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January 2012 Archives

January 2, 2012

Entitlement Coalition versus Merit Coalition

The Financial Times of London weekly publishes a luncheon interview by one of its reporters with someone prominent in business, politics or the arts, and last week the subject was 63 year old tycoon Peter Brant of Greenwich, Connecticut. Knowing about Mr. Brant only what he says in the interview with Vanessa Friedman, one indentifies in the "corporate titan", art collector and polo player the embodiment of the Entitlement Elite that compose a rival leadership team to the traditional Merit Elite, as one might call them.

A wealthy industrialist ($500 million to $1.4 billion, estimated), Mr. Brant is well-ensconsed in the "1 per cent", yet he proclaims, "I identify with the 99 per cent."

The "1 per cent" in America includes many people like Mr. Brant who give money to elite liberal causes, not conservative ones, and still think they somehow are in sync with "the 99 per cent" of society. There is no sense of irony when Mr. Brant lets it be known that he wants to give back to society, and has decided to do so by cultivating the most refined artistic tastes and accumulating the most avant garde painters and sculptors.

"I'm putting my consciousness towards trying to teach people through pictures and sculptures that here's something better in the world," he declares.

"That's what the world needs more of. To understand Occupy Wall Street, you have to understand artists. Art is freedom--freedom of expression--and its message has resonated through society for centuries."

Continue reading "Entitlement Coalition versus Merit Coalition" »

January 3, 2012

Iowa Caucuses Already Look Good for Santorum


Selecting delegates by the caucus system is not tidy. The candidate with a majority of votes statewide on caucus night may not wind up with a majority of delegates at the end of the process some weeks hence. So merely coming in close to the top on caucus night may get you at least some delegate votes and is a moral victory, especially if you are an underdog. That would seem to be Rick Santorum in Iowa today. Not only did the former Pennsylvania senator struggle for funding, he struggled to get air time in the debates, where he consistently was pushed down to the end of the line, almost into the stage wings. He has surged in part because after the debates he's the last social conservative standing, and because he has put more personal time into campaigning in a state where personal contact actually can change outcomes.

A conservative Catholic, Santorum also has strong appeal to evangelicals on social issues, which have been his primary theme until the past few days. But Santorum now is stressing that he is "full-spectrum conservative," as he says, quite competent in foreign policy, budgetary matters and judicial issues. He once sponsored "the Santorum Admendment" that became part of the Report language in the No Child Left Behind education act, calling on schools to teach the scientific evidence on both sides of issues such as evolution and global warming. Report language is meant to guide interpretations of law, but does not have the same force as the law itself. Nonetheless, it is to Sen. Santorum's credit that his amendment was widely supported by both parties in the Senate and then--with Rep. John Boehner's insistence--incorporated into the House bill and the Conference Committee report.

This week in Texas Discovery Sr. Fellow Jay Richards joins his co-author, James Robison, as they begin promotion of their forthcoming book, Indivisible, showing how social policy and economic policy are inextricably joined. It's a theme that also may characterize Santorum's campaign going forward.

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Why Business Startups Aren't Starting Up

Our old friend Richard Rahn, a senior fellow at CATO and a columnist at Newsmax, nails one of the main reasons for the current economic slump: the "reform" legislation passed by the Democratic Congress (especially Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd), Presidential badgering and the regulatory excesses that followed. Today, the US has fallen behind China--a nominally Communist country--in in IPOs ( Initial Public Offerings of stock). Another old friend, Peter J. Wallison, at AEI, also has been clear on the history of the housing bubble.

If only the Presidential candidates and the talking heads on TV could be as clear as Rahn and Wallison!

January 6, 2012

"Unconstitutional," What Does that Mean?

Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Todd Gaziano make a solid case today in The Washington Post that the recent "recess" appointments of President Obama are unconstitutional for the simple reason that there is no recess.

They propose various ways that the Congress (this means the GOP House, presumably) can resist these incursions. The trouble is, if they do not the President is sure to grow ever bolder, thereby erasing the whole concept of "advise and consent."

January 9, 2012

Tony Blankley: Effervescense of Champagne


It was a shocking blow to learn that Tony Blankley, my old comrade from the Reagan years, died suddenly this past weekend at 63. He and a friend, John Roberts, were in their early 30s when they left the Education Department, where they were critics of liberal looseness in curriculum and testing, and joined me at the White House Office of Planning and Evaluation. Tony was fine company, a gentle wit, very Californian, yet droll and sage. Even without his English accent (he was 10 when his parents immigrated to the U.S.) he was a palpably authentic scholar of his hero, Winston Churchill. He was a sartorial sophisticate and a crisp literary stylist.

Tony, however, longed for direct action and was attracted by the "Conservative Opportunity Society" that House GOP leader Newt Gingrich was promoting in the mid-80s. Knowing that Newt was aiming to be the first Republican House Speaker in six decades, Tony left for the Hill, becoming in time press secretary to the new Speaker, and, later, a columnist and witty commentator on television programs. For five years he was the bouncy editorial page editor of The Washington Times, shaping news as well as observing it.

I asked him in an email three weeks ago how he assessed Newt Gingrich's run for President. The core of his characteristically jaunty reply:

"...Great question, is there a new, more disciplined Newt? I
think for all of us --me, Nixon, you, Newt, anyone-- we are pretty
fully formed as a personality by our 20's. After that we may grow
wiser or more foolish, we may learn to manage the externalitites of
our personalities better (or worse)--but the fundamentals exist at the
core. In the aggressiveness , confidence, creativity and quicksilver
essence of Newt's mind , he will always be capable of explosive
comments. That is both good and bad. You can't have champagne without
the effervescence. But you will not get the sparkle and thrill of
champagne from a flat wine. Newt is incapable of sustained boringness..."

Tony himself had a "quicksilver essense" and a smart personality with the "effervescence" of champagne. He lent it to Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and all he knew and all whose lives he touched.

January 10, 2012

Russian Photoshop Trick Explodes

A reform-minded Russian blogger, Alexei Novalny, was the target of a photoshopping scam that tried to link him to the discredited plutocrat Boris Bereshovsky. It looks like something the old KGB might have done, so fingers pointed to the Kremlin where Novalny's blog have been unwelcome lately. To retaliate against whoever smeared him, Mr. Navalny ran the real picture, which showed him standing with presumptive Presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, a likely rival for Vladimir Putin in the March 4 elections. Then Novalny photoshopped a hilarious procession of other figures--from Stalin and Napoleon to Putin himself, then to a Space Alien. . And posted them on his blog.

The message: in the age of the Internet you can't photoshop as in days of old. Come clean!

January 15, 2012

Neglected Feature of Social Conservatives' Vote

A special meeting of big names among social conservatives this weekend ended with a "consensus" vote of support for presidential candidate Rick Santorum. But what goes unmentioned in any of the news accounts so far is the irony that Santorum, a Catholic, has won such enthusiastic backing from evangelicals, even though his competition includes Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, an evangelical. Far back in second place, was Newt Gingrich, also a Catholic.

Sen. Santorum definitely needs overwhelming evangelical voting support in South Carolina if he is to move ahead. Some 60 percent of GOP primary voters in 2008 considered themselves evangelicals. Catholics, on th other hand, can't help him much. Only two percent of the South Carolina population is Catholic, the smallest percent in any of the 50 states.

Santorum is a consistent and energetic social conservative and as such always has appealed to evangelicals. That's taken for granted. Think, however, how different things are now than when John Kennedy ran for President in 1960. Then the Catholic Church was a big problem, now it hardly is mentioned. Conservative Catholics and evangelicals--and a number of conservative Jews--are close allies on issues and public policy strategy.

For a variety of reasons, including a hostile left wing secularism that targets all serious believers and is skeptical of Israel, conservatives of various faiths have found increased sympathy and support from one another. It only took a few hundred years since the relgious wars of the 16th century, but real comity seems to have arrived.

The big name evangelical endorsers who met in Texas this weekend obviously hope to have influence in the South Carolina primary coming up next Saturday. The appeal of such leaders as Tony Perkins and Dr. James Dobson and Gary Bauer probably will make the biggest difference for Santorum in fundraising, the candidate's single biggest weakness in the present competition.

January 17, 2012

Thatcherites in Hollywood?

Meryl Streep is a great actress, except sometimes when she plays herself, as she did two nights ago at the Golden Globes Awards banquet. There she launched into vulgarities and unbecoming humor. The one thing she apparently felt obliged to demonstrate--as she was named "best actress" for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady--was that she is not at all like Lady Thatcher. Let it be said in Ms. Streep's defense that her Golden Globes award speech was not a persuasive act. She's better than that.

Elsewhere Streep has acknowledged that getting into the character of Margaret Thatcher made her much more sympathetic to Prime Minister Thatcher the human being. It's hard to imagine it being otherwise. Thatcher was refined gold in the bourse of politics, a "conviction politician," to use Mrs. T's own expression.

Right now the voting public in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe could do worse than see The Iron Lady. Yes, it probably exaggerates the dementia of Mrs. Thatcher today, just as her indignant family asserts. And it skimps on Mrs. Thatcher's role with Ronald Reagan and John Paull II in winning the Cold War. But it does abundantly show something greatly wanting in our own time, the life and career of a courageous truth-teller, a leader who successfully called on her countrymen to own up to their government's wastefulness and to show the patience required to reap in time the reward of renewed prosperity and national pride.

Continue reading "Thatcherites in Hollywood?" »

January 19, 2012

Romney's Problem is also the Country's

Mitt Romney is having a hard time defending his record at Bain Capital and, simultaneously, the way private equity and venture capital work to create new jobs and lead the economy forward. His case is better than he is making it and the issues are more important for the economy than we are hearing.

Tom Alberg, co-founder of Madrona Venture Capital in Seattle (and a founding chairman of Discovery Institute's Board) explains the difference between private equity and venture capital.

"Most voters and the press, unfortunately, will never understand the positive role that private equity plays in our capitalist system. Private equity usually invests in old line companies that have become stagnant for various reasons, such as poor management (often family heirs) or failure to adopt new technologies.

"These companies usually face declining revenues, earnings and employment and often end up in bankruptcy if left to their existing management and investors. Private equity searches for this type of companies and invests for a controlling interest with the intent of providing better management, investing in technology, etc. Sometimes there are layoffs, but their goal is to build big successful companies which will incidentally employ many more people. Some of the companies do not succeed and go bankrupt but corporate bankruptcy is an essential consequence of risk taking. There are some abuses by some private equity firms but generally PE is important for our economic growth.

"Venture capital plays a much different role in that it mostly invests in new companies with high growth potential, usually involving technology in a deep way. Some of these companies also go bankrupt, but overall venture capital creates a lot of jobs. Both private equity and venture capital are important.

"Interestingly, Bain makes both private equity and venture investments. From an investor standpoint they have done quite well. It's hard to tell whether Romney was any better than their other partners and leaders, but it appears that he was at a minimum a very competent leader for Bain.

"It is too bad for Republicans that the combat for the Presidential nomination results in candidates distorting the facts and fundamental economic principles."

January 25, 2012

Call His Bluff

President Obama thinks that the salient issue of our time is the supposed failure of "the rich" to pay "their fair share" of federal income taxes. Mr. Obama must know that the practical revenue potential of his proposal is relatively trivial in terms of meeting budget deficits--and quite probably would lead to a decrease in revenue in the end because it will discourage investment.

But stop arguing with the President about this in the media and go straight to the floors of Congress.

The Republicans should call Mr. Obama's bluff by putting his idea up for a vote, and as soon as possible. It probably would not come to a floor vote in the Senate because the Democrats themselves won't allow it. But the House leadership could cause a vote there. Make it a straightforward vote and see how many Democrats actually will vote for the tax increase the President wants. Many know it's a bad idea and will vote no as a matter of conscience. Others know that they will get little credit from the electorate by voting yes, but meanwhile would irritate liberals with investment income. Since a large share of the rich people in America today are liberals, the political risks for a yes vote would be high.

Republicans, meanwhile, could use the vote as a teach-in on economics to explain to the public just how much a distraction the class warfare is. The vote also would show how divisive the President's proposal is, even among Democrats.

Be daring; call the bluff.

January 26, 2012

Who is the Establishment?

"The Old Guard" in the Republican Party has it in for Newt Gingrich, according to the New York Times, and Newt himself.

Please pass me the smelling salts. I am faint from the very idea of Newt Gingrich, former Speaker, denouncing people now in office as "The Old Guard" or "the Establishment."

The original Old Guard referred to Napoleon's most trusted troops. It was used in 1952 in the Republican Party nominating process to refer to the Middle Western conservatives and their southern (unelected) GOP allies. Eisenhower's overcame this Old Guard.

But then Eisenhower's crowd--inheritors of the New York Republican organization, and its national allies, that was put together by Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. By the 60s they were being described by the Goldwater conservatives as the "establishment". That establishment, with media supporters such as The New York Herald Tribune and Henry Luce's Time and Life, lost. Geoffrey Kabaservice tells the story in the new book, Rule and Ruin.

However, the term "establishment" was first borrowed from the English, who used it in the 50s and 60s to denote the leaders of historic institutions in England that held power by right of inheritance and "old school ties" (who you know). Included were aristocrats, landed gentry and "old boys" from Oxford and Cambridge prominent in the private clubs where wealthy people relaxed.

Richard Rovere in The New Yorker used the term in the 60s to describe the entrenched bi-partisan East Coast elites--also old school, inherited money, products of the old boy network in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, and groups like the Council on Foreign Relations. That was before Bill Buckley and Goldwaterites dusted it off for use in a Republican context.

In reality, what the terms "Old Guard" and "Establishment" mean in a Republican context today is mainly that my opponent has more support from people who actually hold office and lead organizations than I do.

January 27, 2012

If You Don't Agree With Me, You're Stupid

If there is anything more offensive in public discourse than arrogance, it is unwarranted arrogance, and at the very apogee of unwarranted arrogance are pseudo-scientific studies purporting to show that political conservatives are stupider than liberals. That is exhibited hilariously in a new study from Brock University in Ontario. If you share socially conservative views you are likely to be an ignoramus. Got it?

These studies say nothing about their purported subjects, but volumes about the way public and foundation funds are wasted these days on bogus "science". They also call attention to the low standards of science journals that cover them, the very ones that refuse to cover genuinely scientific studies whose philosophical or cultural implications they oppose.

One trait the Brock study claims correlates with stupidity is prejudice. Hmmmm. Maybe you guys should look in a mirror.

January 30, 2012

Apple Could Pay Off Eight EU Nation's Debts

John Cook, of Seattle-based GeekWire, reports that Apple has enough cash reserves to pay off eight EU countries' debts--if it wanted to, which, of course, it doesn't.

This story, based on an infographic from MBA Online the day before, puts Apple's big quarter in prospective. GeekWire characterizes their revenue as "Three Yahoos, two Googles and a Microsoft". It's also interesting, and worth noting, that 2/3 of it is stored overseas.

Here we have a company that makes trinkets, bought voluntarily by free people, produced willingly by free people. Yet even after giving billions of dollars to the governments they labor under, they still make more money than even the most irresponsible governments can lose. Consider: Governments take money from people by threat of force, they have more resources than a corporation can dream of, they can quite literally eliminate their competition, and by-in-large, they're above the law. Yet they still can't take enough to rival what this one corporation can get people to freely hand over. There are of course many mitigating factors on both sides, but the numbers still stun. This company, with its relatively minimal staff, produces more in a year than the GDPs of 2/3 the world's countries. ...but big government is clearly the answer.


January 31, 2012

Opposition Grows to Obama Ruling on Hospitals

The Health and Human Services Department's decision to force Catholic hospitals either to close down or provide contraception and abortion to patients is provoking a surprisingly fierce opposition from the Catholic Church--111 bishops have spoken out--and friends of religious liberty generally are bestirring. See Discovery Wesley J. Smith's article.

The issue has the feel of one where opposition is likely to grow, not diminish, and to involve a wider and wider circle of organizations and faiths. Catholics are not the only religious denomination affected, and even some who don't share the Catholic views on contraception and abortion nonetheless will recognize the breathtaking new effort to expand government's control of religion.

Worst of all for the Obama Administration, the HHS ruling is a manifestation of ObamaCare. Now there is another argument--and a volatile, very understandable one--against the government's health care program.

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