"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, May 08, 2006

Think Tank Partisanship

The Great Hunter Baker---gentleman, scholar, bon vivant---asks whether open partisanship on the part of think tanks is a breach of etiquette.

Etiquette, schmetiquette, as we say in the locker room. The usefulness of such partisan activity is determined by the fundamental goals of the organization and by those of the funding sources, and not necessarily in that order. I have been affiliated with a number of policy think tanks over the years, and the universal allegiance was to a set of policy principles regardless of Party. (RAND was the large exception, in that it pursues mindlessly the twin vanities that it is "nonprofit," signifying nothing at all except cost inefficiency, and "nonpartisan," which by no means is evidence that ideological biases are lacking.) With respect to CAP, if its fundamental goal is not the advancement of knowledge, but instead is the provision of sound bites for journalists and politicians, then such activities as referenced in Hunter's note are wholly appropriate, even if unmentioned as explicit fodder for partisan advantage, and even if implemented in a manner both clumsy and transparent.

That CAP is envisioned as a left-wing counterpart to Heritage and AEI is preposterous. Heritage, AEI, Cato, Brookings, Manhattan (where I an a senior fellow), PRI, and the others are populated with serious people doing serious research on important questions; people who would have tenure and perhaps chairs at major universities were the latter not bastions of leftist bigotry. Even the Economic Policy Institute---the labor union think tank---puts out real studies that, however poorly done, nonetheless can be discussed in a serious way. Will CAP do that? I rather doubt it.

Public's Top Concern: Ending Pork Barrel Spending

John Fund of The Wall Street Journal notes that the public has decided that pork-barrel spending should stop, and Republicans may finally be listening:

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll offered respondents a menu of legislative action Congress could address before it goes home this year. Asked to choose which should be its top priority, a stunning 39% selected "prohibiting Members of Congress from directing federal funds to specific projects benefiting only certain constituents"--i.e., the pork-barrel spending at the heart of the Congressional earmark process. Immigration reform was in second place with 32%. It would be ironic if the big-spending strategy Tom DeLay thought was a key to shoring up incumbents and keeping GOP control of Congress winds up ending that control.

One of the messages that [Republican strategist Kenneth] Mehlman tried to convey last week to Republicans on Capitol Hill is that continued inaction and business-as-usual behavior by Congress are an easy ticket to losses in this fall's elections. "We have met the enemy, and too often it is us," one GOP member told me. "We either learn lessons from our mistakes in the next few weeks or our own voters will teach us in November by staying home."

Evidently there is no hope whatever that Democrats will get the message, but half a loaf is better than having the whole thing taxed away.

Is this How a Think Tank Works?

I've now read in several places that John Podesta's (Bill Clinton's former Chief of Staff) glitzy new think tank, the Center for American Progress, circulated press kits to members of the media informing them of Tony Snow's negative appraisals of the Bush White House. The idea was apparently to embarrass Bush or Snow or both on the day of his hiring as White House spokesman.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) was conceived as a left-wing counter to outfits like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. It launched with a lot of fanfare and has surely offered its share of white papers, policy briefs, and expert testimonies. I sense that with the Tony Snow maneuver the CAP may have damaged its own credibility. We're talking about petty electioneering type stuff and my experience is that think tanks don't do that, not even the ones with a clear ideological bent.

S.T., Kathy, Ben, Alan, you have all done plenty of think tank time. Am I right? Is this a breach of etiquette?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Spooked Spook

You don't need to be a political genius to know that the resignation of Porter Goss is not good news. It indicates that curing the endemic troubles at the CIA, a difficult task in the best of times, may be well-nigh impossible in this era where that position no longer reports to the President.

This seems a good time to refer back to my piece in The American Spectator, August 2004, in which I made the case against the idea of instituting an office of National Intelligence Director. It runs longer than my usual column length, but I think it's one of the most thorough presentations I have ever made in support of a political position.

Evolution and Abortion

Several posts down I included the words of Francis Canavan, who countered the usual baby's rights versus mother's rights talk by inserting the commonsensical notion that the child is in his mother's womb, which is, in fact, the only natural place for him to be.

A debate commenced in which one group repeatedly invoked the notion of competition between mother and unborn child for scarce resources. There is an immediate problem with that metaphor if we consider that Americans are typically not starving and that food is not scarce, but let's leave that aside.

The bigger problem is that this segment of the abortion debate could be dealt with via Darwin. In evolutionary terms, we all just want to reproduce and ensure the spread of our contribution to the gene pool. A pregnancy is, therefore, mission accomplished. In evolutionary terms, aborting a child is evidence of insanity. It is evidence that a person doesn't wish to do the only thing they are really here to do.

I find this fascinating because I've finally found a confluence in traditional morality and Darwinism. Darwin says, have the baby. Christianity says, have the baby. The natural law says, have the baby. All three agree that infanticide is evidence of a mind not working correctly.

Kennedy Family Values

Dateline Capitol Hill: Kennedy involved in a suspicious incident combining erratic behavior, an automobile, and alcohol. But there were no babes, so it wasn't Teddy.

There's something here I really do not understand. While some of the details are, and probably will remain, in dispute, there is one thing that Patches admits: he drove a Ford Mustang convertible "a few blocks" from his house to the Capitol building. An environmental scold since his boyhood days in the Rhode Island legislature, who equates SUV driving with warmongering, admits he took his 210hp 4.0L V6, EPA rated at 19 mpg, out of the garage for a trip most of us would unthinkingly make on foot? I await with bated breath the Sierra Club's statement pulling their endorsement.

This, by the way, is how to have a drink at the Hawk and Dove without getting into trouble.

Bush and Small Band of Repubs Promise to Stop Pork-Laden Spending Bill

The Wall Street Journal opinion page reports that President Bush "is promising to break his dubious record [of never vetoing a bill sent to him by Congress] by nixing the astonishing supplemental spending bill passed by the Senate yesterday." The Journal article opines:

If ever a bill deserved a veto, this is it. The ball of blubber rolled out of the world's greatest spending body at $108.9 billion, a mere $14.4 billion more than Mr. Bush requested. The original request was for Iraq, Afghanistan and hurricane relief, but these "emergency" spending bills have become regular bacchanalia because they fall outside the limits set by the annual budget spending "caps." . . .

The bill passed 78-20, which means this Senate bender is bipartisan. But 35 GOP Senators have also sent Mr. Bush a letter pledging to support his demand to reduce the bill's total cost; that's one more vote than needed to block a veto override. Meanwhile, over in the House, GOP leaders are finally behaving like, well, Republicans. Speaker Denny Hastert declared the Senate bill "dead on arrival" in a House-Senate conference. "The House has no intention of joining in a spending spree at the expense of American taxpayers," he added. Hallelujah.

The story notes that Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) "took to the Senate floor to deplore Mr. Bush's veto threat as an outrage that would deny money for all sorts of domestic disasters, including farm losses and coal-mine accidents. 'If the President wants to veto a bill that funds the troops, if he wants to veto a bill that funds victims of Hurricane Katrina . . . have at it,' he taunted."

The threat, of course, is that the Democrats will paint the Republicans in their cliched character as tightfisted Scrooges who care more about keeping taxes down than about throwing money at everything under the sun.

The Republicans response should be, "Please, don't throw us into that briar patch!"

Britain's Changing Political Landscape

Britain's ruling Labour Party took a huge hit in the recent polls for local offices. The New York Times reports:

With 4,360 local council seats and 176 authorities in play, Labor lost 250 councillors and 18 councils, according to preliminary results. The big winner was David Cameron, who took control of the opposition Conservative Party last December and for whom Thursday's vote was the first electoral challenge. The Conservatives gained 12 councils, according to preliminary results, including some in bellwether London boroughs, but failed to make ground in the north of England.

The vote did not directly affect the composition of parliament in London, where Mr Blair won a third successive -- if reduced -- majority in national elections one year ago. But, according to a projection by the BBC, the local election in which 23 million Britons were eligible to cast a ballot, showed the Conservatives in the lead with 40 per cent of the vote, the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats with 27 per cent and Labor lagging with 26 per cent.

The Conservative Party benefited from the Labour meltdown—caused largely by scandals in the government—but the real beneficiaries were two right-wing parties, one reasonable and the other much less so. The NY Times reports:

The results also showed creeping gains by the small, anti-immigrant British National Party, particularly in the east London area of Barking and Dagenham where 11 of its 13 candidates won seats from Labor incumbents. Though tiny in relation to the big parties, its gains provoked unease about the possibility of a extreme right backlash against immigrants.

This all bodes ill for Labour's prospects in the next election, which must be held by 2010, the NY Times reports:

The results in local elections do not always mirror national polls: Labor also polled 26 per cent in the last major local vote in 2004, but won power again in the national election last year. But, this time, national politics weighed heavily after a series of scandals, including Mr. Prescott's affair, the questions over the government's failure to deport foreign criminals, worries about the future of the state-funded National Health Service and accusations that Labor offered campaign donors places in the House of Lords in return for loans.

The poll was the biggest electoral event before the next national vote, which must take place by 2010, when Mr Blair has said he will not seek re-election as prime minister.

The accumulation of problems has fed opposition claims that the third-term government is arrogant and incompetent.

The Tories have made a rather poor effort at taking advantage of Labour's decline in popularity, as John O'Sullivan points out, because under their new leader, David Cameron, the Tories have been "undergoing either a cultural makeover or a nervous breakdown as they re-brand themselves as a Green party that rejects lower taxes and believes in wealth redistribution. This transformation has not proved a vote-winner. Until Black Wednesday they were level-pegging with Labor. They have risen to a modest 35 percent since then." O'Sullivan correctly predicted that the Tories would "do well on Thursday. But their success will be based on Labor’s retreat rather than on Tory conversions."

This is a very bad thing because in pre-election polls, which were borne out by the election results, 15 percent of voters said they would vote for “other” parties. O'Sullivan writes, "Usually, that figure is one or two per cent. What makes this doubly shocking is the other parties: the United Kingdom Independence Party and the British National Party.

"UKIP," O'Sulliven continues, "is a decent Euroskeptic party, mainly disillusioned Tories, with an Ealing Comedy flavor. But the BNP is a semi-fascist party on the model of the French National Front. And boosted by the Clarke fiasco, the BNP is likely to get the lion’s share of that fifteen percent."

The polls confirm that both Labour and the Tories, in remaking themselves as something they cannot be, have slid in the public's esteem. The Tories have blown a great opportunity—and not for the first time in recent years. As long as they become Labour Me-Toos, the Tories will probably continue to weaken, and the farther-Right parties will continue to rise. Not an appealing prospect.

Cynthia and Patrick Sitting In A Tree...

Well, now, I see that while a D.C. grand jury is trying to decide whether to indict Congressman Cynthia McKinney for assaulting a Capitol Hill cop, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who apparently fell on his head not far from the tree, crashed his car in the middle of the night. He then told the police on the scene that he was "late for a vote," after which those public servants dedicated to the rule of law drove him home and tucked him into bed without a bath. No sobriety test. No hard questions. No late snack for the teddy bear.

And no tears from Mizz McKinney. None indeed. After all, how are they going to indict her after having given Sir Patrick the kind of love one expects only from Grandma visiting from across the country? Can anyone imagine the black/white demagoguery issuing forth from the likes of the ineffable Sharpton if the black female were to be indicted while the lily white son of privilege got off with nothing at all? It is only my old age and deep cynicism that enable me to laugh at such folly. And the Beltway expects Americans to take it seriously in the context of counterterrorism.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Gas Gouging" Honor Roll

In a vote of 389 to 34, these are the only House members who had the integrity and common sense to vote against the scandalous “Federal Energy Price Protection Act,” including the one uniquely honorable Democrat.

Burton (IN)
Campbell (CA)
Franks (AZ)
Garrett (NJ)
Johnson, Sam
King (IA)
Lungren, Daniel E.
Miller, Gary
Wilson (SC)

George Speaketh

No, not that George. I refer here to the ineffable George V. Voinovich, Republican member of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Like a child who dropped his ice cream cone, George last was seen slobbering over the nomination of John Bolton as UN Ambassador. Anyway, he is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Workforce subcommittee, a lofty position achieved by virtue of deep wisdom and the profound respect of his honored colleagues. And so his latest pronouncement from on high is that "[Federal] employees should receive a rigorous evaluation, and their pay should be determined based upon their performance."

A brilliant insight, stated brilliantly, and sparkling with the gravitas bestowed by the Beltway only upon the brilliant. And so please tell us, Senator: Does that principle apply to members of Congress?


Excerpt from Alan Reynolds, “Irrelevant Anachronism”
The Intercollegiate Review (Winter 1975)

Galbraith is aware that "collective efforts at market control are numerous and frequently invoke the assistance or initiative of the state," and that "regulatory agencies tend to become the instruments, even the puppets, of the industries they are supposed to regulate." Far from deploring this, however, Galbraith thinks it ought to be universal --that the whole economy ought to run on the model of the Post Office, and that failing firms and individuals ought to be bailed-out, or propped-up, a la Lockheed or Penn Central. Where it isn't already doing so, Galbraith wants the government to: (1) "stabilize prices and production and regulate entry into the business," (2) provide "direct government regulation of prices and production," (3) provide "strong and effective encouragement to trade union organization," (4) use the minimum wage "aggressively," without regard to the survival of small firms, thus "forcing those who patronize the market system to pay the full price for the product" (or do without), (5) protect any remaining small firms from international competition "by official action or a tariff," and (6) provide small firms with “research and technical support, capital and qualified talent.”

True, many will be unemployed as a result of all this-"kept out because they are no longer allowed to offer their services at a lower rate." But they will receive a guaranteed income "as a matter of right" at a level "modestly below what can be earned in the planning system." Might as well be generous with the money (the Fed can always print more), since with such a policy of discouraging work there won't be any goodies around to buy with it.

The whole thing sounds very much like Roosevelt's N.LR.A., Mussolini's syndicates, or the medieval guilds. Galbraith has emerged as the supreme spokesman for the special interests. As producers and workers, we all want our own goods or services to be scarce and, therefore, relatively costly. But a policy of raising incomes generally through contrived scarcity and high prices confuses relative money income with total real income. We can all have more goods and services only if more are produced. Redistributing the existing stock of, say, housing and furniture would not provide any more housing and furniture. And the resulting disincentives to work and save would decrease the flow of future production.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Plague of Ambitious Prosecutors

A society's ability to function is based solidly on its government's willingness to treat people fairly and equally. The temptations of power, however, tend to corrupt the individuals who serve in office, as Lord Acton observed and as the Republicans in Congress have demonstrated in recent years. Nowhere is that temptation more damaging to individuals, however, than in the case of ambitious prosecutors.

As another old saying has it, "Every District Attorney looking in the mirror sees a Governor," and politically motivated prosecutions are an inevitable result of that reality. The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.

But the king of them all today is surely New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who is now running for governor of that state, in full confirmation of the old saying. As today's Wall Street Journal notes, Spitzer has truly taken the art of political prosecution to new heights, using the powers of his office to bully and intimidate all those whom he sees as obstacles to his agenda. Here's a good example of his style, from the Journal article:

A spokesman for New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly reported in 2003 that after Ms. Kelly disagreed with Mr. Spitzer over legislation that he felt would hamper his investigations, he hit her with a "slew of political threats and personal insults," warning he'd come to her district and "cause problems." Mr. Spitzer's office described the event as "spirited and frank." To which Ms. Kelly's spokesman bluntly replied: "The attorney general acted like a thug, and his office can try to spin it any way they want to."

The Journal article includes several other examples, and indeed an entire book could be written about Spitzer's use of his office for vendettas against prominent businesses and individuals. He is not the most repugnant AG ever, one supposes, but his roughhouse tactics and naked ambition show just how vulnerable society is to the ambitions of its leaders (as if any confirmation were needed). As the Journal story notes,

[T]here are disturbing suggestions that Mr. Spitzer is peddling information to the public that may not be accurate. You can bet that if this were President Bush, the press would be all over the disparate versions of events. But this is Mr. Spitzer, who at this very moment is running campaign ads that are nothing more than a compilation of the adulatory headlines he's received over his tenure.

Far better for the public if a little more light were directed on these discrepancies. Mr. Spitzer is asking to govern one of the most populous states in the nation. Politicians are certainly allowed "passion," but given the power they wield they also have to demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment. Voters deserve to know if Mr. Spitzer has the character to hold such a job.

Yes, we must expect our governors to "demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment." But we should expect that of our attorneys general, too, and indeed of all those who step forward to serve the public in leadership positions.

The Cry Beneath The Silence

(This is a very brief slice of a very large topic. It deserves much more space; perhaps some day when life is less hectic. For now this is the extent of my available time and energy.)

A famous thinker once said: “God is in the details.” To which a noted architect responded: “The Devil is in the details.” Both were right. But in my slot at Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, I hope this bit of insight survives: “God is in the premises. The Devil is in the premises.” In the words of Rabbi Abba Berman, a great Talmud scholar who recently passed on: “From your viewpoint, you’re right. It’s your viewpoint that’s wrong.”

Indeed it is not too much to say that whenever the Reaganite position loses the debate in the public arena, it is not because it reasoned poorly from the premise. It is because the other side had managed to slip in an unchallenged premise that corrupted the entire dialogue.

And so the great adventure of reforming the culture is most challenging when the target is a premise that has hardened into a pillar. The most pernicious of these, the capstone of evil in our time, the rawest, crudest, crassest, grossest of them all is the one that was on display last week in the Day of Silence observed around the country’s schools. Sadly, sadly, sadly, conservatives have not mounted any resistance to the premise, so whatever quibbles they register against its offshoots are turned, win or lose, into an exercise in futility.

The Day of Silence is to empathize with the silence that is said to be forced upon gay and lesbian teenagers. The Ninth Circuit Court just issued a decision that schools may prevent students from making such statements as: “The Bible says that homosexual behavior is shameful.” Many conservatives are debating and appealing the ruling while decrying the Day as unnecessary and gratuitously provocative. But no one challenges the premise, the horrid, horrible, horrific premise. Namely, that there is such a thing as a “gay teenager”.

Don’t take my word for it. Open your ears, listen carefully. When a high school opened for gays in New York City in the late 1980s, the debate focused on whether isolating them in a separate school was helpful or counterproductive. When people call laissez-faire psychologists like Dr. Joy Browne or strict moralists like Dr. Laura Schlessinger to ask how to deal with their high-schoolers who have “come out” as gay, the only difference in the answer is that Browne says to embrace it while Schlessinger says to be understanding without endorsing. But no one, no one at all, no liberal, no conservative, has the simple honesty, sense and courage to say the commonsensical truth; namely, that every teenager is mixed up about sex and has no clue what he or she “is” or “is not”.

This is a subject that deserves to be treated in a very long treatise. But in our short format today, we can ask ourselves simple questions that highlight obvious verities. Who among us did not experience moments of utter humiliation in approaching members of the opposite sex? How many of us can declare that we never doubted our masculinity or femininity during such moments of humiliation? If a seducer of the same sex played his or her cards right in that moment, was there no vulnerability there? Be honest.

Or look at it from the other side. It is a simple fact that homosexuals try to seduce people to try their way. A practicing psychologist showed me gay magazines that specifically advocated “breaking in” new recruits. In my own life, I was hit on by men a number of times, and when I politely said “I’m not gay”, every one of them kept trying, saying it would be fun, etcetera. Quite a few girls have described to me the exact same experience, eerily almost word-for-word. So if some kid, lonely with rejection by the opposite sex, flattered by same-sex attention, indulges a time or two and thinks that he or she is now gay, should a responsible parent or teacher take that declaration as fact, not subject to discussions, counseling, deliberation and reconsideration?

Furthermore, most teenage socializing is in same-sex environments. Even in coed schools, kids generally cluster in gender-segregated packs. Small experimental ventures into sexual activity cannot reasonably be extrapolated into a lifetime preference. Things happen sometimes in schools, in armies, in jails, when access is more or less limited to the same gender, that do not reflect life in the bigger world. A youngster who had such an experience during a formative period is likely to think that this reveals his or her “true self”.

Truthfulness and compassion demand that we counsel those children, that we tell them they are still young, they are still confused, they do not have all their skills, they do not have all their maturity, they do not have all their resources, and that they need to calm down, get their schooling, not let their doubts fester in their minds, and work their way healthily toward adulthood without some label that was applied through ignorance and self-doubt.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Startling Thought on Abortion

"If we take the principles of liberal individualism as axiomatic, we find it possible to think of the fetus and the woman as the parties of the first and second part arguing over their respective rights. We are then able to blind ourselves to the natural fact that they are related as mother and child and that the child is in the only natural place for him to be, his mother's womb."

--Francis Canavan, The Pluralist Game

Trimming the Pork—There Is Only One Way

Politicians have long bragged about how much federal money they were bringing back home, and it worked because citizens of one's district or state knew that tax money sent to D.C. that did not come back in the form of direct services or greater national security would simply be spent on projects in states with representatives who were better at getting their way. That brought about a natural process known as pork-barreling, in which every successful representative tried to get the most federal money possible spent in his state, which led to an incredible amount of taxpayer money being spent on boondoggles such as roads to literally nowhere and federally financed hot dog museums. Politicians would brag about how much bacon they were bringing home, regardless of how unconstitutional and worthless the projects actually were.

Now that the Republicans have been in power for a few years and have become openly addicted to pork-barreling, it's no longer fashionable.

Well, good! As the New York Times reports, challengers in some congressional and Senate races are actually talking about their opponents' success at bringing home this federal money—and using the incumbents' spending as a weapon, "portraying them as symbols of corruption and waste in Washington," as the Times puts it. The national controversy over these "earmarks"—which finally occurred when the hated (by the media) Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress—has begun to turn the public against this wasteful spending—in principle (see below). Aspiring politicians are quick to take advantage, as the Times story notes:

And so, in a reversal of tactics, challengers here and in other states like Montana, Ohio and Rhode Island are telling voters what the incumbents have brought home, in the hopes, it seems, that the national controversy over the pet projects known as earmarks has come home, too.

"In a time of war, and with the costs of Katrina, we've got to look at what we want to have and what we've got to have," said Mr. Ricketts, who has never run for office but was ahead of the two other Republican candidates in a recent poll. "We've got to end earmarks — or at least reform them."

Times story correctly observes that it's far too early now to tell whether the tactic will work, but the old reality probably still applies, as this comment from a Nebraska voter suggests:

"I am critical of the fact that the federal government is worried about paying for parking garages — and for a million other things like that," said Steve McCollister, who heard Mr. Ricketts speak at a recent fund-raiser in west Omaha. "But they are. And if they are, I want my senator to be in there. I want Nebraska to compete."

That's probably the way most people feel. And despite the fact that nearly all of these projects are wasteful and are not constitutionally appropriate candidates for federal spending, it's important to remember that the real bloat is in the entitlement programs, corporate welfare (including farm subsidies), and national defense. The federal budget is in large part an accumulation of politicians' attempts to buy votes in order to remain in office, using our money.

That's the way the system works, and that's not going to change until the federal government is made subject to the kind of constitutionally imposed tax and budget limitations (known as taxpayers' bills of rights, or TABORs) many states have implemented or are considering.

The only solution is a real federal TABOR.

How are things in your town?

I took the wife and kids (both under 4) to Little Italy Pizzeria in downtown Athens last night. As we walked toward the restaurant from our parked car, I saw and heard a very large parade coming toward us on the sidewalk. I knew what it was right away. The American flags and the Spanish chanting gave it away. I maneuvered my way through the crowd into Little Italy with my one year old in my arms.

It was a peaceful demonstration, but it didn’t go down well with me. I kept thinking that this was something in the nature of a demonstration of power in numbers — a steel fist in a velvet glove, a loudly whispered “Don’t tread on us.”

My wife works in an indigent clinic in Athens and speaks Spanish. She basically provides free medical care to illegal immigrants for a living. She’s not very political and didn’t know the purpose of the rally. When she finally came in the restaurant she was smiling and said, “Those are my people!”

When I explained the point of the rally, she was a little less happy. It was her natural sense that there is something not quite right about illegal immigrants demanding that the host country do nothing to secure the borders or regulate the citizenship process, especially when they receive things like free medical care.

That natural sense is right. America should be generous, but not because she is intimidated.

Una Modesta Proposición

Welcome to America
Friend from across the sea
We'll just pretend the theory is
You're just as good as me.
You'll get some work
You'll earn some bread
You'll make yourself some wine.
If you don't think you have enough
I'll give you some of mine.

Of course, if what's mine is yours, shouldn't what's yours be mine?

TRC's Kathy Hutchins, in her post below, exhibits a pretty mellow attitude towards the creation of what they're already calling "The Star-Spanglish Banner," and I seconded that emotion. I'm near Ground Zero here in Los Angeles, and have been pretty much a dove on the illegal immigration question. There are pluses and minuses, achieving a rough equilibrium: our public services are stressed, the private economy thrives.

Illegal immigration hasn't disrupted civil society here, either---our (largely Mexican) sojourners are pretty mellow folk themselves, and in ten years of owning a business on Los Angeles' Skid Row, the crossroads of the world's desperate, I only once was asked for a handout instead of for work from a Latin American guy. (You can kinda tell they're Latin American, because they tend to speak Spanish at a third-grade level, four grade-levels higher than I speak Spanish meself, and English sometimes, too.)

Out of the reputed 12 million illegal immigrants in the US, it might not be a bad guess that 8 million come from Mexico, a million or two from Central America, and the rest I'm not writing about right now. You won't see many of 'em on TV tonight on the Protest Update because they weren't there.

Now, what's coming clear is that the protests are seeking some sort of amnesty for the trespassers, US citizenship for illegals. I'm a dove on that, too, in principle: to my mind, a mind that thinks the USA is the greatest country in the world if not in all human history, it's entirely sensible to want to join up and become one of us. You can't be president, sorry, but you can become Secretary of State or a governor no sweat. Not bad. And your kids get zero constitutional restrictions at all.

Now the quickest way for you guys to overcome the legal barriers to US citizenship would be for your home country to join up with the US lock, stock and barrel. A marriage, just as naturalization is. A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home. Since you're still entitled to vote in Mexico even while you're enjoying our hospitality here, surely you'd vote "yes" in a Mexican plebicite that petitions the United States to annex Mexico.

If we're to be married, what's mine is yours and vice-versa, no?

"Modest proposals" aren't designed to be accepted, of course. Their purpose is to illustrate absurdities. You see where I'm going with this.

Although there are many sincere persons among our illegal immigrants for whom I would gladly find a place in our household, for most, it appears, the US is a second wife, a second household, unwelcome in the first. We are not being romanced, we are being used. We open our doors, our shores, and our hearts to those who want to marry us. But this nation of immigrants does not offer itself as a sham bride.

On talk radio today (Los Angeles radio pre-empted Rush and Hannity and Dr. Laura and every friggin' body else in favor of Day Without an Immigrant news), there were a number of black Americans who saw through today's events, and more than one responded to the waving of Mexican flags as "disrespecting us." In fact, they used the word "us" in reference to we the people of the United States more unanimously than I observed after 9-11.

This could be a good thing. The (forced) marriage between white and black America has largely been a horror, although this American still holds out hope for it. Because the one thing we all know at this point is that none of us is going home to mother, to Europe or Africa. We are in it together for life and forever. We have no choice but to work out our differences.

It's not so clear for those whose home country is only a few miles away. And so, it's not unseemly or unfeeling to ask the 8-12 million here illegally about their intentions. If you've come courting, even illegally, maybe we can work something out. But all those Mexican flags are beginning to make it look like you're just looking for a little something on the side.

So, just a gentle word of caution: The Statue of Liberty is a proud and beautiful lady, and her affections are not be trifled with.

It's Human to Vent

Well, this piece was written earlier and not under duress. For the readers of Human Events, I share my analysis of Mexico's new drug laws as a stealthy shot across our bow on the immigration issue.

And let this suffice as an appetizer:

Now if you’re a trusting sort, then you can interpret this as a new philosophy of drug use that genius Mexican think-tank guys came up with to reorder the mores of their society. Or just to relieve their overworked and scaredy-cat cops, who were anyway too chicken to go after every pot or to cut the lines for cocaine. If you believe that, then the timing of this in the midst of the immigration arm-wrestle between the U.S. and Mexico is the sheerest coincidence.

A more comprehensive analysis of this move tells us that this is actually designed to ‘cure’ the immigration problem by scaring us with the drug law. It’s actually less of a drug law than a stealth immigration law. They expect us to offer a deal in which we agree to some kind of amnesty for our Mexican illegals and they repeal that law or find a way to reinterpret it into nonexistence.

The Boycott Game

The day of the boycott had almost passed unremarked, when at 11:30 p.m., I got through to my Editor, asking if anyone had written on the subject. He answered, "No, but don't feel you have to grind something out..." So of course I had to grind something out by 1 a.m. If you think I'm a tad less sharp than ordinarily, I'll attribute it to the mad deadline-chasing like a sportswriter after an extra-inning game.

If you must have a teaser segment, try this:

Not that this nation has been particularly eager to evict, or deport, these visitors without visas. Quite the contrary. Once they have managed to pass Go by hook or by crook, they are likely to collect their $200, take a ride on the Reading, dip liberally into the Community Chest, settle into Free Parking, and eventually take a walk on the Boardwalk. On the rare occasions that they end up in jail, they usually turn on the Water Works and wind up Just Visiting. So why boycott us?

Monday, May 01, 2006

How Dr. McGuire earned $1.6 Billion

When William McGuire became CEO of United Health in 1989, the company had annual revenue of $400 million and the stock sold for about a dollar a share. Annual revenues increased to $45.4 billion in 2005 and the stock topped $98 before being split. Because Mr. McGuire did not exercise (cash-in) options accumulated over many years when the stock was much cheaper, he had unrealized (and therefore uncertain) capital gains of $1.6 billion by early 2006.

An AP wire story quotes McGuire saying, "This isn't a giveaway of money that occurs out of the premiums of health care recipients. These are shareholder dollars.”

That is absolutely right. Gains from exercised stock options are entirely at the expense of stockholders -- not customers or other employees. Exercised options are a cost to other shareholders because the difference between the grant price and the exercise price has to be financed by issuing more shares (which dilutes earnings per share) or by using cash that could otherwise have been invested. Grants of restricted stock to executives are also entirely at the expense of other shareholders, because they dilute the value of other shares.

There is no sense it which stock-based compensation of executives – which accounts for nearly all of the periodic windfalls that make the headlines -- could be said to be at the expense of the company’s customers, the company's workers or workers in general.

McGuire called the current criticism of stock options "overheated," and said, "The real scrutiny should address those situations where . . . executives are handsomely paid even when the shareholders are not." That too is quite right.

Politicians and pundits take note:
If you don't own shares in United Health, what that company's executives earned because the stock price went up is literally none of your business.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

United 93: Re-living the Real

I saw United 93 on Saturday night. It was the single most powerful film I've seen in my life. The film lacks any element of fiction. I didn't feel as though I was being told a story, so much as I felt that I was a ghost given permission to observe events at the FAA, NORAD, and onboard United 93.

What I observed was the incredible vulnerability of human systems confronted by something new, the tenuousness of authority in the face of relentless second-guessing by media and legal professionals, and the willingness of people to keep working in the most impossible situations.

The recreation of events on the flight are super-realistic. We only get one side of phone calls. We see the rapid formation of a plan by men who know only that they have to do something and that failure will be no worse than a death sentence 95% already delivered. By the time the passengers move against the attackers you are so keyed up and identify so fully with their plight, you move with them. I could almost smell the recycled air of the cabin.

The closest I can come to explaining the experience is to invoke the holodeck of Star Trek fame. I felt as though I had walked into a holodeck taking me through September 11 and United Flight 93. I couldn't help, but I could feel the emotions and take in the atmosphere.

When the passengers finally move against their captors, I felt a dam break inside me and all the tension, fear, and anger racked my body as tears literally jumped out of my eyes. I knew no one in the theatre would notice because the other people were going through the same thing. When the credits came up, no one moved.

After a few moments, we recovered from our shock and walked from the theatre in a procession just as orderly as a funeral.

If a lot of people see this film (and I pray they will), there will no longer be much debate about Iraq or Iran. Wide recognition will dawn upon Americans that we are in uncharted territory and that something is exponentially better than nothing when facing an implacable foe. We need to churn up as many difficulties as possible so that our experience will be wide and we will never again display the innocence we did just a few Septembers ago.

No matter how much we wish it were not so and pretend it is not true when previous memories fail, we are violently reminded that there is evil in the world and that its practitioners are convinced of their rectitude.

Friday, April 28, 2006

¿Jose can you sí?

Contra a good deal of the right-wing blogosphere, I kinda like the idea of singing the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish. Our national anthem is a poem made to stir a patriot's blood to sacrifice and struggle on behalf of a symbol that stands for noble idea. There is real merit in making that idea more accessible to anyone, especially someone who has voluntarily left his homeland to come here.

It is my understanding that the version of the anthem currently in circulation omits the whiny chant about mean laws and is just a straight-up Spanish translation. In fact, the translation seems to be the one composed by Francis Haffkine Snow. It was commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Education. In 1919. And is freely available, as you can see, from that noted nest of subversion, the Library of Congress.

National Review's Mark Krikorian can, as usual, be relied upon for a non-sequitur quote:

Would the French accept people singing the La Marseillaise in English as a sign of French patriotism? Of course not.

After four years of Freedom Fries and Chilean reds, "the French wouldn't put up with this" is a rhetorical loser. Go out and find me an English speaker who is interested in singing La Marseillaise in any language. In fact, find me someone outside France who doesn't snigger at the phrase French patriotism. Let Nuestro Himno do the work of instructing its audience in the language they understand.

My NPR Commentary From Today

I’m going to reveal a little secret: This is an election year. How do I know that? Well, the Beltway yet again is placing the blame for its own failings on the oil industry.

Back in the days when we had real leadership in Washington, Ronald Reagan ignored the calls for windfall profit taxes, price controls, and conspiracy investigations. Back then, gasoline prices were even higher in inflation-adjusted terms than they are now. But Reagan stood firm, allowing market forces to work, and the high prices of the 1970s fell sharply in the 1980s.

What a different world it is today. Those now arguing for windfall profit taxes for oil companies never advocate subsidies when prices are low. That biased policy approach is destructive economically because it limits potential profits without limiting potential losses. The effect would be falling investment, reduced production capacity, and higher prices over the longer term. So much for consumer wellbeing.

Let’s look at the real reasons that gasoline prices are high. The most obvious are strong worldwide demand for crude oil, and production problems in Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia, and other regions.

Three refineries on the Gulf Coast shut down by hurricanes last fall only now are returning to operation. Other refineries, in order to continue production then, deferred maintenance until this spring. Others are undergoing spring maintenance now in advance of the summer driving season. And so gasoline production has declined over the last month. None of this has anything to do with conspiracies.

And let’s not ignore the damage done by Congress. The environmental requirement for reformulated gasoline can be satisfied only with ethanol or a chemical called MTBE. But some of that chemical has leaked from storage tanks into water supplies, resulting in lawsuits against the MTBE producers, even though they neither own nor maintain the storage tanks. Congress has refused to give those producers legal protection, as a favor for the trial lawyers, so MTBE is being withdrawn from the market. This means that the price of ethanol is being driven up, making corn producers in the Midwest very happy, but at the expense of gasoline consumers. And let’s not forget the 54 cents per gallon tariff on imported ethanol, another example of Congressional magic.

Oil industry earnings per gallon were about 19 cents in 2005, and have increased to about 23 cents more recently. Federal and state taxes per gallon of gasoline average 46 cents. And so by all means, yes: Let’s have a debate about who is profiteering from the gasoline market.

We really should ignore all the demagoguery; oil prices simply bring out the worst in the Beltway, as public officials use unpopular industries as punching bags in pursuit of their political goals. We expect this behavior from such Democrats as Senator Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; after all, fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. But President George W. Bush and House Speaker Denny Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are supposed to be the pro-business, pro-capitalism, pro-free enterprise Republicans. And they simply are unwilling to stand for principle.

Some Shameless Self-Promotion

I am supposed to be on NPR ("All Things Considered") today to give a sermon on gasoline prices, profiteering, and Beltway blather. Check your local listings.

May the spirit of Adam Smith be with me.

Identity Cries "Sis!"

So apparently the novel by the Indian American chick, Hiawatha or something, got pulled because she was plagiarising another genius named McNugget or some such thing. The premise of McSmeup's book was that an Irish girl was a little confused and fell in love whilst the startling and bold new envelope-pushing premise of Sacagawea's book was that an Indian girl was a little confused and fell in love.

Isn't it a shame that two artists could not pursue their separate literary visions in the refreshingly original way that would reflect their unique personalities and perspectives? Sometimes life disappoints.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Republicans Will Sustain Majorities This Fall

In today's Opinion Journal, Jay Cost makes a fascinating and highly persuasive case that the Republicans, despite their perceived political weaknesses, will hold on to their majorities in both the House and Senate this fall.

Cost bases his conclusion not on the policies or politics of the two parties but on history and the current configuration of the two legislative bodies. Cost notes that many pundits are predicting that the Republicans will hold on to the Senate but will lose their majority in the House. Among the important facts they are minimizing, however, are "2004's 98.8% incumbent retention rate or 2006's incredibly low 4.6% incumbent retirement rate" in the House. Even more persuasive, however, is Cost's analysis of trends in House and Senate turnover, and his explanation of why they are so.

I'll leave the full explanation to him, as it is very well don in his article, and will go right to his main point, which is that historically the House flips parties only when the Senate does. This is not a quirk but an ironclad rule of the entire past century (which is the relevant period because it includes the entire period during which Senators have been elected directly by popular vote rather than by the state legislatures).

As to whether this all simply means that the Senate will flip too, Cost points out the unlikelihood of that scenario:

Of course, one might respond, this argument could just as easily predict that both the House and the Senate will flip this year. The error that pundits are making, according to this line, is not with the House but with the Senate. Both are vulnerable. I do not find this compelling. One of the reasons pundits are so prone to write off the Senate is that they know more about the individual elections (this, by the way, is in keeping with senators' reduced incumbency advantage--individual senators are better known). They have a better sense of the electoral landscape, and therefore can appreciate that a net of six is prohibitively difficult. However, pundits know less of the specifics of House contests; thus, the House seems more promising. They cannot name the seats the GOP would have to lose to lose the House. If they could, they would find themselves naming many members most think are secure. A switch of the House still seems plausible, in other words, only because details are lacking.

History indicates that when the House switches, the Senate switches, too. Our knowledge of congressional elections implies that this is not coincidence. Accordingly, we can conclude that the safety of the GOP Senate strongly implies the safety of the GOP House. Further, we can issue a challenge to pundits who think the Democrats will take the House. They have an additional burden of proof: they must either indicate that the Senate will switch or why 2006 will be the first exception to a 92-year rule.

As Cost points out, even those most optimistic about potential Democrat gains in this fall's elections concede that the Senate is probably not going to flip. He notes that the concession that the Republicans will probably retain the Senate is probably correct, given that with less than 40 seats up for grabs and less than half of those being at all competititive this go-round, it's fairly easy to predict which ones will go which way and hence whether the Dems can make up their present deficit. The answer appears to be no, unless things change dramatically in the meantime.

Tony! Toni! Tone!

Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.

My friends on the left call me a Bush dead-ender. I think my more retro-con and Con Classic™ fellows here at TRC are too polite to do the same. Surely Dubya's 32% approval rating indicates much disapproval from both left and right, and vindicates them all.

All I can offer is that I listen to barely a whit of Bushist rhetoric: I poke through the this & that and my conclusions are my own. That they largely agree with the administration's is a matter of coincidence. Or not.

It's all about Iraq, of course, the defining issue of the Bush43 presidency. I must wonder if our ally France had got our back instead of protecting its Oil-for-Food arrangement, or if Russia and China weren't amoral, Hobbesian brutocracies, that freeing 25-odd million Muslims from the boot of a murderous dictator in the heart of the Muslim world and offering them the chance of freedom might have been seen as morally admirable. But that's neo-con fantasy*, so let's leave that for the moment.

The War, of course, is over, and was within one month. The US and UK are on a humanitarian mission now. No one, not nobody, expected that the one of the world's oldest civilizations would so quickly descend into savagery and indiscriminate fratricide. Neither that al-Qaeda would so remorselessly kill more of their own co-religionists than Americans. Still, even if Bush is blamed for the carnage, he has killed fewer innocent Iraqis than Saddam Hussein, fewer innocent Iraqis than al-Qaeda, and fewer innocent Iraqis than the Clinton Administration did with their bloodless but no less deadly sanctions.

This should be, but isn't, common knowledge. There's the rub.

It's acknowledged by all, even us dead-enders, that the Bush administration is abyssmal at communication with the American people and thereby the world.

There are perhaps tens of thousands of murderers yet in Iraq. But there are a quarter million more who risk life and limb to join the police force, and millions more who risked being butchered to vote, each in his or her small way defying the murderers. It would be cowardly to abandon them to the tyrants.

This should be common knowledge, too, but it's not.

And so, a guy recovering from cancer, who has a family to think about, who is taking a huge pay cut from his gig as a media talking head, decides to step into the breach to try his hand at fixing the biggest problem of his government, and perhaps sustain the last light of freedom in this cold and corrupt world.

Here's to you, Tony Snow. You may be accused of being an opportunist, although considering the facts of your life, it's hard to imagine how. Perhaps you're just a good man, coming to the aid of his country, and the world.

* Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge—and more.
---John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Internet as Television: Michelle Malkin

Back in his internet entrepeneur days, George Gilder wrote convincingly about narrowcasting rather than broadcasting and people tuning in to get the news they wanted from the source they wanted with the viewpoint they wanted.

Wow, was he right. We've seen a step in that direction with Fox News. More steps with all the political news sites and blogs on both sides of the aisle.

But I think Michelle Malkin has kicked the process further yet down the field. Check out her new internet television-style commentary site. It looks like television with television style graphics. Really quite impressive just from the standpoint of aesthetics.

One wonders whether she can keep this up on a regular basis (a question the boys at Powerline asked), but it is easy to imagine that small consortiums of the more successful bloggers could easily do something like this and get lots of eyeballs every day. If the blogworld ever develops the resources to do serious reporting, the broadcast medium will be absolutely dead.

Burial or Cremation?

A fascinating discussion over at Mere Comments
over whether Christians should bury or cremate their dead. I've been rather instinctually against cremation, but mostly, I suspect, because it seems so fashionable.

A couple of things of note: some of the commenters seem unable to distinguish that there is some space between what is forbidden and what is prescribed. That is, there are things, in St. Paul's words, that are "beneficial" though not necessary. It's as if Christians can't say we ought to do anything except what is required for salvation. Second - and Russell Moore alludes to this but doesn't spell it out fully enough - when we are thinking about what we should and should not be doing, it's not enough just to say how an action (or omission) will affect us directly. We also have to reckon with how an action will affect the shape of the lives we all live together. Moore's claim is that in burying our dead sans the funeral pyre, Christians show and shape themselves to be the sorts of people who expect the resurrection. In burning the dead, we aren't denying the resurrection, but we are creating the conditions in which its expectation seems a bit less "real."

High Gasoline Prices—What the Government Can Do

In an effort to deal with—or be seen as dealing with—high gasoline prices, President Bush called upon Congress to f"ind a way to approve permits to build new refineries a year after they are filed." In addition, Bush noted that he had "told the Environmental Protection Agency to use 'all available authority to grant waivers that would relieve critical fuel shortages,' and said he would seek more waiver authority from Congress if needed." Both quotes are from a brief Reuters story on the subject.

In addition, AP reports that Bush today also "halted for the summer the purchase of crude oil for the government's emergency reserve."

Analysis: the President's suggestions are valid and reasonable things for the federal government to do: to alter federal policies that force up the price of gasoline without paying off in a cleaner environment. (Reducing gasoline taxes at all levels of government would lower prices at the pump significantly as well.)

There are plenty other federal laws that are exceedingly valid candidates for such treatment, in countless areas of life and the economy, and I hope that this can be the beginning of a trend.

Although it almost certainly won't be.

The Baseball Dilemma

I’m one of those people who takes the baseball encyclopedia to the bathroom with him and memorizes statistics. There isn’t the slightest value in going through this exercise except, that for reasons only available to me, I enjoy it.

I know, for example, that in one distant year in the past Babe Ruth hit more homeruns in a season than the entire American League. I know that in 1949 Jackie Robinson in the National League and George Kell and Ted Williams in the American League finished the season with identical .342 averages to lead the majors. I know that Alex Rodriguez’s 48 homeruns in 2005 to lead the American League broke Joe DiMaggio’s record for most homeruns by a right handed Yankee batter.

Now one might well ask, so what? These statistics don’t reveal anything about the complexities in life, nor can they offer any guidance about human behavior. The numbers aren’t even predictive, a great season is sometimes followed by a mediocre one.

Still baseball was a game of numbers. I learned how to use a slide rule so I could break that log-jam in ’49 and determine that George Kell led the majors in batting. But now that the revelations of steroid use are convincingly documented in Game of Shadows, I wonder what my bathroom reading will be; in fact, I wonder if statistics will ever have the meaning for baseball aficionados it once did.

It is not merely Barry Bonds and his pursuit of Henry Aaron’s lifetime career homerun record that disturbs me. As I see it, the problem is every single number in the age of “juiced” players. Should I take seriously McGuire’s homerun achievements? Should I discount Palmiero’s 500 plus homers and 3000 hits?

How should I evaluate the game? What Bud Selig and the myrmidons of baseball have taken from me is not easily forgiven. Here we are with a new season and I don’t know what is legitimate about the game. Should I honor the player or his pharmacologist?

I’m perplexed. All of my life baseball was a game of numbers. After all, I would say “the numbers don’t lie.” Yet now in my middle years I discover the numbers do lie. In fact, it is hard to know what is real.

The owners intoxicated by box office results averted their gaze from this tragedy. They want the long ball that keeps fans in their seats. Forget about the sacrifice bunt or hitting behind the runner. In the age of steroids, it’s the homerun that counts.

Of course, if you’re looking for results, teams with the most homeruns don’t usually win. Pitching and defense count for a lot; just ask the 2005 White Sox or, for that matter, the Japanese team that recently won the World Baseball Championship.

Clearly Popeyes with muscles bulging who hit 500 foot homeruns get big seven figure contracts and are the envy of their colleagues. The problem is now you don’t know if those biceps came from eating spinach, lifting weights or consuming steroids and growth hormones.

Years ago Bart Giamatti, the former president of Yale and later commissioner of baseball, was asked to compare university and baseball life. His comment: “There’s a better class of people in baseball.” Perhaps, but it should be noted that using pharmaceuticals to enhance performance is the rough university equivalent of plagiarism. The integrity that once characterized baseball is in tatters.

Habits are hard to break. I still read baseball statistics in the newspaper before I read the news. Earl Warren, who did the same thing, once said, “I prefer to read about accomplishments before I read about failures.” Unfortunately I’m no longer sure about those accomplishments. I’m not even sure about what to have as bathroom reading.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Guess Hu?

It occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to expand on a point that I alluded to at the end of my Human Events article, namely that the idea that China will help us to curtail the nuclear adventurism of Iran and North Korea is the starkest self-delusion.

So I wrote an analysis-with-attitude on that subject for tomorrow's The American Spectator.

For an appetizer:

Here is Michael J. Green, senior director for Asia policy through December 2005, waxing pithy on this subject: "In both Iran and North Korea, China has a very serious role to play, and in some ways is the pivot in whether we're successful in dealing with these problems. Hu will be under pressure to say something and to signal, not only domestically here but to those countries, that China's patience is wearing thin."

One hesitates to disabuse the holder of such views, because there is a kind of charm to such loopy delusions. Until we recall that people are actually advancing this rot as a basis for decisions that affect our security. For example, once this serves as the gestalt for international discussion of the Iran crisis, we could get a joint announcement by Hu and Ahmadinejad that Iran has decided to desist from further nuclear development out of respect for the request of China. This would (a) give China a huge diplomatic coup, (b) reinforce the notion that they are world peacemakers, (c) make Iran look reasonable, and (d) worst of all, allow Iran to proceed secretly while we would be hard-pressed to publicly challenge their good faith.

Hu: Main Event

We Reform Clubbers have to stick together, so in lockstep with Doc Zycher, I wrote a diminutive piece for Human Events decrying the heavy-handed treatment of the lady who heckled Hu.

Here is a slender sliver to whet your appetite:

Apparently it was not enough that the police had her removed afterwards. Not enough that Chinese TV cut off the broadcast of the event until after she was subdued. Not enough that President Bush apologized to Hu for his being discomfited. It was necessary, right here in the U.S. of A., in the land of the free and the home of the brave, to arrest this menace to society before she could wreak havoc on defenseless visiting tyrants. She is being charged with “willingly intimidating or disrupting a foreign official”, says Secret Service spokesman Jonathan Cherry. This carries a maximum sentence of six months.

So poor Hu, all intimidated and disrupted, gets to return home to pull the wings off flies or whatever dictators do for recreation, while a decent woman, a New York City doctor who put her conscience ahead of her career for a day, has to face federal prison. What am I missing here?

Republicans Bad, Democrats Worse, Hope Meager

These are sad times for classical liberals. The Republicans are spending taxpayer money at a pace that has drunken sailors saying, "Whoa, hold on a minute there, Buddy!" With President Bush's enthusiastic encouragement, they created a new Medicare prescription drug plan and managed to keep a straight face while telling us it would actually save us money. Katrina gave them a great excuse to add tons of new spending without making corresponding cuts in non-emergency programs. The Republicans are flirting with allowing lawbreakers to benefit from their illegal actions in flouting our immigration laws, all for the benefit of rich people looking for cheap gardeners, nannies, fruit pickers, and warehouse workers. And so on.

It's repugnant, all right, and there would be something we could do about it if not for the fact that the Democrats are not only for all these these things, they support them more strongly, want more spending on these programs and more solicitiude toward the lawbreakers, would press forward more quickly toward the precipice of economic and social destruction, and advocate these absurd proposals with a level of moral smugness even Republicans have difficulty matching.

Mark Steyn describes it well in the current issue of National Review, excerpted on National Review Online:

I'm not predicting electoral disaster this November. It would be nice to think that the GOP might get to enjoy a Geena Davis-style "hiatus" while they "retune" their winning formula. But I doubt it will happen: Even losers need someone to lose to, and the Democrats have failed to fulfill even that minimal requirement for the last decade.

Christopher Hitchens said on the Hugh Hewitt show recently that he "dislikes" the Republican party but has "contempt" for the Democrats. I appreciate the distinction, though I'm not sure I could muster even that level of genial tolerance. The Democrats have been the most contemptible opportunists in the years since 9/11: If they've got nothing useful to contribute to the great challenge of the age they could at least have the decency not to waste our time waving around three-year-old Abu Ghraib pictures and chanting "exit strategy" every ten minutes.

Hitchens has it just right, I think.

Now in power, the Republicans are doing whatever they can to retain that power, which in the nation's capitol means buying votes with taxpayers' money. That's what political parties do, and as long as huge amounts of money and power are concentrated in Washington, D.C., that will be the way of things, with the taxpayers occasionally saying "enough!" and the party out of power deciding to take a chance on a small dose of economic liberalization and a slightly greater encouragement of rule of law.

Unfortunately, the Democrats are so strongly attached to their economic redistribution ideology that there is virtually no hope of them pursuing a course toward liberalization and rule of law. They seem likely only to fall further into their present radicalism.

One might hope that such a course would send them into final political oblivion and allow a more plausible political opposition to arise, but the Republicans' adoption of the Dems' principles has kept the latter party alive.

So a plausible alternative party is not going to arise under current conditions, and a classical liberal third party is an impossible dream.

Which leaves us with the Republicans. Will they see the foolishness of their choice to become the party of huge government as opposed to the Democrats' gigantic government?

Not any time soon.

Guller's Travels

That wacky comedic genius of British television, Ali G (aka Sascha Cohen, a very clever Jewish boy), takes his Kazakh alter ego to a country bar in Tucson and gets the whole crowd into singing 'Throw the Jew Down the Well'.

This is kind of scary, I suppose, but definitely funny as all get-out. Don't miss this video clip.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

How I Spent My Earth Day

Jim and me and Eddie decided to do something special for the occasion, because we love nature and all. So we got up early for a Saturday, and me, I think we did our part to make this world a better place.

11:30 AM---Global Warming. Put a few cases of Bud on ice. Cools the environment.

12:30 PM---Recycling. Threw the empties from the first case in the blue can. (Blue is for recycling.)

12:31---Global Warming 2. Walked, did not drive, to the 7-Eleven. Got more ice. (Also more Bud.)

12:45---Ozone. Oxygen causes ozone. You could look it up. Lit up some bigass Cuban stogies Eddie got from his cousin in Miami and killed some oxygen, which is also a carcinogen. (That's why they sell anti-oxidants.)

2:00---Recycled some more Bud cans.

3:30---Wildlife. Caught some fish in local crick. (Used some of Eddie's mom's tortillas as bait. Excellent.) Removed excess flesh (fillets) from fish but then released them back into the wild. Jim shot at some feral cats, which kill more birds than pollution does, but didn't hit any.

4:45---Buried, did not litter environment with case of Bud empties.

6:00---Genetically Altered Foods. Drove back home (slowly, as it increases gas mileage and besides Eddie was really faced) and barbequed up the fish. (Excellent.) Ate no genetically altered foods and started the barbeque with recycled paper. Also didn't use plates, as it would have wasted water to wash them. Oh and I forgot, got more ice on the way home, at maybe 6:23.

8:00---Decided to do no more driving (Eddie was kinda passed out, although he could answer questions if it was a "yes" or a "no" question, and besides he's the only one with a license even though it's suspended). So we turned off all the excess lights and ordered up the WWF Death Cage Match on pay-per-view.

Whew. What a warm glow, being part of the solution and not the problem. This is the only planet we've got. We were saying it's a shame Earth Day only comes once a year, but you know, that's silly. Jim and Eddie are coming back over tomorrow after Eddie drives his mom to church. Every day can be Earth Day!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

My Givhan Take

The End of Western Civilization Part 11,462: Robin Givhan, who has managed to turn shallow snark into a full-time job at the Washington Post, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for criticism which her Post colleague Howard Kurtz blandly described as "her sometimes unorthodox writing about fashion." This is the woman whose commentary on the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court consisted of griping about his small children's outfits, and who gasped in horror when Dick Cheney wore a winter coat outdoors in the winter.

But there's something even more embarrassing about honoring Robin Givhan with a prize for writing: she's a lousy writer. Her Friday column, a pseudosociological analysis of the decision of a bunch of gay parents to wear rainbow leis to the White House Easter Egg Roll, contains the following sentence:

In matters of racial equality -- particularly during the civil rights movement -- people of color strived to make a similar point.

Strived? Strived?!? The past tense of strive is strove.

She doesn't even write on deadline. This piece, conceived on Monday, was published on Friday. She is employed by, like it or not, one of the premier papers in the world. She is paid to exercise her puerile pomo sensibility for an audience of thousands, is feted and pampered and praised for her "witty, closely observed essays that transform fashion criticism into cultural criticism," and she couldn't write her way out of a tenth grade essay test at a public school. That low-level dust cloud over Maryland must be Whittaker Chambers's ashes erupting from their urn in disgust.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Getting Out of Line: The Nuns Had It Right

If you didn't catch it:

WASHINGTON (AP)-- In a surprise outburst, a screaming protester confronted President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao and interrupted the welcoming ceremony on the White House lawn Thursday.

"President Bush, stop him from killing," the woman shouted for several minutes before security officers forcibly removed her. "President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong" -- a banned religious movement in China.

Standing beside Bush, Hu had just begun his opening remarks when the woman started yelling in Chinese and English. The woman identified by Secret Service as Wenyi Wang, 47, has been charged with disorderly conduct, officials said.

Our esteemed Dr. Z swoops in with a post below and asks:

Apparently the law under which she is being charged proscibes "harassing, intimidating or threatening a foreign official in the performance of their official duties."

So: Was Hu harassed, intimidated, or threatened?

Yeah on the first, Ben.

And I must say that on the whole, even though harassment is routine if not de rigeur for American presidents when they travel abroad, the next two pretty much don't happen.

Certainly in part because of his hosts' de rigeur security arrangements, but perhaps also because there's some glimmer of hope that civilization (civility?---they have the same etymology) is universal.

Perhaps "harassment" should be removed from the statute if it holds her behavior to be more serious than a misdemeanor, which is what it is.

I myself wanted to yell at the local postmistress the other day, because she is helping our regular carrier to get out of delivering our mail during road construction. But I thought I might end up in the federal clink, so I didn't risk it.

I didn't like that, in this here "free" country. My demeanor was decidedly mis- but she had it coming. I would have committed some righteous civil disobedience if the penalty were not so potentially disproportionate. (No jury would have convicted me, I'm sure, although I ain't convinced.)

So, yeah---she should be punished even though we cannot help but agree with her. We're trying to show China and the rest of the world that nations should be of laws.
Now, I'm on record that I think it's necessary to observe that informal space between law and society (people), but I'm against letting the power of either one obviate the other:

"Red" China has societally become expedient/utilitarian to the point of a new and improved tyranny; by contrast, the US and the West are becoming crippled to the point of self-destruction by their own laws. Surely there is a wiser course between the two.

Me, I think we should bring back corporal punishment: justice requires that Wenyi Wang receive a slap on the wrist, then go forth and sin no more---she made her point.

Free Speech at the White House

Well now, I see that the Bushies, after admonishing Hu Jintao about human rights in China, have arranged for charges to be filed against the Falun Gong woman who yelled "President Hu, your days are numbered. President Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong." Apparently the law under which she is being charged proscibes "harassing, intimidating or threatening a foreign official in the performance of their official duties."

So: Was Hu harrassed, intimidated, or threatened? You be the judge. As for me, each day and every way El Presidente W more and more reminds me of the old adage from Animal Farm: Four legs good, two legs better.

A Sad, Sad Situation

I never did get around to providing a link to my column of Wednesday concerning the Tel Aviv bombing and the Hamas justification of said bombing.

Here's an excerpt:

The atrocity was "claimed" by Islamic Jihad. This is a grisly sacrament that puts an exclamation point on such events: a claim is entered into the annals of society. A claim for recognition, for identity, for note, for renown, for a place in history...for "credit." Credit for fracturing civility and gentility. Credit for rending the rhythms of life. Credit for foisting savagery on a peaceable populace. Credit?! This is the first level of tragedy. It ramifies beyond the wounds of the moment into the traumas of the future.

But the second level is many times worse, although its existence in the moment is limited to mere words. The words of the new Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority, which justified the bombing as a byproduct of Israeli "aggression." Until now, when the official Palestinian response belonged to Arafat or Qureia or Abbas, they observed the conventions sufficiently to utter some platitudinous words of condemnation. Even if we knew them to be talking out of both sides of their mealy mouths, there was comfort in the knowledge that mankind still had a common language. So long as such principles command outward obeisance, they sustain the hope that eventually an earnest polity can occupy those social structures.

Iran and Nuclear Power

It's always good to see less-economically developed nations make technological progress toward modernization of their economies, and in that light, Iran's development of nuclear power should be good news.

But of course the United States and much of the world see it quite otherwise, and have stated our intent to seek UN sanctions against Iran if it moves forward with the enrichment process, because that can lead to the development of nuclear weapons by Iran, which has openly threatened to use them against Israel. China, however, and now Russia, are taking the Iranian government at its word and say they will veto any sanctions against Iran, through their position on the UN Security Council. The Times of London reports:

Iran says that it is seeking nuclear power purely for peaceful energy generation, but Washington believes that it is concealing a desire to develop an atomic bomb. But Russia said there was no proof Iran was seeking nuclear weapons.

"One can speak of sanctions only after the appearance of concrete facts proving that Iran is not engaged exclusively in peaceful nuclear activities," Mikhail Kamynin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The Russians have a good point. But what is the evidence? Iran, a nation run by people who have shown little to no concern for the welfare of the general population, a government whose opposition to nearly all of modernity has been utterly resolute, and which sits on a vast subterreanean ocean of oil which it has refrained from developing for the nation's energy use and enrichment of its people, wants to develop nuclear power for entirely peaceful reasons?

Clearly, that doesn't make sense. At the very least, one should suspect that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons in order to protect itself from invasion by Western powers as happened in Iraq, and it is most probable that the nation is seeking to strengthen its position in the region overall.

That interpretation at least gives them some credit for having some brains.

What the West, and the United States in particular, should do about the matter is another question, but what Iran intends in developing the capacity to enrich uranium is not open to reasonable doubt.

The Glories of Smith-Friedman Economics

Matt Laar became Prime Minister of Estonia when he was only 32 years old. He had read only one book on economics: Milton Friedman's Free to Choose. He naively believed the book merely reported economic reforms that had already been implemented in the West. Despite the fact that his economists told him his flat tax, free market moves to privatize an economy that had been almost completely state-run could only fail, he pushed ahead.

The result: Estonia achieved the largest real per capita income of any of the former Soviet states. His policies are now being copied in the former eastern bloc.

Now, he's being honored with the Cato Institute's $500,000 Milton Friedman Prize for Liberty. That prize is aptly named, friend, because economic liberty is a massive part of what liberty is all about.

Read more from the Cato Institute and Pejman Yousefzadeh.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Philosophy of the Dems

There seems to be a theme recurring in criticisms of the Democratic Party---most recently in today's (4/20) Opinionjournal Best of the Web---to the effect that the Democrats will have trouble winning elections on a consistent partywide basis because no central organizing philosophy is to be found underlying their policy pronouncements, other than animosity toward Republicans and conservatives generally, and George W. Bush in particular.

This view, seemingly held quite widely, strikes me as fundamentally wrong. I think that the Democrats do have a central policy goal, which crudely can be summarized as making ordinary people more rather than less dependent upon government. I cannot think of an exception in terms of a policy prescription promoted by the mainstream Democratic Party, and by its left wing in particular, that violates that central principle. Somewhat less charitably, I think that the mainstream Democratic Party believes, again crudely, in a strong government and a weak nation.

This observation should not be interpreted in any way as an endorsement of the Republicans, the Congressional wing of which has become largely unhinged from principle, and the Presidential wing of which has gotten five or so Big Things right and everything else wrong, and which does not understand both the distinction between loyalty and sycophancy and the need to make the policy case clear publicly in support of its preferred policy outcomes.

Who's Qualified to Talk About Marriage and Sex?

The oft-repeated claim that priests cannot effectively advise people about sex and marriage is false.

Consider this: If you had a brain tumor, would you look for a cure from someone who has one and is dying of it, . . . or from someone who has studied neuromedicine thoroughly and has cured hundreds of patients?

If you have automobile trouble, do you consult a friend whose car has broken down, or take it to a qualified mechanic?

Likewise, If you had a marriage or sexual problem, would you really rather talk with someone who has never formally studied the matter but has had three failed marriages, or aborted a couple of children, or can't stand their spouse, . . . or with someone who has never been married but has studied marriage and sex issues and had literally thousands of counseling talks with people bringing him or her a wide variety of moral dilemmas to consider?

Certainly, there are psychological counselors who have been married and can provide good advice, and people who have problems that don't weigh on their conscience and don't have deep moral implications can do very well by consulting them. But for people whose religious faith places a moral content on their sexual relationships, consulting a qualified minister seems to me their best option and a very good one indeed.

I know whom I would choose—and I am not a Catholic and don't believe in requiring celibacy of ministers. The preference for someone who has studied something formally over someone who has practical experience but failed at the matter is simply common sense, and it is what we choose in any other realm. In this centrally important area, it makes all the more sense to go to the experts, regardless of their level of personal experience.

The Most Dangerous Terrorists Today

Americans are correct to be concerned about potential terror activities by Muslims, but the most common form of terrorism since 9/11 has been among so-called environmental and animal-rights activists.

In their vigilante-style attempts to force people to obey laws set by these groups themselves, laws which the American people and their federal, state, and local governments have declined to impose, these terrorists have set forth on a continuous and increasing effort to terrorize residents of new communities, individuals and firms even remotely associated with organizations that use animals in even the most benign way to discover cures for human ills, logging companies (whose work, by the way, if allowed to go forward more sensibly, would prevent the kinds of huge forest fires we endure every summer), and other people who have offended the sensibilities of these eco-fascists.

The U.S. federal and state governments have been woefully slow in responding to this rising tide of domestic terrorism, but they are finally starting to get it, and the individuals, researchers, and businesses under attack are starting to fight back as well.

In today's edition of TechCentralStation, the redoubtable Iain Murray tells the story of several concerted attacks in Great Britian by "animal-rights" activists, which led to strong action against the terrorists when they began to attack Oxford University.

Here, from Iain's article, is a sample of the kind of heroic things these "activists" do:

In February 2001, Brian Cass, the managing director of HLS, later honored by Queen Elizabeth II for services to medical research, was attacked by three men armed with pickaxe handles. Its marketing director, Andrew Gay, was attacked with a chemical spray that temporarily blinded him.

Murray notes that the extremists' actions are becoming increasingly bold and bizarre:

[L]ast year a British farm that bred guinea pigs for use in animal experiments pulled out of the business after the culmination of a long campaign against them when activists desecrated the grave of the owner's grandmother and "kidnapped" her body. The activists were tracked down and recently entered a plea of guilty to blackmail in relation to the desecration. The whereabouts of the remains, however, are still unknown.

Fellow members of the Left have condemned this sort of activity, as they certainly should. Murray writes, "One of the most powerful summaries and indictments of SHAC's method came from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which compared SHAC to anti-abortion extremists."

These are not activists; they are thugs and terrorists.

The good news is that when the terrorists went after Oxford, they bit off much more than they could chew. Their incursions against the university "and everyone linked to [that] institution," which the U.S.-based Animal Liberation Front called for, backfired. A strong counter-protest group, Pro Test (founded by a fed-up 16-year-old high school dropout), arose, and prominent scientists and researchers joined politicians and citizens of both Left and Right to stand up against the bullies. Work on the institution's proposed facility consolidating all of the university's biomedical research efforts into a unified research center is moving forward.

In the United States, terrorists targeting tree farms in the Pacific Northwest were recently apprehended and indicted, six animal-rights terrorists were convicted of animal enterprise terrorism and multiple counts of conspiring and committing interstate stalking and of telephone harassment (they face substantial fines and prison terms of up to 14 years when sentencing is imposed in June), and Congress is considering an update of the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act to an Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Much work remains to be done in restoring rule of law under violent attack by fanatics such as these, but it is good to see steps being taken in that direction. Read Iain's excellent article here.