still do. This year you have marked the centenary of President Reagan's birth. He remains a great symbol of American optimism. The only greater symbol of American optimism is America itself. The eyes of the world are still upon you. Your city on a hill cannot be hidden. Your brave and free people have made you the masters of recovery and reinvention. As I stand in this cradle of democracy, I see a nation that has changed the world and known remarkable days. I firmly believe that you are the same people who amazed me when I was a small girl by landing on the moon. On that great day I believed Americans could do anything. I believe that still. You can do anything today."
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Wisconsin Saga Comes (Close) to a Close

The Wisconsin GOP have extracted the small portions of the stalled bill which require a quorum and passed the remainder without Democratic participation. So, the stalemate is over and Republicans have won. GOP senate leader Scott Fitzgerald released a statement:

Before the election, the Democrats promised "adult leadership" in Madison. Then a month and a half into session, the Senate Democrats fled the state instead of doing their job.

In doing so, they have tarnished the very institution of the Wisconsin state Senate. This is unacceptable.

This afternoon, following a week and a half of line‐by‐line negotiation, Sen. Miller sent me a letter that offered three options: 1) keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 2) take our counter‐offer,which would keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 3) or stop talking altogether.

With that letter, I realized that we're dealing with someone who is stalling indefinitely, and doesn't have a plan or an intention to return. His idea of compromise is "give me everything I want," and the only negotiating he's doing is through the media.

Enough is enough.

The people of Wisconsin elected us to do a job. They elected us to stand up to the broken status quo, stop the constant expansion of government, balance the budget, create jobs and improve the economy. The longer the Democrats keep up this childish stunt, the longer the majority can't act on our agenda.

Tonight, the Senate will be passing the items in the budget repair bill that we can, with the 19 members who actually DO show up and do their jobs. Those items include the long‐overdue reform of collective bargaining needed to help local governments absorb these budget cuts, and the 12 percent health care premium and 5 percent pension contribution.

We have confirmed with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Bureau that every item in tonight's bill follows the letter of the law.

The people of Wisconsin elected us to come to Madison and do a job. Just because the Senate Democrats won't do theirs, doesn't mean we won't do ours.

It's possible the GOP actually waited for the Democrats to return on hyper-ethical principles (hoping to involve them in a proper vote). Otherwise they conservatively hoped to avoid the potential stigma of a one-party vote, or daringly allowed the circus to continue in hopes of favorable poll results. I imagine a combination of all three.

Liberals are, naturally, unhappy. MoveOn decried the vote as "shameful, unprecedented, and probably illegal" before calling for the impeachment of the entire Republican senate. Union protestors in Madison yelled "You are cowards!" (Ironically, given their representatives are hiding in another state.) But it's hard to take seriously accusations of ethical wrong from those who have countenanced three weeks of truancy by the entire Democratic senate.

And the fleebagger 14 haven't promised to return anytime soon. They fear that their return could permit a vote on the original bill. A nefarious mind would suggest the Republicans continue with their (non-quorum-dependent) agenda while the Dems continue thinking it over.

The left's strategy will seek to move the battle from the legislature to the courts (the Wisconsin Supreme Court is up for grabs in April) and to recall (impeach) GOP senators and Scott Walker. More interestingly, there is already talk of general strikes - which could easily backfire on the unions.

National attention will soon shift to Indiana and Ohio - and possibly onward from there, if the process begins to ease with repetition.

Categories > Economy

Pop Culture

The Royal Wedding

It is starting to become more difficult to turn to a provider of news or surf the Internet without running into something about the upcoming wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Earlier today I saw one article asking how the grandson of Elizabeth II and his elegant and beautiful bride-to-be might be as King and Queen. I contend that the appropriate response should be, who cares?

Though it might be that some Americans might look longingly at the royalty across the pond for inspiration and an example of old-age nobility (what with the closest we have to "royalty" bearing names like Kennedy or talking about their flaming fists of fury in Hollywood), the Monarchy serves little more purpose than giving us subjects for good movies like The Queen and The King's Speech (again, just like Hollywood). In fact, that whole "looking at them for nobility" thing doesn't really hold that much water either, as the Royal Family is prone to gaff after embarrassing gaff, whether it is their sort of fascist-supporting tendencies during WWII (and the king's abdication to marry a still-married and twice-divorced American) or Prince Andrew's recent poor choice in friends. While I can understand the British clinging to the monarchy in the same way my mother still insists on leaving some of my grade school art projects on her refrigerator, I'd expect Americans to realize that the actors and political families we have an obnoxious fascination with actually did something (for better or worse); all Elizabeth, Charles, and William did was survive childbirth.

Maybe Jon Stewart had the right idea: let's buy the monarchy and put it to work. In any event, congratulations and good luck to the spouses-to-be. 
Categories > Pop Culture


The Big Lie?

Robert Samuelson reminds us that Social Security is not a pension system.  It is a welfare system supporting people who are in their mid-sixties and older.  The U.S. government, however, has been more than happy to make current taxpayers think that they are paying for their own retirements.

Categories > Economy


The Many Avenues To Defeating Government-Run Medicine

Michaels Cannon objects to this letter sent to the Department of Health and Human Services by twenty governors - including conservative stalwarts like Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker.  The letter requests that states should be able to offer market-oriented alternatives to Medicaid and be allowed to use the new exchanges to offer HSA/catastrophic coverage health insurance.  If states were granted this leeway it would go a long way toward undermining Obamacare's model of pushing virtually everyone into government mandated comprehensive prepayment of health care (whether through the government or through private "insurers.")  Cannon quotes John R. Graham to the effect that Mitch Daniels (and by extension the other conservative governors) are "extending the hand of peace . . . when Obamacare has been mortally wounded in the courts and the U.S. House of Representatives" I think this deeply mistaken for several reasons.

1.  I don't see how Obamacare has been mortally wounded in the courts.  There is a live controversy about whether the Supreme Court would find the individual insurance purchase mandate constitutional.  This part of the controversy is now in the heads of Anthony Kennedy and the other four Supreme Court Justices who might conceivably vote against the constitutionality of the mandate and the rest of the law.  They might strike down the whole law.  Fine.  They might leave the whole law in place or only strike down the individual mandate while leaving the insurance coverage mandates, the new government subsidies, guaranteed issue, and community rating in place.  We're going to need a plan in case Anthony Kennedy gets it wrong - because it wouldn't be the first time.

2  I think Cannon is mistaken about the political dynamics of reforming health care in a more market-oriented direction within the public opinion and institutional constraints of American politics.  Cannon argues that seeking the kind of significant but incremental reforms laid out in the governors' letter undermines public support for repealing Obamacare.  Pushing for incremental and substantive conservative health care reforms complements and strengthens the case for repealing Obamacare.  Obama's HHS now faces a choice.  They can refuse the twenty requesting states the leeway to implement more market-oriented reforms and be seen as rigid.  Or they can grant the requests and watch as Obamacare's model of comprehensive health care prepayment is undermined by more and more people going on consumer-driven health care plans.  Incremental conservative reform at the state-level is not the enemy of national-level reform. Incremental state-level reforms make alternative conservative policies real and showcase their benefits to the public.  The state-level welfare reforms of the early 1990s (which were only possible because of HHS waivers) made it easier to pass a federal welfare reform bill.  The state-level reforms showed that reformist policies could reduce welfare rolls and impose behavioral conditions without producing the horrible consequences predicted by many liberals. 

Cannon writes that if Obama's HHS okays the governors' requests, Obama will be able to say:

"Mitch, all your talk about repeal is just cynical politics. Your health-care plan is not that different from mine. You expanded Medicaid to people with higher incomes than my plan requires. You are implementing my plan in your state right now. I'm even willing to make some of the changes you want so it will work better for Indiana."

Well he could try that.  It wouldn't be the first untrue thing to come out of his mouth.  Of course Daniels could always respond:

"Well Mr. President,  the facts say your government-centered approach couldn't be more different from our patient-centered approach.  You are trying to legally force people to pay too much for health insurance and then you give some of them one year exemptions and say 'Look how reasonable we are.'  Well that's not reasonable.  That's crazy.  No one should have to beg a bureaucrat to get permission to buy better and cheaper health care coverage.

"Our patient-centered approach has increased satisfaction with health insurance, saved the government money, increased use of preventative care, decreased use of emergency rooms, increased worker take home pay, and maintained or improved access to high quality health care.  We can have those policies for the rest of the country too.  The first step to getting those benefits to more people is repealing your plan that says we have to get special temporary permission to do the things that will make people's lives better"

Categories > Politics

Refine & Enlarge

Wisconsin Teacher Unions Schooled in Federalist 10

Julia Shaw, from the Heritage Foundation, initiates a compelling discussion of the ways in which the public worker unions in Wisconsin resemble nothing so much as the kind of faction James Madison discusses in Federalist 10.   While their members sport t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "This is What Democracy Looks Like"--as if to suggest that they are the embodiment of a free and open society--they are, in fact, a singular danger to popular government. 

Shaw suggests that James Madison would disapprove of those wearing the union t-shirts and, of course, he would.  But in point of fact, I think Madison might actually have offered to pay for some of their screen-printing costs.  That slogan is perfect.  Of course, Shaw is correct to point out the differences between Madison's understanding of popular government and that of today's public worker unions.  But pure democracy actually does look a lot like what we've seen in Wisconsin.  That's why Madison and the other authors of the Federalist were so determined that we should not have one!  Instead, we instituted a form of government that would protect the rights of the minority by garnering the consent of the people through "reflection and choice."  Ours is not a government--or, at least, it was not established to be a government--where the rule of the stronger interest always carries the day and grinding forces of power politics shape our mores.  We were designed to be better than that.  Madison points the way.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


NPR Responds Without Contrition

NPR's CEO and president Vivian Schiller has resigned. NPR expressed "deep [and] genuine regret" over the resignation and professed "great respect" for Schiller's leadership - sentiments noticeably absent when Schiller had Juan Williams fired over the phone for expressing a mildly conservative opinion. Also absent was any regret for the actual scandal prompting the resignation - not a single word regarding the racial, elitist, degrading rant of NPR executives against Jews, conservatives, Republicans and "middle-America." There is no hint of contrition or an intent to reform. Rather, NPR laments this "traumatic period for NPR and the larger public radio community." Apparently, NPR is the victim.

All of this would just be repetition on a theme for conservatives if NPR were not a federally subsidized organization. Such funding forces the government to sponsor and patronize a particular viewpoint. Unlike the funding of faith-based charities, for example, which compete against secular institutions to provide for non-political social needs (which the government would otherwise perform less efficiently), public radio is not a government obligation and is inherently susceptible to political bias. When the bias is obvious, the taint upon government is so much more offensive.

A clean break would demonstrate a principled stance of non-partisanship on the part of government, and would cause only an insignificant financial loss to NPR (as they conceded on film). NPR may then join the deep ranks of liberal media outlets with abandon, untainted by unjust tax-payer subsidies.

UPDATE: Dana Davis Rehm, NPR's senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, has now stated: "We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for."  

Categories > Journalism

Refine & Enlarge

Constitutional Balance

Another Letter from an Ohio Farmer is out and I wanted to bring it to your attention.  Perhaps you begin--after three letters--to see the motive behind the Farmer's letters; perhaps you begin to sense that the tone of the Letters might be appropriate to a thoughtful citizenry; perhaps you begin to sense the Farmer's hope that the Letters will be good enough to remind the reader of the nature and purpose of the Constitution's design; perhaps you begin to sense that in the transient circumstances and fleeting performances--and those ever-present shouting matches between the simple partisans of policy--a calmer voice moving us towards a renewal of constitutionalism and self-government might be just what is needed.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


Ash Wednesday

Today commences the 40-day Lenten season of fasting and penance preceding Easter. In a tradition dating at least to the 11th century, Christians will be marked by the ashes of last year's Palm Crosses to the exhortation: "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Tradition dictates that one give up a persistent vice. I mentioned last year that President Obama gave up capitalism. But the government could surely use a bit of fasting and abstinence this year - cutting back on pork even one day a week would be a good start!

Categories > Religion

The Civil War & Lincoln

Now for a Real Debate

Lincoln scholar and political philosopher Harry Jaffa versus scholar of things Southern Mel Bradford, at the Philadelphiia Society 32 years ago.  Seems like less than 10 years ago.  What is America?  They go to the heart of the matter.


The Promise And Limits of Consumer-Driven Health Care

I was interested in Michael Cannon's criticism of Mitch Daniels' health care policies.  Cannon levels two kinds of criticism. The first is that Daniels' Healthy Indiana Plan increases government dependency.  The second is that the effort by Daniels and other governors to get waivers from the Department of Health and Human Services undermines the effort to repeal Obamacare.  I think both criticisms are mostly off target.  I'll try to talk about the second criticism tomorrow.

First let's talk about the Healthy Indiana Plan.  Cannon fairly describes HIP as "high-deductible coverage combined with a taxpayer-funded health savings account."  Well, mostly fairly.  Most HIP clients contribute to the funding of their Health Savings Account.  The government contribution to the HSA is indexed to earnings so that people who earn at the high end of the eligible population (200 percent of the poverty level) provide most of the funding for their HSA.  

Cannon writes that " Health savings accounts are supposed to reduce dependence on government. Daniels is using HSAs to expand dependence on government."  Well Cannon is a little off there.  The purpose of Health Savings Accounts is to change how people pay for and consume health care.  Since people are paying for more of their routine health care costs out of pocket, they will be less likely to over consume and more likely to seek out cheaper and more productive providers.  Providers will then respond to these cost conscious consumers by offering lower cost options.  The combination of HSA's and catastrophic coverage might be offered by either the government or a private insurer depending on the population.  The Daniels administration offered an HSA/catastrophic coverage to state employees.  On one hand, the state employees are "dependent" on government for their health care .  On the other hand, they are more empowered as consumers than many people with private employer-provided plans that cover first dollar health expenses. 

So how well does this theory work?  Well it depends.  The HSA/catastrophic coverage plan for Indiana state employees has saved the government money, increased the take home pay of the workers and maintained their access to high quality health care.  That is a win-win-win situation and it would be a great idea to expand that system to government employees at all levels and in every state.  I'm less clear on how well consumer-driven health care will work for lower earning populations.

I spoke with Seema Verma who is a consultant with the state of Indiana.  I had one question for her.  Is HIP saving the government money versus traditional Medicaid (basically a government single-payer program for low-earners)?  The answer I got was yes but...  When you adjust for differing age and other demographic factors between the HIP population and the traditional Medicaid population (the HIP population skews older and older people consume more health care), HIP saves the government some money, but not much.  These savings persist despite HIP reimbursing health care providers at a higher rate than Medicaid for costs to the client after the client has exhausted their Health Savings Account.  HIP clients are more likely to get preventative care and less likely to visit the emergency room than before going on HIP.  The worst that can be said of HIP vs. traditional Medicaid is that HIP seems to incentivize better use of health care resources, and offers better access to care at only slightly less cost to the government than traditional Medicaid.  Verma told me that they are working on studies to examine the health outcomes of HIP clients vs. traditional Medicaid clients.  I would be interested in seeing how the health outcomes for HIP clients compare to the notoriously lousy health outcomes for traditional Medicaid clients.

Indiana's two different HSA/catastrophic coverage programs have had somewhat different outcomes. The HSA/catastrophic coverage program for state workers had been much more successful in holding down government health costs than has HIP.  I suspect that largely has to do with the differences between the two populations.  The client population of HIP is disproportionately old and sick.  No matter how smart they shop for their health care, many HIP clients are going to exhaust their Health Savings Accounts and need to have their catastrophic care paid for.  There appears to be a real, but limited, immediate benefit to putting such clients on a consumer-driven plan like HIP.  The direct benefit alone would probably be reason enough to try to move Medicaid in a more consumer-oriented direction, but there is more to think about than the savings of moving government employees and Medicaid clients toward consumer-oriented policies.  The more people are on consumer-driven plans (along with some major regulatory changes), the more medical providers will fight for this market by fighting to reduce costs.  The resulting business model innovation is our best hope for reducing the rate of medical inflation without imposing centralized rationing.  I'm not sure that we have seen the best outcomes that consumer-driven health care has to offer.  So far we have seen the kinds of benefits that come from improved decision making by fairly small populations (Indiana state government workers and the 62,000 or so on HIP.)  I don't think those groups are large enough to have produced a system-wide effect on Indiana health care providers.  If we can get a critical mass of people on consumer-driven policies, the long-term effect of liberalizing the health care market might save us even more money.  It seems worth trying. 

Categories > Politics


A Child's Wish and the US Army

This is a touching story that, I think, shows the character of our people and the people who protect us. Amazingly, one of the soldiers in this touching tale, Private First Class Kyle Frederick, said that it was "good to be able to give back" through helping make this sick child happy. A marvelous wonder that our soldiers feel that they owe us rather than the other way around. We can never give enough thanks for the good men and women of our armed forces.
Categories > Military


CNN's 'Expert on Extremism'

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center attacked Rep. King and the Homeland Security Committee's hearings on homegrown Islamic terrorism by offering that radical Islam isn't America's greatest threat. You'll never guess who is....

Well, I think it's not our biggest domestic terror threat. I think that pretty clearly comes from the radical right in this country.

Asked for an example, Potok cites the "so-called anti-government patriot movement," such as the "sovereign citizens' movement."

These are people who believe the government has no right to control them in any way, to pass laws that affect them, to require them to pay taxes, even to require things like driver's licenses and auto registrations.

Other than Wesley Snipes and a few leftist anarchists, do you know anyone (especially anyone on the right) who thinks the government can't collect taxes or pass laws? Have you ever heard of any such groups committing an act of terrorism, anywhere in the world? Now, can you recall any acts of terrorism, here or abroad, committed by an Islamic group?

It's not a point of disagreement between the left and right on this issue, it's a point of sanity. If the SPLC - which, in its desperate attempt to remain relevant recently included "pro-family" groups on their annual list of hate groups - truly believes the "sovereign citizens' movement" is a greater threat than Al Qaeda, they must be so consumed by hate or fear as to be pathologically deranged. The only other possibility is that they are utterly immune to the due shame which should accompany such a ludicrous lie.

Categories > Race


The Future of Space Exploration

Yesterday, the astronauts of the Space Shuttle Discovery were awoken by the voice of Captain Kirk, praising the works and wonders accomplished by the shuttle over its thirty years of service to our nation. Right now, Discovery is finishing up its 39th mission-- bringing a high-tech new robot to the space station that will help with both experiments and general upkeep and maintenance up there. Tomorrow, Discovery will land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and will then eventually make its way to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The American Space Shuttle program has officially ended, and we have no more scheduled plans for men to reach up for the stars or to touch the moon. We will continue our operations on the International Space Station, with our astronauts and tests hitching rides with our Russian counterparts for future missions.

President Bush ordered the retirement of the shuttles, and hoped to use NASA's minds and government funds to establish the Constellation Program in its wake. President Bush had an oft-overlooked fondness for NASA and space exploration, and through Constellation sought to reduce the costs of further exploration, to establish an extended human presence on the Moon, and to develop and test new technologies that could put us on a sustainable path for long-term space exploration. One year ago, President Obama deemed that the program was too expensive and lacked innovation, and subsequently ended the program. He has no major interest in space, only mentioning possible funding of the Orion-class shuttles for a potential mission to Mars in the future. Subsequently, after Discovery is shipped off to the Air and Space Museum, massive layoffs will be completed at NASA and the aerospace contractors working for the government. Many of the brightest engineering and scientific minds in the world will suddenly find themselves unemployed.

However, there is no great loss in this. President Obama's lack of interest in the exploration of the great frontier is unsurprising (he does not seem to be one for gazing up in the stars with great awe and wonder, wanting to know more of the secrets they hold), and his lack of leadership is disappointing. But his inaction and the strained budget of the government is paving the way for a new age of American space exploration. For the past decade, the commercial space industry has been picking up steam, including some successful launches. Led by companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, these private enterprises hold the key to our competitiveness in space. With a sudden influx of the world's premier engineers and scientists now looking for work, the minds and expertise that the private industry has been lacking are now available to help. 

More importantly, we can start to get excited about space again-- an excitement that can draw more people to study and fund aerospace projects and to become part of something great. It is worth noting that the Old World's discovery and exploration of New World, and its first settlements, were largely due to excited explorers funded by private interests, who served as patrons for exploration both for the economic benefits and the glory that comes with being a part of helping move the human race forward in understanding of some of the universe's great mysteries. For millennia we have gazed up at the stars, the Moon, and our neighboring planets with curiosity and wonder. We have sought new ways to understand and learn more of them, both for the practical benefits and the sake of understanding. As President Reagan fittingly said, it is a way to touch the face of God. America is a nation of innovators; it is for this that I do not fear the fact that China has plans to be on the Moon within a decade while we do not. We have led the way in the exploration of space, and we have the greatest minds in the world to continue this great project. With these great minds now free from the lamentable bureaucracy and managerial incompetence that has plagued NASA in recent years, our innovators and explorers and curious people will continue to seek how to go where Man has never gone before, and to once more touch the face of God.
Categories > Technology


Gentleman Bush

My mother just called to let me know George W. Bush was on Oprah. I squirmed for a moment, wondering if it was worth sacrificing my ability to say "I've never watched Oprah" in order to hear the former president. But I only caught the latter half, so I can still claim not to have seen a full episode....

I note that President Bush has always conducted himself as a gentleman. Even as President Obama futilely continues to blame Bush for his every hardship and failure, his successor refuses to respond with an unkind word.

It's noteworthy that the Bush years were not plagued by any credible personal scandals. The inability to seize WMD's was an embarrassment, while revelations of enhanced interrogation techniques and the NSA wiretapping program caused a national controversy, but none of these were scandals in the sense that Bush had acted immorally or unethically in an objective sense. Liberals may not have liked his policies, but they were undertaken with good intentions and complied with established laws and norms (where such existed). The man did not act for personal gain, abuse his position or surrender his convictions. Those virtues will forever demonize him in the eyes of his adversaries, but I expect he sleeps well at night.  

Categories > Presidency


Stinging NPR

Oh, what James O'Keefe has wrought.

Many years ago , blogs became the cutting edge of alternative news. The Drudge Report and others broke news to a conservative audience which would have otherwise been swept under the rug by the liberal MSM. Monica Lewinsky, of course, is the prime example. Power Line later exposed the fraudulent CBS documents relied upon by Dan Rather to smear George W. Bush's military service.

The use of camera phones has made citizen reporters a front line source of news. Whether posted on-line or picked up by the MSM, they provide behind the scenes images of stories beyond the lens of an MSM camera. Also, as in the case of Rep. Cleaver's claim that Tea Partiers had hurled racial vulgarities at him, cell phone videos revealed the absence of a claimed story.

Now, undercover sting operations have begun to revolutionize news. It began with ACORN, moved to Planned Parenthood and has now landed at NPR. Two actors pretending to be donors from the Muslim Brotherhood intent on spreading sharia law across America sit down for lunch with two senior NPR executives who reveal the sort of ideology pervading government-funded radio.

Just one example: "The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian - I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move.... [They aren't] just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

And there's plenty more on the media-controlling Jews Zionists, anti-intellectual conservatives, the Muslim Brotherhood in America, etc. I'm sure this wasn't the sort of hate-filled, bigoted rhetoric the left had in mind when they called for a new civility - nor which NPR had in mind when they "proudly" fired Juan Williams for "expressing his opinion."

Categories > Journalism


The Next Education Bubble

Glenn Reynolds, echoing the economist Herbert Stein notes, "something that can't go on forever, won't. Steady increases in per-pupil spending without any commensurate increase in learning can't go on forever. So they won't. And as state after state faces near-bankruptcy (or, in some cases, actual bankruptcy), we've pretty much hit that point now."

In other words, the much vaunted "Higher Ed Bubble" is going to find that it's got company.  The "Lower Ed Bubble" may look a bit different than the higher ed bubble in that resistance to increases in costs won't come from parents paying tuition (though, as a side note, I'd add that there is some of this going on in many private schools) but from taxpayers tired of getting taken for a ride. 

It should come as no surprise.  While Wisconsin teacher unions gather their forces (and drag students out of classes) for protests, reports show that teacher compensation in Milwaukee exceeds $100K. 

People are right to be angry and the situation must (and, of course, will) be corrected one way or another.  Yet even if every state in the Union gets its schools operating at maximum efficiency and value, we're still going to have an education problem.  Well intentioned (but sadly misguided) liberals are not simply wrong when they insist that fixing education is so important that we shouldn't be so mean as to worry about the costs.  Of course education is so important that worrying over costs can make you look mean-spirited or crass.  (A counter-intuitive fact, however, is that costs, when managed, tend to have a way of keeping people on task and on target.  Still . . . the point about education being important is fair enough.)

Reynolds argues that over the next three to five years we're going to have to completely re-think elementary education if we truly want to understand why it is not living up to its promises and why more funding, when given, does not seem to produce better results.  Could it not be that we're throwing good money after bad?  Could it not be that we don't know what we're doing educating this generation of kids?  Could it not be that a good chunk of the innovative "education theory" that's come down to us over the past several decades is . . . um, bunk?  What is the purpose of elementary education in this generation?  What kinds of citizens do we need to produce?  How are these ends best achieved?   What innovations and creative solutions are working? 

When those kinds of conversations start happening and schools start turning out students who can be productive on a whole new level, then perhaps teacher unions will find an audience more receptive to the notion that they deserve more . . . and more important, perhaps they will have an audience more capable of paying for it. 
Categories > Education

Pop Culture

Dehumanizing Tolerance

This sad story about an 82 year old WWII veteran who, at his advanced age, was still working as a productive and beloved employee of American Airlines, demonstrates a couple of the various facets of absurdity now dominating our "politically correct" attempts to curtail free speech and protect the tender feelings of groups who might take offense.

In a conversation at work, Freddy Schmitt expressed an opinion about homosexuals in the military (he was for it) and, in so doing, he apparently used a term that officials at American considered "intolerant."  Schmitt was fired for using a word officials at AA deemed to be an "anti-gay" slur--even though Schmitt understood himself to be defending the rights of homosexuals to serve in the military.  In this new "understanding" of the universe, actually taking the time to understand the intentions of individual speakers has gone the way of a speaker's right to express himself.  Why should anyone bother to try and understand an opinion that differs those deemed worthy of tolerance--particularly if that opinion is in-artfully delivered?  The only intentions or opinions that matter are those of the policy-makers and the lawyers who encourage them. 
Categories > Pop Culture

Men and Women

The New Gender Gap

Nature provides that male and females are born in roughly equal proportion (a slight edge going to the females, perhaps because of the inherent reproduction dangers posed to them before the advent of better technology).  But technology may have gotten the better of nature (for now) in the East.  Niall Ferguson writes about the growing gap between the number males and females, particularly in Asia.  In China, for example, because of a cultural preference for boys and a strict one child policy, 123 males are born for every 100 females.  As Ferguson puts it, there are consequences to these developments:

This means that by the time today's Chinese newborns reach adulthood, there will be a chronic shortage of potential spouses. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, one in five young men will be brideless. Within the age group 20 to 39, there will be 22 million more men than women. Imagine 10 cities the size of Houston populated exclusively by young males.

Ferguson draws upon economics and history--but most of all, on Hemingway--for examples of what might be on the horizon in an Asia without female influence.  Interesting and important to contemplate?  Yes.  Appealing or cheering?  Decidedly not. 
Categories > Men and Women


Barack W. Obama

Having won a presidential election by simply not being George W. Bush, its understandable that Obama sought to govern by the same principle. However, the realities of the job have often forced him to take the path formally trodden (i.e., warrantless domestic wire-tapping, military surges, rendition). Now, the WSJ reports:

The Obama administration on Monday lifted its freeze on new military trials at Guantanamo Bay and for the first time laid out its legal strategy to indefinitely detain prisoners who the government says can't be tried but are too dangerous to be freed.

So, Gitmo will not be shut down, those vilified trials will resume and some terrorists will be held indefinitely without trial. Watch for it - Obama is just around the corner from penning a memo allowing "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Of course, Obama's charisma was never going to prove sufficient to actually convince foreign countries to adopt our Gitmo clientele, and American states had long ago shown symptoms of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) Syndrome when asked to host trials in civilian courts. The result was indefinite detention. The solution, belatedly arrived upon, is ... the Bush doctrine!

Somewhere, two former presidents named George Bush are smiling.

Categories > Courts


Union Chutzpah

Thomas Sowell, in writing about enduring misconceptions of labor unions as vehicles to empower otherwise marginalized workers, offers this insight into the M.O. of unions that has become both true and tragic:

To unions, workers are just the raw material used to create union power, just as iron ore is the raw material used by U.S. Steel and bauxite is the raw material used by the Aluminum Company of America.
Sowell here demonstrates how so much of what unions have bargained for has not been quite what workers thought they were bargaining for.  The important thing to remember about unions, Sowell argues, is that in themselves they don't create wealth.  However productive the individual members of a union may be in their own work for a company, the union--as a separate entity--is only in the business of "siphoning off" the wealth workers and management produce for a company.  Sowell notes that the reason private sector unions have been in decline in recent decades is because workers have seen the natural economic results of the long dominance of unions in various sectors of the economy.   Unemployment resulting from the bankruptcy of a worker's industry--which, in many cases, can be correlated to the rise of the union in that industry--turns out to be just as frightful to workers as unemployment resulting from the whims of management. 

So in the private sector, workers and management have finally come to a place (or, at any rate, are closer to that place) where they understand the inseparable link between their mutual interests. 

The movement away from unions in the public sector is much less likely to come, however.  It turns out, unfortunately, that public sector unions and the politicians who manage their affairs also have an inseparable set of mutual interests. The former have an interest in negotiating fat contracts and benefits while the latter have an interest in keeping this large constituency fat and happy--whatever they may ask. 

The (now familiar) problem in this scenario is that he management is NOT the politicians who make these deals but US; the tax-paying public.  We foot the bills for the contracts these two groups of our employees negotiate while they reap the benefits.  In theory, there is no limit to what they can ask or negotiate.   Where is the competition that could arise to overtake and humble this industry?

In the meantime, well-meaning and hard working teachers, fire-fighters, police officers and any number of other public sector workers--beholden as they often are to the unions--are still (as they rightly point out) paying taxes and functioning as equal and sovereign citizens of our great nation.  The time will come for them when they will have to decide whether or not the union that claims to represent their best interests is really doing what it claims on their behalf or if it is only taking what it can--without regard to the future well-being of its members, their children or the nation we all claim to love.

UPDATE:  I meant to include a link to this fine article by Peggy Noonan in Friday's WSJ that offers some useful reflections on the tone of union rhetoric and the ways in which it may be off-putting--even to union members.  This and Sowell's piece above ought to be required reading for Republican politicians who want to come out on the right side of this debate without making the mistake of seeming to be against the "little guy."  Who is the little guy anymore, anyway?

Categories > Economy


More Pawlenty

Ramesh Ponnuru makes the case for Pawlenty about as well as it's going to be made.  Pawlenty's record of holding down spending in Minnesota is admirable and in some ways is exactly what we need.  But the challenge isn't merely to cut spending per se.  We will need to restructure Social Security and our health care market.  Unless the 2012 Republican nominee faces some very, very favorable circumstances, he or she will face some very difficult political choices.  On potential strategy will be to take on the challenge of explaining how center-right reforms of entitlements and health care are, in comparative terms, better than the policies that the Democrats will impose (even as the Democrats deny their designs and demagogue conservative proposals.)  This strategy will face enormous difficulties and require great discipline.  It will mean finding concise and attractive ways of explaining complicated issues and tough choices.  It will mean plugging along until your message breaks through to more and more of the public.  An alternative strategy will be to have some kind of reform agenda (at some level of specificity), but to try to focus the debate elsewhere.  It might mean jumping on every Obama verbal stumble or running with every theme that finds traction in the right-blogosphere.  This will seem attractive at first.  The fights will seem simpler and public opinion will seem friendlier.  That was the kind of campaign McCain ran, but it won't be a winner unless things seem to be getting worse rather than getting better far too slowly.  While the Republican is focusing on secondary or tertiary issues, Obama will be hitting on how Social Security reform means cutting Social Security, that Medicare reform means dumping old people onto the insurance companies and that Republican health care reform means losing your employer-provided coverage. Democrats meanwhile will do everything to assure the public that they can keep everything they have with only a few "minor tweaks."  At the end of the day, those kinds of attacks will prevail if they are not refuted and the public does not have a clear understanding of the comparative benefits of right-leaning reform.  Does Pawlenty have what it takes to run this kind of campaign?  I hope so, but his last two CPAC speeches reminded me more of the kind of cynical and shallow appeals that characterized the McCain campaign.  
Categories > Politics

Literature, Poetry, and Books

The Art of Drowning

Back to Billy Collins.  A friend kindly sent me another volume of his poems, The Art of Drowning.  Just about ruined what was supposed to be a productive day, what with the students being away thought I could get more work done.  But then work is just work, and reading being a pleasure it seems I get nothing done, as the pleasure saves my soul.  This volume contains "The Blues," "Nightclub," and "Some Final Words," none of which are gettable online.  Maybe later I will cheat, and copy them for you.  For now, you can listen to (and see animation go with) both Budapest and Forgetfulness.

The Family

Get Government Out of the Love Business

On C-SPAN this morning Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage gives a strong and sober defense of traditional marriage against the gay marriage proponents in Maryland and one sitting across from her.  Proponents of same-sex marriage assume that their unions would have all the blessings successful heterosexual marrages have.
Categories > The Family

Men and Women

Cynicism, Vain Hopes, and Realistic Optimism about Pre-marital Sex

Ross Douthat, in yesterday's New York Times, writes an insightful column examining the character of various attitudes regarding pre-marital teen sex.  He rightly notes that social conservatives--on this and on other issues--are often taken for cynics resigned to be forever condemning the downward spiral of a sickly culture.  But, in the face of good news regarding a trend among young people to delay sexual experience, Douthat wonders whether the true cynics are not those who advocate a more "realistic" and gritty understanding of teen sexuality; the type who exhibit concern, only, for the "safety" of the sex and forget that no one yet has invented a condom that can do the job of protecting the soul.

Douthat takes to task the straw man argument springing from the left (an argument, I'm sorry to say, that some social conservatives are only too happy to prop up in direct reach of the left's flame throwers) that holds conservatives to be unrealistic and silly because monogamy as an ideal ignores the impulse and drive of human sexuality by suggesting that a world where every person waits until marriage to have sex is an achievable goal.  Instead of accepting the smirking head-pat that the left wants to offer social conservatives on this score, Douthat rightly turns their argument on its head.  In other words, only a naive and unsophisticated sort of person incapable of understanding subtlety and accepting the occasional and tragic moral imperfection would imagine that conservatives actually believe a "wait till marriage" ethic would translate into 100% (or even 60%) of brides having the strictly technical legitimate grounds for wearing white on their wedding day. 

Pre-marital sex would still exist . . . but its character (however sinful according to religious standards) would still be a lot better when considered by societal standards.  Douthat (quite rightly) makes a distinction between sex that is "casual and promiscuous, or just premature and ill considered" and sex that is more accurately described as "pre-marital" because there is likely to be some additional sex that is post-marital.  The second kind--though not without its own set of difficulties and heartaches--is, obviously, a world apart from the first.  This is particularly true when it is taken as a societal phenomenon rather than as a personal one. 

The ability to see this distinction and to recognize the desirability and possibility of restoring this ethic is what sets social conservatives apart from their counterparts on the left as the true but realistic optimists in this debate.  Their concern for the whole person and the whole society--even as they understand the pitfalls and the probability of some failure--do not keep them from insisting upon the standard.  The left instead notes the difficulty of the standard and then brings it down . . . to safety. 

When one notes, as Douthat does, the real difference between male and female emotional well-being in this current state of affairs, it always amazes me that feminists have chosen to cozy up to the left in this debate.  Such women appear very clearly to be the sell-outs and the dupes of a cynical philosophy designed for wicked men who would use and discard them as suits their impulses.  Where is the female empowerment in that? 
Categories > Men and Women

Shameless Self-Promotion

Debating the "Clean Energy" Scam

If there are any NLT readers in the New York City area with free time and an extra $40 eating a hole in their pocket, I'll be participating in the next Intelligence Squared debate on the subject of "clean energy" tomorrow night at the Skirball Center in New York.  Not to worry if you can't make it: the even will be taped and broadcast on Bloomberg TV in a few weeks.

I offer a couple of recent news stories on this crazy subject in a recent Power Line blog post.

The Family

And Now For Something Completely Different...

The world's largest family. Britian's Daily Mail reports on 1 man, 39 wives, 94 kids and 33 grandkids all stuffed into a 100 room "mansion" in India and living according to a strict, cultish order.

Do I smell a reality TV show...?

Categories > The Family