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May 2011 Archives

May 2, 2011

Bin Laden's Unintended Accomplishment

The course of an Arab warrior often is propelled at first by a seemingly irresistible force of fanaticism, But then the pathways of these warriors, like footprints in the sand, fade away. Osama bin Laden certainly caused a reactionary jihad in Muslim countries, and it continues in several forms. But the law of unintended consequences also came into play, somewhat to Bin Laden's surprise. Indeed, Al Qaeda's major achievement in the past dozen years may have been to help stimulate the US and the West to help establish another path in the Middle East--a path to liberal democracy.

Granted, we're not there yet. But progress is being made. Still, it is interesting to read the reactions of Arabs and other Muslims to Bin Laden's death.

If the Muslim world does continue to transition to serious democracy (with all the attendant human rights recognized), the $1.3 billion we have spent these past ten years on Iraq and Afghanistan (and now Libya), not to mention quieter efforts elsewhere--and most of all, the deaths of several thousand victims of 9/11 and several thousands young heroes in the US and allied armed forces--will have been justified.

Canadian Voters Now Polarized, Happily

Our northern neighbor held a transformative national election Monday while the United States remained transfixed by the death of Osama bin Laden. Canadians went to the polls in slightly higher numbers (61%) than in recent elections and voted--a plurality--for a center-right government with "a strong, stable national majority," in the words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Leader of the victorious Conservatives, and now holding a majority after five years heading a minority government, Harper won about 167 of the 308 seats in Parliament. The opposition parties plainly made a mistake five weeks ago by voting "no confidence" in Harper's government and bringing on an election.

Like Ronald Reagan, the very square Albertan, Harper, has succeeded in part because his opponents consistently underestimate him.

The formerly third ranking party, the New Democrats (NDP), perhaps did not conclude that the election was a mistake, however. The left wing NDP was persuasively more anti-Tory than the Liberals and therefore appealed more to young voters and progressive Quebec voters ready to "go national" again. Polar political magnetism therefore brought the NDP to a giddy second ranking with (about) 102 seats. The ebullient leader Jack Layton is now the new official leader of the opposition. Encumbered with a cane from recent surgery, and a recent cancer survivor, Layton seemed to treat campaigning as physical therapy and wound up at rallies waving his cane like a sword. Compared to the "Grits"--the Liberals--the NDP seemed authentic. For the first time in a long time, Canadian politics is organizing along the traditional left-right axis familiar elsewhere in the West.

Here's what else the election did:

Continue reading "Canadian Voters Now Polarized, Happily" »

May 3, 2011

Rubio versus Rand? Doesn't Need to Be

W. James van Artle writes at American Spectator that the "Tea Party" constituency holds together well on domestic issues, but may fly apart on foreign affairs. His example is the contrasting views on Libya from freshmen senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

In essence, Rand Paul, like his father, does not want America's president wandering into more international conflicts. He says the president is required by the Constitution to involve the Congress. Rubio, on the other hand, is worried about growing "isolationism" that refuses to become engaged overseas until late in the game--and then at high human and material cost.

But both points of view have merit. Presidents do need to involve Congress. And they also need sometimes need to engage American power, but only for the purpose of winning, not merely opening a permanent military campaign. In Libya we don't appear to have followed the advice of either gentleman. The President could have indicated that the problem did not rise to the level where US military action was warranted and/or was likely to succeed. He also could have asked for Congressional authorization for military action. On the other hand, now in, we don't seem able to press for a speedy conclusion.

Stay out or get in to win. Is that such a hard policy to defend?

Minorities Gain Canadian Tories a Majority

Republicans in the U.S. might be wise this spring to send some agents to Canada to see how the Conservative Party there did it. Win crucial elections with minority votes, that is.

Canadian diversity is different than America's. You will see more Indians and Chinese, most notably. Regardless, Canadian Conservatives have not succeeded in the past in swinging minority voters away from the Liberal Party. This year everything changed.

For one thing, Tories this year nominated more minority candidates, including winners, not just sacrificial lambs. And Prime Minister Harper spent time building up the party's appeal to immigrant groups in urban areas--with particular success in the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Vancouver.

The National Post carries much of the story today, and in it is the tale of nine new Conservative seats in Parliament from the Toronto area, seats that provided much of Mr. Harper's new majority.

May 4, 2011

Will U.S. Taxpayers Bail Out Spain and Italy?

American taxpayers, already tapped for domestic bailouts for big companies favored by the Administration, are about to get another violent shaking, this time to bail out European countries. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane is calling attention to the worsening situation at the International Monetary Fund.

Quoted by Human Events, McMorris Rodgers says, "Clearly, we hope that Spain doesn't request a bailout from the IMF, but given the direction of IMF policy over the last year, it's extremely likely. Let's remember: One year ago, we were told that Greece wouldn't need a bailout from the IMF. It happened. Then we were told that Ireland wouldn't need an IMF bailout. It happened. Ditto for Portugal. Basically, it's been a year of broken promises from the IMF and the European Union. Because Spain and Italy are afflicted with the same disease as the other three countries--too much government spending and borrowing--and since the Obama administration has made no attempt to protect U.S. contributions to the IMF, it would seem to be only a matter of time before Spain and Italy are standing in line for American tax dollars."

Already the American disbursements for earlier European bailouts are substantial. "The IMF has refused to provide a reliable number but, given America's contribution to the bailout, we estimate that our support of the package is equal to writing a check worth $600 for every man, woman, and child in Portugal," Rodgers stated. This ratio "was nearly identical for Greece and Ireland bailouts," she said.

McMorris Rodgers, Vice Chairman of the House Republican Conference, and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, are proposing legislation for tighter controls to protect U.S. interests at the IMF.

Bin Laden's Photo? It Doesn't Matter

The media buzzes with a controversy over whether the photos of the dead Osama Bin Laden should be published or not. I have a third opinion: it doesn't make any difference.

The infamous terrorist is dead. The U.S. has the DNA evidence, the man's hideout produced plenty of secondary evidence, he was identified by at least one woman present. It's the death, not the details, that matter. If there were going to be protest demonstrations of any consequence, they already would have happened. A picture wouldn't change things. As is, there don't seem to be many Bin Laden fans around, anyhow.

Further, not printing the photo won't cause any more or any fewer conspiracy theories. For years some people--the kind that gather around the tabloids at the supermarket check-out counter--believed that Hitler had not died in Berlin but was living quietly in Argentina. Did such delusions make any difference? Nope. Hitler remained quite dead.

On the other hand, we all had a chance to see the gruesome picture of Commie terrorist Che Guevara.after he'd been shot. Yep, quite dead. Nonetheless the legend of Che spread and soon spawned one of the T-Shirt businesses best selling designs.

The real follow up issues are how the US and its allies pursue the rest of Al Qaeda and bring the leaders to justice. And, sadly, it also appears that the issue of Pakistan is now on the table. The government there looks either ridiculous or duplicitous, or maybe both. It also may be that there are many divisions in Pakistan. The Navy Seals will have helped the anti-terrorist faction, I'd think.

May 5, 2011

Fatherhood, Bringing it Home

Tim Goeglein of Focus on the Family reports that 40% of all children in U.S. are born out of wedlock these days; 29% of whites, 52% of Hispanics, 73% of African Americans. Part of the problem is fathers not taking real responsibility for their children.

But even married fathers often seem so busy at work that they cannot relate well to their kids. Courageous, a new film on the subject, is beginning to get private screenings, and is slated to appear in late September.

May 9, 2011

Moral Theme of Economics--Finally a Dialogue

Give Prof. Neil J. Young of Princeton credit at Huffington Post for a serious review of Discovery Senior Fellow Jay Richards' book, Money, Greed and God. Most Huffers and Puffers would rather excoriate the subjects of Young's review than accept their challenge. Essentially, Young acknowledges Richards' argument (if not its correctness) that capitalism is a moral economic system--like Churchill's defense of democracy as "the worst form of government except for all the others." He also accepts that RIchards finds that morality grounded in the Bible.

Young is right, too, to notice that there are differences on the right on this topic, though not in the Tea Party, as he imagines, but between classic conservatives and Randian libertarians. Richards criticizes the atheist Ayn Rand for thinking that the altruism of Christianity is a vice, not a virtue. So, yes, there is a split about this on the right. Oddly, however, few Randians in politics (for example Sen. Rand Paul, or his father, Rep. Rand Paul) turn out to share many of their heroine's views on social issues. They are energized instead by her demand for human liberty and self-reliance. That's why many plain vanilla conservatives can appreciate certain insights of Rand.

On the other side from Richards, in any case, and much more his target, are Christian liberals who suppose that capitalism is deeply flawed, as is America, and must be reformed by more government regulation and redistribution. The real issue, then, is whether limited government or the welfare state is more beneficial to the poor in body and spirit, as well as to everyone else. That's the real battlefield. Richards is saying that conservative economic policies, properly understood and implemented, are much more in the interest of the poor--the very folks whose interests liberal Christians and the secular left claim to represent. Young's chief service is to shine a light on this real contest of views.

Meanwhile, however, Prof. Young makes several unfortunate errors. Dr. Richards' is not speaking mainly for evangelicals, as Young states several times. He is addressing a general audience, though especially Christians--Christians in general. (As it happens, Richards himself is a Catholic.)

Contra the Young review, Richards also does not argue for unregulated capitalism, if that means that rule of law is somehow unnecessary. He doesn't see the free market strictly as selfish, either, and if he did the case hardly would fit Dr.Young's later (also erroneous) assertion that Richards' wants people to see capitalism as altruistic. Richard holds that capitalism (as the review also acknowledges!) is the best system available and the one most in accord with Biblical principles.

Nonetheless, Jay Richards, in Money, Greed and God, has done one of the best jobs since his friend George Gilder, who wrote Wealth and Povety three decades ago, in revealing the profoundly moral nature of the nation's and our time's controversies over economics. Prof. Young has done a service in recognizing that that a dialogue on the moral questions is needed.

May 13, 2011

Behind the Poll on Social and Fiscal Views

Some politicos and pundits on the right would like to find a way to forge a winning national alliance of fiscal conservatives and social moderates/liberals. It can't happen.

In advance of the 1984 re-election campaign the president's pollster, the late Richard Wirthlin, identified 16 percent of the electorate who were "Reagan Democrats." That group, he noted, supported Ronald Reagan largely because of abortion and similar issues--and that group was crucial to any Reagan victory.

Many in the White House Senior Staff--notably Richard Darman and Michael Deaver--wanted to humor the social issues conservatives, but essentially ignore them otherwise. In some ways, their strategy was followed. Deaver especially was fond of photo-ops that implied conservative social policies, but didn't commit to them. While President Reagan sent supportive messages to the annual pro-life march on Washington, he didn't appear there.

But in other--arguably, more crucial--ways the President lent social conservatives what they most needed; namely, conservative judicial appointees. (Thank you, Ed Meese and Kenneth Cribb.) It's a good thing, too. Without the "Reagan Democrats", Wirthlin would point out, there would be no Reagan victory.

A poll released by Rassmussen shows that the political realities of the 80s still obtain.

Continue reading "Behind the Poll on Social and Fiscal Views" »

Providence....Watches Over the USA

An old saying, sometimes (mis)attributed to Otto von Bismark, goes that "There is a special Providence that watches over fools, children and the United States of America." This has been repeated often enough, and not said of other countries, that one begins to suspect it may be true.

The Soviets had access to copious information about the United States, not just that leaked unintentionally through diplomatic channels, but much ladled out by investigative units of the mainstream American press. Yet the Soviets must have been maddened by the realization that even with such good inside knowledge they couldn't keep up with us, let alone overcome us. The vulnerabilities of our open society were compensated by the strengths resident in America's enormously creative energy. Freedom takes risks. In the West's contest with the Soviets, those risks proved worthwhile.

China and other countries today keep doing knock-off versions of our military weaponry--copies of stuff we seem to leave lying around. The latest souvenir is the tail of one of the of abnormally quiet US helicopters that attacked Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. The Pakistan government's intelligence officials, some of them perfidious and overly smart-by-half, may let the Chinese have it. But, chances are, by the time the Chinese make their version of our helicopter, we'll be on to a new one.

Continue reading "Providence....Watches Over the USA" »

May 14, 2011

Help Wanted: An Arab George Washington

In The Seattle Times, former Congressman and former Ambassador John R. Miller, a senior fellow of Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism and Human Rights, observes that the sad course of Middle Eastern politics will not become truly humane until leaders develop enough humility to relinquish power at set times and peacefully.

by John R. Miller
Seattle Times, May 13, 2011

WITH all the sympathetic commentary about the chances of setting up republican institutions in revolt-torn Arab countries, one point is so obvious that it is rarely mentioned: Founding leaders of newly democratized states must be willing to give up power.

The Middle Eastern dictators who have been or are in danger of being overthrown largely came to power through revolutions, enjoyed initial popular support and mouthed democratic aspirations. Many Arab leaders, excepting the monarchs, followed the example of the United States in setting up post-colonial governments, establishing democratic constitutions, calling their governments "republics" and calling themselves "presidents."

Continue reading "Help Wanted: An Arab George Washington" »

High Taxation Correlates With High Cronyism

Crony capitalism--a form of soft economic fascism in which companies get ahead to the extent they play ball politically with the government in power--is becoming a troubling feature of American business and a threat to American democracy. It is seen in special deals for bailouts and "stimulus" at the federal level and in new White House plans to require businesses to report their contributions to politically related groups if they want to be considered for federal contracts. (This latter is offered up, shamelessly, as a "reform".)

It also is in active play in state governments. The state of Illinois is burdened with one of the nation's highest public debts. Its taxes are going up on business and individuals alike, and still there is little hope of meeting the spending appetite of the state government. Meanwhile, businesses that almost are identified with Illinois--such as Sears, founded in 1887, and Caterpillar--are threatening to leave.

Continue reading "High Taxation Correlates With High Cronyism" »

May 20, 2011

Is the White House Above the Law?

What do you do when your policy preferences are different from those established by law? If you are the Obama Administration you frequently try to twist the law around to your purpose. An excellent case is the Administration's insistence in conducting research on embryonic stem cells. The National Institutes of Health, under Francis Collins, leads the effort.

Discovery Sr. Fellow Wesley J. Smith takes up the issue today at First Things.

May 23, 2011

Where is Obama on Future of Jerusalem?


Listening on the radio to President Obama's speech on Middle East policies last week, I literally didn't believe my ears. It was gratifying to hear him address the call of democratic institutions in Arab countries, even if he gave no credit to George W. Bush, as if the vision began with him. However, when he declared himself for "1967" lines in a negotiated settlement between Israel and a new Palestinian state, I assumed he must mean "post- 1967 war" lines. The NPR commentators' soothing conclusions that the speech merely covered old ground made me think my assumption was right. But it wasn't. He meant pre-1967 lines.

Anyone who visited Israel before 1967 knows that the Mandelbaum Gate that separated Israel from Jordan meant that all of the old city of Jerusalem was in Arab hands and Israelis were not allowed. Furthermore, anyone could see with his own eyes (as I did as a young journalist in 1965) that the Arab side was ill-kept. There was no "Palestine". Jordan ran what is now the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Over the whole region, the line between the lands generally could be seen from the ground or air as a desert on one side and a garden on the other. Nothing positive had changed for hundreds of years on one side, while the new state of Israel had changed the whole prospect on its land in less than a generation.

Some Muslims insist that Jerusalem is a holy site they must control. But when they did control it, the site was neglected and sparsely populated. Israel revived it. The city is holy--the holiest--for Jews and Christians alike. The Israelis allow Muslims to worship freely there. It's not just another piece of property.

President Obama now has tried to back-track on his Middle Eastern speech. Major media and Jewish leaders that are essentially pro-Democrat before they are pro-Israel have tried to obscure the significance of the President's change of long standing policy. Well, that's politics for you.

Israeli officials also are trying to give the Obama Administration a break, but mainly as a diplomatic stance. Israel must depend at some point on the U.S. The Israeli public is something else, however. Inside Israel Obama is the most unpopular American president ever.

As President Obama and his apologists try to explain away his statements, I have a question that they still have not touched. It is a kind of litmus test.

Where does Mr. Obama stand on the future of Jerusalem?

Photo: National Geographic

May 24, 2011

Fair Harvard now PC Harvard

George Gilder, our institute's co-founder, is at his Harvard 50th Reunion this weekend. Poor soul. It is fitting to publish, therefore, Professor Harvey Mansfield's thoughts on Harvard and higher education in general, upon receiving the Bradley Foundation prize recently.

Let's put it succinctly. Once places like Harvard believed in "Veritas", and at the same time believed that people of good will could skillfully disagree on the subject. Today, Harvard and its co-religionists believe in relativity and doubt that anyone's opinion other than one's own is worth tolerating, let alone considering. In other words, it is intellectually degenerate.

As the Blue Book exams would say, "Discuss."

May 31, 2011

Republicans Need to Use Right Brain on Budget

In conversations in Washington one hears growing frustration among conservatives over the failure of Republican leadership--including the Republican National Committee--to answer emotive arguments on the budget by the Democrats with "Right Brain" arguments for the Ryan plan's efforts to cut spending and create jobs.

Republican leaders still seem to think that they can win the economic argument on logic and facts alone. They lost the recent New York 26th district election that way (at least in part) and they will collapse next year if they continue to imagine that a majority of the public is mainly, let alone exclusively, interested in budget discipline. Ronald Reagan, for example, was not elected on budget discipline alone.

The right talks a good game on alternative media and on effective branding, but they are still behind the Democrats. The criticism is so widespread now, however, that they probably will catch up, and when they do, they will be drawing on a much bigger public reserve of support.

Watch for Ross Perot-style "informercials", iPhone apps and e-manuals for organizing. But the key may be finding out first how voters react to the arguments already being heard. Observes Connie Marshner, an independent conservative consultant, "When Congressmen say 'The Ryan plan doesn't touch Medicare for anyone 55 or older,' what makes them think that the voters even believe them? What politicians say and voters hear often are different."

May 26, 2011

Gilder Weighs in on Israel Vs. Obama

Huge efforts are being made by Democrats to reconcile President Obama and American Jews who are favorably disposed toward Israel. To some extent the efforts are successful, witness the campaign of Rep. Debby Wasserman Schultz to turn conservative Jews' criticism back upon them as "partisan". The issue, you see, is not the President's call for "1967" borders, but the impudent criticism of that position.

Meanwhile, however, opinion of Obama in Israel is strongly negative, as many articles and interviews, and a new poll in The Jerusalem Post, indicate. Only 12 percent of Israelis consider Mr. Obama pro-Israel.

This subject is not academic to Israel. Egypt has just reopened its border with Gaza, making it far easier now for Hamas to get weapons to attack Israel. Indeed, rockets already are raining down on Israel.

Discovery Sr. Fellow George Gilder, author of The Israel Test, spoke in recent days in New York at The Israel Project and an American Spectator event on the Middle East, helping to show that support for Israel is not just a correct moral and military posture for America, but an extremely important for our economy. George also has an article just out in the June issue of The American Spectator, a "Special Report" on "The Arab Debt to Jewish Settlers." It's a rebuttal to the accepted account of American progressives.

May 27, 2011

Catholic Liberals Jeer, Conservatives Cheer

E. J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist, would like to support those "social justice Catholics" who think cutting the federal budget is immoral. His attitude reflects those in the Catholic Church who conflate God's "preference for the poor" with Caesar's tax policies. Former Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie answers Dionne today and also notes the slanted way The Post covered the commencement address that Speaker John Boehner gave at Catholic University a few days ago. Little was said of the content of Boehner's address, the reasons for his honorary doctorate or the friendly response of the students and parents. Much was made of opposition to Boehner by Catholic liberals.

It's all going to cause more reflection about Christian social thought, and that is all to the good.

The Boehner speech at Catholic U. follows a recent controversy over federal budgetary issues. The chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the U.S., Archbishop Dolan, recently praised Rep. Paul Ryan. This has received far too little coverage, too. He didn't "endorse" Ryan's plan, but the way Ryan has gone about preparing it. He also underscored the church's commitment to the principle of "subsidiarity," that problems should be handled as much as possible by groups close to them, such as families, charities, local communities and associations of various kinds. This has been a favorite theme of such Catholic intellectuals as Michael Novak, Fr. Robert Sirico and George Weigel.

Continue reading "Catholic Liberals Jeer, Conservatives Cheer" »

May 28, 2011

Gilder Article in The American Spectator: "The Arab Debt to Jewish Settlement"

Israel Agriculture.jpg

The June issue of the American Spectator carries a "Special Report" by George Gilder on "The Arab Debt to Jewish Settlement" that pokes a very large and new hole in the foreign policy of the Obama Administration. I think that even those familiar with Israel and its history will be surprised at the historical information our Discovery Sr. Fellow (and institute co-founder) has assembled to show how a sparsely populated part of the world--"the Palestine Mandate" of the British, post World War I--became an agricultural and economic success thanks to the painstaking sacrifice and enterprise of Jewish settlers.

Some readers may remember an account of "the Holy Land" from the 19th century visit of Mark Twain, reported in Innocents Abroad, 1869. There wasn't much there then--including people. Wrote Twain:

"Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village."

Then came Jewish settlers, who figured out how to make the desert bloom. Their prosperity enticed more immigrants, not only Jews, but also Arabs--who went on to call themselves Palestinians.

It's a key essay that will repay your attention.

May 27, 2011

Netanyahu a Big Failure--in New York Times

Melanie Phillips points out the exasperating truth that major media abroad get their opinions of US opinion by seeing what is written by editorialists and pundits at The New York Times and The Washington Post. But those views actually are often reflective of nothing but themselves.

Meanwhile, the US and UK press get their views on foreign opinion from people in other countries who have been channeling them. In other words, it's a closed circle.

Case in point: Netanyahu's trip to America. She nails the reaction.

(I am hoping to post the actual text of George Gilder's important article in June's print issue of The American Spectator as soon as possible. Watch this space.)

May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Patriotic Surge

It has long seemed that Americans don't take their patriotic holidays seriously. Memorial Day, Presidents' Day, Independence Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day are regarded mostly as vacation days and their significance largely ignored. But for some reason this Memorial Day appears to be different. Radio and television, newspapers and magazines, even Internet sites have run reflective pieces this weekend about remembering the war dead.

There also seem to be a growing number of people observing the day at cemeteries. In Seattle, for example, there is a little cemetery near my home--part of a park--dedicated to the Grand Army of the Republic, that is, to Union soldiers who settled here after the Civil War. A local group has helped restore the gravestones and otherwise maintain the grounds. It held a brief service there yesterday and the local news stations covered the event.

Some 10,000 Union soldiers immigrated to the Seattle area when the city was only 15 years old and Washington was still a Territory. One sees hints of New England and the Middle West in older residential parts of the city. Boston Street is near the GAR Cemetery, as are Boylston Street, Harvard Avenue and--imagine this!--Republican Street.

The United States of America has three wars going today. Prayers for the hallowed dead are joined by prayers for the honored service members in harm's way right now.

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