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February 2011 Archives

February 1, 2011

Everything Old is New Again: The U.S. Constitution is Back in Fashion

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What next, knee breeches and powdered wigs?

For years in political discourse a resort to quoting the U.S. Constitution was treated as a gasp of musty air from an irrelevant past. People turned their faces away. Scholars at places like the Claremont Institute tried to rouse the few who would listen with readings of Federalist # 51 and published books for eager students gathered by groups like ISI, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. But since the days of Prof. Woodrow Wilson, Ivy League universities taught that the Constitution should be interpreted as a "living document," which meant essentially that it had to change with the times. (And guess who got to decide what the "times" required?)

Then, about two years ago, ordinary people started reading the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and those hallowed old commentaries, the Federalist Papers. Talk show hosts like Glenn Beck, however eccentric and avuncular, started teaching about the Constitution on the air (are they allowed to do that?). Books about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who revered the Constitution, gained larger audiences. The Tea Partiers in 2010 started injecting the Constitution into everyday campaign speeches. Last month, the newly elected members of the House of Representatives opened its term with a serial reading of the Constitution--with members from both parties.

Continue reading "Everything Old is New Again: The U.S. Constitution is Back in Fashion" »

February 2, 2011

"Happy Talk" Agenda Crumbling, Medved Writes

National talk show host and Discovery Institute fellow Michael Medved argues in a column at AOL News that the "happy talk" about spending, health care and foreign policy that characterized the President's State of the Union talk only a few days ago is now visibly crumbling.

"The most revealing moment came," Medved reminds us, "in a brief passage intended to win the public with a folksy laugh line. Responding to calls for drastic cuts to shrink the deficit, the president warned: 'And let's make sure that what we're cutting is excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't be long before you feel the impact.'

"The polite titters in the House chamber," Medved continues, "masked the shocking assumption behind the president's words: To Mr. Obama, federal spending constitutes the indispensable engine that keeps all of society aloft. Governmental expenditure, not private effort and enterprise, keeps America moving."

What are we getting for all this government's spending?

February 4, 2011

Pres. Reagan's 100th Birthday; He Looks Terrific

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Ronald Reagan is one of the few presidents who left office popular--and then become even more popular with the passage of time. He may have had one of the most successful presidencies of anyone in the past century--the 100 years since he was born.

I became a member of his team almost by accident. Had I not lost a race for governor of Washington in 1980 I would not have been looking for work in January of the next year. If I had not had a friend who happened to be a friend of Dick Wirthlin, Mr. Reagan's pollster in the presidential race, I would not have been suggested as someone to head the Census Bureau. That post brought me into the White House to brief the President on demographic trends, and that, in turn, provided an opportunity to serve on the President's own staff, working under Counselor Ed Meese. When Ed left to go to the Justice Department as Attorney General, he backed my bid to become Ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna. Over eight years, then, I served in three posts under President Reagan. Each day was memorable, many entailed work under pressure, and many also were great fun.

Tony Dolan, Ronald Reagan's peerless chief of the presidential speechwriting staff , has a fine remembrance of the President in today's RealClearPolitics.

It has some great lines of Reagan's.

Continue reading "Pres. Reagan's 100th Birthday; He Looks Terrific" »

February 7, 2011

It's Elementary: IBM's "Watson" Demonstrates Intelligent Design, Not Darwinian Evolution

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Photo: New York Times

The competition between the IBM computer "Watson" and a couple of Jeopardy game whiz guys is going to be fascinating theater when they go up against one another February 14. Watson is super fast at assembling knowledge programmed into him and using fuzzy logic to make literal sense of human metaphor and nuance. Apparently, its speed gives it an edge in pressing the Jeopardy game answer buzzer before its human competitors can do so the nanosecond after a question is read out loud.

Continue reading "It's Elementary: IBM's "Watson" Demonstrates Intelligent Design, Not Darwinian Evolution" »

Argentina Previews Next Inflation Horror Show

Americans should mind the lesson of Argentina, whose bright potential once again is being squandered.

Spend to create jobs, only to see businesses dry up; use political power to pressure "reforms" that increase the power of government; mobilize the poor against the "rich," only to have inflation rob the poor of their bread. That is the illusionary agenda of left wing economics on display again right now in Buenos Aires.

Alexi Barrionuevo writes in the New York Times that the government of Cristina Kirchner "has tried to quell concerns about mounting inflation by continuing to keep the economy growing in China-like rates, largely fueled by high soybean prices. The government also says the country is in the midst of a consumption boom, pointing to domestic car sales that reached record levels in 2010.."

Continue reading "Argentina Previews Next Inflation Horror Show" »

February 8, 2011

It's Egypt's Revolution, Not Obama's

The President has a habit of speaking of everything and everyone in his Administration with a first person possessive pronoun--"my Secretary of Labor," "my officials at Defense," "my ambassador", "my policy". Regarding Egypt and almost everything else in foreign policy he speaks like a petulant autocrat: "I want the transition to begin now." "The Egyptian government must..." "I expect such and such."

George H.W. Bush had trouble using the word "I". Barrack Obama seems to choke on "we".

Who made him Pharaoh? And why do liberals who complained of supposed American imperialism under George W. Bush ignore President Obama's pretending to order other countries around? What's the point of such empty swagger?

Continue reading "It's Egypt's Revolution, Not Obama's " »

Toward Constitutional Democracy in Egypt

America should not strut its power before the Egyptians. First of all, our power is over-rated. Second, our overt involvement makes us a target for anyone who is disaffected in the world--and there are many.

But we should assist in the transformation to a more democratic state--one of checks and balances that protects minorities and assures safety for contrary political opinions within a constitutional order. It won't be easy.

What would that assistance look like? Consider Iraq; it is no model for democracy yet, but it would be in far worse shape if the US had not funded the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs to help the Iraqis create legitimate political institutions. These fine party based groups, chartered by Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy that originally was created by President Reagan, went about their work in Iraq quietly and with great sensitivity.

Continue reading "Toward Constitutional Democracy in Egypt" »

February 9, 2011

Reagan's Closest Aide

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In all the excellent publicity about Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, too little attention has been placed on the people he brought into government, both in Sacramento and in Washington. For example, John Roberts, now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was a young lawyer in the White House in the 80s. I'll stop at that: there is no point in getting started on a list of notable Reagan alumni because it would take up many pages.

Regardless, the top of the list surely would be occupied by Ed Meese, Reagan's Chief of Staff as Governor, his Counselor in the White House and his highly influential Attorney General. No aide was closer to the President. Ed was Reagan's policy point man, the one who implemented Ronald Reagan's aims best because they shared the same political philosophy. Today, if you want to know what Ronald Reagan would think about some current issue, you couldn't do better than ask Ed Meese.

I'll never forget the day that Attorney General William French Smith called the White House to tell Ed, a confidant, that he was planning to resign. That "heads up" gave Ed a chance to go immediately to the President, inform him of the resignation and ask him on the spot for the chance to replace Smith as AG. Reagan trusted Meese completely and knew of his effectiveness--and his long background in law enforcement. They had been through a lot together. Reagan agreed.

Continue reading "Reagan's Closest Aide" »

February 10, 2011

Dirty Secret in America--Trafficking Kids for Sex

The seamy, unnoticed side of last week's Super Bowl was the special importation into Dallas of thousands of juvenile gils, and some boys, for sex. "The Super Bowl is one of the largest human trafficking events in the United States," says Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General. Abbot's office and the FBI had a sizable staff in Dallas, but the problem extended far beyond their reach.

Most people imagine that human trafficking--modern slavery--is a problem mainly in other countries. Few realize that it is a big business in America and that under-age young people are its primary victims. Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna estimates that some 300,000 juvenile girls and thousands of boys between 11 and 17 are enslaved for sex purposes by pimps every year in this country. That includes, says McKenna, "up to 90 percent of both runaways and children whose parents force them to leave home."

Continue reading "Dirty Secret in America--Trafficking Kids for Sex" »

February 14, 2011

Gilder: Why Creativity Comes as a Surprise

George Gilder is down on the government and not impressed, either, these days with Silicon Valley (much of which is in bed with the government). But he is high on Israeli innovators--and pleased that his predictions about the "teleputer" (what has become your iPhone, iPad, etc.) have come true.

He also thinks, like Peter Drucker, that the last person to understand your business is your CFO. Ouch.

George--our Senior Fellow who helped found Discovery Institute--wants more respect for venture capitalists. So do we all at Discovery. It will take a innovation-led boom to bring America out of the cramped and crabbed economy that confines us now. To get that boom we have to encourage and reward knowledgeable risk takers.

Read the interview George had with Steve Forbes for Forbes magazine.

February 17, 2011

Government Debt is a Moral Issue--Jefferson

When 40 cents out of every dollar of federal spending is borrowed, and when government leaders dissemble on the subject, a properly educated electorate will be outraged.

This quote from Thomas Jefferson is going around, and I am happy to keep it going:

"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debt, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our calling and our creeds...[we will] have no time to think, no means of calling our miss-managers to account but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers... And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for[ another]... till the bulk of society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery... And the fore-horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression."

Rail Beauty Contest: Florida Walks, Others Talk

Florida HSR Station Rendering.png

Concept for Tampa-Orlando station (Source: Florida High Speed Rail)

by Mike Wussow

Governor Rick Scott of Florida has turned down $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail money. The money, part of President Obama's push for building high-speed passenger rail, was to be used for a line connecting Tampa and Orlando. In his prepared remarks, former business executive Scott said his concerns centered on "capital cost overruns," unrealistic "ridership and revenue projections," and a fear that his "state would have to return the $2.4 billion" if Florida couldn't afford to keep the project going.

As news of the announcement spread beyond the Sunshine State, others in the high-speed rail funding queue moved faster than the 250 mph Shanghai Maglev passenger train to announce they'd happily take the money Florida isn't using.

Continue reading "Rail Beauty Contest: Florida Walks, Others Talk" »

February 18, 2011

Entitlement Spending at Heart of Budget Woes

by Keith Pennock

The headline for a Los Angeles Times editorial, "Too deferential on defense," wants readers to believe that defense spending is to blame for the federal deficit. That is where we'll find the "big money," it says. The actual editorial, however, is really nothing more than a predictable attack on national defense spending that ignores the lion-share of the federal budget, entitlements.

The newspaper misleadingly reports that 61% of the annual appropriations bill goes to defense-a distortion of the budget picture since entitlements aren't considered annual appropriations, but rather "mandatory" spending. Nowhere does the editorial say how to cut entitlements.

Continue reading "Entitlement Spending at Heart of Budget Woes" »

February 19, 2011

The Original American Idol

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Discovery Institute's Presidents' Day Weekend gift to you is this fine article by our Sr. Fellow John R. Miller in the weekend issue of The Wall Street Journal.

February 20, 2011

Artificial Intelligence is Not the Threat You Think

A few years ago Jay Richards, Sr. Fellow of Discovery Institute, edited a book we published called, The Age of Spiritual Machines: Ray Kurzweil Vs. His Critics. Ray, a good friend of George Gilder, participated only on the basis that he would have the last word with each critic. These days he is perhaps the most formidable exponent of artificial intelligence (AI).

Recently, IBM's "Watson" beat two human contestants on "Jeopardy", representing a new leap in computer speed and mastery of human-like logic. I predicted here February 7 that some Darwinists would use the victory to claim evidence for evolution (our brains are just thinking meat), but to my knowledge that hasn't really happened. What has happened is a lot of hand-wringing about "what it means to be human" in the age of artificial intelligence.

At least we can joke about it. Can Watson?

Jay Richards' current, rather upbeat assessment is found in this article from American.com:

Continue reading "Artificial Intelligence is Not the Threat You Think" »

Public Employee Unions' Unnatural Advantage

A Rasmussen poll says that more Americans oppose the Wisconsin public employee unions (48%) than support them (38%). But even more opposition might develop--and more support grow for Gov. Scott Walker--if the general public fully understood the reason behind the proposal to remove collective bargaining power for state employees on non-pay issues. It's not just about the current budget, serious as that is, but future budgets. It is largely because of past, poorly reported agreements that arose from collective bargaining that the unions have managed to get pension and health care packages far more lucrative than those of the vast majority of other citizens--the folks that pay the taxes to support those benefits.

Simply put, the public employees unions in Wisconsin and in many other states represent the best funded, most determined and most wily advocates of constantly increased government spending. Knowing the ins and outs of government better than anyone, and knowing also how to work their political will on elected officials (their putative bosses), they have an unnatural advantage in obtaining increased benefits. That is especially so since negotiations on long term benefits are not always seen as part of the budget process reported in the yearly budget struggles.

The public employee unions not only are the part of the polity that has the most immediate and special interest in government, but they also are a uniquely powerful position to intimidate state office holders. Consider: what other group in Wisconsin, for example, could skip work and mobilize several scores of thousands of protestors day after day at the capital? That's power.

Continue reading "Public Employee Unions' Unnatural Advantage" »

February 22, 2011

There Should be Consequences for Political Truancy in State Governments

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Wisconsin's Democratic state senators apparently have found loopholes in the state ethics laws that permit them to shirk their official responsibilities. If the 14 senators who have fled the state in order to deny Republicans a quorum to conduct business in the legislature are not stopped, disruptions of this sort are going to become widespread. Over time, similar stunts will be pulled, with variations, by both parties in states across the nation.

The truants from Madison would have appalled the leaders who wrote any American state constitution, including Wisconsin's. In days before fast travel by cars and airplanes, the chance of a hookey-playing senator seeking effective sanctuary in another state was not anticipated. Constitution writers considered that the authority to send the state police after such a legislative truant would suffice. Therefore, in Wisconsin and elsewhere state law must now be brought up to date if the aims of the state's founders are to be observed.

The Wisconsin senators' gambit was inspired by Texas Democratic legislators who, a decade ago, took off for Oklahoma to prevent enactment of a Republican redistricting plan. That rebellion failed in the end, but Wisconsin today has lots of media and other commentators chuckling and clucking approval of the "brave" Democratic senators. If the hookey-players were Republicans, however, the same folk would be demanding punitive action.

Instead, Democrats in Indiana already are joining the fun, fleeing unwelcome votes and seeking legal sanctuary in Illinois. The Land of Lincoln is even more buried in taxes and debt than Wisconsin, so maybe this is an indirect way for its helpful neighbors to stimulate its lagging economy. Their new theme songs are "On Wisconsin, to Chicago!" and "Back Home Again in Indiana--Not."

But back in Wisconsin and Indiana, legislative reform (by popular initiative, if necessary) might well start with a declaration that elected members of a legislative body who fail to appear for service may be deprived of salary, benefits and staff. Exceptions would be made, of course, for valid excused absences, such as for genuine illness. After that, a non-partisan panel could declare that the missing legislators had defaulted on their public obligations. The scofflaws' legislative seats would be considered vacant and subject to a new election at which the nominal incumbents would be ineligible to compete.

Protestors mobilized by public employee unions in Madison have waved printed signs saying, "The World is Watching." If so, the world is watching what happens when politicians are derelict in their duties, the most fundamental of which is to show up once elected. Consequences will flow from how this turns out.

February 25, 2011

Public Pro-Walker, But Wavering on Details of Wisconsin Budget Proposal

Polls are showing public a) opposition to teachers' unions b) disapproval of the Wisconsin Democratic Senators' tactic of high-tailing it to Illinois to prevent a quorum; but also c) approval of collective bargaining for public employees. (Three polls have made the latter point; including one from Gallup. However, over all, the public sides with Walker.)


The problem for Republicans is "c". People don't understand yet what collective bargaining is. Hence the contradictory views (anti-union, pro-collective bargaining). They probably don't know that Gov. Walker aims to restrict collective bargaining to non-pay issues, and that collective bargaining on such non-pay issues as health and pension benefits in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) is responsible for hidden deals that are contributing to the long range insolvency of many state budgets. In the private sector, writes Robert M. Costrell in the Friday Wall Street Journal, typical health/pension benefits equal 24 cents to each dollar of pay; but for public employees in Wisconsin the figure is now up to 74 cents for each dollar of pay.

February 27, 2011

Bureaucrats are New Aristocrats at Budget Time

Gov. Scott Walker appeared on Meet the Press today, finally getting a chance to explain some of the ways that collective bargaining at the state and municipal level in Wisconsin make long term budget balancing more difficult. As a former county executive (Milwaukee) Walker recalls the times when unions thwarted efforts to implement reforms that would lead to economies. He also pointed to the example of state teachers union decisions to require members to get their health insurance through a union-owned concern rather than through the regular state employee insurance system--at an added cost of $68 million to the taxpayers.

Continue reading "Bureaucrats are New Aristocrats at Budget Time" »

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