Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Foreign Affairs

Can Palestine Take Down the UN?

In their continued bid to walk around peace talks and claim statehood by recognition in the United Nations, Palestine today won a victory by being accepted into UNESCO as a full member, 107 nations voting in favor and 14 voting against, with 52 abstaining. The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization receives 22% of its annual budget from the United States and 3% of its annual budget from Israel. Federal law made in 1990 and 1994 mandates that the United States stop financing any part of the United Nations that accepts Palestinians as full members, and the Department of State has confirmed that there is no leeway in the legislation, no matter how much President Obama likes UNESCO--it is going to lose one quarter of its funding, starting now, and will subsequently have to begin laying off staff and shutting down offices around the world unless other nations move to help cover the expenses.

The vote also revealed more fully to us which countries are siding where. Voting alongside the United States and Israel at UNESCO were nations like Germany, Canada, Australia, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Opposing us were France and Belgium, and then the expected votes of China, Russia, India, Brazil, and the vast majority of Africa and the Middle East. Most of Western civilization abstained from voting, including Britain, Japan, Italy, and Poland; while Latvia and Romania abstained, they initially voted against Palestine in executive committee.

Bolstered by this move, Palestine will continue to go around to various United Nations organizations and seek full membership. This action by the Palestinians comes at a time when Americans are even more skeptical of the United Nations and foreign entanglements than usual, and when our politicians are looking for any way to trim things out of the budget--with unpopular foreign aid (however small a part of our budget it may actually be) being a popular thing to add to the chopping block. As the primary source of funding for the United Nations, the United States could potentially start gutting the international organization if Palestine continues to be successful in this bid for statehood. It will be interesting to see how President Obama will straddle the line between his love for the United Nations and the combination of federal law, American support for Israel, and security in the Middle East forcing him to defund various parts of the United Nations. While I have a feeling he's just itching to sign waivers exempting the United Nations from the law, the political reality of already being an unpopular president going into a reelection year will probably compel him not to come across as joining nations like Russia and Iran in supporting Palestine over Israel.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Philosophy

I Am Number . . .

4,196,949,605 of 7 billion people on earth.

I am the 78,636,613,080th person to have lived since history began.  

The historic milestone cannot but bring to mind the global hysteria of the "population bomb," a liberal fallacy which led to the international community's willful complicity in global programs of sterilization, abortion and human-rights abuses. The UN Population Fund is a remnant of this shameful history and exists now as little more than an international lobby for the abortion industry which identifies the Catholic Church as a greater enemy to "reproductive rights" than China.

Of course, the lie of overpopulation was always a mere means to the end of liberal globalization: the liberal control of international organizations capable of stealing sovereignty from the nations (and thus people) of the world. Liberal globalization would achieve by stealth and trickery what the greatest imperialists and conquerors in history had failed to achieve by force. Their weapon was fear and their delivery mechanism was "undisputed science" which captured the world's population in a stupor of ignorance.

Of course, rational minds prevailed. The Catholic Church was foremost in the resistance to these immoral policies and authoritarian tactics. Conservatives likewise opposed the radicalism of population control. They were vindicated as being on the side of science and rationalism.

Of course, the media largely failed to notice any of this. Partially, they didn't wish to expose their own complicity. But more importantly, they were already chanting the next cadence of liberal globalization. Global cooling was next, followed by global warming and now climate change. The entire environmental movement, with its need to regulate all life on the planet at the international level, serves this goal. Internationalism - be it law, politics, diplomacy or economics - has long been dominated by the left. They have recognized since the "population bomb" days that the last battlefield is global in breadth and that internationalism is the strategic high ground.

Their climate and environmental alarms will likely herald nothing more frieghtening than the overpopulation scare - and the damage inflicted on the world will be relative to the successes of such policies. Right-minded people have and will continue to oppose their secret war of oppression, but today is, more than anything, a reminder of the radical left's grand strategy.

Political Philosophy

Noonan on Ryan on Obama

Peggy Noonan has been listening to Paul Ryan. And Paul Ryan has been talking about Barack Obama. Noonan (re)confirms that she likes what she hears from Ryan in this weekend's WSJ.

This week [Ryan] spoke on "The American Idea" at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. He scored the president as too small for the moment, as "petty" in his arguments and avoidant of the decisions entailed in leadership. At times like this, he said, "the temptation to exploit fear and envy returns." Politicians divide in order to "evade responsibility for their failures" and to advance their interests.

The president, he said, has made a shift in his appeal to the electorate. "Instead of appealing to the hope and optimism that were hallmarks of his first campaign, he has launched his second campaign by preying on the emotions of fear, envy and resentment."

But Ryan also had harsh criticism of conservative sacred cows.

. . . Republicans, in their desire to defend free economic activity, shouldn't be snookered by unthinking fealty to big business. They should never defend--they should actively oppose--the kind of economic activity that has contributed so heavily to the crisis. Here Mr. Ryan slammed "corporate welfare and crony capitalism."

Ryan articulates an interesting blend of liberal anti-wealth and conservative anti-spending sentiments by addressing government spending as benefiting the rich (rather than, as liberals would have it, the poor). Ryan casts Democrats - historically the party of big government - as the party of big government and big business. 

Rather than raise taxes on individuals, we should "lower the amount of government spending the wealthy now receive." The "true sources of inequity in this country," he continued, are "corporate welfare that enriches the powerful, and empty promises that betray the powerless." The real class warfare that threatens us is "a class of bureaucrats and connected crony capitalists trying to rise above the rest of us, call the shots, rig the rules, and preserve their place atop society."

Noonan observes that the American zeitgeist exhibits fear of division and posits that we may be  "living through the moment we'll look back on as the beginning of the Great Coming Apart." Yet where Obama has abandoned the hope of his former campaign and flung himself into the widening rift of social division, Ryan is an island of calm rationalism.

If more Republicans thought--and spoke--like this, the party would flourish. People would be less fearful for the future. And Mr. Obama wouldn't be seeing his numbers go up.


The Message of the Cain Smoking Ad

This is what Herman Cain's ad was really getting at. Yes, virility, independence, a contempt for conventions--and more than that.   Accept no other explanations!
Categories > Politics

Literature, Poetry, and Books

What Fools These Mortals Be

In his latest motion picture, Anonymous, apocalyptic film director Roland Emmerich brings to the big screen a conspiracy theory so lunatic that it is widely dismissed by the vast majority of scholars and historians in the world. His tale of William Shakespeare being a sham, the great bard's works written by some nobleman instead, should be treated with just the same incredulity as some of Emmerich's other blockbusters, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and 10,000 B.C.

While the authorship of Shakespeare's plays was never questioned during his lifetime or in the centuries following, a small number of individuals have begun to question that he actually wrote his great works within the last hundred years. They insist that the son of an illiterate glove-maker from some bumpkin village is incapable of showing us the ambition of Julius Caesar, the love of Romeo and Juliet, the intrigue of Macbeth, and the tragedy of King Lear. How could someone from such a humble beginning know royalty well enough to bring to us Hamlet or Antony and Cleopatra?

Though the conspiracy theorists insist that someone like Shakespeare could not have written the plays, the answer as to who did is still up in the air, splitting the Shakespeare-deniers into various camps. The dozens of potential alternatives include Francis Bacon, Miguel de Cervantes, Walter Raleigh, Jesuit priests, King James I, Queen Elizabeth I, and Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford whose candidacy Anonymous supports. The reason that there are so many potential alternatives is because there is no actual evidence that Shakespeare did not write the plays himself, thus making it difficult to declare outright that someone else must have.

The Oxfordian theory is based on a 1920 publication by J.T. Looney, "Shakespeare' Identified," which tells an unproven tale of how the Earl of Oxford was not only Queen Elizabeth's son, but her lover as well. In this fantastical explanation of events, the Earl of Oxford had to give up credit for his plays and poems because a nobleman could not degrade himself to join the lowest possible level in society--that of actor and playwright.

Why indulge in this delusion when there is no evidence to support it? Is it really that much easier for people to believe in such a conspiracy than to accept the genius of a common man? Is it so hard to believe that human beings, regardless of circumstances, are able to rise up from nothing to greatness? Are not men able to understand things without necessarily having experienced them firsthand? There is something rotten about beating up on a man's legacy centuries after he has been taken by that fell sergeant, death, no longer capable of defending himself against such slanderous conspiracy. His words and genius will live on, but we owe the Bard respect for what he was able to accomplish. Let us be honest about the legacy of he who wrote these masterpieces.

Anonymous will surely be an entertaining and well-written film, with tremendous visual effects, intricate costumes, and decent acting. It may even have the great benefit of pushing people to revisit the works of Shakespeare, and get close once more to tragic Othello or knavish Puck. However, people should watch the movie with the same kind of incredulity as when they watched Emmerich's The Patriot--a film that tried to capture much of the detail and narrative of the time period, and laid forth some of the feelings and ideas of the American Revolution, but which was nonetheless a made-up story based in unserious history.

William Shakespeare was a genius, and held a greater command of our English language than anyone before and after him. He understood the human mind, heart, and soul, and knew not only how to make people laugh and cry, but how to get them to consider great and noble things. A Hollywood blockbuster will not be able to discredit this genius; it cannot take away what he gave us. But, in today's conspiracy-loving society, it can plant a poisonous seed of disbelief in certain minds. We must do what we can to protect the memory of Shakespeare and his legacy. Allow people to admire the fact that he, a simple peasant from an illiterate family, was able to rise to such genius and beauty. To rob people of the idea of such possibility does a disservice both to Shakespeare and humanity in general. Taking that away would be the most unkindest cut of all.

The Founding

A Momentous Day, Yesterday

Yes, that would be October 27--and it's not just about the Cardinals' comeback in game six of the World Series.  It is also the 224th anniversary of the first Federalist Paper (1787), and the 47th (1964) of Ronald Reagan's "Time for Choosing."  David Azerrad notes the coincidence and the real connection between these two statements of the choices Americans have had to make over the years to obtain and sustain their liberty.  The question that confronted the founding generation (is mankind "really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice"), also faced Reagan and us today too.  But an additional problem arose for Reagan.  He sought a counterrevolution against the Progressive faith in the rule of experts and the rise of the administrative state.  To restore the Founders' vision of republican self-government, Progressivism must be rejected.
Categories > The Founding


Rights for Some, Not for All

My law alma mater, The Catholic University of America is being sued again by John Banzhaf, the George Washington Law professor who recently sued CUA because it has single-sex dorms. This time, he is claiming that the proximity of the university to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the presence of crucifixes in classrooms is illegal because it does not accommodate Muslim religious practices. Both complaints, filed with the U.S. Office of Human Rights, claim CUA is responsible for human rights abuses.

Of course, not a single Muslim has complained. Banzhaf, who has become a star of the left through promiscuous law suits pushing a liberal social agenda, has polluted the federal docket with suit against smoking, tobacco, fast food, religion, etc. He's the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. And he does it for himself, not because anyone asks him to.

Here's a question to test Banzhaf's authenticity: Would he sue a private Islamic university for not providing Catholics with a Christian chapel or Muslim-free zone in which to pray? Yeah, I don't think so either. It requires a particular breed of hatred and bigotry to spawn such ridiculous hypocrisy and outright discrimination from otherwise sane and intelligent individuals.

I pass over the actual legal frivolity of the suit without comment, as I trust the judgment of RoNLT sufficiently that I would not impugn your common sense with an explanation. As a personal note, however, when I entered CUA Law, incoming classes were divided into 30-person sections which stayed together through the first year. Just from memory, I recall that my section included at least a dozen Catholics, half a dozen Protestants, two Jews, one Muslim, several non-religious types and one precocious atheist. Not a bad record of religious diversity from an unapologetically Catholic school, and none of those students were so petty or arrogant as to assume the school would stop being Catholic simply because non-Catholics roamed the halls.   

Categories > Religion


Further Thoughts on Inequality

I've been following the income inequality issue lately, and have learned a few more interesting tidbits:

Megan McArdle of The Atlantic further buttresses my earlier point about inequality rising and falling with the overall health of the economy.  That is to say, in terms of income the wealthy benefit disproportionately during times of prosperity, but their income also shrinks disproportionately during recessions.  Also note that unlike the studies I cited in my last post, McArdle looks back farther than the 1950s.  In fact, even according to these statistics income inequality is not too far out of line with the averages for the past century.

But then, what determines whether someone is in the top quintile of income earners, the bottom quintile, or somewhere in between?  Mark Perry of the University of Michigan has looked into the characteristics of households at each level, and has identified the most important variables.  Those at the top tend to share certain attributes--they have more than one income earner (that is, they are married), those earners are in their prime earning years (between 35 and 64), and they have college degrees.

All of this points to an argument made by Shikha Dalmia--that what is overlooked in the search for alleged bad news in income inequality is the fact that there is still tremendous social mobility in this country.  Indeed, there is perhaps more today than at any time in U.S. history.  Today's wealthiest Americans are almost certainly not the same as those at the top twenty years ago; many likely were at the bottom quintile at that time.

But there's another story that the statistics on inequality fail to reveal: the fact that ordinary people are living far more comfortably than they did in the 1960s.  When I was a child, growing up in a solidly middle-class family in the 1970s, a vacation meant a two-hour drive to a lake somewhere--having flown on a commercial jet was an indicator of great affluence.  So was ownership of a microwave oven, a portable telephone, or a computer.  For all the hype we hear today about the sufferings of the middle class, how many members of that class do not own these things today?  Are they not regarded as necessities of life?

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

The Complicated Euro Crisis

This is probably the best headline on the collapsing Eurozone that I've yet to see, courtesy of the United Kingdom's The Telegraph: Euro armageddon is approaching, but it's too boring and complicated to explain.

Previously, it was relatively easy to explain: Greece is bankrupt and we don't know what to do about it. But then we bailed Greece out and it's still not over. Now it's something along the lines of: Greece is bankrupt, but then French and German banks own Greek debt, so they might be bankrupt too. Then Italy has lots of its own debt, which Germany would like it to pay off, just in case that markets start worrying that Italy is bankrupt too.

And that's before we even get into the the proposed solution (mostly it seems to be that Germany should throw money at everything, which the Germans understandably aren't too keen on). How big does the bailout fund need to be? Who pays for it? Who do we (well, the Germans) bail out: the Greeks, or the banks? Should the European Central Bank be allowed to buy government bonds? No one is sure of any of this. Not even the people whose job it is to understand it.

As Europe descends further into chaos, it appears more and more likely that the 27 sovereign states that make up the European Union are not going to be able to reach an adequate agreement to save the Eurozone from collapse (though the Greeks may have a plan!). German Chancellor Merkel, French President Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Cameron, and especially Italian Premier Berlusconi are increasingly unable to work with each other, and the German Chancellor went so far as to raise the specter of war in Europe should the Euro collapse (the warning was soon followed by the passage of a $1 trillion spending deal). It's all quite a mess.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Health Care

Democrat Class: "No Viable Path Forward"

Milton Wolf writes:

Class, for lack of a better comparison, is like bladder control: You either have it or you don't. When it comes to forcing Obamacare upon America with dishonest gimmicks, the Democrats have no class.

Of course, Dr. Wolf - who happens to have the distinction of being President Obama's cousin [At last, a legal relative!] - is speaking with a double tongue, implicating the Democrat's CLASS Act, "a major entitlement program tucked quietly within the 2,700 pages of Obamacare." This portion of Obamacare has been found "totally unsustainable" (in the words of HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius).

Doubtless, the media finds this surprising. Or unexpected. Or somehow the fault of partisan opponents to Obamacare. Nevertheless, Obamacare is beginning to crumble.

Wolf predicts that "Obamacare will not survive."

Even if this ill-conceived law does somehow miraculously withstand the potent legal and political challenges, it cannot survive the unforgiving laws of economics. So when the president forces an unconstitutional law on the nation against the clear will of the majority of Americans and it is proving itself to be wholly unsustainable, there's really only one conclusion you can reach about Obamacare: "No viable path forward."

Categories > Health Care

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Three Cheers for Colonialism

H.W. Crocker III is the author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire." Brett Decker reviews in today's WaPo:

The zeal of Anglophiles tends to be overdone - like food in Old Blighty - because it needs to compensate for an anti-historical political correctness that has infected academia, twisting an objectively positive institution - the British Empire - into something bad. Harry Crocker's new book ... sets the record straight about the small island that governed a quarter of the planet and had a civilizing influence on the rest of it.

Decker's review hints at the gems within Crocker's book - which is surely worth a read. But the two gentlemen also seem to grasp the fortunate legacy of the British Empire:

Late in life, Winston Churchill sighed, "I have worked very hard all my life, and I have achieved a great deal - in the end to achieve nothing." The former prime minister was lamenting the demise of the empire he hoped would continue to be the guarantor of peace and a force for good in the world. Yet, as Mr. Crocker puts it, "When Britain could no longer maintain the Pax Britannica, it became the Pax Americana." Despite the sun having mostly set on the British Empire, the old limeys' high-minded values of limited government and individual rights endure through its former colony, America, which took up the important burden as Western Civilization's chief proselytizer. Chin-chin to that.


On Grading Congress

Public approval for Congress dips into the single digits.  I'm not surprised for the reason often given--people (especially in gerrymandered districts) like their own crook--and distrust all the others.  Hence, a better measure of how people will vote would be reflected in, e.g., whether they think Obamacare should be repealed. 

But I also raise the question whether the members of Congress would give any higher rating of their own institution. Somehow I doubt it.  The separation of powers and the bicameral Congress create such frustrations.  But there is only one President.

Categories > Congress

Foreign Affairs

Libyan Intervention Still Illegal

As President Obama continues to gloat over "success" in Libya and the countries of Europe pat themselves on the back for the demise of the Gaddafi regime, Americans in general and Congress in particular ought not to forget the fact that the President of the United States engaged in the killing of foreign citizens and a forced regime change without any type of authorization or legal justification for the attack. The "success" of the mission (as for it really being a success or not... we'll see) does not justify it; ends do not justify means. Just because Congress has, in a fit of absentmanliness, neglected its sworn duties to uphold the Constitution in this matter does not mean that the President acted legally.

The President has yet to give a legal justification for the intervention. With no Congressional declaration of war or authorization of the use of force, all we have to go on is existing precedents. The two that spring to mind immediately are the War Powers Resolution, which President Obama openly defied by declaring the blowing up of foreign nationals did not count as "hostilities", and the Authorization of the Use of Military Force following 9/11, which also did not apply as Libya posed no threat to the United States and was not involved with the terrorist attacks on our nation ten years ago. Even the use of an Executive Order to authorize this military action is an illegitimate response, as the 1952 Supreme Court case Youngstown Sheet & Tub Co. v. Sawyer clearly sets forth that executive orders are invalid if they attempt to make law (and, constitutionally, going to war is done through law passed by Congress), rather than simply clarifying or acting to further a law already put forth by Congress or the Constitution.

The argument for the United Nations Resolution granting him this authority is equally specious for several reasons, the most blatant being that our military does not serve at the direction of an international organization, especially one in which nations like Russia and China maintain equal authority with us. The United Nations charter does not grant the organization the power to force regime change outside of in the interests of collective security--Gaddafi posed no threat to the collective security of U.N. members. What supporters of the Administration have leaned on most is the Responsibility to Protect doctrine endorsed by the General Assembly a few years ago. This was merely endorsed by a vote of the United Nations though, and never ratified as a treaty--meaning that it is neither international law nor Senate-sanctioned U.S. law, and therefore cannot serve as a legal justification for our intervention in Libya. Obligations to NATO are also irrelevant as an argument as NATO is a defensive alliance.

I am happy that Moammar Gaddafi is gone. He was a vile man responsible for brutalizing his citizens and for committing acts of terrorism against the United States and other countries. I hope that the Libyan people are able to embrace democratic reform and a respect for human rights. None of this, though, excuses our President from the law. As difficult as it is for us to deal with long, messy things like legality and the Constitution while atrocities are being committed elsewhere, they must be dealt with. The War Powers Resolution, though no where near perfect and certainly in need of a replacement solution, granted the President some leeway to respond to something immediately--sixty days with which to gain the consent of his coequal branch in government, Congress. The legislature, for its part, just rolled over, and the courts have thrown out lawsuits from those few members of Congress who refused to cave to the Executive Branch on this serious breach of power. It is during times of pain and chaos when we are most likely to disregard the law--which is why it is even more important that we, as Americans, fight even harder during these times to show the world that even in the face of deadly adversity, the rule of law can continue to preside over man. Remembering this is essential to our experiment in self-government.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Something fishy in San Diego . . .

The latest Progressive nonsense:

In an unprecedented lawsuit, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is accusing the SeaWorld marine parks of keeping five of its star-performer killer whales in conditions that violate the 13th Amendment ban on slavery.

PETA says the suit, to be filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, is the first federal court case seeking constitutional rights for members of an animal species.

Categories > Progressivism


Perry's Got The Babe's Promise

Babe Ruth Called Shot.jpgBut is there any chance he can deliver?

Perry just hit the WSJ op-ed page with an all-things-to-all-conservatives economic plan. "Cut, Balance and Grow," promises "to scrap the current tax code, lower and simplify tax rates, cut spending and balance the federal budget, reform entitlements, and grow jobs and economic opportunity."

Well that should be easy enough.

Perry is pointing high into center field (or, in this particular simile, right field). Here are a few details:


  • Individuals: Optional 20% flat tax rate or keep current tax rate (with $12,500 standard deduction). No death tax. No tax on Social Security benefits. No dividend or capital gains tax.
  • Corporations: 20% tax rate (down from 35%). 5.25% tax rate for repatriation. "Territorial tax system" which only taxes in-country income.


  • Balance the budget by 2020. Pass Balanced Budget Amendment. Cap federal spending at 18% of GDP. Freezes federal civilian hiring and salaries. Repeal ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank and Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley. Allowing personal retirement accounts.

Perry is, of course, vying for the right-pole position, with it's spectacular view of the Tea Party Express. He needs energy and is diving to the right (although all of his suggestions are entirely sensible - and perhaps entirely necessary). Whether they are at all plausible absent a miracle in the Senate is another matter altogether - and a question Perry should be asked by the press. In the inevitable failure to pass so ambitious a package, where would he focus? 

For the actual liberal media response, read the NY Times' Q&A with Perry. It reveals the liberal obsession with "tax cuts for the rich," or "income inequality." Watch for the media to make their class-warfare obsession the principal talking point against the GOP candidate.

Categories > Economy


Saint Crispin's Day

October 25th is named for twins who were martyred in the year 286, the Christian saints Crispin and Crispinian. The day bore witness to three of the most famous battles in history. The first is one made famous by Shakespeare, the Battle of Agincourt--the victorious English archers of Henry V against the French forces of Charles VI. The second is the 1854 Crimean War's Battle of Balaclava, where British Lord Cardigan led the famous and ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade against the Russians. The final is the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific theatre of World War II, the largest single naval battle in human history, which saw the United States essentially wipe out what remained of the offensive capabilities of the Imperial Japanese Navy. This is a day of warriors, and, as always, the Bard provides the best words for it:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

I had an opportunity to sit and chat for a while with a WWII veteran last week. The old warrior had good humor and a refreshing love for life in his gray years. He told me members of his family had fought in every conflict we have been involved in since the French and Indian War ("including both sides of the Civil War!"). Here's to him and the other brave brothers-in-arms who have risked it all for their countries. 
Categories > History


High Tea Party Scholars

Hadley Arkes and the Claremont Institute open a center for natural law--dedicated to teaching lawyers and judges that the best of them have been speaking natural law prose all their lives.
Categories > Courts

Foreign Affairs

Repelling Europe's Advances

Last night, the House came together in a rare moment of bi-partisanship and patriotic unity by firmly and unequivocally telling the European Union what they can do with the new environmental laws they've decided to pass on the United States. Apparently, the EU forgot that they don't actually have the authority to regulate non-EU countries which have decided to retain their full sovereignty.

The EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS) has said that, starting next year, it will charge U.S. aircraft for carbon emissions whenever they land or take off in Europe.

The House responded decisively.

The lower chamber approved H.R. 2594 by unanimous consent after a brief debate in which most Republicans and Democrats said they reject the ETS as an extra-territorial plan to fine American aircraft that was imposed without any input from the U.S.

Of course, a few Democrats [surprise: Massachusetts and California Democrats] couldn't help but oppose U.S. sovereignty and economic interests in support of hysterical environmentalism and ever-expanding internationalism. But that's to be expected from the far left. The EU "tax grab" is estimated to cost 78,500 American jobs if implemented - a small price for the accomplishment of foisting EU-style climate-change legislation on the U.S. 

Then again, many in the bi-partisan majority were likely scrambling to save 78,000 jobs rather than standing on principle in their vote. Multi-national regulations aren't a simple matter to unravel - they depend on government-ratified treaties and indecipherable bilateral agreements. But the EU seems to have neglected that multi-national regulations require multiple nations. Eurocrats have become a bit drunk on their heady draught of super-national supremacy in the EU. One hopes the U.S. continues to have the fortitude to check their untoward advanced.

If this is a case of European over-reach, as I expect, the U.S. should fight fire with fire. If the Europeans turn out to be within their authority, leadership will be required to revisit the license granted to foreign nations in our treaty agreements.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Pop Culture

Mr. Smith and The Ides of March

George Clooney's latest film depicts for us the cold, cruel, and calculating side of campaign politics. In it, Ryan Gosling is an idealistic young man working for an idealized presidential candidate, and the young idealist gets buried in a scandal that makes him forevermore see the world through jaded eyes, indulging in the cynicism that plagues so many in the public sphere. The title of the film draws the mind towards the tale of Julius Caesar. He, too, was a great politician capable of doing great things for his people. Yet Caesar was also corrupt, and the corruption of this great man led an idealistic young man who loved him to betray him--Brutus. The tale of Caesar is one of a republic's dying breaths, drowned for decades in a sea of decadence, corruption, and cynicism.

Compare, then, The Ides of March with Frank Capra's timeless classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the film, Jimmy Stewart plays an idealistic young man who is thrust into the midst of a scandal in the United States Senate, and overcome with grief upon learning that his idealized senior colleague, whom he saw as a mentor and friend, was actually a corrupt pawn. Mr. Smith presents to us a Senate filled with greed, deception, and vanity, with one man standing alone against a seemingly insurmountable political machine.

While both Clooney's and Capra's films depict a political system rife with corruption, there is a hugely important difference between the two. Clooney's dark and pessimistic tale brings no closure to it, and no hope; one leaves the theater with a bitter sense of disappointment and cynical contempt for our political process. It is a tragedy where everyone loses, much like the tale of Julius Caesar that the title alludes to.

Mr. Smith, though, has a far different, more lasting, and more important tone. It depicts one decent and determined common man, surrounded by petty bunch of political thugs, who nonetheless makes a difference. This is not to say that its title character, Jefferson Smith, is alone in his feelings--the people support him, and there are even members of the Senate who likely support him as well, but are yet complicit with the villains through their silence. Smith still wins in the end, though.

Perhaps this is too idealistic. Perhaps the cynical transformation of Gosling's Stephen Myers is closer to the real thing than the determined support for lost causes exhibited by Stewart's Smith. If that is the case, though, then the fault is not with our system of government, but with us. We are the government.

Many Americans over the past few years seem to see our country through the same jaded vision of The Ides of March, and are tired of it. Perhaps, then, now is the perfect time to revisit the 1939 classic, which came out just in time for Nazis, Soviets, and Fascists to all ban it for its dangerous idea. When Hitler banned American movies in France, one Parisian theater played Mr. Smith nonstop for the month leading up to the ban. Tyrants are threatened by the idea that individuals have power; mortified by the possibility that one single person has the power to change the world. The reason they fear this is because it is true: good men, armed by the truth and common decency, can do more to change the world than all the armies and propaganda of tyranny and corruption in the world combined. It just takes hard determination in face of the harshest adversity.

Though our nation appears full of the broken hope in politics given to us in The Ides of March, we still have the ability to ensure that we remain a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is within our grasp if only we have a rebirth of understanding our good old American principles, a support for our constitutional institutions, and a renewed emphasis on the importance of the individual. Then, if we are lucky, perhaps we can also find a Mr. Smith or two to send to Washington in order to remind them of these things too. "Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here; you just have to see them again!"

Categories > Pop Culture


Castles to Cages

Prague is a beautiful city in which I spend a bit of time. Particularly since the 14th century reign of Charles IV, Prague claims inclusion among the most beautiful cities in the world. However, the distorted communist regime which seized control in the 20th century polluted the city with "communist architecture." Czechs refer to the identical rows of square, multi-story communist-era apartment buildings as "rabbit cages."

Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros take up the theme of architectural design in their Guernica / On the Commons article, "The Architect Has No Clothes." The authors explain "architectural myopia" as the condition which produces "contemporary eyesores."

Laboratory results show conclusively that architects literally see the world differently from non-architects. Not only do architects notice and look for different aspects of the environment than other people; their brains seem to synthesize an understanding of the world that has notable differences from natural reality. Instead of a contextual world of harmonious geometric relationships and connectedness, architects tend to see a world of objects set apart from their contexts, with distinctive, attention-getting qualities.

There are many such confirming studies. For example, Gifford et al. (2002) surveyed other research and noted that "architects did not merely disagree with laypersons about the aesthetic qualities of buildings, they were unable to predict how laypersons would assess buildings, even when they were explicitly asked to do so."

Unsurprisingly, the authors heavily blame this myopia on the lengthy education of architects.

Up to about 1900, architects were understood to be practicing an adaptive craft, in which a building was an inseparable part of a dynamic streetscape and a neighborhood.

With the coming of the industrial revolution, and its emphasis on interchangeable parts, the traditional conception of architecture that was adaptive to context began to change. A building became an interchangeable industrial design product, conveying an image, and it mattered a great deal how attention-getting that image was.

It is telling that "the early modernists saw their work as a revolution." A "Novelty Spectacle" approach is now the "dominant model for architecture." And as with all crafts founded upon a skewered, modernist view of human nature, modern architecture fails to satisfy human needs on mental, emotional, spiritual and biological levels.

I previously noted, in an article titled "Beauty and the Bibles of Stone," an address by Pope Benedict XVI on the purpose and effect of beauty in religious architecture - specifically, the medieval cathedrals. Comparing these architectural masterpieces and they effect they have on the human soul, one cannot but grieve for the impoverishment of the modern craft.

Categories > Environment



On October 23 in the year 42 B.C., the forces of Triumvirs Mark Antony and Gaius Octavian Caesar were locked in battle against the soldiers of Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, fighting on a great plain located to the west of the ancient city of Philippi in Greece. Twenty days early, at the First Battle of Philippi, Antony's forces had crushed those of Cassius and the assassin committed suicide. While this would have put the Republicans at a disadvantage, that same day they had been able to intercept and destroy a fleet of reinforcements coming for the Triumvirs, leaving Antony and Octavian in a precarious position. However, Brutus was no brilliant strategist--Cassius was the cunning one. The battle came to full force on the 23rd, and Brutus was outflanked by Antony. Trapped, the camp of Caesar's assassin was stormed by Octavian's forces and captured. After retreating to some nearby hills, Brutus saw that it was impossible for him to escape capture and subsequently ended his life, refusing to return to Rome in chains.

The Battle of Philippi was the last stand of the Roman Republic. The deaths of Cassius and Brutus, joined along with other aristocrats like Marcus Porcius Cato and the great orator Hortensius, left the Republican movement with little leadership. Though Sextus Pompeius, son of Caesar's rival Pompey the Great, still lived, his opposition would be but a thorn in the side of the Triumvirs, and lacked the type of principled opposition given by Brutus and Cassius. With the forces of the Republic exterminated, and high-minded Brutus dead, the Triumvirs would go on to split up their new empire before turning on each other, paving the way for Octavian to become the first emperor, Augustus.

Marcus Brutus was the descendant Lucius Junius Brutus, a nobleman who led a rebellion against the Tarquin Kings, overthrowing the monarchy and establishing the Republic. As the heirs to the founder of the republic, the men who held the name of Brutus throughout its 500-year history were often seen as the guardians of Rome's liberty. Honor and virtue were synonymous with Brutus, and for this the conspirators knew they needed his leadership to stand up to the overwhelming tyranny of Julius Caesar. While Brutus did support liberty and feared tyranny, he was betraying and murdering a good friend. Taking another's life was a big deal, especially the life of a friend. Dante thought that the betrayal was so great a crime that he placed Brutus in the mouth of the Beast on the lowest level of hell--beside his compatriot Cassius and Judas Iscariot. What is worse is that Brutus did this all in vain. By failing to include Cicero in the conspiracy and by refusing to allow the conspirators to kill Mark Antony, Brutus doomed the conspiracy from the start. His high-minded and stubborn refusal to do any of the less-than-noble things necessary to succeed in such vicious politics and war brought him to lose on that field in Philippi.

Nonetheless, the "all-honored, honest, Roman Brutus" probably was the most committed to his cause. So noble was he in fact that he could not stray at all from his strict and Roman sense of virtue, and there is something very admirable about this. His last stand against the forces of Caesarism at Philippi and his nobility were enough for even his great enemy, Antony, to give him due praise. The Bard, as always, captures the sentiment better than any historian can, with these closing lines from Antony in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar:

This was the noblest Roman of them all;
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He, only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, "This was a man!"

Indeed, the last of the Roman men. It would do us well to occasionally dwell on his memory, what it is that moved him to act, and what it is that caused him to lose and end up dead on the plains of Philippi. 
Categories > History

Political Philosophy

A Republican Form of Government

Noting that "progressives have long lamented the fact that the Framers designed a Constitution replete with impediments to federal government activism," the eminent George Will reveals the latest twist of logic by which Colorado liberals are attempting to use the Constitution as an impediment to popular referendums (which would otherwise limit the power of the ruling classes in state legislatures).

Sextion IV, Article IV of the U.S. Constitution reads: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government."

The folks in Colorado argue (tellingly, before an unelected judiciary) that a Colorado initiative limiting the legislature's license to raise taxes (the progressive's golden calf) denies the state a republican form of government. That is, only elected bureaucrats can craft laws - not the people themselves. While direct democracy has many flaws (and was hence rejected by the Framers as an insecure means of safeguarding liberty), its outright prohibition is a novel reading of the Guarantee Clause. Without delving into the history of the clause, I deeply suspect this reading is flawed.

Politically, however, liberals continue to reveal the surprising degree to which they are willing to oppose the people and popular government in favor of a ruling class. On an elementary level, the left - with all of its liberal ideologies of radical freedom, individuality and nonconformity - is incredibly devoted to the system, bureaucratic institutions and ever-expanding government.


Thoughts on Inequality

The ongoing economic doldrums, as well as the "occupation" of various U.S. cities in recent weeks, have focused the attention of many on inequality--not the sort, mind you, that the Founders worried about (equality of opportunity, equality before the law), but rather equality of outcome, specifically equality of wealth. A chart appeared recently on the Daily Kos, and quickly went viral on Facebook, purporting to show that the average CEO is paid 475 times what the average worker is paid in the United States.  It turns out that the statistic is untrue, although it's unclear what the real figure is.  The Economic Policy Institute puts the ratio at 185:1, while the Institute for Policy Studies has it at 325:1. 

Either way, it is clear that the ratio has been getting smaller over the years.  Even according to the IPS numbers, CEOs made 475 times what workers did in 1999-2000.  Of course, during those years unemployment fell below 4 percent for the first time since the early 1960s, and U.S. median income reached an all-time high, so this was hardly a period out of Charles Dickens.  Moreover, those who see a connection between tax policy and inequality should recall that this occurred when taxes on the wealthy were considerably higher than they are today.  (Of course, this is something which supply-siders must take into account when claiming that higher taxes are inconsistent with economic health.)

Meanwhile, my old graduate school friend John Gurney over at econscius has been looking at inequality on a state-by-state basis.  It turns out that the largest inequalities exist in the District of Columbia, New York, and Connecticut--all places where Democrats (indeed, liberal Democrats) have been running the show for a long time.  By contrast, the three states with the least inequality are the GOP strongholds of Alaska, Utah, and Wyoming.  Some other findings:

There is no statistical correlation between levels of inequality and whether a state has a "Right to Work" law.

There is a loose correlation between median income and inequality.  The wealthier the people of a state are on average, the more inequality there is.

There is also a loose correlation between income tax levels and inequality.  States with higher income taxes actually have greater inequality.  Note that this does not take into account property taxes, which are notoriously regressive.
Categories > Economy

Political Philosophy

Illegal Declaration?

Last Tuesday at Philadelphia's Ben Franklin Hall (a more suitable venue is difficult to imagine), British barristers sparred with American lawyers over the legality of the American colonists' Declaration of Independence.

The American's invoked natural law and the consent of the people. "The English had used their own Declaration of Rights to depose James II and these acts were deemed completely lawful and justified." Indeed, self-determination is now reflected in the fundamental rights of the UN Charter.

The British case recalled the historic lawlessness and fecklessness of the secession. "There is no legal principle then or now to allow a group of citizens to establish their own laws because they want to. What if Texas decided today it wanted to secede from the Union?" Denigrating "no taxation without representation" as little more than a wish to avoid paying their due share for the protection of the empire during the French and Indian War, the barristers listed the grievances in the Declaration as "too trivial to justify secession."

I believe it was Gordon Wood, clarifying Jefferson's supposed sufferance of "a long train of abuses and usurpations," who observed that never in the course of human history had men revolted over such slight actual harms. The empty and retreating declaration by the British Parliament that they had the power to rule over the colonies "in all cases whatsoever" was the sort of injury to which the Americans mainly revolted. Abuses of principle. Usurpations of ideas.

Of course, it is the jealous love of these principles and ideas which enabled to new nation to survive and prosper (contrary to the flawed recipe of the French Revolution, for example). Yet these grievances are not the sort for which the U.S. or NATO would now intervene on behalf of a restless people in a foreign land.

The British even slyly invoked the authority of Lincoln as they diminished the authority of "the laws of nature" and, by extension, of "nature's God."

Lincoln made the case against secession and he was right. The Declaration of Independence itself, in the absence of any recognised legal basis, had to appeal to "natural law", an undefined concept, and to "self-evident truths", that is to say truths for which no evidence could be provided.

It is noteworthy that the British attempt to reduce the American argument to a religious dogma. While the spirit of the revolution was democratic and the mode was legalistic, the foundation rested upon a sense of Providence. Interestingly, the British do not seem compelled to address this third leg of the revolution.

There are many compelling and legitimate arguments by which to address the question at hand - and most are well worth serious contemplation.  

Foreign Affairs

The Mad Dog is Dead

With his final stronghold in Libya falling to rebel forces, long-time dictator Moammar Gaddafi has been killed. There are a great many conflicting reports as to the details of his death and confusion as to how it happened, but at the moment the most-reported story is that he was found in a hole shortly after a firefight and either died of wounds suffered during the shooting or was shot shortly after being captured. The tyrant met a tyrant's death. It is good that he is gone and that he will no longer be able to menace his people. Now it falls on the Libyan people to use their newfound freedom from Gaddafi in order to right his wrongs and bring peace, stability, and a respect for human rights to their nation. I doubt that the civil war is completely over--Gaddafi's tribe and family are still antagonistic to the new government--but the worst of it is probably over, and now the political fight begins. As Libya struggles to rebuild itself after decades of tyranny and months of war, Congress would do well to keep a check on any desire on the part of President Obama to send in advisors or peacekeepers, should such a desire arise. Good luck to the Libyan people, and good riddance to Gaddafi.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Revisiting Harry Truman's 1948 Campaign

Regarded as one of the great populist campaigns of American history, Truman's 1948 whistle-stop tours showed millions of Americans a common man battling for the rights of other common men.  But Truman, like FDR (especially in his 1944 SOTU address--see 6th paragraph from the end) was willing to denounce Republicans in the most strident terms, far meaner than what we see today (other than in lefty blogs), at least so far.  Here's a sample, from his October 25, Chicago speech:

We must not imagine, just because we love freedom, that freedom is safe--that our freedom is safe. Eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty.

Other people have also loved freedom, but have lost their liberty with tragic suddenness.

It happened in Italy 25 years ago. It happened in Germany 15 years ago. It happened in Czechoslovakia just a few months ago. And it could happen here.

I know that it is hard for Americans to admit this danger. American democracy has very deep roots. But, if the antidemocratic forces in this country continue to work unchecked, this Nation could awaken a few years from now to find that the Bill of Rights had become a scrap of paper.

My friends, that must never happen! Look back over history, and you will find that wherever ruthless men have destroyed liberty and human rights, certain economic and social forces had paved the way for them.

What are these forces that threaten our way of life? Who are the men behind them? They are the men who want to see inflation continue unchecked. They are the men who are striving to concentrate great economic power in their own hands. They are the men who are setting up and stirring up racial and religious prejudice against some of our fellow Americans.

I propose to state in simple, unmistakable language, just exactly how each of these three groups of men--working through the Republican Party, if you please--is a serious threat to the future welfare of this great Nation.

And it gets better, with references to the big businessmen behind Hitler and the other fascists and charges of racial and religious prejudice.  Watch out, whoever gets the Republican nomination for a Truman-style campaign.

Categories > Presidency


American Civil War Charlie Sheen Bonus Round

Here's my vote for the most creative midterm exam ever, from my friend Nick Proctor at Simpson College:

For my American Civil War midterm, the extra credit was a set of Charlie Sheen quotations. Students could match up to ten of them to appropriate Civil War leaders in particular circumstances. They then had to provide a brief explanation for each match. So, for example, a good answer for #10 would be: "Grant after the fall of Forts Henry and Donalson." Similarly, a good answer for #5 could be "Forrest while raiding in central Tennessee."

  1. I will deploy my ordinance to the ground.
  2. I don't sleep; I wait.
  3. "Can't" is the cancer of "happen."
  4. I'm a high priest Vatican warlock.
  5. I have one speed; I have one gear: GO!
  6. They're the best at what they do. I'm the best at what I do, and it is ON!
  7. I think my passion is misinterpreted as anger sometimes. And I don't think people are ready for the message that I'm delivering, and delivering with a sense of violent love.
  8. I'm here and I'm ready. They're not. Bring it.
  9. That we are to stand by the President right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
  10. I'm bi-winning. I win here. I win there.
  11. Life comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.
  12. Boom, crush. Night, losers. Winning, duh.
  13. Fame is empowering. My mistake was that I thought I would instinctively know how to handle it. But there's no manual, no training course.
  14. Here's the good news. If I realize that I'm insane, then I'm okay with it. I'm not dangerous insane.
  15. I have defeated this earthworm with my words. Imagine what I would have done with my fire breathing fists.
I invite NLT contributors to add their favorite pairings in the Comments section.

Categories > History


Forget Wall Street--Occupy DC!

It turns out that the "malefactors of great wealth" aren't to be found on Wall Street, or even in Silicon Valley, but rather in the nation's capital. Given the role of federal corporations such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in bringing on the housing collapse, I would suggest that protesters converge on Washington instead.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Russian Reset and Reform

The Russian Federation does not wield the type of tremendous power and influence in world affairs that its predecessor, the Soviet Union, held. It has not been able to keep up with the rapid economic advancements of the West, China, India, Japan, and Brazil. It has found itself increasingly vulnerable, and has lashed out sometimes to try and reassert itself--the most blatant incident being the invasion of Georgia a few years ago. Nonetheless, though its infrastructure is decaying and economy looking even more hopeless than ours in the near future, Russia remains a massively important country, not least because it is still the only country on the planet that poses an existential threat to the United States--Russia alone maintains the firepower necessary to destroy us. Additionally, the borders it shares with foreign countries, its veto-wielding seat on the UN Security Council, and the reserves of resources that it sits on and sells to Europe make it important. Thus, while many outside of Eastern Europe have seen fit to sort of discount Russia and just led it slide along its merry way to decline, we ought to be focusing a great deal on our former adversaries and what is happening within their borders.

The United States Senate is currently in the process of confirming National Security Council Senior Director Michael McFaul, a professor at Stanford and fellow at the Hoover Institution, to become our next Ambassador to Russia. McFaul is a brilliant mind who knows more about Russia than most people, already has a good working relationship with President Obama, and maintains a tremendous commitment to the promotion of liberty and human rights. It is no small thing that we are placing a smart man with such a commitment in this position at the same time that Vladimir Putin is planning to return to the Presidency of Russia after a few years of puppeteering from the office of the Prime Minister. It is also worthy of note that McFaul is not a career diplomat; if confirmed--and he ought to be confirmed--then he will be only the second American in over 30 years to hold the position and not be elevated from the ranks of the U.S. Foreign Service (the other one was Democratic politician Bob Strauss, appointed by Bush Sr. to the post when the Soviet Union was collapsing). While not a perfect candidate (the New START Treaty, which he played a part in, is bad news for U.S. national security interests), he understands Russia and should, if allowed by his superiors, know how to handle Russia in this time of transition in a way that supports our interests.

Russia is a country that is at once declining and empowered. As Putin continues to tighten his grip over his country, things will continue to get worse. President Obama has lauded his "reset" policy with Russia, seemingly intent on embracing the inevitability of Putinism and the stability it may bring to Russia. However, autocracy breeds discontent, and when that is coupled with economic misery, we get something more like the Arab Spring rather than stability. Russia wields a tremendous amount of influence in our geopolitical strategy; we could use their help with Iran, subsaharan Africa, and China. We need to give our friends in Eastern Europe assurance that they do not need to fear their great neighbor. To do that, though, Russia needs true reform. America is in a position to try and exert pressure--both economic and moral--on Russia in an attempt to combat the solidification of Putin's cronyism and corruption. McFaul is the type of man capable of understanding how best to do that, and both the interests of the United States and Russia would be better served if the hand-wringers in Foggy Bottom and the White House let him work towards such a goal. Russia, for centuries trapped under the yoke of one form of oppression or another, is still capable of fixing itself and embracing true democratic reform--it may just need a little prodding to get moving along.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Pavlov on Times Square

How the New York Times's new Edatrix operates:

She planned to apply in the newsroom some of the "positive training" that she lavished on Scout. She and her husband, she writes in her book, used "encouragement, not punishment" to train Scout, rewarding her for good behavior with a piece of kibble. "In one's relationship with dogs and with a newsroom, a generous amount of praise and encouragement goes much better than criticism," she says.

Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

Obama, Limbaugh, and the LRA

President Obama has dispatched 132 U.S. Special Forces to the central African nation of Uganda in order to help combat the Lord's Resistance Army and bring its commander, cult leader Joseph Kony, to justice. While Ugandan, American, and other international efforts have been made to stop Kony before, now is likely the best opportunity to do so as he will have a much harder time retreating to safety in Sudan with the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan adopting a more anti-LRA stance. The United States Congress has passed bills with bipartisan majorities seeking to weaken the Lord's Resistance Army; the most recent one, authored by former Senator Feingold and co-sponsored by 64 others, passed in 2009 with the unanimous consent of the Senate and a simple voice vote in the House. The bill called for the United States to use military, intelligence, diplomatic, and development tools in order to combat the LRA and protect civilians. However, to be clear, it did not authorize the use of force. So long as these soldiers that President Obama sent to Uganda are not actively taking part in combat operations, he is in the clear for doing this. If he does wish to engage in combat operations--which would be unwise given our problems in the Middle East and a looming issue with Iran--he must get authorization from Congress. Given the fact that most of Congress has for long been in favor of stopping these brutal murderers, I foresee support if he can come to them with a clear, coherent, and comprehensive plan of action.

On this same subject, I can not help but draw attention to the recent words of radio host Rush Limbaugh. Attempting only to take any type of opportunity that he can to disagree with the president, Limbaugh declared that the Lord's Resistance Army was a good Christian organization dedicated to fighting tyranny and that we are thus wrong to be taking action against them. The radio host has said foolish things before, but this is a step way too far, and after some Googling during his show he apparently seemed to slowly step away from his comments--he ought to apologize for even making them. The Lord's Resistance Army is a cruel and inhuman terrorist organization that brutalizes men, women, and children. Joseph Kony is one of the most vile men to walk the planet, and it will be a good day for the human race when he is finally brought to justice for the evil he has committed. My stepmother and some family friends traveled to Uganda as part of a film crew a few years ago to get the stories of some of the former child soldiers who had escaped Kony's captivity. The Lord's Resistance Army will go into homes, torture and kill the adults, and then abduct the children. The boys are given guns and forced to go kill their families and neighbors; the girls are raped and prostituted. Their preferred method of killing civilians is tying them to trees and then hacking at their bodies with machetes or crushing their skulls with axes. These are not Christian men. They are not good men. They are not even men. They are depraved butchers and rapists. Disagree all you want with the prudence of going after the Lord's Resistance Army, disagree with President Obama having the authority to do this, disagree with the United States getting involved in anything abroad, but do not give Joseph Kony and his ilk any inkling of legitimacy or support. Shame on those who do.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Unitarian Taft, Mormon Romney

A note to my post below.  President William Howard Taft was a Unitarian, who disclosed that he "did not believe in the divinity of Christ."  He was a moderate Progressive (versus the committed TR and Woodrow Wilson) and not a bad Chief Justice.  William Jennings Bryan, the Democrat nominee in 1908, did object.  It seems likely that the Christian fervor of TR's 1912 campaign ("Onward, Christian Soldiers" was a campaign song) was directed against Taft's faith.  

Besides other Unitarian presidents (the Adamses), Vice President John C. Calhoun was also of this church.  Again, the real measure of loyalty to basic American principles is understanding of and adherence to the Declaration of Independence.

Categories > Religion


Washington's Convictions and Ours Today

From Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious Cause, vol. II of the Oxford History of the United States:  Facing a "cruel test," Washington was sustained through the Revolution by

at least two profound convictions.  The first was that he was the instrument of Providence in the struggle....  The other belief approached passion--a love of what Washington called the "glorious cause," the defense of the liberties of Americans.  (p. 296)

Of course not everyone who claims divine inspiration may be discerning or even truthful, but convictions about God's will have been honorable motives for public service from our origins as a nation.  Should such a self-examination be less essential today?  Or must sociological circumstances or mere personal self-aggrandizement determine our political leadership? 

The objective test of course is whether a candidate's views comport with those of the Declaration of Independence.  Private revelations are quite subordinate to that overriding consideration.  Might candidates who court the Tea Party actually use the wisdom of our founding period in contemporary debates?

Categories > Politics


OWS and a Hill to Die On

In 1984 George Orwell's O'Brien declared, "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face--forever."  That's the way I felt when I heard the participants in the Anita Hill lovefest, "Sex, Power, and Speaking Truth."    His narrow confirmation to the Court allowed him to revive American constitutionalism.  We must ever keep in mind this victory in our cultural wars.

Meanwhile, further south in Manhattan, the OWS mobs continue to flourish.  Comparing them to the Tea Party misses the heart of these true descendants of the American Founding:  They stand for the restraints, protections, and procedures of constitutional government. 

Categories > Courts


Progressivism and Democracy

Steven Hayward has a good piece over at AEI on the constant back-and-forth between modern day liberalism and democracy. He points out the "schizophrenic" nature of progressivism over the past century, torn between supporting the unfettered power of administration and the yearning for more-democratic features in our system of governance (so long as the popular will is not opposed to progressive ends).

Liberalism has been unable to decide whether it is for or against more democracy for nearly a century now, ever since it underwent a radical transformation from a creed believing that advancing the cause of individual liberty meant limiting government power and protecting individual rights into the creed we know today of believing that larger and more powerful government is the primary means of securing the realization of individual liberty. None of the liberal complaints about "gridlock" are new; Progressives like Woodrow Wilson deplored the separation of powers and other limiting features of the Founding as obsolete years before he tried to ignore them as president.
Categories > Progressivism

Foreign Affairs

Iranian-Sponsored Terrorist Plot Foiled

According to the Department of Justice, after work done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency, elements of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran attempted to carry out a terrorist attack in Washington, D.C. A captured Iranian-American citizen was meeting with elements of the notorious Mexican Zeta drug cartel, offering them cash and opium in exchange for assistance with this plot. They conspired to assassinate the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States and then to carry out bombings at the Saudi Arabian and Israeli embassies. The plot was orchestrated by elements of the Iranian government, including high-level officials within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Attorney General Holder refused to say that the Ayatollah or Iranian President Ahmadinejad were complicit in the plans.

Holder and FBI Director Mueller have both said that Iran will be held accountable for this terrorist action. When pressed for what he meant by that, Holder said that the Department of Justice will be working with the White House, the Department of State, and the Treasury Department in order to take further action against the government of Iran, which he reiterated conceived, sponsored, and directed the foiled assassination. This new provocation comes at a time when relations between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia are already incredibly tense, and when the Iranian regime is at odds with the United States and the rest of the West over their pursuit of nuclear technology.

The international intrigue of this dangerous conspiracy almost reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie--Mexican drug gangs, Iranian terrorists, assassination of foreign diplomats. I fear, though, that it adds now to the increasingly disturbing reality that we are running out of options with how to stop Iran. It is a disturbing chain of events, leading in an even more disturbing direction. Hopefully the worst-case scenario can be avoided.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Pop Culture

Leftism Pays

Are the cause kids (as we called the people living the Lefty cliche when I was in college) being paid to protest?  Looks like some of them are. 
Categories > Pop Culture

Pop Culture

D.C. Occupants

Enjoying the lovely weather of yesterday in Washington, I went out to go see some of the Occupy D.C. protestors who were planted downtown in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Tents were set up in Freedom Plaza, not too far from the White House, and an eclectic group of people held varying signs while people took turns speaking atop a stage set up in the far side of the plaza. Of late the Occupiers in town had gone about protesting at all sorts of various things--the World Bank, the Federal Reserve, K Street lobbying and non-profit organizations, the Treasury Department, the White House, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. They even laid siege to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, leading museum security guards to employ the use of pepper spray after one of them was rushed by a group of protesters (no doubt giving the museum guards one of the most exciting days of their careers). Startling absence of protests on Capitol Hill though; not quite sure why Congress is currently being spared. (Update--Word is that OccupyDC and the AFL-CIO will be protesting Congress on Tuesday now).

What struck me most about my visit was how exceedingly unorganized they were--and a different type of unorganized than the Tea Party. The Tea Party was successful in large part because, though decentralized and lacking any sort of leadership, it still maintained a general message and goal: stop President Obama's healthcare law and reign in the size and spending of government. Thus, while there was often a lot of variety among Tea Party crowds and disagreement over how far it was appropriate to shrink government and how to accomplish that, there was nonetheless a sort of unifying message. I saw no such thing among the Occupy D.C. group, save for them wanting to send the message that they are currently unhappy with the way of things today.

Most complaints were focused on the stale economy and our continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and the other countries that we are routinely bombing people in. While open socialists and hippies (for lack of a better word) did seem to make up the more visible bits of the group, there was also a mixture of other types--libertarians railing against the Federal Reserve and the War on Terror, unemployed people from out of town expressing their frustration with the job market, peace activists, even a few Tea Partiers, and a handful of not-volunteers. Some of them were normal people just frustrated with things, some of them were young people who just think it's cool to go out and yell about things and pretend like they're making a difference, some people were crazy people. It was just a conglomeration of people venting whatever they felt like venting, and I do commiserate with some of them. I understand the frustration with the economy; there are people very close to me who are unemployed and near-homeless despite years-long efforts to avoid such a sad state. But blocking traffic in the streets and camping out on public land to get out incoherent and angry messages it not the way to resolve this situation.

Due to this lack of a central message and the general chaos associated with these rather rambunctious gatherings, I think that this "Occupy" movement will burn itself out rather than go on to the type of electoral success that the Tea Party had last election. The Taste of D.C. Food Festival, taking place on the street just beside occupied Freedom Plaza (pure coincidence, no doubt), ends today, and the weather is going to start getting colder soon. Judging from the looks of some of these people, they won't be out yelling once it gets uncomfortably cold. After all, it's hard to text or tweet on an iPhone when you have to wear mittens (though I'm sure that the market has noticed this demand and is already working to invent a way to solve that problem if it has not already done so).

The group in D.C. in particular does seem to find one common denominator: they are angry that the banks got bailed out. Of course anger at the bank bailouts has been a staple of the Tea Party for two years, but who's paying attention? Overall, Reason TV's ever-clever Remy Munasifi has the best description yet of the protests. Enjoy.
Categories > Pop Culture


Harold W. Rood, RIP

Odd, how life works.  I was in a happy state that Harry Jaffa would celebrate his 93rd birthday on the 7th, and on that day I heard that Harold W. Rood died the day before.  He was my second teacher in Claremont; not as old as Jaffa, about my mother's age. He taught international relations, national security affairs, and had been at CMC since about 1962.  I'll let someone else tell the historical details--how dozens of "political philosophy" students ended up studying with this untheoretical man, of his many virtues, of this man's good life--I just wanted to say something about his one great virtue.

This entirely American man--loving and kind and sweet--was a great teacher. He was a great teacher unlike Jaffa.  Rood didn't test the logos in the same way, he didn't simply grab the truth as it revealed itself in front of him.   Rather, he talked and the story came out about how men wanted to live rather than die, and what they may then do, and why that is always so.  He was able to portray things outside of our experience in such a way that we could see the shining stars above to be the same as the shining campfires in the soldiers' tents below.  Rood was a great poet. He was able to talk about anger or love in such a way that showed us what it was like to be in anger and to be in love.  He did the same with his love of country. He seduced us this way into thinking, and we loved it and we loved him for it.  No one will ever forget the experience of being with him in a classroom.  May he Rest in Peace.

Update: Over at Power Line, Steve Hayward, another Rood student, writes a fine post on the good professor. 

Categories > Education


Thomas Marks Twenty Years on the Court

One of the first "jobs" assigned to me as a young undergraduate attempting to earn my keep around the Ashbrook Center was to do some research for one of my professors about a man named Clarence Thomas.  Thomas was then being considered for an appointment to DC Court of Appeals and my professor, a former clerk at the Supreme Court, was asked to write a letter in support of the appointment.  So when, only a year and some change later, Thomas was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, I could not have been more delighted.  Having read a good deal of his writing and learned about the way his mind worked, I knew that Thomas would not have an equal on the Court.  I knew he would be one of the great Justices of all time.  Then came the hearings.  And when first they could not make case that Thomas was unqualified, they took the other--now infamous--route.  It was a great lesson about the way that the Left in America works.  They knew that they had much to fear from this man--that he could undo a great deal of the twisting and turning of Constitutional jurisprudence it had taken them generations to execute and pass off as authentic interpretation. 

Ken Masugi, who worked for Thomas during the time that he was Chairman of the EEOC, writes a thoughtful and thought provoking tribute to Justice Thomas as this October marks the twentieth anniversary of his appointment to the Court.  In it, Masugi notes the ways in which even Thomas' greatest critics must now concede his massive import and influence on the Court.  May it continue for many, many years to come.    
Categories > Courts


Farm Dusts the US Senate

It was a chaotic night last night in the United States Senate, with one of the most heated and important debates that chamber has seen in a few years. I was over at the Heritage Foundation for a screening of part of the 1978 Panama Treaty debate between Ronald Reagan and Bill Buckley, with Lee Edwards, Grover Norquist, and Fred Barnes participating in a discussion panel afterwards, when I got a few texts telling me to turn on C-SPAN. I checked into my Twitter feed to see what was going on, and reporters in the Senate press gallery were uncharacteristically active for a Thursday night. Indeed, they were even coming across as excited. I took an opportunity during question-and-answers at the event and slipped away to go plop down in front of a television and computer and figure out what was going on.

The Senate was in discussion on the Chinese currency manipulation bill last night. The Republicans had introduced a group of amendments to attach to the bill, including a procedural vote on the Obama jobs plan--as the President continues to yell at Congress to pass his bill, Senator McConnell (R-KY) decided to obey our commander-in-chief and introduce a vote on the bill, which would have surely failed to pass and embarrass the president and some Senate Democrats. Republicans and Democrats had been negotiating these amendments all day, and by Thursday night seemed to have reached an agreement. At the last moment, though, Senator Johanns (R-Neb.) introduced an amendment regarding EPA regulations on farm dust. Yes, farm dust. Democrats did not want to vote on that amendment, so they tried to substitute an amendment offered by Senator Paul (R-KY) on the Federal Reserve. This set off a complicated and legalistic battle on the rules and arcane procedures of our Senate, and led to an unscripted and tense battle of words between the senators.

Procedurally, Senator Reid (D-NV) raised a point of order against the GOP's motion to suspend the rules in order to introduce the amendments, including McConnell's amendment to introduce President Obama's jobs package. Reid's argument was that the GOP's motion was "germane" as it was only intended to slow down the passage of the Chinese currency bill. The chair, on the advice of the parliamentarian, disagreed with Reid's point of order. Senator Reid then pulled an unprecedented maneuver, and motioned to overrule the decision of the chair--after some arm wrangling with moderates, 51 Democrats voted to overrule, 48 Republicans voted against. The Republicans were fuming, and for once the normally-empty chamber was stacked with members of the Senate, watching the debate unfold. C-SPAN, the Twitteratti, and most people were completely baffled as to what was going on in the cascade of events. Initially many people thought that Reid had finally pulled out the famed "nuclear option" and ended the ability to filibuster in the Senate.

Rather, what Senator Reid did was change a precedent in the chamber. While historically the majority party could block amendments to bills by the minority, it could not stop motions to suspend the rules in order to introduce amendments. Now it can, and it has become much more difficult for the minority party to change legislation once it has been introduced. Senator Reid's aides spent most of the day on Thursday advising him against this move, fearing the debilitating position it will leave Democrats in once they are again the minority party. For an hour and a half afterwards, Reid and McConnell, with several others senators chiming in, debated over this procedural change and even the nature of the United States Senate itself. It was fantastic; watch it here. The limiting of the powers of the minority party will indeed haunt the Democrats whenever they are returned to the minority (probably 2013); for the rest of this term, it is likely going to make things even more tense and combative in the already-tense chamber. Additionally, this move will likely diminish the role of many of the Senate's moderates who had previously negotiated the major deals to avoid any type of wonkish procedural showdown like this---McCain, Snowe, Nelson, Collins, Lieberman, Pryor, McCaskill, Warner, Graham, and Grassley. It will be interesting to see what things are like when the chamber reconvenes to vote next week. All of this over farm dust!
Categories > Congress


Policy Mic Tax Debate

I would just like to draw your attention to an interesting debate over at Policy Mic between libertarian Harvard professor Jeffrey Miron and Center for American Progress tax specialist Michael Linden. It is a real debate focused on this important issue, and the discussion taking place there is taking place in a way that it should be taking place elsewhere--that is, without people blocking traffic in the streets or members of the government getting lost in over-the-top campaign rhetoric. Arguments and other viewpoints are very welcome in the comment section, so feel free to go participate in the debate. Both Professor Miron and Mr. Linden are actively responding to comments and engaging people in the conversation. Chime in!
Categories > Economy

Political Philosophy

Jacobinism in New York

From the proclamation of one of the groups leading the protests in downtown New York City:

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people . . .

One of the reasons why the French Revolution went off the rails is that many different groups claimed to represent the true nation.  Perhaps it's endemic to the Left (and in this sense it's not inproper to use the term, which goes back to locations in the French Assembly, if memory serves.  What's called the "right" in America is, for the most part, rather different than the defenders of the Old Regime (even if many on the Left are willfully blind to that reality)), but the people protesting in New York hardly represent our nation or "one people," other than themselves, and, perhaps, a certain small percentage of other Americans.

Unlike France, ours is a political nation.  The nature of American nationhood has always been in contention.  Our political system is designed with that reality in mind.  Even so, we have always had a certain number of people who don't like that reality, and wish the U.S. to be more like a European nation.  That has long been the Progressive dream.  I'm betting it still is not what most Americans want. 

Quote of the Day

Statistics du Jour

Robert Bryce in the Wall Street Journal:

Over the past decade, carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. fell by 1.7%. And according to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. is now cutting carbon emissions faster than Europe, even though the European Union has instituted an elaborate carbon-trading/pricing scheme. Why? The U.S. is producing vast quantities of cheap natural gas from shale, which is displacing higher-carbon coal.

Meanwhile, China's emissions jumped by 123% over the past decade and now exceed those of the U.S. by more than two billion tons per year. Africa's carbon-dioxide emissions jumped by 30%, Asia's by 44%, and the Middle East's by a whopping 57%. Put another way, over the past decade, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions--about 6.1 billion tons per year--could have gone to zero and yet global emissions still would have gone up.

A few years ago, I heard a Cal Tech climate science guru give a talk.  He arranged it so that no questions were allowed, which was disappointing.  He said that according to the prevailing science, which he said he supports completely, we have a handful of years to change course, or the earth will be alterted forever.  His proposed solutions were to cut emissions radically.

Had questions been allowed, I would have said something like, I study politics, not science. As a student of politics, I can almost guarantee that the kinds of hair shirt cuts he demands will never happen, almost certainly not in any major country, and certainly not in all of them.  If that's the case, the challenge for science is, to paraphrase Publius, how to manage the effects of human actions, rather than impose the kind of tyranny that it would take to tackle the causes.  Still a relevant observation, it seems to me. 

(I would also add, that we need also to be sure we know what we're doing.  Sciences are at their most speculative in their infancy.  Such is the study of the enviornment.  That being the case, my guess is that scientists are guessing, more than they like to admit, about the consequences of human actions on the environment across the globe.

P.S. Why do Progressives think it is reasonable to think we can control mankind's global carbon footprint, but also think that it is impossible for most individuals to control their sex drives?

Categories > Quote of the Day


Judicial Philosophy

I a review of Justice Stevens's new book, I stumbled over this bit:

Justice Stevens never offered broad theories of constitutional decision-making. Instead he styled himself as a minimalist, wary of (as he put it years ago) "the danger that the glittering generality will turn out to be an overstatement that fails to anticipate the contemporary garb in which a basic theme will appear in future cases."

Criticism of "glittering generalities" was centeral to the critique of the Declaration in antebellum America.  Although he seems not to have been the first to use the phrase Rufus Choate is generally credited with popularizing the term, and associating it with opposition to natural right.

Categories > Courts


Steve Jobs

Only a short time after turning over the day-to-day operations of his company, the man who brought us the Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, and Pixar, has died. Truly one of the most remarkable innovators of our day, he transformed the way we shop, the way we obtain media, and the way we interact with each other. For the past decade, Steve Jobs has created for us something totally new, and while others scrambled to catch up with him in competition, he was already moving on to newer and better things. A meticulous inventor and clever businessman, he brought Apple from scruffy 1984 start-up to one of the best companies in the world, his unbridled genius attending to every detail and challenging others to think different about technology and comfort and commerce. I draw your attention again to Julie's wonderful homage to Jobs just last month. The man was a titan of industry, a visionary genius, a man who exemplified the American dream, and one who helped improve the lives of millions with his inventions. He will be missed
Categories > Technology

Foreign Affairs


As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues his bloody crackdown on the Syrian people, the rest of the world continues to grapple with how to address such wanton abuses. A European-backed measure in the United Nations Security Council calling for international sanctions on Assad's regime was vetoed on Tuesday by China and Russia, the two nations claiming that calling for an end to the abuses so harshly was not conducive to negotiations. Turkey has independently decided to take a more proactive role and has put sanctions on the regime, while Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, still lamenting the ouster of his "brother" Gaddafi in Libya, has pledged to stand in solidarity with al-Assad against "Yankee" aggression. American Ambassador Robert Ford, who has been the target of several attacks by pro-government mobs over the past month, was unanimously confirmed to his position by the U.S. Senate this week in a sign of solidarity against the Syrian regime (Ford had been a one-year recess appointment, as Republicans had originally filibustered President Obama's appointment of him last year).

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) has become the highest-ranking American official to call for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria, which may start us down the troubling path to another military intervention. Syria, though, is far more problematic that Libya. Its military is not only much more organized and powerful, but it is a very close ally of Iran's and maintains favor with Russia and China. Additionally, Assad said that if NATO does absolutely anything against his regime, he will launch missiles at Tel Aviv--and he has the capability to do this. Syria represents a complicated geopolitical situation for the world, and many different global and regional powers are influencing what happens there from different directions. Any sort of military intervention by the United States would open a Pandora's box and best be avoided.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Philosophy

Jaffa at 93

I talked to Jaffa the other day. He will be 93 years old on October 7th. He called me and we had a good talk, at the end of which he said with broken voice: "Marjorie died exactly a year ago today and I can't get over it. I guess I'm not supposed to after 68 years of marriage."  I couldn't say much to such pathos. The Old Man has said that July 14, 1941, was an important day in his life for two reasons. First he "reported for salaried employment for the first time in my life." The second reason is this: "But on that morning at breakfast in the boarding house in which I had become an inmate the night before, I found myself looking into the eyes of the most beautiful and wonderful girl I had ever seen. I made a date for that evening and never looked back." He got the job in Washington because he passed the Civil Service Exam in Public Administration.  He passed that exam because he took public administration classes which he loathed and found infinitely boring. He only stayed with the courses at the recommendation of his professor, Frank Coker. Jaffa writes: "This advice turned out not only to be good advice, but the foundation of every good thing that has happened to me in all the years that have followed. I remain grateful to Coker, but even more alert to the mystery of the ways of Providence, which often proceeds by the most inauspicious indirection to accomplish its ends." Allow me to quote part of Sonnet 104, for both of them:

"To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still."

Below is a photograph of Harry and Marjorie in 1942.


Caesar in the Shadows

Economic turmoil, long and spread out, resulted in a tremendous amount of unemployment and the huge accumulation of debt. Foreign enemies, from a mighty rival to more puny but nonetheless dangerous bands of attackers, threatened the nation decades after it had seen its greatest enemies vanquished. Government meddling redirected a substantial amount of wealth to those whom most people did not think deserved any more. For fear of their safety, tremendous power was placed in the hands of the executive to counter the threats posed to society. For want of material security, these same people were given a mandate by the people to rid the nation of economic inequity. Over a long period of upheaval caused by this mess and coupled by widespread political corruption, a republic saw itself destroyed and reborn an empire.

I do not like to speak often of the similarities of Rome and America, as people seem to simplify them in a way that makes the comparisons seem even greater. Nonetheless, as the greatest republic to exist before our own, and as our Founders and their posterity have always looked at that ancient republic as a sort of eagle in the dusty mirror we gaze into, it is fitting to think upon the problems that faced the Romans and to see if we Americans can learn anything from them.

Today, a growing populist movement that began as Occupy Wall Street and has now spread to other cities around the country has surprised people in rise from ridiculed obscurity to its present size, thanks much to the use of social media in organization. There seems to be no central message or motivating philosophy other than frustration with the economy and the blaming of large corporations for our woe. Apart from taking to Twitter to make fun of the messy job these people are doing in coherently getting their absent message across, I really do not take too great a issue with what they are complaining about. The big banks cheated their customers, and then were handed a tremendous amount of money from our government. Rather than allowing these big businesses to be punished for their arrogance and greed, the Bush and Obama administrations indulged them all and let most of them get away unscathed. I would just recommend they camp outside of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department rather than Wall Street.

Thus while I find some of their grievances to be justified, some of the outliers begin to disturb me, and the populist furor seen around much of this is reminiscent of our ancient predecessors. Take, for example, this proposed list of demands from some of the protesters. While many of the demands on that list are ridiculously untenable to the point of humor, the 11th one is of particular interest as I have seen it popping up now and then a few times over the past two years: forgiveness of all debts. This was a signature reform enacted by the populist Gracchi brothers after the Third Punic War, when the waves of republican degradation began to hit Rome. Marius, Cinna, Clodius, Crassus, and (for a time) Pompey all attempted to win over the masses with similar tactics. This period of back-and-forth, though (for the Populares would certainly be challenged), was very, very bloody. Soon the Romans were not only feeling economically disadvantaged and angry, but they were so very tired as well. Caesar came to solve all of their problems for them, and they willingly submitted to his dictatorship in exchange for relief and peace.

The fervor and populist underpinning of both the Tea Party movement and this new Occupant movement give me some pause as they may lead to shorter tempers and stronger factions. Americans are guilty of the human precondition towards thinking good things are permanent, something which I am sure plagued many-a-Roman senator until they woke up to a tyranny. Revolutions are rarely expected, and not all have a transparent collapse of what came before them. There are always would-be Caesars lurking in the shadows. Popular prejudice is also not as much a safeguard as always expected; the Romans would not stand a king, but they would gladly take a Caesar. Nonetheless, it is only a brief pause for concern as I do believe that the American people and our institutions are resilient enough to temper such things, and still thankfully do not have much stomach for actual politically-motivated violence behind all the "eat the rich" rhetoric. The fact that there is clamoring among both decentralized groupings for transparency and against corruption is hopeful, as is the fact that one of these popular movements is devoted in great deal towards diminishing the power of government. Furthermore, the rancor is not nearly as bad as it has been in the past. We survived the political fighting of the 1830s, the carnage of the Civil War, and the chaos of the 1960s. People today gripe about how our government almost shut down three times this year, forgetting that it suffered actual shut-downs in the 1990s. The "hostility" is very much exaggerated by the media. There is hope yet! But, it is always good to keep a cautious eye out, just in case.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

"Yes, we can!" Obama Goes to Greece

If you needed a perfect analogy to the fatal fiscal fantasies enrapturing Europe, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has provided it. He recently echoed Barack Obama in a speech before a German audience.

Is there any hope? Will we ultimately succeed? My answer is yes, we can!

Papandreou was speaking of the feasibility of Greek reforms on the heels of a German vote to expand the already massive bail-out fund for Greece. Clemins Wergin, writing in The Telegraphasserts that "the question for Germany is still unanswered."

Are Germans right to continue, grudgingly, to help their southern European cousins out of the mess that their bad habits have got them into? Or are we simply pouring good money after bad?

Ring familiar? Perhaps Merkel could call her latest bail-out a stimulus bill, and chant a refrain of "Pass the bill." After all, she's already adopted Obama's stimulus tactics.

First, threaten doomsday if your latest spending bill isn't passed - even if there is no evidence whatsoever that this spending spree will prove any more effective than the last (several) spending sprees.

Germans realise that they are throwing their money at a mess that nobody seems able to control, and their anger at having to bail out the wrongdoers is checked only by doom-laden warnings about the consequences of the eurozone's failure. "If the euro falls, Europe falls," is one of Angela Merkel's oft-repeated slogans.

Second, demonize opposition - even if that opposition arises from the very people you are supposed to represent: 

And the reaction of Germany's political and media elites nurtures this notion of a conspiracy. Anyone who opposes the bail-out is labelled as anti-European. And although polls show that an overwhelming majority of people oppose giving more money to insolvent countries, no political force is taking up that case.

Spending addictions apparently exists equally among "social democracy" advocates both here and abroad. One might have hoped that Europe would learn from the mistakes of America, or vice versa. But continuing riots among radicals in opposition to necessary reform, as well as stubborn disregard for objective economic realities and popular opinion among politicians, clearly indicate that reconsideration of failed policies are not in the cards.

At least America has a Tea Party movement and the hope of economic restraint. Are there any indications that Europe has even the beginnings of such a bulwark to pending fiscal disaster? One wonders how far Europe and America must fall before the people finally say, "No, you can't!"

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Nobel and the Final Frontier

The Nobel prizes for peace, literature and, increasingly, economics, have unfortunately been severely degraded over the years. This diminishment is a result of awards to such luminaries as Yasser Arafat, Mairead Corrigan, Jimmy Carter, Paul Krugman, Al Gore, Dario Fo, multiple awards to the utterly useless United Nations and, most recently, Barack Obama (as well as notable snubs to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Pope John Paul II, to name but two).

However, prizes in the hard sciences - while not without their scandals - have largely avoided the disgrace heaped on their soft science counterparts. Today, the award for physics was announced:

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says American Saul Perlmutter, U.S.-Australian citizen Brian Schmidt and U.S. scientist Adam Riess share the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics.

The trio were honored Tuesday "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae."

The more expansive Nobel press release is here. Beautiful work by these (American) scientists. Fascinating research area. Dark matter. The expanding universe. The end of the world, no less. Fascinating.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Colleges Failing Students

American colleges are failing our students, and not by giving them failing grades. Rather, through coddling and laziness and arrogance, our universities are producing a generation of graduates unprepared for life and for the workplace, as Kathleen Parker writes. While our current recession, by most accounts destined to get even worse over the next few years, is certainly playing a large role in the fact that today represents the highest unemployment rate for 16-29 year olds since the Second World War, the hard truth is that students are not graduating with most of the basic abilities needed to have a successful career. Writing skills are deficient, arithmetic skills largely undeveloped, and critical thinking abilities almost absent.

Graduates are not only unaware of the details of our government and history, but most of them have little-to-no interaction with Shakespeare, economics, algebra, Aristotle, piano, chemistry, or foreign tongues. Most are unfamiliar with the wonders of Egypt and Rome, the wisdom of Solomon and Socrates, the tales of Twain and Hemingway, the art of Michelangelo and Beethoven, and the statesmanship of Lincoln and Churchill. Instead, they are well-acquainted with luxurious student apartments, high definition television screens littered around campus, and state-of-the-art recreational facilities. They breeze through relatively simple classes for four years and then accept a piece of paper that they expect to be a boarding pass onto the job market, only now awakening to the fact that the debt they have buried themselves in will not be so easy to pay off.

This shift, though, is not for the lack of want on the part of students to be challenged and to learn these tough and hard things to learn. Recent experience at Ashland University is proof enough of that where, for five or six years, students demanded through their Student Senate and through events and articles and public forums and even a 24-hour sit-in that the university offer classical languages to students. During my time involved with the issue, the Student Senate also attempted--albeit with less unity than the classical language debate--to make it mandatory for all students to take a foreign language, which was met with opposition from both some faculty and the admissions office for fear of discouraging students from attending such a rigorous program. Early on in the fight for classical languages, I remember one of the many arguments attempted to bring against teaching Greek and Latin was the issue of funding (the same argument that was brought forth when Ashland ended its German language program); I then remember the following year sitting in on a committee meeting going over funding for building the new athletic complex and renovating student dormitories. Students grow accustomed to this coddling as well; I still sometimes get grief from old friends over a decision to agree in negotiations with the administration to shortening the hours that the AU Rec Center was open during Ashland's budget crisis a few years ago ("What? I can't go workout in the gym on Sunday before noon!?"). I say all this with the understanding that Ashland is one of the best options out there for a quality education, and that even a school like this is prone to the mistakes that have poisoned most of higher education.

Students want to be challenged. Young people want to think about hard and noble things. Employers want entry-level workers who can think critically and string a few coherent sentences together. Our nation needs citizens aware of our history and our way of governance. It is difficult, though, for students to deal with this alone--especially with such lavish comforts being dangled before them. Faculty are largely obstinate across the country, and refuse anything that would in their mind diminish their power in their departmental fiefdoms. Parents seem to still be willing to blindly dump tens of thousands of dollars into this ill-fated venture. As Professor Richard Arum of New York University recognized in a recent letter, the responsibility for getting us back on track rests with the trustees of this nation's colleges and universities. From experience I again know the truth in this, as during my brief struggles with the administration and faculty in college, wise adjudication was always given by Ashland's Board of Trustees in the greater matters. May they continue to safeguard the university wisely, and may others across the country take heed of the warning that Parker and Arum have given them.
Categories > Education


The Established Church of Liberalism

The latest from the radicals in the Obama Justice Department:

To the surprise and consternation of religious groups across the political spectrum, the Department of Justice is now arguing, for the first time, that the widely recognized "ministerial exception" to employment-discrimination laws shouldn't exist at all.

The implication. Under current law,

Catholics and Orthodox Jews can have an all-male clergy. Jews, Muslims and Hindus can base leadership decisions on ethnicity and descent. And where marital-status discrimination is prohibited, churches can "discriminate" based on celibacy.

Absent the ministerial exemption, all that might be hard to protect.  The liberty of practicing one's religion would be weakened. If the Obama administration holds true to form, they might offer waivers, aka dispensation to some groups, so long as they play ball with the powers that be in other ways.

(Note: I wrote this post quickly before heading off to a religious service.  I have since edited it for clarity).

Categories > Religion

Quote of the Day

A Physicist on Human Beings

The dolphin discussion below inadvertently reminded me of a commencement address given at Ashland a few years ago by Dr. Julian Earls of NASA. Having attended quite a few commencements, I think it was the best address I have heard. Brilliant, eloquent, and understanding. At one point he addressed the subject of human beings:

It's not often that physicists get asked to address non-technical topics. But the reason we don't falls squarely on our shoulders because so often we forget the real reason we're here on this earth. That was made crystal clear to me a few years ago when our oldest son was in high school. He asked me for the definition of a human being, but he wanted it in engineering terms.

The definition I gave him was: A human being is a completely self-contained totally enclosed power plant, available in a variety of sizes and colors, and reproducible in quantity. Humans are relatively long-lived, have major components in duplicate, and science is rapidly making progress towards solving the spare parts problem. Humans are waterproof, amphibious, operate on a wide variety of fuels, enjoy thermostatically-controlled temperatures, circulating fluid heat, evaporative cooling, have sealed and lubricated barriers, auto and optional directional range finders, sound and sight recording, audio and visual communications, and are equipped with the sophisticated control center called 'The Brain.'

And when I was through with that description, it became significant to me for what has been omitted. What goes beyond the mere fact of this robot's existence and turns it into a human being? What makes it different from such mechanical marvels as the Viking Lander, the Pathfinder Lander, or the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers on Mars? Ladies and gentlemen, the meaning of being human is the most significant of all subjects. Science will never be able to reduce the value of human commitment to a formula. It will never be able to reduce the value of respect one for another, love one for another, support one for another, to arithmetic. The challenge of accomplishment in living, the depth of insight, the inter-beauty and truth-- these things shall always surpass the scientific mastery of Nature.

Or, as I tell my colleagues, you can have all the technical knowledge in the world at your fingertips, but if you aren't a caring human being, you're the most dangerous creature on Earth, and the most unfulfilled.

Good stuff.
Categories > Quote of the Day