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

Monday, May 15, 2006

Alienation from Republicans—and the Antidote

Recent polls show support for Republicans is still declining, and President Bush's approval ratings are the lowest for any president other than Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter in the past fifty years. The New York Times summed it up well last week:

Americans have a bleaker view of the country's direction than at any time in more than two decades, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Sharp disapproval of President Bush's handling of gasoline prices has combined with intensified unhappiness about Iraq to create a grim political environment for the White House and Congressional Republicans.

This decline is basically not a matter of PR or press bias but of policy, as I note in my Tech Central Station article of today, "The Crash of Big-Government Conservatism." Bush and the Republican Congress have had a difficult time selling themselves to the public because their policies have not been appealing. They have had a philosophy, big-government conservatism, that alienates nearly everyone. The War on Terror delayed this alienation for several years, but ultimately the Bush administration's errors and Congress's addiction to big spending, which was based on this big-government conservative philosophy, alienated both those outside the party, first, and then a great proportion of Republicans themselves.

Big-government conservatism has a few main aims: to preserve the welfare state while mitigating its ill effects, to preserve the sexual revolution while mitigating its ill effects, to preserve the present American culture while mitigating its bad effects, to preserve the present international order while mitigating its bad effects, and to preserve the present system of national politics while mitigating its bad effects.

The economic premise of the Republicans is that the welfare state benefits from free markets and is not in natural conflict with them. Their social premise relies on the same utilitarian calculus as that of their opponents on the Left, but the Republicans hold that antinomianism is not good for people but that nothing can really be done about it except to try to ease government restrictions on religion. The international affairs premise is that liberal democracy is the best thing for all nations and imposition of in on other nations is the solution when they become a threat to U.S. interests.

The Democrats, by contrast, say that the system of free markets and human welfare are in inevitable conflict, and the latter must always be the higher priority. They believe in expanding the sexual revolution. They believe that the moral problem with America is not antinomianism but the intractable intolerance of monotheists. And they believe that the real problem with the international order is that war is inevitable when people don't see residents of other nations as being of equal importance as oneself and one's family, neighborhood, and nation.

The Democrats have a definite philosophy that creates a vivid picture of a good world, and that is appealing. The Republicans' present philosophy is simply a watered-down version of the Democrats'. For a party in power, that is disastrous, as it lets the opposition set the agenda and measure success.

The solution for the Republicans is to embrace classical liberalism, not forgetting its crucial components of individual rights, personal responsibility, the belief that human life in general and every human life in particular has meaning, and respect for the reality of nationality.

Such a vision provides a truly comprehensible, consistent, and sensible view of the world and the nation. In this worldview, the nation is a society of free individuals brought together by a common heritage, living under laws that free people to achieve the best that they can and prevent them from unfairly exploiting one another, that respects the need for personal morality regardless of one's religious background. Classical liberalism provides a way to find clear answers in all policy matters by asking the following question: Which policy approach will create the greatest amount of both individual liberty and social order?

Such a vision is by no means a theocracy; it is in fact based largely on utilitarianism. However, it also includes a respect for religion because the latter is part of mankind's perpetual search for truth and meaning and because it encourages personal morality and social charity and gives great comfort and purpose to individuals in times both good and bad. In its great and abiding respect for the good things religion brings, however, classical liberalism never allows the two kingdoms (in Martin Luther's great distinction), the City of God and the City of Man, to be conflated or confused with each other. Classical liberalism holds that the Christian religion is good for society because it encourages the intellectual foundations for an orderly society of free individuals. Whether a particular religion's claims are true or not is a matter for the Church to decide, as Luther pointed out, not the state; and whether a particular policy or political philosophy is good is a matter to be decided by an emprical calculus, not religious laws developed for a very different group of people six thousand years ago. Encouragement of religion, yes; imposition of religious-based laws, no.

This philosophy is much more likely to appeal to Republicans and others on the Right than the watered-down postmodernism now offered by the Republicans. The one positive element for Republicans at this point is that they are learning today, almost six months before the coming elections, that their philosophy has run its course. There is time for them to change. Whether they will in fact do so is another question entirely, but one thing is certain. They have nothing to lose, and their hold on Congress and state legislatures and executive mansions to retain.

Oooops! Yum!

Backed up my GMC/NASCAR/GOP half-ton on some little squirrels. Not one, but two squirrels. Arrgh. Such cute little fellas. But what were the odds of getting such premium roadkill in my very own driveway? Zero is the answer. But there they were, dead. Or mostly, until I drove over 'em again, just to make sure.

Waste not, want not. Children starving in Swahilistan and all that, so I decided our cute little fellas' deaths should not be in vain. They would not have wanted it to go down like that, of this I am sure. Squirrels are Republicans too in their squirrelly way: they hoard all their nuts, do not share with 0thers, breed like religious freaks or rabbits, and exploit the hard work of others, like trees and people. They neither spin nor toil nor sow nor whatever, but they do want their bodies eaten by the masses. You could look it up. Republicans are like that. Abraham Lincoln.

So, we (Eddie, Jim & yr humble truck backer-upper) experimented around a little in our culinary science laboratory (Eddie's mother's kitchen) and came up with this. Peel before eating, like shrimp:

2 dead squirrels
½ bag Fritos® (crushed)
7½ oz. Kraft NASCAR® Barbecue Sauce
1 jar Cheese Whiz®
½ tsp coriander
1 quart Tabasco®
1 sprig parsley

Stir, set a tire on fire and cook it all 'til it's a golden black. Top with Cheez-Its®.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Oh, man. I'm proud to be an American, and dang wasn't that an unexpected feast. Providence, the Founding Fathers used to call it, before they all died. We are the new Promised People and God was smiling at my back tires before they accidentally crushed the heads of those tasty varmints, I can tell you that much for sure. Felt sorry about the squirrels and their heads and all, but hey, we're all just spokes on the Great Mandala. Some of us eat, some of us just taste good. And if I may say, especially with this recipe.

Bon Appétit, as I'd say in France if I were there (which I'm not, thank God), and Jeff Gordon better get his pit crew's ass in gear or he's gonna miss out on The Chase. Bush too.

Friday, May 12, 2006

NY Times Deflects Meaning of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Fraud

Dedicated readers of this site will be well aware of the fact that adult stem cells—cells taken from people, placentas, umbilical cords, etc.—have been used in a great variety of ways to effect cures in medicine in the past couple of decades, and have proven their value. Embryonic stem cells (those taken from unborn, developing human beings that have been killed), on the other hand, while receiving the bulk of the research money, have proven useless in curing ills. Readers will also recall that the most celebrated case allegedly establishing the value of embryonic stem cells, that of South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, was proven to be a fraud.

The New York Times article on the subject reported it as follows:

Reconfirming the earlier findings by Hwang's school, Seoul National University, Mr. Lee said that Hwang had never cloned embryonic stem cells from patients. Mr. Hwang's now-discredited claim had raised hopes that doctors one day would grow genetically matching tissues from embryonic stem cells to repair damaged organs or treat diseases like Alzheimer's.

Hwang was indicted for fraud and embezzlement today in Seoul, along with five of his associates.

Given that the alleged evidence behind Hwang's findings has already been proven phony in the scientific realm, it is certainly correct to describe Hwang as a scientific fraud. The appropriate, full term, then, should be something along the lines of disgraced stem cell researcher Hwang.

Better yet, for further accuracy, he should best be described as disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher Hwang.

And how did the Times story describe him?

Disgraced cloning expert.

Um, excuse me, New York Times, but his disgrace was not over cloning, even though your story inaccurately claims, in its early paragraphs, that Hwang's research was about cloning stem cells. It was not. In fact, your story admits this, a few paragraphs down the page (in case anybody should get that far):

The scandal raised doubt about the feasibility and ethics of one of science's most cutting-edge research fields: cloning human embryos and then destroying them to extract stem cells.

So he's not a disgraced cloning expert.

He's a disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher.

Let's all try to remember that, OK?

Addendum: Alex Avery of the Center for Global Food Issues informs me that Woo Suk successfully (and verifiably) cloned dogs, creating Snuppy. So cloning was in fact his only certified success—which in fact strengthens the point I was making.

Humor in Events

Well, it's the weekend. It's a time to sit back in the easy chair with some light reading and emit a series of chuckles, punctuated by the occasional guffaw.

Toward that end, I wrote a spoof translation of the mysterious and portentous Ahmadinejad letter, and it is running in today's Human Events.

I was thinking of accompanying it with a cartoon, but I was too lazy to do any sketching, so I had a Danish instead.

Incidentally, my sources tell me that the Weekly Standard will run a spoof of their own in the Parody section of next week's issue. It will be interesting to see whose is funnier. Perhaps we should commission a poll.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

TVD's Newswalk™: Polls Schmolls

A guided tour of those who make the news and those who re-make it:

BAGHDAD (AP)---Gathering a crowd by hawking flour at half-price from a pickup, a suicide attacker set off bombs hidden beneath the flour sacks at a market in Tal Afar on Tuesday, killing at least 17 people and wounding 35 in a city cited by President Bush as a success story in battling insurgents.

Now, certainly technically accurate. And I suppose a moron might miss the intended snarkiness there toward the president.

Someone might remind the Associated Press (the original is not bylined) that terrorism can happen everywhere, even in areas under firm coalition control.

Like London.

That's why it's terrorism, stupid. The flour sacks were being sold at half market value, and so attracted quite a crowd. I could take out three-quarters of San Francisco if I passed out "Impeach Bush" buttons first.

Poll Gives Bush His Worst Marks Yet

So sayeth the NYT headline. OK, though a bit ho-hum. Another day, another drop in the polls. Down to 31%. Buried in the last paragraph, I mean the last, folks, are some other interesting approval ratings: Al Gore, 28%. And in the next-to-last, John Kerry, 26.

28, 26. Y tu mamá también. Thank God Dubya stole those elections.

Over in the UK, where he just won another term while promising to quit before it's over (how perverse!), Tony Blair is at 26%, too. And I can't even imagine how low the heinous, corrupt Chirac regime has slipped, especially among those who got their Citroens all burned up in the recent, um, civil unrest.

The Battleaxis of Evil (HT: Jay Homnick), Hillary Clinton, who says little and does nothing of value, only has an approval rating of 34%, and all-around good guy centrist John McCain is at 35. There's a pattern here.

In this day and age of 24/7 bad news here in the western world, all things considered like the (un)popularity of his previous crap opponents, his political ally in another country, and senators who have no real responsibility, Dubya is lookin' pretty danged good.

May 8 (KGO)---Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says the war in Iraq may turn out to be the worst foreign policy mistake in American history.

Maybe, but we've made some other doozies. Let's take a

{{[~~Wayne's World Flashback to 1996~~]}}

Lesley Stahl: We have heard that half a million children have died (in Iraq). I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?

Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price---we think the price is worth it.

You made no hard choice, Madame. You chose the easy way out. It was not worth it. You "contained" Saddam for a handful of years, changed nothing, and only the innocent died. And I'd like to know who "we" are.

There are some things in today's world worse than war, and you proved it. I'll take this war, which has Saddam in a prison, his lovely sons Uday and Attila dead instead of throwing their countrymen into meatgrinders, and the Iraqi people with at least a puncher's chance to win their liberty. I understand that many seem to disagree, but me, yeah, I think it was worth it, especially in comparision with your "choice."

Go home, ma'am, and be quiet. Some people have no shame. If anyone on this earth has no moral or political standing to judge the decision to topple Saddam, it's Madeleine Albright.

Or, all things considered, mebbe not:

(AP)---Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general now defending Saddam Hussein, said the former Iraqi president's trial is a sham staged and paid for by the United States. "This court is nothing more than a continuation of the war---shock and awe--- and the occupation to destroy and demonize the former leadership, make them seem barbarian," Clark said.

Make them seem barbarian? Should it take any effort at all?

If Saddam had had Clark instead of Baghdad Bob, I have no doubt that he'd have won the war and his approval rating would now be in the high 70s. At least in San Francisco, where now he's only hovering in the low 50s.

May 11 (NYPost)---WASHINGTON - President Bush yesterday said his younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would make "a great president" as Bush III.
"I would like to see Jeb run at some point in time, but I have no idea if that's his intention or not."

And the irony is that Bush III, who as governor of bellwether Florida enjoys a 55% approval rating, won't be our slam dunk next president only because of his brother. On the other hand, Clinton II, who would hold no political office above dogcatcher without her husband, might make it because of him. Guilt, or merit, by association.

If Iraq and Dubya will keep Jeb out of '08, then Madeleine Albright (and whoever "we" is/am/are) should send Hillary to political oblivion.

The polls indicate that everybody everywhere is pretty friggin' miserable, is what I get. Sorry, nobody's perfect, and politics cannot solve the problem of the human condition. Democracies don't do that philosopher-king thing, at least since FDR. Except for what he did and didn't do with Iraq, I thought Bill Clinton was pretty much an OK president. I think Dubya handled Iraq better and it's best he doesn't listen to the polls, all things considered, though most criticisms of him are valid, too.

In the music business, what I'm doing here is called "turd-polishing." You work with what you're given, and that's what the bridge to the 21st century dumped on Bush. It was a crap situation, with nothing but crap alternatives. I think he did the best any of us could, at least if our names are Al Gore, John Kerry, or Madeleine Albright.

(My apologies for the fecal imagery at the close. Just couldn't find anything better or apt. "Sucks" just didn't swing it but it's one or the other here in the 21st until we learn to chin up and chill out a little...)

Making Civil Crimes Criminal

In an interesting article on the political ideas of British Tory MP Alan Duncan at Tech Central Station, James Pinkerton notes that prosecutors in the United States have been increasingly using the criminal process to chase after civil violations, referring to a Wall Street Journal article I referenced recently on the same subject:

A couple of years ago, Cato's own Gene Healy wrote a book about this, Go Directly To Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything, in which he argued that prosecutors were zealously turning civil violations into criminal violations, in part to extort plea bargains, in part because, well, this is a prison-happy culture, where nearly one percent of the US population is locked up. More recently, The Wall Street Journal editorial page has taken note of this same phenomenon; prosecutors now have the legal equivalent of Abrams tanks, which they can use to run over anybody, accused of just about anything. When non-violent suspects are threatened with prison terms that stretch for decades, or even centuries (and when employers are terrorized into cutting accused employees loose, financially, leaving them with no hope of paying their legal bills), well, then, of course, the accused take the plea, and justice, of course, is traduced.

Pinkerton and Healy are correct. Martha Stewart and other bosses of big companies may be unsavory characters, but their crimes are civil ones for which the justice system provides appropriate remedies, which criminal prosecutions are most decidedly not.

When they came for the farmer who tilled land supposedly holding endangered species, I cheered.

When they came for the CEO whose firm manipulated their books to keep their tax payments low, I cheered.

When they came for the politician whose fundraising activities could be portrayed as violating an obscure, incomprehensible, and unconstitutional law, I cheered.

When they came for me, there was no one left to cheer.

Response to Dick on Intelligent Design

National Review Associate Editor Anthony Dick has an article up today
praising a new documentary about Intelligent Design and Evolution. I got
hung up on the part where Dick starts talking about the concept of irreducible
Olson’s exposition of this first point hinges on what has become the
biggest buzzword in the ID movement: “irreducible complexity.” This concept is
the golden calf of ID advocates, who argue that there are some biological
structures that are so complex that they could not possibly have evolved through
the Darwinian process of genetic mutation and natural selection. The proper
functioning of these structures, they claim, requires the simultaneous operation
of numerous different components. These components supposedly could not have
been of any use to an organism if they had evolved individually on a gradual
timescale, so it is not clear how they could have evolved together to form the
larger structures.

And so? Do IDers modestly conclude from this that they may have found
an interesting challenge that should be the topic of further discussion and

Well, not exactly: They conclude that, because we can’t presently think
of a way that some complex biological structures evolved naturally, these
structures must have been fashioned by an intelligent designer. Here you will
want to fire up your camcorders: Rarely will you see a logical long-jump that
hurdles so many acres of careful reasoning with such soaring ease. If ever there
was a record-breaking flight of fallacy, surely this is it.

Olson correctly identifies this “irreducible complexity” canard as a
textbook example of “God of the gaps” reasoning, whereby one finds a gap in
human understanding of the world, and then immediately plugs this gap by
invoking divine intervention. It is by the same thought process that the ancient
Greeks deduced the existence of an angry Zeus hurling thunderbolts.

Mr. Dick appears to have done some easy leaping of his own. If it is the case that there are some biological structures that are simultaneously too complex and too irreducible in function to have had some predecessor (and we don't mean the eye, but a flagellum), then the entire evolutionary theory is on the rocks waiting to be spelled out by a more capable theory. Such a finding would not be modest, but would be foundation shaking. Dick's "god of the gaps" is Behe's "find a new theory, don't worry I'll wait."

Once again, as an observer of the debate rather than as a participant, I can't help but feel that one team is desperate to knock the other one of out the arena by pure scorn rather than by engagement.

I'm particularly intrigued by the accusations about "god in the gaps." It is quite true that one of the great achievements of science is to explain how certain things work, how they happened, or how they might have happened in such a way that we can go beyond, "God made it that way." And we should all applaud. I can imagine some good Calvinists out there thinking that scientific exploration is exactly the sort of role God envisioned for man right from the beginning.

However, the joy of learning, explaining, and naming shouldn't mean that we are incapable of admitting a need to go back to the drawing board or to make a major revision. I think that because the issue of evolution has been so charged with atheist and Christian fervor, there are many who believe evolutionary theory is a battlefield of honor on which science must prove itself to be the master narrative with the best chance of explaining "life, the universe, and everything." And on the battlefield, you don't admit weakness, even if it's real.

When I watch the way this battle is conducted. I see weakness and its not with the IDers. It's with the guys who conduct little inquisitions in colleges and universities when they find a colleague whose orthodoxy is suspect.

A Comity of Eras

Our title may be a gentle play on words, but it conveys a notion of some depth. Antiquity and modernity are not two jarringly contradicting elements; when viewed as part of a Divine plan, they prove to be surprisingly complementary.

Wednesday's edition of The American Spectator included an article of mine, in which I argued that Mr. Ahmadinejad, who labels Israel as an aberration out of step with the history of the Middle East, is actually exposing his own weakest side.

Because there is no greater anti-historical lesion on the map of that region than his regime, which unseated a monarchy that had survived for 2500 years, the longest in human history.

Yet I kept a piece to myself, to be shared only with my fellow Reform Clubbers, who would be more disposed to take seriously the role of Biblical prophecy in the disposition of international affairs.

The question I have been pondering is: why did God allow that one monarchy to survive through all these eons of turmoil, only to fall thirty years after the State of Israel was founded?

Half the answer is that they merited to have great longevity as a kingdom because they allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple. That part is fairly straightforward. But why quite this long? And why for thirty years into Israel's existence?

My theory - a spiritual, Biblical thesis, formed in the seam where knowledge meets intuition, not a testable scientific hypothesis - is that it was their special role to testify to the claim of the Jews upon their land.

The Jews went on a long trip and came back; in those situations, it is enough to have one neighbor who can confirm the legitimacy of the faded old deed. And who better than the one who sent them back home to build their Temple 2300 years ago?

Once they fulfilled that task of bearing witness (and, indeed, Iran was Israel's only friend in the Middle East in those days), they naturally dissipated. After all, they were not of this time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Waist Lines

Wow, that Town Hall outfit is a-hoppin' and a-buzzin' today with letters and comments, most of them favorable to my position against creating formalistic or governmental entities to make war on overeating. But a minority think that I have come to defend the adipose and the corpulent, that I am downplaying the danger of obesity. I counter by saying that cultural venues such as print media are the appropriate locale for appeals to the populace to curb its intake.

To prove my sincerity, I dug up this cute bit of satire I did a few years back. (I censored out an inappropriate stanza, but I left in the one that refers to 'vomit'. If that's too strong for you, my apologies.)


Not for me the alfalfa grain
No, I will not eat any millet
Won't touch it if it had no brain
Won't eat it unless I can kill it.

Doesn't take more than a twinge
Not even that full-scale urge
And I'm ready to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

In spring that the snow melts in
Or winter when it keeps on fallin'
I still binge even more than Yeltsin
And I still purge more than Stalin.

Oh, you would certainly cringe
To see how much I will splurge
When it's time to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

I might miss the New Year's Ball
And I may miss Haley's Comet
But I never miss that Last Call
And I never miss my daily vomit.

I don't shoot up with a syringe
And drugs are not my scourge
But it's time to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

Criticism of Catholics and Muslims: An Eye Opening Contrast

Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic organization, has asked for a disclaimer in the upcoming film based on The Da Vinci Code. Not only does the author of the book, Dan Brown, defame this Catholic group, but the thesis undermines the very legitimacy of the Church and its doctrines.

Brown’s argument is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and there are descendants living in Europe. Although Brown maintains this claim is predicated on a non-fiction book, the evidence for this assertion is entirely speculative.

Sony Pictures, which has produced the film, dismissed the request by noting the film is “a work of fiction, and at its heart, it’s a thriller, not a religious tract.”

Contrast this event which blasphemes Catholicism, with an Italian magazine, Studi Catollic, that recently published a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad cut in half and burning in hell. The drawing in question shows the poets Virgil and Dante looking down on Mohammed split in two and engulfed in flames

"Isn’t that man there split in two from head to navel, Mohammed?” Dante asks Virgil.

“Yes and he is cut in two because he has divided society,” Virgil replies. “While that woman there, with the burning coals, represents the politics of Italy towards Islam.”

As an aftermath of publication, the editor was threatened. He immediately said he hadn’t any intention of offending any religion. “I freely ask… for forgiveness.”

This was a marked change of tone from the editor’s initial comment, when he said, “We must not fear freedom of opinion.”

In fact, included in the apology is the claim that the cartoon isn’t against Mohammad; “it addresses a loss of the West’s identity.”

While I don’t have evidence suggesting a change of heart was brought about by intimidation, it is a plausible conclusion based on dozens of similar events. Moreover, it might well be asked why there is any fuss over a cartoon which represents in graphic form what Dante Alighieri wrote centuries ago?

Dante placed Mohammed in Hell in Canto 28 of the Divine Comedy. This canto inspired a painting by William Blake, depicting Muhammad with his entrails hanging out, and a fresco in Bologna Cathedral showing him being tortured by a devil.

There are several conclusions that can be drawn from these two descriptions. Criticism of religion is permitted, whether tasteful or not, in Western societies. In the case of Opus Dei, a disclaimer for an offensive film was requested. In the case of Muslims, offended by a cartoon in an Italian publication, threats are made and intimidation quite likely.

In the former case, the request is rejected; in the latter, the editor grovels and revises his intentions.

The role that Islamic violence, or possible violence, plays in preemptive acceptance of Islamic positions should not be underestimated. Catholics understandably reject the implicit precepts in the Da Vinci Code, which goes directly to the heart of the religion. But I could not find any evidence that Brown and his publisher have been threatened. Had they been put in that position, the public outcry would be deafening.

Islam, however, is treated differently. The West is fearful of offending Muslims because we have seen the reaction on our television screens and on the streets of European capitals. One might even say the threat of violence has a chastening effect on public attitudes.

This is the dilemma: Western tolerance permits intolerant responses to real or perceived offenses. In fact, the sensitivity to Islamic concerns is so well ensconced in the public imagination that self-censorship often precedes revelation.

Who can forget what happened to Theo Van Gogh when he criticized the treatment of Muslim women? Emerging from this comparison is a West that may not be able to defend its own traditions, not when might makes right or principle is modified by fear.

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.

Dems Look at Big Picture, Shrink Back in Horror

The New York Times reports that the Democrat Party and the Left in general are looking at the party's political strategy of recent years and finding it wanting.

Ya think? There's a news flash.

The article does include an interesting summary of what the Dems and Left in general are thinking about thier strategy: It has been too centrist:

This discussion of first principles and big goals marks a psychological shift for many in the party; a frequent theme is that Democrats must stop being afraid, stop worrying that their core beliefs are out of step with the times, stop ceding so much ground to the conservatives.

So, the strategists and idea generators conclude, the Dems and Left in general must Look at the Big Picture, Go Back to Their Roots, and FInd the Great Cliches That Will Fool Voters into Thinking They're Not Crazy. (OK, that last one's my addition, but hey, we're here to analyze.)

Of course, it makes sense for a party that is out of power to rethink what it has been doing. Even the Republicans, who have been in power but have squandered much of their political capital, are doing that in turning away from their drunken-sailor spending habits of the past few years, if only rhetorically at this point.

The $6.4 trillion question, however, for the Democrats is what vision they should pursue. Of course, you know my preference would be for them to move to the right of the Republicans on all issues. But I would also like to own a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and will probably have one before the Dems move to the Right (and I never will, just to be perfectly clear, unless my DEAR FRIEND AND THE SMARTEST AND FINEST GENTLEMAN IN THE WORLD Alan Reynolds gives me one for my birthday).

So, what are the core beliefs the Democrats should pursue? The Times story quotes Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) as providing his usual sage advice:

Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said, "One of the most successful right-wing ploys was to demonize any concern about the distribution of income in America as, quote, class warfare."

OK, so the Dems' core ideas are good, albeit unidentified at this point in the article, and their political problem is strictly a result of the American people being fooled into believing that angry diatribes against the "rich," with the latter defined as anybody earning more than about 5 percent above the median income, are "class warfare." That's certainly good to know, and it points the way toward a real winner of a political philosophy, as outlined by Michael Tomasky, editor of the liberal journal The American Prospect, in "a much-discussed essay in the May issue" of that august publication:

Mr. Tomasky argued in his article that "the party and the constellation of interests around it don't even think in philosophical terms and haven't for quite some time. There's a reason for this. They've all been trained to believe — by the media, by their pollsters — that their philosophy is an electoral loser.

"Mr. Tomasky argues that the Democratic Party needs to stand for more than diversity and rights; it needs to return to its New Deal, New Frontier and Great Society roots and run as the party of the common good — the philosophy, he says, that brought the nation Social Security, the Marshall Plan, the Peace Corps and civil rights legislation. After years of what he calls "rapacious social Darwinism" under Mr. Bush, Mr. Tomasky argues that the country is ready for the idea that "we're all in this—postindustrial America, the globalized world and especially the post-9/11 world in which free peoples have to unite to fight new threats—together."

Well, that certainly sounds meaty (or for Dems, tofuey), nutritious, and delicious. I concede that it would be a surefire winner. . . .

If we were in a Depression or trying to rebuild Europe after a devastating war.

But we aren't. And no amount of complaining about present-day conditions is going to change the fact that the economy is humming along nicely, the environment is cleaner every day, the War in Iraq is winding down, and that what really counts when crises arise is finding the most sensible solutions. Meaning that policy is indeed central.

A governing philosophy is essential, of course, if a political party is to have a coherent base, but people vote based on which philosophy they think works best at this time and for the future. The Republicans can plausibly claim that their philosophy is one designed for the common good. And that is in fact what they do argue. So the argument will become, as it always is . . . an argument about policies.

And if the Democrats run on the New Deal and the Marshall Plan, Republicans will surely be delighted.

Though not as delighted as I'd be if the Dems would move to the right of the Republicans and give the latter some actual competition.

Until then, I'll just have to keep driving my Mazda.

Pelosi Talk

"I am the decider." President Bush's spectacularly unfortunate remark, when pestered to fire Rumsfeld, feeds right into the media portrait of Republicans as authoritarian. Historians of a leftist bent may well seize on that as the defining line of his presidency, something like old King Louie's song "I am the State".

The irony is that the opposite is the truth. Republicans fight to give the people more freedom. Democrats confiscate their freedoms through the instrument of government and then distribute putatively life-improving largesse.

My column in Town Hall today targets the recently announced "portly deal" by which Bill Clinton has convinced schools to disallow the vending of soda on their premises. Can anyone possibly imagine a more busybody nosy-Parker sort of intervention in the lives of ordinary citizens?

Meanwhile, across town at Human Events, I highlight the unseemly gloating of Democrats anticipating foreclosure on the Republican House in November, promising heavy-handed and punitive hearings and investigations to settle old scores. This from the genteel anti-fascists? Gimme a break. These Democrats deserve a new theme song: "You Did it My Way."

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.