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American Politics Archives

August 20, 2013

Government Demoralizes Public & Allies

The revelations of politicization of government functions--such as the IRS and national security agencies--cannot help but undermine people's trust in government itself. The latest story in the Washington Times is about how the White House leaked highly classified documents to the media about secret operations in Iran. The clear implication is that they were leaked to bolster the reputation of the President and his Administration, recklessly indifferent to damage to our security and allies.

Hard working people in the security agencies are being abused and cheapened by such misuse of their efforts.

There also is a chilling effect on civil discourse as the result of stories about surveillance. Privacy is not something you value lightly when you see how it can be violated--and your every email and conversation can be misrepresented and made public. Knowing that you have little privacy left is one thing; knowing that a government in power cares little about protecting that privacy is another.

Continue reading "Government Demoralizes Public & Allies" »

August 19, 2013

Infiltrated Officially a Best Seller

The New York Times pre-publishes its best seller list and there it is, for "August 25", Infiltrated by Discovery Senior Fellow Jay Richards is Number 4.

Infiltrated (McGraw-Hill Education) provides riveting revelations of hypocrisy by extremely well-founded pseudo-reformers who helped collapse the housing economy with unsupportable below-grade loans. The pseudo-reformers made a killing for themselves, then used their money to fund attacks on the financial system. That they were remarkably successful and that their handiwork is still evident should wake up even callous progressive consciences.

Continue reading "Infiltrated Officially a Best Seller" »

July 24, 2013

Lawyers in the Dock

Hats off (my summer Panama, to be exact) to The New Republic for its series on the fate of the legal practice in America. The magazine, under new management, ran a cover story this week on the declining business--and Darwinian environment--of big law firms.

It has followed up with a series of commentaries that take other sides of the topic, much to the benefit of readers and the curious public at large. A symposium offers ideas on how to reform law school. Overall, it's one of the finest reportorial, analytic and opinion surveys on public policy I've seen of late. Attorneys, I'm told, have read of some of these developments in professional journals, but the rest of us have not.

Noam Scheiber, a senior editor, did serious, old fashioned reporting to show that of the current 150 to 250 big law firms in America, "only 20 to 25 firms" are likely to operate in the traditional grand fashion in the next decade. "The other 200 firms will have to reinvent themselves or disappear."

Scheiber focuses on one major example, Mayer Brown, headquartered in Chicago. That firm partners' discomfiture at his attention does not have to be imagined: he describes it in a way that makes even the reader squirm.

Continue reading "Lawyers in the Dock" »

July 19, 2013

Anti-Religion Party Now Targets Star of David

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), the group that has been trying to intimidate Ball State University in Indiana over a course on the interface of science and religion, has a new cause. It is calling for removal of a Star of David in a holocaust memorial at the state capitol in Ohio.

The remarkable thing is not that such a public, tax-exempt foundation exists, but that it attracts such credulous acceptance in the progressive media and in academia. All by itself it has caused the Ball State administration in Muncie, IN to take seriously--and over agonizing months--an attempted assault on the academic freedom of one of its professors. (The professor's crime is including some papers on intelligent design in his reading list.) You would think the the FFRF was some sort of respected legal watchdog group concerned to protect civil liberties. In reality, it is an aggressively atheist lobby bent on extirpating any positive reference to religion in the public square.

Continue reading "Anti-Religion Party Now Targets Star of David" »

July 18, 2013

New IRS Scandals; When Comes Justice?

It now turns out that someone leaked tax information of Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, leading to a unjustified (but newsworthy) lien on property of hers. Do you want to paint a candidate in a negative way that will cost her politically? Smear her with false claims of illegality.

O'Donnell was not a sympathetic candidate as far as most people were concerned. So what? This is America. The IRS is not a political action unit of the dominant party. When people in it break the law--and the public trust--they must be found and prosecuted. This sort of thing is not just the standard Washington, DC news leak.

July 15, 2013

The Odds of Re-trying Zimmerman

Attorney General Eric Holder suggests that the Department of Justice may try to re-try George Zimmerman, despite his acquittal this past weekend. Lawyer and Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter offers the following analysis of the problems facing the DOJ if it does so.

I did a little research on three possible legal avenues, and it appears difficult for any of them to be successfully used against Zimmerman.

The three are: (1) Florida civil case; (2) federal civil rights case; (3) federal hate crimes case.

State Wrongful Death Civil Case

There appears at most a narrow window under Florida law. A defendant who successfully invokes Florida's "stand your ground" (SYG) self-defense law is immune from civil suits . Zimmerman did NOT invoke SYG in the criminal case, for fear that an unsympathetic judge would deny a request for application of SYG. Such does not operate as a permanent waiver, however. Zimmerman can now plead SYG as a bar to civil suit.

Continue reading "The Odds of Re-trying Zimmerman" »

Wolves Are Symbol of Cultural Division


Here's lookin' at you, kid.

Picture the kind of person who joins groups that want to see more wolves in the rural West. Maybe a kindly old couple in suburban Boston? Got that in mind? Then think of someone who opposes this cause: say, a rancher in Idaho or Eastern Washington.

More generally think of how those two kinds of people view culture and politics in general.

One can make the case that how people stand on the issue of re-introduction of wolves to the environment is an accurate indication of their overall world-view. This weekend the Spokane Spokesman-Review ran a thorough and fair-minded report on the topic--one that deserves wide circulation. (Hat tip to Lillian Ashworth.) The article is both fascinating and frustrating.

It's fascinating because it really is about finding a proper balance between people and nature. Wolves inspire a kind of awe. But they are not nice people.

Continue reading "Wolves Are Symbol of Cultural Division" »

July 9, 2013

Government is Chilling Private Speech is running a column by me today on the growing number of ways the government can collect--and use private data--on citizens.

July 8, 2013

The Good Job News is Bad

Ben Wattenberg, author of numerous contrarian books from the 60s to the 90s that showed America doing better than critics asserted, had a trope that "the good news is the bad news is wrong."

Unfortunately, when it comes to economic news, right now the bad news is that the good news is wrong. A fine analysis from James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI also is home to Ben Wattenberg) describes last week's jobs report as a disappointment masked in media accounts as "better than expected" employment gains.

It turns out that the increases in part time jobs is large, but is almost offset by the loss of full time jobs. That is, less desirable, low-wage, no-benefit jobs are increasing, not coincidentally, as good jobs with benefits and higher pay disappear. Writes Pethokoukis, " The underemployment rate surged to 14.3% from 13.8%" last month. Why is that happening?

Continue reading "The Good Job News is Bad" »

July 3, 2013

Hard Fate of Obama's "New" Policy on Muslims

Wake Up Obama.jpg

President Obama's new foreign policy on Muslim countries--the "New Beginning" declared in Cairo in 2009--is now visibly in ruins.

Under Mr. Obama the US Government seems to have an excellent instinct for choosing sides at just the wrong moment. In Egypt we gave up on Mubarak only as his exit was being assured and now the same with Morsi. Placards in the anti-Morsi crowds last week deplored Obama and the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Ann Patterson, for urging Egyptians not to take part in the demonstrations.

Writes Egyptian Dr. Tawfik Hamid of the Potomac Institute, "Egyptian and Arab liberals alike cannot understand why the Obama administration did not take a clear stand against the several anti-democratic actions Morsi took after he came to power. These included seizing all powers in the country, breaking his promise to select a Coptic vice president, encouraging Islamic thugs to surround the Supreme Constitutional Court and threaten its judges if they issued any ruling against Morsi, and above all, cheating in the referendum on the new constitution of the country for the benefit of the Islamists."

Under George W. Bush we stood for freedom and democracy, even if there was some inevitable hypocrisy involved. Under Obama the fulsome speech in Cairo about new relations with Muslim countries was followed by a foreign policy that essentially is opportunistic, impulsive and--in the end--incoherent.

We couldn't express support for the pro-democracy crowds in tyrannical Iran, seemed eager to abandon democrats in Iraq, are wishy-washy in Afghanistan, unclear in Syria, and so it goes. If some conspiracy-minded people thought that Barack Obama was the Manchurian Candidate--a secret Islamist--that person would have to admit that the conspiracy must have gotten mixed up somehow. Either that or the Candidate turned out to be incompetent,

Continue reading "Hard Fate of Obama's "New" Policy on Muslims" »

Green Energy's Future in Scrap Salvage

Green innovations have become the tattoos of the energy economy. Tattoos look good at first and people complement you on how "awesome" you've become, even if hardly anyone gets close enough to study the clever etchings on your body parts. Then you wish you hadn't. And one fair day, after another embarrassing swim in the neighborhood pool, you start figuring how to make them go away.

There is still a business etching the torsos of the young and guileless and printing indelible roses on the ankles of just-divorced matrons. But fashion changes, and there already is a big business in removing the magenta signs of disillusionment.

So it goes with windmills for generating electricity. It was only yesterday that they were the dazzling promise on the horizon. All you had to do was burn railroad loads of coal and oil, and mine vast pits of ore, to have them manufactured and erected above the mere human scale environment of the countryside. Then off they went, making their unearthly whooshing sounds, flap-flapping the heads off migrating endangered species birds, and slightly denting the peak energy needs of power companies whose corporate enthusiasm had been greased by crony government subsidies. But nowadays the controversy is less how to build them, more about how to tear them out.

Continue reading "Green Energy's Future in Scrap Salvage" »

July 2, 2013

"Middletown" Paper Gets it Right

Ball State.jpg

The Star-Press of Muncie, Indiana, home to Ball State University, is a local newspaper that still reports the news, and, remarkably, tries to report fairly.

When a Ball State professor who teaches a class on "The Boundaries of Science" was assailed gratuitously by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, WI and biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, the University President did not handle the charges the same way charges were handled against a professor a decade ago. In the earlier instance, a professor charged with "anti-American, pro-terrorist" views was defended immediately on academic freedom grounds. Case closed. But in the current case of Dr. Eric Hedin, who is charged with expressing personal theistic beliefs (imagine that, in a course on science and religion!), the University set up an investigative committee and stacked it with pro-Darwinians critical of intelligent design.

The Muncie paper simply reported the news. How refreshing. Of course, for not following the censorship playbook, the Star-Press and Indiana in general have come under invidious attack by Dr. Coyne. "I was told," he writes in his blog, "that, in religious terms, Indiana is effectively a Southern state, but I didn't believe it until now." (Hell hath no fury like an atheist scorned.)

Continue reading ""Middletown" Paper Gets it Right" »

June 26, 2013

Reviewer Calls Gilder's Knowledge and Power "Book of the New Millenium"

Rich Karlgaard writes in the July 15 issue of Forbes, "Gilder, age 73, is now back with a new book, Knowledge and Power (Regnery), based on information theory. I will say that Gilder's newest is his best-the book of the year, maybe of the new millennium. I'll be referring to Knowledge and Power in coming issues. Meanwhile, buy it and read it so we can compare notes!"

June 25, 2013

National Service Would be an Obama-Corps

The American Spectator today runs an article by me that makes some of the arguments in the blogpost yesterday, along with some others. Stay tuned.

June 24, 2013

The Case Against Universal National Service

Aspen Institute must have an incredible budget from the various large corporations and foundations that are bankrolling the "Summit" that is going on in Colorado today and tomorrow. It is funding expenses for two hundred of the famous and mighty--from Chelsea Clinton to Gen. Stanley McChrystal--to promote universal national service as "socially mandatory" for all youth 18-25.

There is a bill in Congress, introduced recently by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), that will make national service a legal requirement.

This idea is indestructible, it seems. It reappears about every 10 years, but the current effort seems to have the biggest bucks behind it. The reason, I believe, is that over the long haul the state is the enemy of the independent sector. It is the natural foe of Tocqueville's democracy and what some philosophers call "mediating institutions." In all totalitarian regimes, the state tries to squeeze out private voluntary associations, either by proscribing them, or by competing with them (with force and money), or both. Universal national service advocates would hate the "totalitarian" label and suppose that their good intentions would protect against misuse of the program they want.

How blind can they be?

Continue reading "The Case Against Universal National Service" »

London Mayor Lampoons Climate Change

Boris Johnson often is mentioned as a possible future Conservative Prime Minister for Britain. Whether that ever happen, the ruffle-haired blond Mayor of London has a sly satirical wit that should endear him to the voters.

His column on the case suburban swimming pool builders in England have against the threats--make that the "promises"--of global warming makes delicious reading. So do the comments that follow it.

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and all the Establishment of the U.S. and U.K. just know that global warming is real and man made--and horrific. The greatest danger facing the world, the President says.

But it's a big letdown for swimming pool builders in England's green and pleasant land.

June 20, 2013

The Obama State Intimidates Media

Question of the day: How much does AP really care about freedom of the press? How much does CBS?

Even before Republicans won the U. S. House of Representatives in the 2010 elections the Administration let it be known that going forward it would try to enact its measures by administrative means. In other words, it was going around Congress. The AP and other media seemed to take that in stride. The news spotlight today is still often on Congress, and the Administration likes to use the Republicans in Congress as a foil and Congress (I include both parties) is less relevant now than it has been in a generation.

For example, one reason for hostility to the Gang of Eight immigration act is public suspicion that whatever measures for increased border security are enacted, the Administration simply will enforce the ones its likes and ignore or neglect the others.

Continue reading "The Obama State Intimidates Media" »

June 12, 2013

Regulatory State Morphs into Snooping State

The NSA controversy has some people in both parties understandably worried that the Government has over-reached. However, it is likely that we will find that the NSA's broad sweep of data is far safer for civil liberties--and for national security--than the alternative means that might be needed if the NSA were not on the job.

Regardless, we are in danger of the NSA imbroglio distracting us from more imminent and damaging domestic intrusions on citizen privacy. Do you remember when the President after the 2010 elections--and the return of a Republican House--let it be known that he would effect his will through administrative means, rather than relying on legislation? In agency after agency that is transpiring in ways that endanger liberty.

Continue reading "Regulatory State Morphs into Snooping State" »

June 10, 2013

Conservative Prison Reform Launched

Richard Viguerie, famous for, among other things, the innovation of direct mail campaign fundraising , is also a public intellectual of perpetual energy and enthusiasm. In today's New York Times, which I will link through the Viguerie site, Conservative Hq, Viguerie makes the case for prison reform with arguments that appeal especially to conservatives: "Public safety, compassion and controlled government spending."

Lowering recidivism rates saves money, obviously. It also saves lives. It's true that locking up bad guys lowers crime rates. But it also bothers the Christian conscience that we have such a huge prison population--especially if we have available common sense reforms that will lower both the crime rate and the number of people in prison. Viguerie's article points out that Texas developed such a program and put it into practice in 2007. The plan is saving money and cutting parole failures.

Continue reading "Conservative Prison Reform Launched" »

June 9, 2013

For Now, Hold Your Fire on the NSA

Edward Snowden, the 29 year old contract employee who revealed the NSA data-mining. is no hero. The data processor, like Private Bradley Manning, had an inside but ant's level view of the NSA projects. Snowden sounds very much like a self-dramatizing romantic.

He says he doesn't want to hurt anyone, but if his revelations to a left-wing writer for the UK Guardian results is one or more terror plots getting past scrutiny, he definitely will have done great damage to real people.

On the other hand, the increasing ambition of the NSA has to be a source of concern for any civil libertarian. Concern, but not hysteria. Congress, in particular, needs to review its oversight functions.

Continue reading "For Now, Hold Your Fire on the NSA " »

June 8, 2013

Census, the IRS and Issue of Trust in Government

The issue of trust in government agencies like the Bureau of the Census is sure to come up in confirmation hearings for John H. Thompson, President Obama's new nominee for Director. That is not due to any problems with the distinguished Dr. Thompson or with the Census Bureau, despite cyclical demands that the Census stop asking people so many questions.

The looming trouble for the Bureau and other data-gathering agencies is that people's fears and indignation have been excited as never before by the recent IRS scandals, the snooping on AP and FOX and revelations about cyber-data gathering. It bears noting, therefore, that the Bureau's questions are not unfair or adversarial, let alone selectively targeted at any group, and that they are well justified under both the enumeration clause and the commerce language of the U.S. Constitution. That's why Sen. Rand Paul's legislation to sharply limit Census questions, however appealing it may appear superficially, isn't going anywhere.

The Census should not bear the stigma of the IRS' shame. That's not only important to the Bureau and other statistical agencies, but also to the public.

Continue reading "Census, the IRS and Issue of Trust in Government" »

A Public Defender's Potpourri Day

What would offend the olfactory nerves of a public defender? "Ryan" gets to find out at a city not far away. Here's his report (reposted from

I stepped into the elevator in my building this afternoon and had to breathe slowly. It brought me back to the old bowling alley; cigarette butts, leftover something, spilled beer. Those smells don't bother me too much, but when you add in a mix of body odor, gingivitis, and an overdose of cheap perfume, I start to have a negative sensory overload. I had three floors to guess the mixture of clients...

The woman in her Betty Boop fleece pants with the frayed bottoms - they looked just fine when she held them up to her waist at the store, but she was wearing heels at the time so they typically find themselves a few inches below her flip-flops at home. Her hair is a stringy blond and her face is gaunt. She walks with exaggerated movements, almost as if there is some sort of opiate coursing through her veins, seeming to reduce the force of gravity just a bit. If she goes for more than four hours without a fix, she becomes violently ill. We will talk all about her case in my office and she'll be ready to resolve, but when we get into the courtroom, it will be the same thing as last time and every time - not today! My cats; my rent; my... - until one day she doesn't show up at all and gets picked up on a warrant.

Next to her sits a little gang banger, the source of that "vat o' perfume" smell; flat billed baseball cap from some team with bright red colors. He can't even name the sport, but I comment anyway just because it gives me an inward chuckle: boy, that Votto sure is on fire. Those two grand-slams really killed my fantasy team this week! He just stares at me through bloodshot eyes and pulls out the medical marijuana card that he got for his early-onset low back pain. That's great, bud, but I don't see anywhere on this card where it says you can take off running for three blocks before finally stopping to pull the taser prongs out of your thigh.

Continue reading "A Public Defender's Potpourri Day" »

June 3, 2013

Worst IRS Offense: Divulging Tax Files

Stories pile up that the IRS investigations into conservative groups was not just about the Tea Party, but also about pro-life groups, pro-Israel groups and conservatives in general. It also was about pursuing donors and principals in such groups. This is in sharp contradiction of early assertions that the attacks were the product of a few "rogue" IRS agents in Cincinnati and "not political".

But maybe the most damning aspect of the IRS scandal is that confidential tax files about Tea Party people and others may have been disclosed to their political opponents and adversaries in the media. There is no way to excuse or explain that away. The people responsible should be found and prosecuted. It's a thoroughgoing criminal act. It is the kind of thing that destroys confidence in government.

I understand what Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) meant today when he said that Tea Party groups had asked for special tax treatment. Yes, but so did groups on the left--who got the tax breaks quickly. You may argue against having such tax breaks, but how do you argue for selective application of them?

Furthermore, there isn't even any ambiguity about leaking people's tax returns to their political foes. That is a job-firing, jail-time offense.

Continue reading "Worst IRS Offense: Divulging Tax Files" »

May 31, 2013

National Service: Oldest and Worst "New Idea"

Oped articles were placed in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal this week (both of which require subscriptions, so never mind any links) on the topic of universal national service. That suggests that there is a campaign afoot once more to reintroduce this recycled "new" idea into the public dialogue. I certainly hope so. It will be roundly defeated, providing an educational experience for all those who are tempted to increase the authoritarian tendencies of government. It will become a rallying cry for liberty for a new generation.

I know because I started combatting national service in the early 1960s when George Gilder was editor and I was publisher of a Republican journal called Advance. In the Summer 1963 issue we published an article by Congressman Tom Curtis of Missouri, "Youth and the Military", calling for an end to conscription. That was pretty bold at the time.

"Together with monetary savings and stronger defense, such a system could strike at the heart of the disrupted lives of our youth," the good Congressman wrote.

That was true fifty years ago--about a decade before the draft was finally abolished--and it is true now.

Continue reading "National Service: Oldest and Worst "New Idea"" »

May 29, 2013

Counterattack on Cyber-war, Cyber-hackers

Every day carries new stories of hackers and the damage they are doing to American businesses and government. "Pentagon Moving to Stem Hacker Attacks," the Associated Press reports today. Our country's defenses, power grid and business operations--and individuals--are at risk. It is not an over-statement to say that our country as a whole is at risk.

Yet there is no sign yet of effective defenses.

Two crucial ingredients are missing in news stories and articles on the subject: 1) Hardly anyone knows enough about the problem to explain it in technically correct terms that also are comprehensible to the average informed citizen. 2) Virtually no articles until now have explained what needs to be done to fix the problem(s). Domestically, a few very annoying crackpots in garages get arrested. But the serious problems come from overseas. Mostly the Government talks darkly of retaliations and remonstrations, whether the putative villain is in China or Iran. Businesses, perhaps fearing lawsuits and hoping to escape the hackers' attention, meanwhile, keep mum.

What the public has not had, therefore, is an explanation of what can be done on a large scale and why what we are doing now does not work.

George Gilder, Sr. Fellow of Discovery Institute and author of several books on technology and public policy (Microcosm, Life After Television, Telecosm, The Israel Test, etc.), has written a white paper that does the job.

Continue reading "Counterattack on Cyber-war, Cyber-hackers" »

May 24, 2013

Goodbye Al Qaida: Hello, Islamist "Loners"

President Obama picked a fine time to announce that the war on terror is winding down and that Al Qaida is on the run. The Benghazi attack last September should have destroyed that argument as a campaign theme; but it didn't, since a video-maker was falsely but successfully blamed for provoking the attack. (The official script eventually was changed, but, bizarrely, Nakoula Baseley Nakoula, the hapless video-maker, is still in jail.) Now Mr. Obama is making the claim again, just after a likely confederate of the Tsarnaevs dies in a confrontation with the FBI in Orlando and two self-proclaimed Islamists murder and butcher a British soldier on the street in London.

Speaking yesterday, the President announced a cutback in the use of drones and a renewed intention to close Guantanamo prison, asserting that such moves are justified in part because of the decline of Al Qaida. We're effectively back to the campaign theme of 2012: "GM is alive and Bin Laden is dead."

War on terror? Says the Commander-in-Chief: "This war must end. That is what history advises. That is what democracy demands."


Continue reading "Goodbye Al Qaida: Hello, Islamist "Loners"" »

May 28, 2013

USA Losing Popularity

The United States is going down in popularity. It wasn't supposed to be this way under Barrack Obama; just the opposite was supposed to happen.

Says the BBC Poll, "Views of the US have shown some sharp declines among the citizens of its allies the UK (46%, down from 60%), France (52%, down from 62%), and Germany (35%, down from 44%), as well as in Egypt (24%, down from 37%). On a global scale, however, views have only slipped slightly (from 47% to 45% positive, with 34% now negative)."

As our colleague, former Congressman John Miller, has noted in the past, the US usually is popular when we are not doing anything. Even in World War II (the "good war") US activism hurt our popularity.

Continue reading "USA Losing Popularity" »

May 22, 2013

Contagious Apophenia in the Senate

The Honorable Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is getting a lot of well-deserved criticism for stating that natural disasters such as the tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma this week are the products of climate change (nee, "global warming") and, therefore, somehow the responsibility of climate change doubters. Moreover, since many Republicans are among those questioning the assertions of global warming and especially the idea that people mainly cause it, he said, they ultimately are responsible for forcing the rest of the country--including his state--to help pay the costs of disaster relief.

This kind of thing would be the stuff of satire if it were not taking advantage of the recent tornado deaths and destruction in Oklahoma.

Discovery fellows Steve Meyer (author of the forthcoming, Darwin's Doubt) and Jay Richards were on the Michael Medved show today to talk about a variety of similar claims fraudulently made in the name of science.

Misperceiving patterns and lessons from random information is a form of psychiatric disease called "apophenia," a delusional condition the sufferer confuses with reality. The political and metaphorical version of it is conspiracy theory, or, in this case, an attempt to claim for climate change what even scientists (including those who fully accept the idea that the Earth is warming and that people are responsible for it) don't claim; namely, that specific severe weather can be attributed to climate change.

Moreover, even if you did hold weather is a reflection of climate change, you would have to deal with the statistics that until this week's tornados, the past year has been notable for a relative paucity of tornados. In the same way, Hurricane Sandy last year was terrible in its destruction in the populous Northeast, but otherwise not an example of a trend in hurricanes.

The Medved program did a good job dispatching the Sheldon Whitehouse case of political aprophenia. The trouble is, the disease is contagious, as comments from Sen. Barbara Boxer show.

Continue reading "Contagious Apophenia in the Senate" »

May 16, 2013

"Heck of a Wreck" in Higher Ed

Georgia Tech, in concert with AT&T and a company called Udacity, is offering a master's degree online in computer science for only $7,000. If you actually go to Georgia Tech's campus and get your master's, the fare is $40,000.

This is the next wave of revolution in higher education. The halls of ivy have priced themselves out of the reach of the middle class, and even the upper middle class. Giving more "scholarships" is a way for the most-endowed schools to handle sticker shock, but that usually does not meet the needs of people who just don't want to pay so much for what increasingly is irrelevant, ideologically driven schooling.

Continue reading ""Heck of a Wreck" in Higher Ed" »

May 14, 2013

Solutions on IRS

1) Reduce the size of government.
2) Reduce tax rates.
3) Clarify criteria necessary for attaining non-profit (tax free) status.
4) Prosecute those who leaked IRS data to political opponents.

Maybe start with 4).

Continue reading "Solutions on IRS" »

Strange Alliance of Islamists and Left

It seemed strange at the time, and it continues to seem strange: the radical Left in Europe (and the U.S.) and the Islamists fundamentalists in Iran were in effective alliance at the time of the Iranian revolution. The ramifications are felt today, for sure.

Nir Boms and Shayan Arya have a useful, if not exhaustive, analysis.

Continue reading "Strange Alliance of Islamists and Left" »

May 13, 2013

Pressure Cooker Whistle Blows

Pressure Cooker.jpg

A Saudi Arabian has been detained as he entered the US at Detroit carrying a pressure cooker in his luggage.

The Tsarnaev brothers' weapon of choice, the pressure cooker apparently can be converted to a bomb following directions online, courtesy of al Qaida.

Will we soon have pressure to ban pressure cookers? Well, some Miami-Dade County students have a petition for just that cause. Williams-Sonoma already has taken pressure cookers off their store shelves. Can Crate&Barrel be far behind?

Continue reading "Pressure Cooker Whistle Blows" »

May 9, 2013

A Hard Choice for the Pro-Choice

The way to trouble the pro-life advocate is to ask what he or she would do in the case of "rape or incest". That question tripped up at least two U.S. Senate candidates last fall and led to their defeats.

In a similar fashion, pro-choice advocates have a terrible problem with a question about late-term abortions. That difficulty has become especially acute now that the Gosnell trial has revealed the existence of after-birth abortions, an idea that literally was only the stuff of satirical invention a couple of decades ago. But in 1997 "ethicist" Steven Pinker of Harvard more or less defended the practice in an article in the New York Times. That helped break the taboo among some, though hardly all, progressives.

Regarding Gosnell, it is said that the disgusting conditions of his clinic, the insensitive, even cruel treatment of women there and the readiness to "snip" the spinal cords of babies born alive after an abortion attempt shows the need for better facilities under nicer conditions.

Continue reading "A Hard Choice for the Pro-Choice" »

Added Voices Raised on "Benghazi Patsy"

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the petty crook and video-maker in Los Angeles who was made the fall guy for the Benghazi killings, was the subject of a discussion with my Discovery colleagues yesterday before I blogged "Free Nakoula". Was I going out on a limb? Not at all.

Not only has Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit been on this topic for months, but today Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, also has a fine piece on "The Benghazi Patsy" at

Remember, after the killings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised the father of one of those killed that the maker of the video would be "arrested and prosecuted." Indeed, he was. And he is still in jail, though ostensibly for parole violation.

Continue reading "Added Voices Raised on "Benghazi Patsy"" »

May 8, 2013

Free Nakoula

America is supposed to be a country that doesn't have political prisoners. But Nakoula Basseley Nakoula looks increasingly like one, a small time Los Angeles crook made a scape goat to cover up the Obama Administration's failure in Libya and the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The claim that Nakoula's puerile video against Islam led to a violent "demonstration" in Benghazi was immediately obvious at the time to Gregory Hicks, career diplomat and Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, as a fabrication. He has just testified to Congress, "I was stunned. My jaw dropped."

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Politicians Refuse to Learn from Predecessors

One of saddest qualities of ego-driven politics is some new office-holders' refusal to learn from their predecessors. I have seen it in local, state and national governments. One would think that the newly elected official would be eager to learn all he can from those who went before, especially since there is no longer any threat to his own position.

Instead some new office-holders think that the people who had a job before couldn't possibly know as much about the office they just left it as does the newcomer. For example, take the case of Dixy Lee Ray, who followed Daniel J. Evans as governor in Washington state in 1976, a job for which Evans did not seek re-election. The outgoing governor and his staff prepared a file cabinet full of precise status reports on government agencies for his successor. But these reports were contemptuously tossed aside. That was a sign of hubris, not any warranted confidence.

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May 7, 2013

The Usefulness of Controversy

It is an irony that the Reinhart-Rogoff study on national debt's role in limiting economic growth was not widely known until the left started pummeling it recently. It was ushered into prime time by Rachel Maddow at MSNBC as if it were a new Watergate scandal. (Bengazigate gets no such attention.) Reinhart-Rogoff had omitted some data that changed the nature of their claim that after 90 percent national debt, economies flag. But, after they corrected their data, the validity of their main argument remains.

Our Discovery Senior Fellow Scott Powell finds it all distracting. You don't need the Reinhart-Rogoff study to know that governments that borrow to much are also borrowing trouble.

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May 3, 2013

George W's Decency

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One reason George W. Bush is regaining popularity is that the truth will out, even in this wicked world! In Bush's case, the truth is flattering. For example, without fanfare the former president entertains wounded vets at his ranch about once a month. It is his way of showing appreciation and support. Recovery from a serious injury can be very lonely, and having some attention paid by the former Commander in Chief has to help.

Here is a picture of "43" dancing with a female vet. He's informal, he's obviously sincere and gentle. A gentle man.

Photo Credit

May 2, 2013

Okay to Kill Babies After Birth?

The uncomfortable subject of infanticide can be obscured by academic rhetoric and by changing the subject, such as to costs to the parent(s), costs to society, legal "rights", etc. Let's tut-tut about those. Of course, the same used to happen when the subject was a black person's ability to vote or the ante-bellum issue of slavery. There always are excuses; the human imagination is resourceful.

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May 1, 2013

May Day! May Day!

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Parades usually see the populace thronging the sidewalks to applaud the paraders. May Day parades, however, usually are regarded as threats to the peace, a kind of annual "Occupy" protest that is run (like Occupy) by individuals who have no regard for others. Accordingly, instead of setting out lawn chairs to watch the fun, offices along the May Day route in Seattle this year, as in other cities, are closing down early and getting out of the way.

The far left is not as agitated now as they would be if a Republican were President, but they never lack for manufactured indignation. Each subgroup will have its own cheeky assaults on good taste and decorum. Police are schooled in tolerant tactics that let the paraders/demonstrators have their way right up to the point--and usually well past it--where windows are broken. Certainly there will be no limit on noise. The whole point is to disturb others and make normal business impossible. Here come the same old drum corps, the same old style of chants and all the retread tactics of the anti-war movement of the 60s and the anti-nuke movement that preceded it.

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March 29, 2012

You Have Two Cows

2 cows.jpg

A variation of an economics lesson from my youth:

Capitalism: You have two cows, you sell one and buy a bull.

Socialism: You have two cows, the government takes one and gives it to your neighbor, then taxes the milk you sell from the other.

Communism: You have two cows, the government confiscates both and lets you have back a bit of the milk.

Nazism: You have two cows, the government takes both and shoots you.

Bureaucratism: You have two cows, the government regulates both, takes the milk and pours it down the drain.

Obamanism: You have two cows, the President lends you two new cows on credit as part of the Stimulus program, and shows up for a photo-op, just days before you go broke.

Mr. Obama's Hobbesian Health Care

It's a war of all against all. See the Daily Caller article below by Discovery Sr. Fellow Wesley J. Smith:

By seizing control of health care benefits and coverage, the Obama administration set primal forces into motion that will soon have us fighting each other like a pack of hyenas battling over a small carcass. Indeed, by creating a system in which we perceive that the money our neighbors spend on medical care reduces the resources available for our own, Obamacare has sown the seeds of cultural discord and cracked the foundations of societal comity.

As in nature, resource shortages usually hurt those least able to protect themselves. Thus in the United Kingdom's socialized National Health Service, invidious rationing is already a way of life. Indeed, repeated exposes in the U.K. media have shown that the elderly and disabled are often denied efficacious treatments in order to pay for those deemed more deserving based on "quality of life."

But that is just the beginning. Some now want to punish the obese too. For example, Cristina Odone, the former editor of the Catholic Herald, recently mounted a decidedly un-Christian attack against "the fat" at the Telegraph, opining that they should be forced to the back of the health care line:

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Center on Human Exceptionalism, a consultant for the Patients Rights Council, and a special consultant for the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

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March 28, 2012

Is Dr. Pepper "Good at 10 and 2 and 4"?


Vice President Joe Biden must have been in need of a little caffeine refreshment when he thanked "Dr. Pepper" instead of "Dr. Paper."

Photo ID Good; Photo ID Bad

On the front page today the New York Times offers sympathetic treatment of decisions to require high school students taking the SAT exams to present a photo ID in order to prevent cheating. Article by Jenny Anderson.

A few inches away Michael Cooper and Jo Craven McGinty provide a skeptical treatment of laws to require new voters to present photo IDs, as in Florida and a number of others states. Special attention is paid by the Times to a dropoff in high school and college registrations this year, at least in comparison to this season in 2008. Some people, they acknowledge, might suppose that the decline reflects the decline of Barack Obama's popularity among youth (recall the excitement four years ago?) and the fact that the Democrats have no primary competition this year for President.

But, no, that can't be it. Must be racism and classism. It's so unfair to expect high school and college students to have IDs. At least for voting. Not for taking the SAT, however. Not for driving. Not for making many purchases or appearing at a doctor's office. Not for flying on an airplane, or for a myriad of other occasions when photo IDs are simply expected. Only photo IDs for voting registration offend the New York Times.

March 27, 2012

Eat Your Broccoli, Buy Your Insurance

An overwhelming percentage of Americans --87 percent--believe that the US Government cannot constitutionally order citizens to buy broccoli, as in the question posed by Justice Antonin Scalia today. Eight percent believe it can, and, indeed, presumably believe the Government constitutionally can order you to do anything. In the case at hand, 62 percent believe the Government cannot constitutionally order you to buy health insurance, a la ObamaCare.

Polls, of course, can wobble with the course of events. They sometimes measure amount of opinion rather than the weight of opinion. Nonetheless, there is a persistent American majority against the kind of compulsion ObamaCare represents.

In Canada the government, and the courts, order people around with abandon. The only check in the end is probably public opinion. Canada, for all its merits, lacks a constitution like ours.

Meanwhile, that Constitution--the US Constitution--is on trial right now at the Supreme Court. The Government is talking nonsense; it can't even be clear whether the health care law includes a tax or not. It cannot define any limit at all to the Commerce Clause. It really holds that those in governmental power can do whatever they like.

The Obama Administration may win five votes, but it will face fierce anger from an activated populace. If it loses, it will appear incompetent. President Obama spent down the good will he had coming into the Presidency on an issue that was not central to people's concerns--unlike the economy and jobs--and indulged instead an ideological fixation.

March 15, 2012

More Disingenuous Rhetoric

Is the energy issue really a conflict between a President who wants to develop all kinds of energy resources and opponents who dismiss development of alternative energy sources? Really. That, however, is what the President is asserting.

"Lately," he told a crowd in Maryland, "we've heard a lot of professional politicians -- a lot of the folks who, you know, are running for a certain office, who shall go unnamed -- they've been talking down new sources of energy. They dismiss wind power. They dismiss solar power. They make jokes about biofuels," Politico reported the President said, "They were against raising fuel standards because apparently they like gas guzzling cars better. We're trying to move towards the future, and they want to be stuck in the past."

Mr. Obama would have it that way. However, when he says he favors an "all of the above" strategy of energy development, he is echoing the mantra of Sen. John McCain, his opponent in 2008, and not his own. More importantly, while it may be true (or at least arguable) that some GOP candidates dismiss the value of alternative fuels like wind and solar and over-promise lower gas prices, it is the Administration that has downplayed the potential of convention fuel sources--namely oil and gas and coal--to the extent that efforts to expand drilling and mining have been curtailed or impeded in state after state by the Federal government over Mr. Obama's tenure.

The future of solar and wind and biofuels is real, but limited. If we want to free ourselves from dependence on foreign energy sources, is there any doubt who is standing in the way? The record is clear.

March 14, 2012

A Dishonest Issue

George Weigel, noted Catholic writer on public policy, says of the current debate over contraception: "One of the most maddening aspects of this otherwise bracing debate has been the refusal of those who support either the HHS mandate or the bogus administration accommodation to debate honestly, in terms of the facts, and fairly, in terms of the rhetoric."

This is exactly so. The reason the left will not debate honestly is that they think they can win if their rhetoric is disingenuous. And the reason they can hope to win is that the major media cooperate with them.

The issue is not about "women's access to reproductive health." It's about government's power to require Catholic or other religious institutions to pay (one way or another) for services to which the church has moral objections. It's about the power of the federal government to impose its will on churches.

Weigel's article is here.

The ruthlessness of the Obama Administration--the willingness to misrepresent--may prevail politically in the short term. But many eyes have been opened by this experience that had not been open before.

March 13, 2012

So Much for Polls

Rassmussen is better than most polls, yet the voters have a way of upturning the most expert expectations. That certainly was true tonight in Mississippi and Alabama. Rick Santorum won both. But the Rassmussen still had posted its homepage its final prediction:

"Mississippi Primary: Romney 35%, Santorum 27%, Gingrich 27%, Paul 6%
"Alabama GOP Primary: Gingrich 30%, Santorum 29%, Romney 28%, Paul 7%"

Again: when the actual votes were counted, Santorum won.

March 1, 2012

Government Charges Plenty to Regulate You

The first default of progressives is to call on government to solve any perceived problem, and the clever way to do that is to hide the cost. Regulation is the result. It has increased over 20 percent under President Obama. All the Republican candidates for President mention this theme, but it doesn't lend itself to sound-bytes. Nonetheless, The Economist--the prestigious magazine that supported the election of Barack Obama in 2008--is picking up on it, and so are such writers as Mark Landsbaum at the Orange County Register.

It is interesting to think how big a drag on recovery all these new regulations are. How many people don't have jobs as consequence?

February 21, 2012

"Indivisible" Helps Resolve Confusion on Social, Economic Issues in the Current National Debate


Two authors, James Robison, head of a worldwide Christian relief organization (LIFE Outreach International), and Dr. Jay Richards, Discovery Sr. Fellow at our new Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality, are out this week with their book, Indivisible. It couldn't be better timed to confront the growing political temptation to separate social and economic issues. In fact, the authors show, social policy and economic policy are inextricably meshed.

In Indivisible, the co-authors describe a culture that alienates human economy from the motive lives of human individuals and families. Richards and Robison show that inside controversies over education, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, global warming, judicial activism and health care are economic issues over taxation, the nature of work and fair distribution of resources. Within economic issues, in turn, are social issues. The book is especially aimed at Christians, frequently referencing scriptural and historic Christian teachings on human dignity, charity and justice. Their's is a message both philosophical and practical on how to revive family life and individual freedom and rebuild the American economy.

Indivisible is an unusual publishing venture, with Protestant/evangelical and Catholic imprints of the same book coming out simultaneously. As such it may be indicative of the historic convergence of Christian thinking on public questions that has become increasingly evident. Indeed, many Jews concur with this worldview.

Here is the new website that includes articles by Jay Richards about the topics in the book. Also look at, where you'll find comments by James Robison. Note the bus tour through the Southeast and Texas in coming days. The authors are not candidates, but their campaign-style bus certainly offers a good simulacrum.

February 9, 2012

"Religious Liberty" or "Access to Contraceptives"?

Progressive groups, including most of the media, describe the latest Obamacare order as guaranteeing "access to contraception" for American women.

The conservative media, such as it is, describe it as a requirement for church-related hospitals, clinics and other institutions "to provide all contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs, in their health care plans. (LifeSiteNews)." It is, in reality, a compulsory subsidy. Since the order forces religious groups, especially the Catholic Church, to violate their religious principles, evangelical leaders such as Southern Baptist Dr. Richard Land also regard it as an intolerable attack on "religious liberty."

Meanwhile, many liberal Catholics, such as commentator Mark Shields, have criticized the order. As for the clergy, Discovery Sr. Fellow Jay Richards quips, "President Obama has done something even the Pope couldn't do: unite all the Catholic bishops!"

So, is the Obamacare order really only about women's "access" to contraceptives? Or is it about compelling churches to choose between social services and their religious conscience?

February 8, 2012

What Makes Newt Run?

Frank Gregorsky was Chief of Staff for Rep. Newt Gingrich in the very early years of Newt's Congressional service in the early '80s. A decade later he was a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute, working with George Gilder on technology issues. Currently he is finishing a book on Republicans in Congress, examining key people in key eras; and one of those key people is his old boss, Newt Gingrich.

Frank's chapter on Newt can be seen here. But, in summary, he says (in his words), "(1) Because Gingrich's lifelong role model is FDR, he cannot be a latter-day Reagan or Thatcher; (2) he rendered valuable service to Republicans as coach, marketing genius, and guerrilla fighter during the 1980s; (3) he did so because his nature is that of an entrepreneurial business type; (4) by not being wedded to a set of principles or policies, he can coach very well, yet not *be* coached or contained -- because he follows his own intuitive flashes day to day...

"All of which (5) disorients peers and allies, who by the third year of his Speakership disliked and distrusted him. And therefore (6): If Newt Gingrich ever got to the Oval Office, by the end of 2013 he'd be at 40% or below in approval and on the way to the 2nd Bush term all over again: Nothing but defensive damage-control for our side.

"Steve Jobs proved that a hyper-entrepreneurial innovator can only succeed as an executive if he gets to function as a control freak. But the U.S. Presidency, and a sprawling executive branch, do not resemble the tightly focused and super-controlled culture of Apple Inc."

February 6, 2012

Furor Accelerates Over Catholic Restrictions

If you believe it is appropriate for the federal government to decide what health procedures are financed and provided by Catholic hospitals, then you will present the Obama Administration's new strictures under Obamacare as assuring the public access to health care. That is the party line, as offered in an LA Times story today.

But if you see it as an assault on civil liberties--the rights of religious institutions to decide on what they will provide in their own hospital and other health premises--then you will be at one with 153 Catholic bishops (up from 111 a few days ago, as the post below shows) and a parade of evangelical church leaders who agree with them. Indeed, even non-religious people who are constitutionalists are beginning to notice the anti-clericalism of the Obama Administration. It's a posture that is almost unprecedented in the U.S.

The fuse was slow to ignite. The Catholic Church doesn't rise up quickly. For example, it objects to abortion and same sex marriage, but it doesn't exactly rattle the cage in Washington, DC over these matters. This is different. It's not about what public policies are implemented, but whether churches can follow their consciences--and their doctrines--in crucial arenas. It is whether there will even be any non-government hospitals and other institutions.

February 3, 2012

Medved on the Real Wealth Gap

Mitt Romney should probably enlist commentator Michael Medved to help him explain himself. In a column for USA Today (and, I take it, other Gannett papers), Medved describes the real issue for most people.
Contrary to claims of Occupy agitators," writes Medved, the most important division in our society isn't the gap between rich and poor. It's the distinction at every income level between earned and unearned advantage or, to use old-fashioned language, between honorable effort and ill-gotten gains."

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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

Getty Images

February 20, 2012

What's a Moderate?

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If there is a better book on the subject of whatever happened to "moderate Republicanism" than Rule or Ruin by Geoffrey Kabaservice (just published by Oxford University Press), I can't imagine what it is. And I probably would know, having helped hold aloft in my young hands the "moderate" banner during the period leading up to Barry Goldwater's nomination in 1964. What Kabaservice has written is thorough, fair, and sometimes very entertaining.

That doesn't mean I agree with some of its conclusions.

Kabaservice, a writer and former history professor who wrote a widely acclaimed account of Kingman Brewster's reign at Yale, The Guardians, obviously is not happy that the moderate faction in the GOP was slowly, but inexorably, sidelined by more assertive (sometimes aggressive) right wingers, until today practically all candidates fall over themselves assuring voters that they are the true conservative in any given race and that their intra-party rivals are covert moderates or liberals. "Moderate" once was an accolade; not any more.

Continue reading "What's a Moderate?" »

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" »

December 22, 2011

Phony Agreement on Payroll Tax Cut


Image over substance has been the bane of tax policy discussions for years, and never more than in the current last minute agreement of the House to extend the payroll tax cut for two months. Oddly, it was the Republicans who wanted to extend it for a year instead. Their purpose was to take the issue off the table during the presidential campaign so the Democrats wouldn't keep hitting them over the head on the subject. Somehow, the Democrats and media made them out to be obstructionists holding up a tax cut. Few in the public understood what was going on, and the media didn't explain it to them.

One could only watch with contempt as commentators on CNN last night carried on about the politics of the issue without once pointing out the obvious: the payroll tax cut is a Social Security fund buster. The Social Security tax not collected from people who already have jobs is added right onto the budget deficit in Social Security. This is the kind of entitlement irresponsibility that is bankrupting Europe and that the Congressional elections of 2010 supposedly were fought over.

What might have happened if the public had been told the truth? "Do you think the temporary reduction of payroll payments to Social Security should be extended, even if it means--as it does--that the Social Security System goes even deeper into debt?"

This tax cut ranks right up their with the $200 rebates the Bush Administration handed out just as the recession started. They are short term politics at its worst. The cost is 100 billion dollars in the budget, but even more in lost government credibility.

December 21, 2011

Santorum's Moment?

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, looking tan and vital on Fox News' Greta Van Susteren program, managed to move beyond the social issues agenda he has stressed in the campaign for the Iowa Presidential caucuses to point out why any extension of the payroll tax cut is unwarranted: the payroll tax is actually the support people pay for Social Security. "Cut" it and all you do is add to the increasing failure to hold down entitlement spending. Already the payroll tax doesn't cover Social Security expenditures; the "cut" only makes deficits worse. By intentionally increasing the Social Security system's deficit you also disconnect Social Security further from a retirement scheme and turn it into welfare.

Meanwhile, the drop from 6.2 to 4.2 percent in payroll tax is not noticed by people who benefit from it and and it does nothing directly to create new jobs. If the supposed idea is to stimulate spending, which supposedly boosts the economy, then why not cut the tax out altogether; wouldn't that "stimulate" the economy even more? And since the tax cut already has been in place for a year, where is the evidence that it has done any good so far?

Making sense on this issue, the indefatigable Santorum finally may draw enough attention to himself to start to rise in the serious consideration of Iowa voters. His chief competitors for the conservative Christian vote are probably Rep. Michelle Brachman and Gov. Rick Perry, and the endorsement of two leading conservative Christian leaders recently probably moves him ahead several points. Conservative Christian voters so far have been ineffective in Iowa this year because they are divided.

How Liberal Civilization Fails

When government stops performing its traditional functions in order to take on new functions you are bound to see a collapse of civilization. That is Victor Davis Hanson's Clockwork Orange view of Central California today, where thieves are not imprisoned, but ordinary taxpayers are harassed by government--because they can.

December 14, 2011

Best Fresh Commentary on Newt

Tony Blankley was a colleague in the White House Office of Planning and Evaluation in the Reagan years and left to become press secretary to Minority Leader, then Speaker, Newt Gingrich. I've been meaning to ask his opinion of the recent "Newt surge" and what it foretells. A columnist these days, Tony has saved me a call by writing a genuinely original article that describes the connection between the old Newt and the new Newt.

December 13, 2011

Why People Take Big Government Personally

News item: Fear of Big Government at Near Record Level

A parking ticket outside a doctor's office on First Hill in Seattle is $44, and an hour later the parking inspector is circling again. He knows where naive parkers can be found. They're the folks who think an hour and a half payment at the meter will suffice, when, chances are, the doctor will take "longer than expected". Fair enough to pay the fine, but $44? It's not about regulating parking spaces, but how to increase City income.

But if five minutes is worth $44 to local government, the citizen's time is not worth much at all. Hence, the $10 a day paid to court jurors ordered to service (in King County, WA, for example). Hence the long waits on the telephone to talk to government agencies.

The State government is the same. Only a few officials--like Gov. Mitch Daniels in Indiana--bother to find what it's like being serviced by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Stand in line for a license in downtown Seattle, as a friend did this week, and you see a sign that says, "Take a number here," with an arrow pointing down. Down is where a table is set, with a box with another sign. It doesn't say, "Press here for a number." It says, "Press for service." One stares at it, eventually pushing the button (will a bell ring, a person appear, or will a numbered card appear?). A numbered card appears, and then one hears a bureaucrat standing nearby, sarcastically saying, "Congratulations, you got a number!" In other words, how dumb can you, the citizen, be? Immediately behind you, however, comes a woman who has the same confused reaction, followed by another. Does the bureaucrat helpfully suggest, "Press the service button for a number"? No. Does he or anyone think to change the sign? No, he waits until people figure it out, then congratulates them. For which he is paid a salary by the people whose intelligence he insults.

Continue reading "Why People Take Big Government Personally" »

December 12, 2011

Is the New Newt a Durable Newt?


The rise of Newt Gingrich's poll numbers has given rise to some strikingly candid analyses by conservatives who like Newt but are terrified that he will get nominated, and almost as worried that he might get elected President. Peggy Noonan covered that ground admirably in the weekend Wall Street Journal. Today, the Journal's "Political Diary" (online by subscription only) carries four blog posts, all about Newt, including one from editorial page editor Paul Gigot. Though he is impressed by the former Speaker's sense of humor and his ability in Saturday's debate to "control his tendency toward condescension and vainglory," Gigot worries that Newt could blow up at any time. How long will supporters have to hold their breath?

Not taking sides, it is possible to imagine a reformed and victorious Newt who admits his personal failures and acknowledges that he has changed his policy positions on some issues as new information has become available and as he has learned and reflected. He is an idealist who grew up, not apologizing and not elaborating explanations, merely recognizing the obvious. The former Speaker might point out that he got into Congress wanting to be an agent of conservative reform and that he had significant successes in that regard. A good example was welfare reform. Indeed, the fiscally responsible Bill Clinton was really a creature of reaction to Gingrich's political success in taking over Congress in 1994. As a human being with great intellectual skills and proven legislative abilities, New Newt is perfectly prepared to lead America that no longer wants a faux messiah who makes the waters recede, who dazzles with his smile, but will prefer a more rolly-polly pol in charge who is older and wiser. A man who really does love this country and doesn't aim to change it so much as help it realize its historic potential.

That's the line. Can he follow it and not trip?

December 7, 2011

Budget Taunts vs. Economic Progress

The scariest thing about our economic crisis is the unreal way the President and most media are addressing the subject; namely, by rhetorical taunts and symbolism. It's hard to believe tha tthey are serious about the economy to hold back on politicking. For example, the grandstanding Mr. Obama says he won't leave Washington until the Congress (he means the House) deals with (he means passes) an extension of the payroll tax reduction.

The first thing to be said is that the payroll tax reduction doesn't do anything to employ people. It goes to people who already are employed, and, of course, it raises the deficit even further. It is just more "stimulus". Of course, the President wants to "tax the rich" to pay for this stimulus. His proposed tax increase to cover it is "temporary", supposedly, but it can be counted on to reduce the amount of money in the private sector that is available for savings and investment--in creating new jobs.

It's too bad one can't call Mr. Obama's bluff and tax the daylights out of the super-rich. Many of them are Democrats, anyhow, especially the crony capitalists who manipulate government policies and connections for advantage. The difficulty is that taxing the rich won't help and may hurt economic growth. The tax may be sold as hitting rich bankers and trustfunders, but it actually will hit small businesses and venture capital firms. And, since taxing the rich can't possibly suffice to meet our "needs", the definition of "rich" will quickly after an election ratchet way down into the middle class.

The media's role in this charade cannot be understated. The Seattle Times today runs on page one a Washington Post news story that is so slanted as to constitute an editorial. After quoting a professor saying that Obama "is trying to show how far the Republican Party has strayed" (from Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt), the reporter, David Nakamura, states (as if it were a counterpoint), "Still, Obama delivered a searing indictment of core Republican economic theory, with the GOP brand of 'trickle-down economics' drawing some of the harshest criticism.

"That theory," Nakamura goes on, "which holds that greater wealth at the top generates jobs and income for the masses, 'speaks to the rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government,' Obama said. 'It fits well on a bumper sticker. There's the problem: It doesn't work. It has never worked."

Guess what, Mr. Obama and, especially Mr. Nakamura? Nobody in the GOP advocates something called "trickle down economics." That is a term of derision for supply side economics, which is a different matter. Further, "trickle down economics" has never been advocated on a bumper sticker, to my knowledge. So why are you both using this term-in a supposedly serious speech and a supposedly serious new story?

Who talks about the American people as "the masses", by the way? Why would Republicans ever adopt this phraseology that is typical of Marxists?

Obama increasingly sounds like a candidate in the last stages of a reckless campaign, and media representatives like Nakamura sound like his shills.

December 1, 2011

Rearrangement, if Not Changing, of the Guard

Executive Director Steve Buri, as of today, becomes the new President of Discovery Institute and I become Chairman of the Board and a "Founding Fellow." This is my long desired personal achievement as someone who has carried the institutional responsibilities of management for 21 years. It will allow me to help Steve and the other fellows and staff in strategy and project development and to do more of my own research and writing.

In a time of economic troubles and philosophical confusion, Discovery has extended a course of "purpose, creativity and innovation" in public policy and culture.

Geroge Gilder (who remains, of course, a senior fellow) and such original Board members as Tom Alberg will be here to help Steve. So, too, will the internationally famous team of Steve Meyer and John West, who head the Center for Science and Culture, Bruce Agnew at the Cascadia Center, and the leader of our other programs. The new Wealth, Poverty and Morality Center, with Jay Richards and George Gilder, among others, will defend the ethics and utility of free markets that are now under concentrated attack in Washington, DC. So will our Center on Human Exceptionalism, led by Wesley J. Smith, and our technology and public policy program. Other initiatives--including a focus on the future of communities--will be highlighted in the year ahead. Despite the hard times, Discovery is thriving!

To keep this unusual group of fellows and staff organized, productive and well-supported Steve Buri is exactly the right man. He has experience in local elective office, politics and public policy--and 11 years of on-the-job-training here. Steve is personable, reflective and trustworthy. You can count on him.

November 30, 2011

Payroll Tax Cut, a Totally Political Budgetary Idea

The fact that President wants another payroll tax cut displays a lack of seriousness about the economy and a great fascination with election year politics--eleven months before the election. He assumes that people don't know that an extended reduction in payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare will do nothing to stimulate the economy. It puts a few unnoticed bucks in the pockets of people who already have jobs. It does nothing to create jobs or change investment behavior. It does increase the deficit and the national debt.

Sadly, Republicans may go along with it--if compensatory cuts can be made, they say. Compensatory cuts? In the trillions that we already are in the hole?

November 26, 2011

Why More and More Government is Necessary


Dairy farmers are complaining that the current price support program of the Agriculture Department--subsidized by you, the taxpayers--is inadequate and what they need is guaranteed revenues. They can achieve this by law, though the guarantees will come in the form of higher milk and other dairy prices for consumers--guess what, that's you again! The U.S.G. "would have to get back into the business of managing the nation's milk supply," explains Scott Kilmana of the Wall Street Journal.

Why do dairy farmers need this change? Because, as Kilman learned from the National Milk Producers Association, "(T)he current price-support program...doesn't keep prices high enough to cover the surging cost of corn they feed their cows."

Unmentioned is the reality that corn costs are so high because the very same U.S.G. is articificially subsidizing ethanol production made with corn. In other words, the government subsidizes the creation of the problem, then it subsidizes the "solution", too, and at each point passes the bill to you.

Would any of the candidates for President want to respond to this Alice in Wonderland economic policy, say before the Iowa caucuses?

November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: Put Politics and Public Policy on "Pause"


Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall, observed famously that history is "little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind." That on this Gibbon was wrong is evident all around us. Who would trade his life in 21st century America for one in the Roman Empire?

For much of our manifest progress in America, at least, we owe the brave men and women who put God above familiar comforts and dared to settle a hostile wilderness. Almost four centuries have passed since the Pilgrims celebrated their survival with thanksgiving. In my own lifetime the well-being of the average American gradually exceeded what the kings of the 17th century enjoyed in health, food and the comforts of home. The whole world in the past generation has made exponential gain in relative health and prosperity. More importantly, though challenged, we do enjoy great liberty thanks to our ancestors' courage and the vigilance of millions today.

Whenever I start to grouse about lack of diversity in intellectual life in America, I stop to think how much more civilized the West is, at least, when compared to the intolerant depredations of the past.

It is a sin to be ungrateful; it also spoils one's appetite as well as everyone else's mood. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Discovery Institute.

November 22, 2011

Jingle Bells: Cities Ignore Group Shoplifters

A flash mob robbery in Philadelphia

Shoplifters get away with it. That's the message from downtown shopping districts and malls where police are loathe to respond to shoplifting alerts and, store managers say, resent the time it takes to make out reports once the crimes are over. Stores need the police reports in order to collect from insurers. The insurance companies, in turn, pass the costs on the store chains and the chains pass the bill to....guess who? You and me, of course.

The latest wrinkle in shoplifting is the group theft--a variation on the "flash mob" that can be any group activity in public. In the case of the group theft, a team of thieves--amateur or pro--descend on a convenience store or other outlet where only a few employees are on hand. Some 50 thieves showed up a Maryland store recently, but the smaller operations are happening daily all over the country.

I have talked with the store manager at a Walgreens drug store who tries to catch the thieves in the act. If he succeeds he takes back the stolen merchandise and tells the thief not to come into the store again. That's it; that's the end of it. Until the thief reappears, reoffends and gets the same lax response. The reason, explains the store manager, is that the corporation does not want to deal with long drawn out court cases and is afraid, in addition, of counter-suits for supposed harassment or discrimination. As in so many areas of law these days, it is cheaper to put up with crime than to suffer high legal charges.

At a large mall, also in the Seattle area, the manager of a women's apparel store dreads the repeated attacks of groups of mature young women who surge into the store and take large quantities of goods, often several of each kind, stuffed openly into shopping bags as the understaffed clerk team try to restrain them. Security guards are not around, and police are not eager to hear about the whole thing. Again, the corporation has a no-questions-asked return policy that allows the thieves to take the goods from one store and return them for cash or gift cards (to be fenced at a discount elsewhere) at another store in the same chain. And again, the store mostly doesn't want any trouble, so prosecutions don't take place. Imagine: a woman walks into a store to "return" a half dozen expensive garments. She has no receipts. No problem. She gets cash or gift cards and goes on her way, until she does it again.

Guess what? As the word gets out, shoplifting is sure to become even more of a growth industry in urban America. Mayor Giuliani of New York solved such low-level crime problems by firm enforcement, because studies show that unpunished petty crimes lead to more serious crimes. Well, that was New York, and that was then.

Cities that tolerate crime are sure to have more and more of it. Happy holidays.

November 21, 2011

The Answers are Simple, But Not Easy


Ronald Reagan used to say, "The truth is, there are simple answers, they just are not easy ones."

That's where we are after collapse of the Congressional Super Committee on the deficit. We all know that the problem is a deficit with a built-in escalator. Europe is in even worse shape only because Social Democracy has advanced further and faster there. (You don't hear the U.S. left saying any more that we need to be "more like Europe," do you?)

Meanwhile, the Democrats' emphasis on "taxing the rich" is a distraction, since such tax increases would not make much of a dent in the deficit (or slow the escalator) while it would retard job creation by making entrepreneurship even harder. Wall Street deal makers wouldn't be hurt much; high tech startups, old people selling their business or farm would be.

Republicans are a bit more willing to identify the root problem: entitlement spending. The US government would not be borrowing 40 cents on each spent dollar without rising Medicare and Medicaid spending, as well as Social Security. This has been known for years, but political punishment is swift and sure for anyone saying so.

Looked at properly--that is, from the perspective of history--our entitlement problem mainly reflects the progress of medical care in the past eighty or so years. People lived to an average age of 61.7 when Social Security was passed in 1935; now it's 78. 1. This is very good news for the individual, but it is unaffordable for the federal budget. (It's the downside of personal savings for retirement, too!)

As an economy, we can't go on like this. You can't have job creation without economic growth. A deficit, if sometimes stimulative in a recession, is not stimulative now when indebtedness has reached the point that government is borrowing 40 percent of every dollar spent. The private sector for the past couple of years has beenshedding debt--paying it down--but the federal government is more than sopping up the difference in continued rises in spending. The new supposedly draconian cuts that follow collapse of the deficit committee are actually only reductions in the rate of growth of the deficit, they don't even kick in until 2013 and they probably will be repudiated by then, regardless of who wins the 2012 election.

The present presidential campaign format does not allow these issues to be discussed at any length. The educative role of the campaign, therefore, is deficient. My candidate would be Paul Ryan. I think he not only knows more about the subject than anyone else on the Hill, but he also is personable, articulate and honest. He is the classy guy who is also your friendly neighbor. He also--alas!--is not running for President.

Getty Images

November 18, 2011

"Jobs, Not Cuts" Theme is Beside Point


Their big signs say "Jobs, Not Cuts" as twenty somethings stop traffic around the country in the "Occupy" movement and confront the police. They are lionized on NPR and Cable news, but there is little attempt to engage them in economic substance because they seem ignorant.

How about instead jobs AND cuts? That's cuts to the Federal budget--which runs 40 percent in the red--and jobs enabled in the private sector?

Meanwhile, if you really want jobs and you are the President, you would not be halting oil and gas fracturing in Ohio or stopping the Canada pipeline in Nebraska.

Why is a rich country like ours getting deeper and deeper in debt while it declines to take advantage of economic opportunity? The "banks" and the "rich" are not doing this (the banks, in fact, paid back their bailouts), the government is.

November 14, 2011

Malefactor Cronies of Great Wealth


The trenchant and often amusing critic of government waste, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), has issued a report on "Subsidies of the Rich and Famous," a list of tax reductions and entitlements spent on millionaires and billionaires. The total amounts to $30 billion.

The list includes tax write-offs for ranch preservation and energy conservation, but it also includes Social Security, which is not supposed to be a welfare program but an insurance plan, and unemployment compensation, which, again, people pay for as insurance. The real total that could be cut seems to come to $1.5 billion--unless you include mortgage deductions. Without ending such reductions, it certainly might make sense to limit them. Why should any taxpayers subsidize a rich man's house?

In any case, there are plenty of other, more questionable policies, such as ethanol subsidies that primarily benefit wealthy companies (and individuals) such as Archer Daniels-Midland (AMD), do come to much more. As Joe Lawler points out at The American Spectator, these adds up. Ending questionable handouts to the rich can provide the "revenue" that liberals demand to justify a general lowering of tax rates--a lowering that will do more than "stimulus" to spur economic revival.

Coburn's attack, meanwhile, should be complimented by the much more serious problem of crony capitalism. This is not rich people taking advantage of the law, but rich people taking advantage of who they know and whom they support in politics. The Solyndra scandal is just the most famous of the cases where certain big businessmen exploit political contacts to win what look like--and probably are--sweetheart deals.

Capitalism--the free market--is getting a bum rap from the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The problem is not capitalism, it is the politicization of capitalism over recent years. The politicos and their business cronies use each other--for power and for financial benefit. Both come at the expense of legitimate competition and legitimate competitors. That's what needs to be emphasized nationally. Show how we got to this point, and how to get on a path to reform.

November 13, 2011

A Visit to Occupy Wall Street

by Matt Scholz

photo 2.jpg

Arriving at Zuccotti Park from the 9/11 Memorial I was surprised to find out how small it is, both in geographic size and in the number of protesters. The park itself is only about 100ft wide and maybe 300ft long. Handfuls of protestors occupy it.

There were far more tourists and police around the periphery, hovering, looking in. Among the tourists a carnival atmosphere prevailed, with lots of food vendors amidst the middle aged businessmen posing for photos in front of the park, brandishing their Bank of America portfolios, no doubt to post on Facebook and amuse their friends back home and irritate their disaffected teenage children.

I entered the camp itself in a suit and tie and immediately was stopped by a guy who wanted to know what business I had inside. I was viewed with great suspicion and supervised closely. Someone was always nearby to alert others, not too subtly, that what they assumed was "a corporate person" was on hand.

What the protestors lack in numbers or purpose, they make up for in organization. OWS is like a tiny military base. There are tents set up for general information, for training and propaganda, for food and medical care. There were several souvenir stands (I don't think they probably would like that term and it was unclear if items like freshly spray-painted shirts could be acquired for money or trade). The hygiene and sanitation in the little camp was less than one would find in a military camp, certainly, but you get the idea.

I suspect there are more people at the "general meetings" and some of the more prominent marches but all in all it was a little disappointing. The literature and ethos seemed more fitting for a small commune than a nationally hyped political movement. Indeed, consider that in a metro area of nearly 19 million people there were fewer than 100 protestors present when I visited. I suspect there are more bankers that rightly should be incarcerated in the buildings surrounding the protests than there are protestors. One thing is certain though, these latter-day hippies aren¹t the 99%; they aren't even representative of one percent of the 99 percent. By the numbers, the protestors are the 0.001%.

November 10, 2011

Goon Squads Preview 2012 Campaign

It quickly is becoming standard operating procedure for the "Occupy" crowd to invade the speaking engagements of other people to shout them down. Today it was an interruption of Rep. Michele Bachman in a South Carolina speech. A few days ago it was disruption of a speech in Chicago by Gov. Walker of Wisconsin.

The media that looked really hard to find something distasteful or bigoted at Tea Party gatherings have been pretty lax on these palpably anti-democratic mobs. The experience of verbal violence is frustrating for speakers and for audiences, of course. However, the disruptions do provide an unintended message of their own, a lesson of their own and a powerful political commentary. Check out the history of 1968.

November 9, 2011

Check-Out-Line Style Hypocrisy

A number of significant insights are emerging from the charges of sex harassment lodged against Herman Cain. It may be wise to withhold judgement about the particulars so far. There are a number of groups operating behind the scenes to drive the story one way or another.

However, it's not too soon to note the way job problems in our times are converted into legal problems. I have commented on the tendency of lawyers for businesses and even governments to discount charges of sex discrimination and sexual harassment by settling out of court--the supposedly "cheaper" outcome for otherwise costly lawsuits. Obviously, if there really has been an illegal action or pattern of behavior the business or agency should settle, and effectively admit wrongdoing. If not, the "cheaper" outcome may become an expensive one--at least in terms of publicity.

In The American Spectator, Lisa Fabrisio makes another relevant arguement: that the Cain issue reeks of hypocrisy. Here is a modern media/entertainment culture steeped in soft porn, where new breakthroughs in lowered standards are accomplished constantly. And yet it is this same debased culture that acts offended by some official's conversational gaffe or unintended double entendre!

What Fabrizio is describing is the moral stance of the scandal monger who reports moral offenses with false shock and secret delight. It is, in short, the morality of the check-out-line pulp magazine become the morality of polite society.

November 5, 2011

Government Indirectly Subsidizes "Occupy" Camps

The various "Occupy" camps around the country are flagging in participation and public support. So now the government sponsored colleges of metro USA are providing classes for the campers as a way to encourage them. It is showcased in Seattle, as the Associated Press describes, but is also happening elsewhere.

Who pays the salaries of the community college professors? You do.

October 31, 2011

Cane Cain or MoveOn.Cain?

Much is being said and written about the charges that Politico asserts were leveled against Cain by one, maybe two, women some twenty years ago. His behavior, the women supposedly alleged, was "inappropriate".

This kind of media attack actually may help Cain with conservative Republicans, most of whom have little patience for what they regard as biased, partisan and hyprocritical media. They might start by examining which of the current media accusers had a very different--and skeptical-- atittude about the charges against Bill Clinton in the 90s. Most of those charges actually were true, though some may have been exaggerated. Yet they perversely gave rise to an increase in popularity for the President. He had many new friends in Hollywood and Silicon Valley standing up for him as a result. A whole new political campaign group was born:

In Cain's case, it is hardly surprising that he might be sued. Almost everyone in positions of authority gets sued these days, for the good reason that the accusers get publicity and may get money. The heads of major businesses and groups like the American Restaurant Association are well advertised targets for sex discrimination and sex harrassment suits of various kinds. Anyone in media ought to recognize the dangers of adventitious lawsuits by employees looking for revenge or the Main Chance. Next to winning the lottery, a suit against an important person--if it has "Sex" in the first line--has public appeal. Many companies and even federal agencies find it cheaper to pay off the compainant--er, make a settlement--than to go through expensive, protracted litigation.

Continue reading "Cane Cain or MoveOn.Cain?" »

October 28, 2011

Getting Out to "Talk with the People"

One of the most disingenuous tropes in American political life is that of the presidential candidate who flies around the country so that he or she can "listen to the ordinary people." That is what President Obama says he is doing. But if you ever have been around such a junket you know that the President or other candidate does little or no "listening" to anyone, especially ordinary people. The folks on a rope line or rally would be lucky to get to shake his hand. Even the kind of people who pony up $38,500 for dinner with him at a partisan fundraiser get, at most, a chance to have a personal picture taken with him in the VIP reception line.

Indeed, one of the problems of politics is that national candidates really don't get to know ordinary people. Everything is staged for media. If they didn't know them before getting elected, chances are, they won't get the opportunity. What they get, instead, are polls and as they travel brief exchanges--maybe--with local political leaders (formerly known as "bosses").

In addition, there is something peculiarly false about a candidate, like President Obama, going around the nation saying he finds the views of people in the country refreshing in contrast to those "back in Washington." As James Freeman noted on the Wall Street Journal politics blog today (subscription required), President Obama not only doesn't hear any local people's opinions on these trips--and rather spends his time telling them his opinions (via teleprompter)--but he also is the champion of concentrating more an more power in the very "Washington, DC" he claims to shun.

There are few national Republican candidates doing real retail politicking these days, either. One exception might be former Sen. Rick Santorum, roaming Iowa in a camper with some of his family, and nearly going door to door. There still is a chance is small town Iowa or New Hampshire to do that. Better funded candidates, meanwhile, still fly around from one staged event to another. They get a chance to speak to the people, not with them.

October 27, 2011

What Will Euro Plan Cost USA?

Rep. Rodgers

News of another European Union deal to bail out Greece was greeted with a huge stock market rally in many countries today. But is there a hidden barb in the deal for the United States?

Already dealing with our own financial problems, the US continues to supply one third of the funds for the International Monetary Fund, whence cometh the relief of European banks.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, Vice Chairman of the Republican House Conference, has warned repeatedly of US exposure to European debt repayment plans. In a press release today, she noted, "Before today's agreement, the IMF had already committed $354 billion to bailing out European governments. After today's agreement was reached, IMF Director Christine Lagarde announced, 'I can assure you that the IMF will continue to play its part in supporting the efforts made today.' According to news reports, that means the IMF is poised for a 'bigger role.'"

"The U.S.," McMorris Rodgers says, "is the leading contributor to the IMF. In 2009, when the IMF substantially increased its SDR Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation, the U.S. provided one-third of the funding. According to IMF rules, the U.S. has the power to veto all bailout agreements."

The Congresswoman called for America to decline to finance European debt.

October 24, 2011

Nov. 5: "National Day of Disinvestment"


Prepare for the next big wave of protest--a week from Saturday!

The hints are at the Occupy Seattle website.

One of the problems of having a participatory democracy "assembly" is that the note-taker may spill the beans on the group's plans. That seems to be the case today.

One item discussed in yesterday's mass meeting of 25 people--and put online--was "Planning action for November 5 National Day of Divestment." The notetaker dutifully follows up with the importance of "Keeping quiet to avoid screwing it up," and then puts that admonition online, too. "Next week" the group will communicate with the media, say the notes. Get your TV camera crews ready, Mr. Ed!

Elsewhere on the Occupy website there is a note that the group is "working on (its) first possible demand," that the City of Seattle disinvest from Wells Fargo Bank." And the group also wants discussion of a new "national bank" (e.g., a government bank).

So, we'll watch to see if the Occupy Wall Street (Des Moines, Las Vegas, etc.) movement will cooperate nationally on a call for people to take their accounts out of banks (private banks are evil, after all). In their place, the Obama Administration should open a new, government bank. Talk about "too big to fail"!

This idea seems to me like a definite dead end, a bridge too far, even for the left. If there is one thing people don't want to do it is take their money out of a bank and hand it to the government. Maybe some of the Occupy crowd, who get donations from public employees unions, would rather that money go to government employee credit unions as an option. The trouble is, some of these credit unions are complaining that they have more money than members' requests for loans these days. Prudent government employees, like folks in the private sector, are saving rather than spending, which is a drag on the economy. That's one reason your money isn't earning much interest at any bank.

One can only hope, however, that the Occupy crowd go through with their "demand" for a government bank. Imagine. Instead of dealing with a smiling bureaucrat at Chase or Bank of America, and waiting twenty minutes on their phone lines for service, you soon will be able to go to an unsmiling bureaucrat at a government-run bank and wait for days on their lines. Perhaps the new bank can be assigned as a new role for Fannie Mae. Are you excited yet?

Meanwhile, in Seattle, at least, there are knots of demonstrators back at Westlake Park downtown. One suspects that has something to do with the free food dispensed there.

Photo: Seattle Times

October 21, 2011

Liberated Seattle

iPhone Pic.jpg

"And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away."
--Longfellow, The Day is Done

Autumnal showers glance off Westlake Park as I roll down my car window and take this snapshot. "The Occupation" is over, the occupiers who late struck revolutionary poses in their $300 Banana Republic pea coats have now struck their $500 REI tents, instead, and departed for a camp-out at City Hall. Since the "po po" moved into Westlake yesterday morning and, with fastidious delicacy, cleared the area, $170 Nikes no longer patrol the barricades of imagination, $450 "Enzo jackets" from North Face are back on their hooks at Starbucks and the University of Washington. Today the blue $88 worker shirts from J. Crew (so redolent of the Wobblies, though made in Thailand) are sloshing around Mom's washing machine.

The pathway to Nordstrom's and Macy's is clear again.

Sic Semper Inanis.

October 11, 2011

Funding "Occupy Wall Street"

A certain amount of political "populism" is spontaneous, but someone usually pays for professional coordination, common signage, PR agents, stages and porta-potties. In the series of anti-free-trade demonstrations that started with anti-WTO riots in Seattle in December, 1999 ("The Battle in Seattle"), a major funder behind the scenes was Douglas Thompkins, founder and seller of Esprit clothes and North Face. For galloping hypocrisy it would be hard to match Mr. Thompkins, a very rich man who was anti-rich, a free trade beneficiary who fought free trade, an antagonist of high technology whose minions made early use of cell phones and social media to organize.

Continue reading "Funding "Occupy Wall Street"" »

October 10, 2011

Wicked Wall Street Sitting on IPOs?

The rich not only seem determined to ignore the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, leaving reactions up to the politicians, they also seem to be putting off the economy's future. A CNBC interview reveals that there are nearly 600 IPOs (initial public offerings) waiting in the pipeline, and some more in a "dark pipeline" that analysts don't even know about. The explanations seem highly contingent; e.g., what's going to happen to the EURO? But surely it all boils down to uncertainty about the future of the economy.

Failure to invest in new businesses is part of a downward spiral. No new jobs in new businesses is the problem. The President's $447 billion stimulus bill to preserve local and state government jobs for another year is not the solution to that problem, but an exacerbating factor.

It doesn't go with the familiar rhetoric, but it is a fact that most of the rich were Obama supporters in 2008 and so were the office-holders who put in place the mortgage regulations and banking rules under which we live today. If today Wall Street employees and partners are scared, and if people on Main Street are unhappy that they can't get loans for small businesses and if old people are finding that their life savings are producing nothing (e.g., .75 percent per year) that can even catch up with inflation, whose fault is that? Wall Street greed? Or government incompetence?

If you are hesitant in this economy, welcome to the club. From great to small, people are afraid to commit whatever funds they have. Is this the proper environment for a "Soak the Rich" campaign?

October 5, 2011

Hemp Party Seeks to Answer Tea Party


Those infuriating Tea Party activists, with their middle class smiles, middle aged bulges and Constitutional ideas, finally are being answered by a new movement of The People, "Occupy Wall Street," or (I suggest), the "Hemp Party" ("Help Employ Millions of Protestors"). Since the media are frolicking in this latest reunion of the various tie-dyed "Peace" marches of the Bush years--that was the time before, as you probably have noticed, wars completely ended in the Middle East and elsewhere under Barrack Obama--you can be sure that the Hemp Party will mobilize nation-wide, wherever a TV camera is found. The "real America" that emerged in Madison, Wisconsin to fight budget cuts is now showing itself in such other completely representative communities as Berkeley, Seattle, Boulder and Cambridge.

The "Wall Street" antagonism by itself is not broad enough, or intelligible enough, to suffice for a mass movement, of course. But if you add to "Eat the Rich" banners and class resentment themes (ignoring how the "rich" actually voted and donated in the 2008 elections), build on the overwhelming popular demand for government subsidies of wind power and solar energy, prevention of new nuclear power and oil drilling, ever more federal stimulus funds to prevent government workers from joining the private sector in the unemployment lines, and then throw in pot legalization and same sex marriage and you have the makings a true reply to the Tea Party at last.

Boy, will that show the powers in Washington, DC! The elite in the White House, the Senate, the media, academia, foundations, lobbying firms, law firms, non-profits, Big Labor and Big Business Pacs are finally going to hear from The People. Oh, wait! These "People" who are mobilizing are the same ones who supported the current power elite in Washington! Many are part of it.

Hmmm. How does this work? Oh, I got it; instead of "Throw the rascals out!", the slogan of "Occupy Wall Street"--and the Hemp Party--will be, "Keep the rascals in!"

Someone, quick, alert NPR.

Getty Images

October 1, 2011

"Spenditol" Satire a Growing Web Hit

Instead of just moralizing about big government spending, Concerned Women for America decided to satirize it--and the philosophy that rationaizes it. Just go to

September 19, 2011

Book: Obama Foiled by Appointees


Obama's aides ignore Obama. So, what else is new?

Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal writer, has a book out tomorrow from HarperCollins saying that White House and Treasury aides to President Obama frequently ignored or stalled implementation of his directives on economics. The book, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, alleges that decisions Mr. Obama made were stonewalled or delayed by Larry Summers and Tim Geitner, among others.

The truth is, that kind of situation is not unknown. In the Reagan years Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Darman, whose job it was to implement the president's decisions, often took it upon himself to frustrate the decisions made. How did he get away with it?
The answer is that executives rely on their aides to such an extent that firing them may cause more disruption than allowing them to get away with what looks like insubordination.

Reagan often ignored a failure to implement a policy decision and simply reasserted it the next time the subject came up. For example, he agreed strongly with a plan to raise the personal exemption in the income tax (to double it) in order to help families raising children. Darman repeatedly took it out of the President's tax reform plan. Mr. Reagan had to put it back in three times before Darman gave up.

Such is infighting in the White House. According to Presidential historian Richard Neustadt, when former Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was elected President, former President Truman joked, ""He'll sit here, and he'll say, 'Do this! Do that!' And nothing will happen. Poor Ike--it won't be a bit like the Army. He'll find it very frustrating."

Reuters/Wikimedia Commons

September 16, 2011

No Storm Yet on Charitable Deductions

Most of what President Obama proposes to do with his jobs plan puts money either in the hands of people who already have jobs or extends unemployment compensation for the jobless. It does little to create new jobs. Mr. Obama also wants to hire more public workers--a core political constituency--that also will do little spur economic growth.

On the other hand, the President's bill, if passed, likely would destroy jobs in the non-profit sector. The President proposes to pay for his program by removing deductions for "rich" people (those making $200,000 or more, or those couples making $250,000 or more). That would raise about $400 billion, largely by disallowing charitable deductions.

Some unknown percentage of donors are incentivized by a tax break to support charities. If the tax break disappears there will be billions of charitable contributions foregone. That's why when this sort of thing was opposed by the non-profit sector when it was first offered in 2009. NGO programs operate on small margins, so NGO leaders understood that a cut in donations could prove devastating.

But back in 2009 the Administration said, don't worry; this law won't take effect until 2011. Of course, back in 2009, even under a new Democratic president and his Democratic Congress, the proposal to end tax deductibility for donations by the wealthy failed. However, note that if it had been adopted back then it would be in effect now. Would that be helping the job picture today?

I suspect that NGO leaders today are quiet mainly because they sense, correctly, that Mr. Obama's plan is not going anywhere. But if the proposal somehow does gain traction, the voluntary sector will wake up with a start.

September 14, 2011

NY's Turner Caught an "Express", Not a "Local"


Nate Silver of the New York Times analyzes yesterday's Republican win of the New York-9 Congressional seat vacated by Rep. Anthony Weiner and concludes that "local" concerns played a major role. One of the "local" issues is that a large part of the district includes heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn that, says Silver, may have been tipped by "Israeli issues." Among other things, Turner was helped by "local" rabbis and the "local" former Mayor Ed Koch.

"Israeli issues" are now "local"?

The Republican winner, Bob Turner, is a Catholic. His opponent, David Welpin, whom he beat by eight points, is an Orthodox Jew. Yet Turner won the votes of Jewish voters in the normally Democratic district.

Many Jews (and others) are upset with the Obama Administration's tepid support for Israel. If this is a "local" issue in Brooklyn, it may turn out to be local also to Israel supporters elsewhere in New York, New Jersey, Florida--and on and on.
The political subway train Turner caught would seem to be more an Express than a Local.

If the Obama Administration's spine suddenly stiffens at the United Nations this fall and vetoes endorsement of a Palestinian state (without a peace agreement with Israel) it may be the result of "local" considerations all over the country.


September 1, 2011

Rove (of all People) Says, Don't Count on Polls

Karl Rove, former Presidential aide and "the architect" of G. W. Bush's victories, probably is one of the most savvy of poll data users. Yet, in his professional capacity the present-day analyst and pundit is warning, don't put much stock in polls today for an election fourteen months from now. He has many good historical examples.

Indeed, you can't even count on polls two weeks before an election (or Tom Dewey would have beat Harry Truman in 1948), or, in the case of the 2000 election, even the polls taken the night before an election.

I see at least one wild card in any hand the pollsters try to deal before an election: turnout. Many young people don't own land phone lines, so polls can't really measure them adequately, and their turnout can spike unpredictably as election excitement grows, as it did in 2008. Similarly, they and other supposed voting blocs (labor, Latinos, blacks) may vary widely in enthusiasm, dropping off (for example) greatly, as in 2010. Regardless, anticipating turnout over a year in advance is really risky.

Besides, polls don't tell you much about the complex weave of motivations that move voters--and decide elections.

August 31, 2011

Newt, Change Your Role

See him on TV, read an article by or about him (such as economist Peter Ferrara's excellent online piece at American Spectator) or hear him speak, and one's respect for the mind and political imagination of Newt Gingrich is rekindled.

For example, the former Speaker--the man who forged a GOP House majority in 1994 that endured until 2006--has sage advice for today's Republican House Leaders: pass another jobs and growth bill now, and explain it to the public so that the strongest contrast can be drawn with the Obama Administration's cut and paste agenda of more spending, regulation and taxes. Show how past reforms--such as the welfare law passed when he was Speaker and that President Clinton signed--not only saved money, but also got poor people out of poverty and created jobs. Smart reform is the best "stimulus".

Newt, the public policy strategist, can't be beat. He is far ahead of any other candidate for President in this regard. Newt's problem, then, is not related to his ability to synthesize strategic themes; indeed, those are his greatest strengths. Unfortunately, you need more than bright ideas to get elected President.

Continue reading "Newt, Change Your Role" »

September 12, 2011

Please Look at the Jury System

The draft notice comes in the mail, not unlike the one from the 60s: "Jury Summons: You have been radomly selected to serve as a juror in King Country Superior Court. By order of the Court you are summoned to appear at King County Superior Court at....."

Several hundred persons, mostly middle class and white, show up on a Monday morning at 8 a.m. They are given a pep talk on an American's right to trial by a jury of his peers, then a film. Then they are advised that as jurors they will be paid ten dollars a day ("the same as in the Eisenhower Administration"), and immediately thereafter they are asked if they would like to donate that daily ten dollars to a fund to provide day care for the children of defendants on trial. In the moment, many prospective jurors, including yours truly, sign the form to make this donation.

Seven or so years ago, when I last was summoned to jury duty, the same request was made to provide funds to support day care for defendants. Sitting there in the jury room on a recent morning, I wondered, why has the Legistlature after all this time not provided for such purposes and why is there no fund to support day care for the children of impoverished jurors--the folks paid the measly $10 a day? Why are jurors, when they are feeling vulnerable, hit up for this purpose--hit up to help defendants just as they are being assembled for particular cases that happen to involve, after all, defendants?

Continue reading "Please Look at the Jury System" »

August 14, 2011

Farcical Start to Presidential Race

If David Mamet (Wag the Dog) were to do a new satircial movie about politics, he could do worse than start his picture at the highly hyped "Iowa Straw Poll" held in Ames yesterday. The "poll" required people to pay $35 to take part; there was nothing official about it, even as an opinion survey. Many a voters' poll tax was paid by the campaigns of the candidates. How is that representative of anything? Nor was participation notable. The winner, Rep. Michelle Bachman, got a grand 4800 votes. Whooee!

There may have been more reporters and cameramen around than there were paying "voters".

Yet on the basis of this faux democratic test--five or six months before actual primary action, or even Iowa Caucus action--Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race for President because he came in only third. And at the state fairgronds where the "poll" was staged, Rep. Bachman exploded in gratitude as if she had won the Miss Iowa beauty contest instead of a rigged, phoney carnival game.

Are people crazy? Or only the media and the political class?

The Economy, All About Politics

If the New York Times is right, the main consideration for Democrats regarding the economy is what approach will help them most politically in the 2012 election--not the well being of the American people in the intervening 14 months. If the Times is wrong (including the quotations it used from people in the White House and on the Hill), then maybe the Democrats should protest this story. If the story is true, maybe the Repubicans should talk about it.

August 8, 2011

Downplaying the Downgrade

President Obama addressed the nation about the S & P downgrade of U.S. credit, with the Dow already down at that hour by 426 points. It continued down even as he spoke, like some horrifying approval meter used to test audience reactions at a debate. A few hours later the Dow--definitely not inspired or encouraged by the Orator in Chief--was down 635 points.

President Obama talked down to the Markets, treating them like some political crowd at a fundraiser. People who invest money in U.S. equities, including many from overseas, are not partisans, nor are they uninformed. They have been following the economic news closely. When the President, who thinks he is the model of persuasion, tried again to blame others for the economy and offered almost nothing hopeful on his own behalf, he misjudged his audience. Investors didn't like what they heard and they didn't believe him.

The one thing that might have redeemed his talk was his promise to put forward a new budget proposal. But he even stepped on that line.

I don't know how many more confidence inspiring talks by President Obama the economy can stand.

July 26, 2011

Demogogy and Corporate Jets

Why should companies get to write off on their taxes their executives' use of corporate jets? President Obama talks about this incessantly as part of his class warfare pitch. Make those jet users pay more!

In due course, with such issues, some union leader or local manufacturer of corporate jets--a field in which the US is still the leader--will come forth and defend the tax break as thoroughly defensible. Fine.

But why bother even to defend it? Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter did a little research and discovered that the whole write off amounts to about $300 million a year ($3 billion a decade), a mere rounding figure in the federal budget, which is TRILLIONS in the hole. The President's fastening on this minor item is therefore mere demogogy.

Obviously, it polls well with people who don't know any better.

Jennifer Rubin borrows Wohlstetter's theme in the Washington Post today, and builds on it.

July 15, 2011

"I Cannot Tell a Lie: Bush Made Me Do It"

The bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office's figures contract the remarkable claim by President Obama today that the Bush tax cuts are responsible for our colossal deficits and debt. The President's attempt to blame the Prescription Drug program for seniors is amazing, especially since he voted for it, it was much less costly than even its opponents feared and the real balloon in our debt has come in the past two and a half years--his term, his programs. There's almost nothing to show it--not even infrastructure improvements.

The Administration's very language is untrustworthy. "Revenue" means tax increases. A realistic and long overdue reform in the formula for cost of living adjustments (COLAs) in Social Security, however, is a "cut". He deplores the
"partisanship"--in Congress.

"Why don't you join me for lunch?" said the Walrus to the oysters.

Facing this topsy-turvy world, a Republican consensus seems to be growing that Republicans cannot get any real cuts out of President Obama. Even if he agrees to them, they won't actually be implemented or they will be put off until "out years" when someone else is in office and (as always) the future authorities won't remember today's budget, anyhow. Any tax increases passed in the current term, however, definitely will be real. They also will disguise the fact that any deal that emerges with Obama's support will only drop a relative cup of money into the yawning hole Obama & Co. have dug.

Our sr. fellow John Wohlstetter just offered one version of how to proceed at The Daily Caller.

"We didn't get here overnight," the President says. Right. We were in bad shape when he took office. Now it's much worse.

July 7, 2011

"No Ultimatums," Except from Obama

The President has called a meeting on the debt limit increase, asking that the participants come with no "ultimatums" and that they leave their "rhetoric" at the door. Then--as the media reported without irony--he announced that a tax increase must be part of any deal--an ultimatum, right?

As for rhetoric, the President immediately launched into plenty of rhetoric of his own. He thinks he can talk one way and act another indefinitely, and maybe he's right.

None of this is auspicious for a solution, however.

It would be nice if the media would explain the gamesmanship to the public.

July 1, 2011

Damaging America While Abroad


Brief mention must be made of Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, or whatever state will have him after redistricting, who recently went to Syria to get some headlines. Regardless of how his declarations are explained, they were inappropriate for someone in an official position. Here we have another American official who is at variance from U.S. foreign policy and is lending his credibility to an oppressive dictator. Plenty of American officials and celebrities are willing to do this kind of thing: think of the parade that visited Saddam Hussein before the two Iraq wars.

One difference is that Assad's people are in open revolt right now. They were being gunned down even as Kucinich enjoyed a personal, head of state type photo op with Bashar Assad.

Another difference is that we used to excoriate free lancers such as Kucinich. In a properly ordered political world, a stunt like his would terminate his hopes for any public office. At the least there would be public disavowals and shunning. Unfortunately, the exquisite sensitivity the media display toward celebrity wrongdoing tends to concentrate on gaffes in public utterances. It's not what you do that counts, but what you say, and especially how you say it.

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June 20, 2011

Why the Misery Index is Heading Higher

Sec. George Schulz, President Reagan and Ed Meese review the "Misery Index"

The Misery Index is simply a combination of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. Jimmy Carter coined it to attack Gerry Ford in 1976, when it served the Democrats as a good political weapon. But then under Carter the Misery Index went up again, this time because of high inflation.

One day in 1983, serving in the White House under Ronald Reagan, I thought to revisit the Misery Index. Sure enough, with inflation going down fast under Reagan, so did the Misery Index-- to 14.1, even though unemployment (a "lagging indicator") remained high for a long while.

At a Cabinet meeting Ed Meese presented the new and lower Misery Index to President Reagan, who sent me back a picture and note: "Thanks for your good work on the Misery Index chart. Now I'm feeling less miserable."

In subsequent boom days and low inflation the Misery Index dropped out of sight. Good news is no news. But now, my goodness! It's back. Continuing high recession level unemployment is being joined by a gradual ratcheting up of inflation--3.6 percent on an annualized basis.

So the Misery Index returns. At "12.7, it's higher than at any time since Ronald Reagan pulled us out of the '81-'83 recession. However, I don't think President Obama will appreciate anyone's pointing this out.

June 16, 2011

When Bad Riots Happen to Good Cities

Vancouver anarchists, 2011

Vancouver, B.C. needs a little TLC about now. Locals are feeling embarrassed, even humiliated, by the rioting that followed the defeat of the Canucks in the Stanley Cup hockey finals two nights ago. This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in one of the world's most livable--and civilized--cities.

This Seattlite--who rooted for our neighbors' team in the Stanley Cup just as surely as some Nova Scotians apparently cheered for the Boston Bruins--remembers very well the disgrace my city experienced when the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in December, 1999 was met by similar riotous behavior.

You can kibbitz about the police's tactics all you want, but the reality is that emotionally, as well as alcoholically, intoxicated youth do damage in mobs that they would never do by themselves. But there also was a trigger for the mobs in Vancouver, just as there was for the mobs in Seattle.

It seems there are organized anarchists in British Columbia and the Northwest US who are ideologically committed to destruction of civic order. They are ignorant and miseducated. They have been taught to vaunt their puerile self-righteousness. They combine stupidity with insolence.

In 1999 they organized in a camp in BC and in Eugene, Oregon to travel to Seattle and help trash the WTO meeting here. Most of the black clad romantics back then had no idea what the WTO was about, any more than the group that apparently organized to trash Vancouver after the Stanley Cup final--win or lose--knew anything but the frisson of destruction. They are heirs to a long tradition of spoiled brats in the liberal West.

seattle anarchists.jpg
Seattle anarchists, 1999

People with genuine grievances are demonstrating peacefully in Syria tonight. Let's save our sympathetic understanding for them.

Therefore, Canadian friends, please don't wallow in unnecessary self-examination, let alone self-recrimination. Just find the incendiary little jerks and prosecute them.

Photo: Seattle Times

June 17, 2011

Brilliant Budget Idea from Illinois

Lets hear it for State Senator John Mulroe of Chicago who has come up with a way to bail out Illinois' broke state government: corporate ads on license plates. Instead of "Land of Lincoln," they now can read whatever a advertiser thinks appropriate. For example, "Land of Lincoln Towncars." Or maybe "Make Old Style Beer Your One for the Road."

Spendthrifts in Springfield have found their salvation. The Associate Press quotes Kim Drummond, spokeswoman for a firm called "My Plates", who says the auto messages would be "little billboards" along the prairie highways and byways.

Sen. Mulroe, you need to keep going on this one. Since Illinois has an income tax you could have various ads placed in the refund checks sent by the state tax authority: "Special Offer Today if You Spend Your Refund at Sears!"

State office buildings could get big bucks for commercial messages that would captivate riders on elevators and amuse attendees at trials in state courts.

"Have you reached a verdict, Jurors?"

"Yes, we have, Your Honor, but first a message from our sponsors...."

Think of the naming rights for state buildings: Bankers Life and Casualty State Prison, Sara Lee State Prison for Women, Caterpillar Inc. Toll Road, the Walgreens State Capitol, the University of Illinois Motorola Stadium. In fact, given the tax deals Gov. Pat Quinn has been cutting to favor special friends in big business, the state could change its name to Archer Daniels Midland. No problem finding that on a map.

June 10, 2011

Economic Growth, Not Just Budget Cuts

Numbers are wonderful, and budget numbers seem almost magical. Just as the "miracle of compound interest" should be taught to all teenagers (liberally quoting from the experience of Benjamin Franklin), what might be called the "nightmare of falling revenue" should be taught to all office-holders.

Republicans know that you won't get prosperity by raising taxes in a recession, but some seem to think you can get there through budget cuts alone. This country needs drastic reductions in spending, such as the plan advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan. But the sad reality is that budget cuts are therapeutic only to the point that a crashing economy doesn't force expenses on you (such as unemployment) that cannot be significantly reduced. If a rising tide raises all boats, a record low tide leaves everybody stranded.

Just as you can't spend your way to prosperity, or cut your way there, lower taxes alone also won't assure growth. However, what the supply siders say is that economic growth must be your object for any policy. "Dynamic scoring" of an economy is required when considering taxes, spending, regulation and all other policies. Do changes cause the economy to grow or shrink? How do real people respond to incentives and disincentives?

What need to hear now are a coordinated plan that combines spending cuts and tax cuts, ditches Obmacare and curbs jobs-killing regulations.

Continue reading "Economic Growth, Not Just Budget Cuts" »

June 9, 2011

Political Reform Victory in 9th Circuit Court

It is time to reform the reforms. Two of the worst developments of the post-Watergate era were bans on political speech by corporations and limits on political parties' spending. Especially ludicrous was idea that political parties should not be able to actively support their own candidates. Eroding the power of parties has not led to better democracy but to empowerment of special interest groups that are unaccountable to anyone but their funders.

Fortunately, an opinion in the Ninth Circuit Court today, in a San Diego case, is finding these restrictions unconstitutional and effectively elaborates the earlier Supreme Court ruling on corporate independent expenditures in campaigns.

In a press release, James Bopp, Jr., counsel for the plaintiffs in the San Diego case, comments, "One of the important purposes of political parties is to elect their candidates to office. It is absurd to forbid them from giving money to support their candidates. The Ninth Circuit understood that the First Amendment gives citizens the right to band together in political parties, and that political parties have a First Amendment right to financially support their candidates." About the independent expenditure ruling, Mr. Bopp said, "The Supreme Court has ruled that there is no permissible reason for the government to limit independent expenditures themselves. This is true even when the expenditures are made by corporations. It naturally follows that if the expenditures cannot be limited, then money to groups making expenditures cannot be limited either, even when the money comes from associations and corporations."

Continue reading "Political Reform Victory in 9th Circuit Court" »

June 8, 2011

Debate The Economy in Washington; Ask Mitch Daniels to Take the Case to the People

Many Americans feel as if we're in a railroad car on a runaway train, the train being the Obama Administration's economic policies. The car is connected, it can't decouple, and yet we, the occupants, know there is a problem with the engineer.

Maybe we are wrong, but the columns and commentaries giving one opinion, then another, don't enable most people to get a clear idea of what's happening to our economy, let alone what to do about it.

In a parliamentary system, a full fledged campaign would be taking place about now, as it did recently in Canada. Given a chance to consider the issues at length, the Canadian electorate surprised the Left--that forced the election this winter--by giving the Conservatives a real majority in Ottawa. But under America's presidential system, the cathartic election we need is still a year and a half away.

In this country, however, public opinion can still change public policies. Right now the public is divided and confused. The best ways to educate and then mobilize the public are 1) to run a high profile debate in Washington, where facts and solutions are forced to the surface; and 2) to take that debate to the country.


Continue reading "Debate The Economy in Washington; Ask Mitch Daniels to Take the Case to the People" »

June 1, 2011

Strong Texas Economy Boosts Perry Appeal


The economies of Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metropolitan areas grew faster than the rest of the country in April, accounting together for 82,000 net new jobs. The numbers suggest that Texas will continue to lead the rest of the country when May employment numbers come out for metro areas. In April, the Texas gains amounted to about 45 percent of the (revised) national gain of 177,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, announced today, the whole net employment gain nationally for May was only 38,000. The stock market, banks and economists are getting worried.

Texas has been hit by the national downturn, but has bounced back better. Most of its economic indicators are positive. Oil and gas have much to do with it, of course, but so do state fiscal policies under Governor Rick Perry that contain spending and regulation and hold down taxes. It has been a winning strategy in Texas and compares dramatically with the disastrous conditions in California and New York, Texas' rivals in size. Perry's policies also compare favorably with the Obama Administration on the national level.

Perry has a positive story to tell a nation longing for real "hope and change." His story versus Obama's story would set up the Texas governor for a strong presidential race. He's thinking about it.

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 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 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 14, 2011

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 13, 2011

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" »

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" »

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 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?

April 26, 2011

The Budget Debate Still Not Happening

The public, in polls, holds contradictory ideas. You either can blame the public for that or the politicians and media. Since economics is not a class taught in high school or taken by many in college, it is useless to assume a knowledge base that doesn't exist. Some down-to-earth explanations are needed.

Robert Samuelson's column is about as clear headed as one can get on this topic. He says that the President is being deceitful, talking budget cutting and the need for an "adult conversation" on the topic, while doing nothing to cut spending and attacking those who are trying to do so. As Samuelson says, he's "AWOL".

You can't have a one-sided debate. But Republicans could at least try to get air time--I have suggested repeatedly the use of "Special Orders" on the House floor that at least would get covered by C-SPAN--and lay out the whole truth for the people. A couple of infomercials also might help.

And the story is not only economic. The Republicans will lose the public's support if they don't explain why the budget deficit is a deeply moral issue. Just prattling about "leaving a huge burden for our children" explains nothing. Unless the consequences of present trends are described, the economy, in many eyes, will just be a matter of "creating more jobs," as if unemployment is the result of "greed" or insensitivity.

April 6, 2011

Academic Freedom: 1 Step Forward, 1 Step Back

by David DeWolf

A decision issued today by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals at first seemed like a mostly unalloyed victory for free speech in academia. But it contained some bad news for Mike Adams along with the good. Adams is the controversial (because he is conservative and religious) University of North Carolina professor being squeezed by liberal faculty and administrators.

The good news was that the appeals court reversed that part of the trial court 's decision that held that Adams was not entitled to first amendment protections because he was a public employee. The trial court had relied upon Garcetti v. Ceballos, in which the Supreme Court rejected a first amendment claim by a prosecuting attorney that he had been punished for criticizing the issuance of a warrant in a criminal case. Garcetti limited the rights of public employees to speak their mind if they are speaking on behalf of the government. The trial court in Mike Adams' case thought that a similar rule applied to university professors. But the appeals court disagreed, finding that the scholarly publications of a faculty member are not subject to the limiting principle in Garcetti.

That was the good news. The bad news was that in reinstating Adams' case, the appeals court affirmed the findings by the trial court that Adams had not been the victim of religious discrimination or a violation of the equal protection clause. This leaves him to return to the district court to demonstrate that the committee that rejected his application for promotion engaged in viewpoint discrimination or retaliated against him because of his exercise of his first amendment rights. This will require the trial court to distinguish viewpoint discrimination (for example, treating people differently because they are conservative) from judging Adams' scholarship to be inadequate because it isn't sufficiently novel, or significant, or insightful. The appeals court seemed to adopt the traditionally deferential approach to tenure and promotion decisions by university committees, permitting them to be their own judges of what sorts of scholarship deserve recognition for purposes of promotion or tenure. It's fairly rare for a committee to leave a "smoking gun," such as was the recent case of the astronomer at the University of Kentucky.

(David DeWolf, a Discovery Institute senior fellow, teaches law at Gonzaga University.)

Ryan and Van Hollen Should Debate Budget

Be prepared for all out political demagoguery on Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed reform budget, and unfortunately it will be enabled by biased news coverage. In the New York Times, for example, you have to turn to David Brooks' column on the opinion page today to get a straight account of the issues involved.

Pete Wehner, former Bush aide, writes in Commentary online today about stilted coverage by Dana Milbank of The Washington Post. First Milbank wrote about the failure of Republicans to address the real source of funding imbalance, which is entitlement spending. But then, when the Republicans do address entitlements (as Democrats, including President Obama, have not), Milbank attacks them for their recklessness.

Implicit in all the "news" attacks is the supposed alternative of raising taxes on the rich to cover the huge spending gap. The trouble is, you could get the rich to pay an even higher proportion of income taxes--in fact you could wipe them out--and still not solve the massive deficit and debt problem. Former Democratic officials such as Alice Rivlin and Erskine Bowles, as well as Republicans, are warning that the entitlement problem cannot be blinked any longer. Entitlements have to be brought under control or our whole country's future is in peril.

Here is a suggestion on how to avoid continuous demagoguery on the Ryan proposals: stage a nationally televised debate between Paul Ryan and his House Democrat counterpart, Rep. Chris Van Hollen. The Maryland Democrat, who is ranking member of the House Budget Committee that Ryan heads, has been outspoken in opposing the reforms Ryan proposes. Let him put his criticism to the test of a suitable long public debate that can give ordinary citizens a chance to hear out the contending parties.

In fact, there is a nice, tried and true venue that used to hold debates of the kind I suggest, though it has been underused in recent years. That venue is called the floor of the House of Representatives. There is even at least one TV network that is sure to cover it live and in full: C-Span. Most the time the House floor is the scene of one and two minute exchanges and political feather preening. A real, two person debate would be a welcome and unusual treat.

Gentlemen of both parties: give the American people a two hour debate on this urgent national issue, and let us make up our own minds, unfiltered by reporters who think they know better what's in a proposal than its author does.

April 5, 2011

Republicans May Look at Ryan-Rubio Ticket

All the prospective Republican candidates for President have electoral problems of one kind or another. Two that may have the fewest are Rep. Paul Ryan, who is getting a lot of favorable attention on the top priority issue of budget reform, and Sen. Marco Rubio, the former Florida state legislative leader who won election to the U.S. Senate last fall.

Both of these men come off as likable, well-rounded and thoroughly conversant with a wide range of national policy issues.

When they appeared back to back on the Sean Hannity show the other night, one couldn't help thinking that together they would make a formidable ticket.

Commenting on Rubio's performance, Carl J. Kelm of the Wall Street Journal's online Political Diary took particular note of the freshman senator's rebuke of Obama Administration's confusion in Libya: "Keep in mind that with the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, the ambassador to China, the GOP presidential field has an almost total lack of foreign policy experience. But someone, of course, will win the nomination. And when that person looks for a running mate, it isn't hard to imagine him or her being drawn to the rising star who can win Hispanic votes, crusaded against the debt and took leadership on a foreign policy issue on which the president has been accused of waffling."

Ryan, 41, is youthful, but not inexperienced, having served a dozen years in Congress. Upon assuming office, were he elected President in 2012 at age 42, Ryan would be a few months older thanTheodore Roosevelt was when he became President, and a few months older than JFK. Like Chief Justice John Roberts, Ryan was identified early as a man with a future. He has been examined carefully by friends and foes ever since and passed each test.


Rubio, who turns 40 in May, looks like a Latin soap opera star, until, that is, he opens his mouth, whereupon he turns into a really adroit, composed debater. He knows strategy, he knows details. Among colleagues he already gets high marks for hard work and solid "people skills."

The "inexperience" label still would be attached to either Ryan and Rubio, of course. Regardless, relative inexperience is probably the least incapacitating of the likely criticisms that will be made of the possible presidential nominees next year. Up against Barack Obama, Ryan's youth--and Rubio's--probably wouldn't matter. Policies, however, would matter. And unlike Joe Biden, voters would find that Rubio chooses his words carefully. Instead of saving Ryan and Rubio for 2016 Republicans may decide to go with their best team in 2012.

(Getty Images)

April 4, 2011

The Power of an "ad"

Our libertarian friend, Mark Skousen, has produced a wonderful spoof of those pharmaceutical ads you see on TV, only this one is for "Obamacare".

April 1, 2011

Obama Proves he is Not Machiavellian


The way the Libya Kinetic Military Action is unfolding, President Obama at least is showing that he is not the Machiavellian many critics have charged.

Machiavelli had a number of suggestions for "princes".

One was, if you decide to attack the king, make sure you kill him and don't just wound him. Wounded kings are dangerous.

President Obama has ignored that advice all right. We are in Libya merely "to protect civilians" and, while saying, "Gaddafi must go," we are not planning to use force to get rid of him. Just wound him, as it were.

Another Machiavellian lesson is that undertakings for real change are difficult, because the people who don't want change will recognize the threat and resist with all their might, while those who stand to benefit will tend to be less motivated to action.

In Libya, we are undertaking real change--if not "Change You Can Believe In"--and that has fully mobilized Gaddafi and his forces, while not especially motivating us, apparently. The President apparently thought it was all going to be easy. We'll be there "days, not weeks," he said two weeks ago.

The third pertinent Machiavellian principle is that when you must choose between a majority and a minority, choose the majority, of course, unless the minority is more intensely committed than the majority; for in that case the intensity of feelings of the few often overcomes the advantages of numbers.

Here again, Mr. Obama has shown he is not Machiavellian. He has stirred up our enemies, who are a minority in the Libyan population, and left the majority of Libyans--who presumably support the rebels--to, well, arm themselves.

In domestic affairs, we get Chicago-style politics from Mr. Obama. In Libya we get United Nations resolutions.

Photo: Salon

March 17, 2011

"To the Shores of Tripoli..," U.N. Authorized

The dithering is over, the U.N. Security Council has voted to permit the U.K., France, the U.S. and at least a couple of Gulf states to take on Gaddafi's air force and army. There is celebrating going on in Benghazi.

China, Russia and Germany abstained from the U.N. vote.

March 14, 2011

Instead of Nuke Meltdown, Think Dam Rupture


A 9.0 earthquake--the fifth worst on record--has devastated many communities in Japan and compromised countless health and commercial enterprises. We are seeing alarming coverage of the danger of nuclear plant damage. Nonetheless, every time the reporters get below the surface of the story they find that--so far--the actual nuclear contamination is small and limited. For one thing, since the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine in 1986, new nuclear plants (especially in Japan) have included elaborate containment and other safety provisions. Damage to nuclear power in Japan is likely to prove very expensive as a result of the quake and tsunami, but--relative to the rest of the quake and tsunami aftermath--not in lives lost.

Even in Chernobyl early predictions of thousands of deaths were soon discounted to 50, according the to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and most of those were from workers who went too close to the plant without adequate protection or, apparently, adequate knowledge.

Continue reading "Instead of Nuke Meltdown, Think Dam Rupture" »

March 11, 2011

Radicalization Hearing Was Well-Warranted


The US House Homeland Security Committee hearing on radicalization of American Muslims burned up C-Span for four long hours. Some of the reporting has called it a "witch hunt", and at the hearing many, if not most, of the Democrats on the Committee used their five minutes question time each to assail the decision to hold the hearing and to demand hearings instead on other kinds of terrorist threats, such as the KKK. That kind of tendentious objection flavored many of the news stories as well.

The controversy, for some, is not properly the subject of how some young people in this country are radicalized and join Islamist terror groups. No, our concern should rather be whether having a hearing on that subject is politically correct.

The first problem facing the critics, however, was the presence of a panel of experts who in varying ways were all concerned with the reality of radicalization. The perpetually eruptive Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee thought it "ironic" to say that Muslims were not concerned enough about terrorism, when the panel itself, she noted, included Muslims who are concerned. It was ironic, all right, though not in the way the Gentlelady from Houston thought. Two panelists were Muslim, but they were there in eloquent agreement with the contention of Rep. Peter King, Committee Chairman that more needs to be done to counter subversive activities by agents of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Continue reading "Radicalization Hearing Was Well-Warranted" »

March 10, 2011

Freeman Dyson's Clarifying Scientific Skepticism


Pour some tea and savor this amusing email interview of eminent physicist Freeman Dyson by the (UK) Independent's Steve Connor.

What I enjoy most is Dyson's description of how science is supposed to be open-minded and how many scientists have forgotten that. In the real world the enforced "consensus" of science is not harmless at all. For example: "(A)ll predictions concerning climate are highly uncertain. On the other hand, the remedies proposed by the experts are enormously costly and damaging, especially to China and other developing countries. On a smaller scale, we have seen great harm done to poor people around the world by the conversion of maize from a food crop to an energy crop. This harm resulted directly from the political alliance between American farmers and global-warming politicians. Unfortunately the global warming hysteria, as I see it, is driven by politics more than by science. If it happens that I am wrong and the climate experts are right, it is still true that the remedies are far worse than the disease that they claim to cure."

Photo: Tufts Journal

March 9, 2011

Get the Story Straight on American Muslims

Rep. Pete King of New York, whose hearings on radical Islamist influence on American Muslims start tomorrow, is being attacked in the mainstream media for his long-past support of the IRA. What the critics really don't like is the hearings he's holding now. We are not supposed to notice the danger of radical Islamists. To do so, it is implied, is bigoted.

Meanwhile, however, the great many Muslims who are pro-American and hostile to the Islamist radicals are having a hard time being heard. The Daily Caller cites several reputable groups that have not been welcomed to the White House, though highly doubtful groups like CAIR--with ties to Hamas--are shown right in. The Daily Caller may be a conservative news site, but the quotations speak for themselves.

It is truly condescending to think that American Muslims, and, indeed, many Muslims around the world, are unable to appreciate the blessings of liberty that this country affords. After all, a number of them have put their lives on the line to stand up for democracy. And not just democracy, but the minority rights and freedom of opinion that make constitutional democracy feasible. A number of Muslims are very eager for constructive political dialogue, not only here, but in the Middle East. In fact, the existence of democracy in Iraq is a living demonstration of how America (through the efforts of the international institutes of the US Republican and Democratic parties) can help MIddle Eastern countries to adopt sound democratic institutions and customs.

Oddly, while there are some on the political right who want to tar all Muslims with the brush of extremism, it is mostly the left that seems to misrepresent Muslims most predictably.

March 7, 2011

Pouting Senators Can't Find Their Way Home

The AP reports first that the 14 Democratic State Senators who are playing hooky in Illinois to avoid a vote back in Madison--and thereby are depriving the majority Republicans of a three-fifths quorum needed to conduct business on fiscal issues--wanted Governor Scott Walker to meet with them at the state line and negotiate. He rejected the offer as ridiculous. He's right.

People will have various opinions about collective bargaining for state workers. But the underlying constitutional issue should be given priority: Is it proper for a party that lost an election to use the trick of denying a quorum day after day once a legislative body meets? I say it's completely undemocratic and a challenge to constitutional government. Neither party has the ethical standing to stop the constitutional process of government decision-making. It's appalling that this precedent doesn't seem to disturb more Americans of all political stripes. (That there is a similar case in Indiana only shows that bad political tactics are contagious.)

In fact, the Wisconsin case is going to be a classic. If the Democratic senators are successful the tactic of truancy will come back repeatedly in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Voters will start asking candidates: If you are elected, and yet your party doesn't have a majority, how do we know you won't just leave the state?

March 4, 2011

Understating Unemployment

The cheerful news that unemployment has dropped to 8.9 percent (from 9 percent) is leading to a bit of false optimism. The economy may be improving (or not), but the amount of damage from the recession/restructuring we have to overcome is greater than most people realize. Economist John Williams, (covered at World Net Daily) has the real unemployment rate--including discouraged workers--at more like 22 percent.

Elaine Chao, former Labor Secretary under G. W. Bush believes the figure is 16.7 percent ("see Table 6A of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report," she told me after a speech she gave in Florida recently), and the sad news is that many of "new jobs" of the past year have been in the public sector and do not reflect real economic growth.

Chao contends that the Obama Administration is impeding job growth, rather than stimulating it. Obama officials, she notes, "have never worked in the private sector" and and don't understand that all their new regulations, taxes and fees under Obamacare, statements demonizing business leaders and proposals for cap and trade lead companies to hold back on investments or to move overseas.

The Department of Labor "has over 400 lawyers," says Chao. "Essentially it is an AFL-CIO office." Already there are 104 new regulations of business in the labor field.

Add to all that the rising cost of oil, in part due to failure to develop sources in the US, and you have a low-growth, low-job creation economy.

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" »

February 22, 2011

There Should be Consequences for Political Truancy in State Governments


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 20, 2011

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 19, 2011

The Original American Idol


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 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 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."

February 9, 2011

Reagan's Closest Aide


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 4, 2011

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


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 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 1, 2011

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


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.

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January 27, 2011

One Man's Dissent Tells Real Story of Housing and Financial Meltdown

The best possible contemporary example of the law of unintended consequences is the federal policy (actually several policies) enforced since 1992 to expand home ownership through promotion of non-traditional, sub-prime mortgages. This policy, enforced to an extent not even known to the government at the time, let alone to the financial community, provoked a US housing bubble that grew for more than ten years--and then deflated as 27 million government-induced bad mortgages began to go under. A financial panic ensued and a recession soon followed. Trillions of dollars of public funds were spent. The repercussions were international.

The true story of the public policy blunders that created the housing and financial crisis has been sidestepped for two years now . A new Congressionally commissioned report out today would like to continue down the path of truth avoidance. But a courageous, well-researched and ultimately devastating report by a dissenting member of the Commission, Peter J. Wallison, a former Counsel to President Ronald Reagan, serves to expose the problem--and the Commission majority cover-up.

The majority (Democratic) report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission issued today seems to have been written to support preconceived opinions that the financial crisis was the product of Wall Street greed and under-regulation from Washington. That is an ideological fairy tale. The minority report of three of the Republican members, though better, mainly widens the responsibility for the financial crisis so far as to become nearly useless itself. It finds fault with so many public and private entities, and every conceivable exterior development and force short of global warming, that one is left feeling that, since everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. Neither report gives to the truth.

The Commission report therefore would be a one-day news story except for the explosive, factual revelations in the 98 page, dissenting report by Wallison. A lawyer who served in the Reagan Treasury before his White House stint, Wallison is one of the very few people who warned for years about the dangerous lowered loan standards being enforced, first on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government chartered agencies, and then the banking world.

Wallison provides evidence now of the determinative role of "NTM" (non-traditional mortgages) in the housing bubble and ensuing financial collapse.

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An Uptight Priest Attempts Elvis Imitation


The first part of President Obama's State of the Union address, to paraphrase Daniel J. Henninger's column this morning in the Wall Street Journal, sounded like a Ronald Reagan speech written by Discovery Sr. Fellow George Gilder. But then the address veered off into another wish list of new and expanded government programs that sounded unlike the Gipper and more like Jimmy Carter.

Why does this happen? How is it that even when Mr. Obama sings Reaganesque lyrics he can't carry the tune? He sounds instead like an uptight Episcopal priest trying to channel Elvis Presley.

One reason is that the current president has a liberal's prejudiced understanding of capitalism, business and wealth creation. He can't get past the left wing supposition that government action is responsible for the successes, if any, of business. When he is told that he is viewed as hostile by the business community he makes friends with the CEO of General Electric, commits the government to supporting GE projects and appoints the CEO of GE to a council on, of all things, "competitiveness." When he does try to embrace capitalism, he does not seem to get the difference between true capitalism and crony capitalism.

Deep down he does not seem to see the moral dimension to the free market. He thinks it mainly has to do with greed.

In contrast, The American, the online magazine of the American Enterprise Institute, today highlights an article by Discovery Sr. Fellow Jay Richards on the spiritual basis of wealth creation. In a list of top ten ingredients for wealth creation, nine either are immaterial or have a immaterial/spiritual dimension. Government's role in fostering wealth creation, in this (realistic) understanding is not to pick winners and losers, but to provide for "rule of law" that does not discriminate.

January 25, 2011

Memorable 1st Speech of New Member of Washington House

Whenever a new member of a legislative body rises to give his first speech it is always a poignant moment; even old heads turn to listen. The newest member of the Washington State House of Representatives, Hans Zeiger, is also possibly the youngest--24. He won his race from Puyallup after an exhaustive recount confirmed his winning margin of only about 20 votes.

Zeiger won election over a top ranking incumbent. He did it with shoe leather campaigning and hundreds of volunteers. But his serious, scholarly side also gives hope to those who are on the lookout for intelligent, informed and creative leadership in the next generation.

If you listen to his first speech--on Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights tradition of Washington State--you will see why he is stirring interest from many quarters. Consider how much he communicates in only four and a half minutes.

It's Tough to Get the Truth About "Non-Profits"

Non-profits now supposedly account for one tenth of the nation's employment. But what does that mean? Are non-profits an ornament of a successful capitalist economy, or have they also become a hidden engine of growth and economic stability? Does non-profits' growth provide economic growth overall?

Jeff Cain of Philanthropy Daily contends that the latter proposition is getting undeserved support in a new stuy on non-profits in Michigan by the C. S. Mott Foundation, assisted by the US Labor Department and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. To read the Mott report, one would think that the non-profit sector in Michigan is a true silver lining in an otherwise cloudy economy. Non-profits, the report claims, have become "a major economic force" in Michigan, and presumably across the land.

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January 24, 2011

True Love: The Trial Bar and Global Warming

The hyping of global warming was designed to get around public reluctance to let environmental/social engineers dictate energy policy and public spending. It hasn't completely worked out the way they would like. Now come the trial lawyers, seeing in climate policy the opportunity to sue for big stakes.

January 21, 2011

Trash "Continent" is a Litter Bit Less

There really is a lot of trash floating in the sea. When it hits shore, we should pick it up. (Attention, Summer Interns!) But what if it is a vast "continent" (as most of us now have heard) in the middle of the ocean, coagulated in a "gyre," a kind of circling current? (I suspect the word "gyre" is inspired by Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem, "'Twas Brilling" in Alice in Wonderland. "Gyre and gimble" is what the "slithey toves" did.)

Well, there is one particularly trashy area stuck in an oceanic gyre, but it's not quite the nightmare you've heard about. Discovery Sr. Fellow Jay Richards investigated for an article at The Enterprise Blog (hosted by American Enterprise Institute). The area where trash is more than usually common is only about one percent the size of Texas. (What is that, the size of Delaware?)

If a skeptical view of a trash "continent" is warranted, as Jay says, I tend to be skeptical as well that cleaning it up would take many times more energy than the plastic float represents. You wouldn't have to clean it all up to make a litter difference.

January 18, 2011

Hey, Boeing, Time to Move Hq. Back to Seattle?

Nine years ago, The Boeing Company, founded in Seattle by Bill Boeing and long associated with the Puget Sound region, decided to move its corporate headquarters and its top staff to Chicago. The stated reasons were notions about the advantage of not collocating administrative headquarters with airplane production and the "strategic" worth of being in an central airport hub rather than in one corner of the country.

But, below the surface, it was plain to all that Boeing executives were frustrated by Washington State's corporate taxes and seemingly punitive policies that seemed to treat big companies as cash cows--making Boeing pay for an access road to a new plant in Everett, for example. Also, Chicago and Illinois officials were so welcoming.

Well, the great State of Illinois, following at least a decade of profligate spending, now has some of the highest corporate taxes and is raising them 50 percent under Gov. Pat Quinn. The state has a personal income tax and that is going up 67 percent (which those Boeing executives must appreciate). A state death tax is being enacted.

Illinois neighbors Wisconsin and Indiana are enjoying the discomfiture of the Illinois business community and trying to poach among them as fast as possible. But even those states have income taxes.

Meanwhile, back "home" in Washington State, the governor and legislature are dealing with the reality that voters last fall once, by a margin of two to one, once again defeated enactment of an income tax (even though it was one supposedly targeted only to the "rich"). Voters in the same election also removed some earlier taxes on soft drinks. As a result, the Democratic governor and legislature are taking a very different tack than their co-partisans in Illinois: cutting spending rather than raising taxes.

If there is an advantage--besides low crime rates, beautiful scenery and a highly educated work force--that distinguishes Washington from states like Illinois, it is the absence of a personal income tax.

If the highly taxed Boeing officers and board are looking for consolation, maybe it's the defeat of the Seahawks by the Bears last weekend. Now the Boeing crowd can go out to Soldiers Field this Sunday and watch the home team play the Packers. The weather prediction is 19 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow.

January 17, 2011

Global Warming Linked to Political Collapse

It already happened, in the end of the Roman Empire. There is no word about whether the Emperor and Senate failed to control CO2 emissions. The London Telegraph has the story.

Martin Luther King Continues to Speak


Re-reading A Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April, 1963) provides a glimpse into the mindset on all sides of the segregation issue, and, as such is a pleasant, if quaint, reminder of how far we have come. I heard Dr. King preach at Harvard's Memorial Church in 1962--the theme was doing all work, any work, "to the glory of God"--and George Gilder and I were able to hear his great oration at the Lincoln Memorial, the summer of '63--"I Have a Dream."

But there are many useful quotations from King that tend to surprise. In a "Letter" his most serious concern is the indifference of people who should be on his side. I like this one from "Letter," about the "white moderate":

"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."

January 13, 2011

Get Back to the Housing Recession


Distracted all week by the terrible Arizona shootings, the Congress returns now to the long range problems of cutting the budget and the immediate fiscal crises in the states. But the nagging, murky saga of housing foreclosures also demands attention, because it is involved in all of our financial difficulties.

Peter J. Wallison, former Presidential Counsel to Ronald Reagan and a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, now at AEI, published a column in Monday's Wall Street Journal that deserves careful study. Wallison's perspective is deeply knowledgeable. The story he tells (it will surely become a book, I think) is complicated for laymen, but it is too important to be neglected.

Look: jobless claims are up again and housing foreclosures are volatile. We need careful, extensive, deliberative examination of the roots of the housing collapse (especially the roles of Fannie and Freddie) and the options for moving forward. The new House leadership should hear from Wallison soon.

January 11, 2011

"Stamp Out Hate": Ode to the N.Y. Times

Day after day, in editorials and columns, the way the New York Times and similar media organs attempt--against any evidence--to link the Jared Loughner murders in Tucson to political conservatives. It has become the kind of slander that even one of the few moderates at the Times, David Brooks, descries as "vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness." He was not naming his own paper, but his observation is so apt as to indicate that he will not be allowed on the op-ed page much longer if he continues in that vein.

Here is the Times editorial that sets the party line:

"It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman's act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats......

"That whirlwind has touched down most forcefully in Arizona, which Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described after the shooting as the capital of "the anger, the hatred and the bigotry that goes on in this country." . . .

"Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments." (Italics added.)

The Times editors and their like remind me of a satirical song (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Mary Rodgers) from the 1960s, when lumpen revolutionaries were preaching "peace" in very unpeaceful ways. The difference between then and now is that then the vicious peaceniks were in the streets and now they are in editorial offices and faculty lounges.

Here is part of the "Hate Song".

We're gonna stamp out hate
That's our creed
Wipe out violence, intolerance and greed
We're gonna start right now
Tomorrow is too late
We're gonna stamp out hate.

We're gonna stamp out hate
Stamp it in the ground
And then take happiness and spread it all around
We'll put an end to grief
We can hardly wait
We're gonna stamp out hate.

We're gonna stamp out hate
Sock it in the eye
Shoot it in the stomach yelling, die, die, die!
We'll pull its insides out
And look at look at what it ate
We're gonna stamp out hate.

We're gonna stamp out hate
Lash it with a switch
Amputate its arms and legs and see how long they twitch
We'll put its toes on hooks
And dangle them for bait
We're gonna stamp out hate.

January 9, 2011

Mental Illness Makes Sense of Arizona Killings

The wrong lessons, as usual, are being taken from the weekend attacks in Tucson, AZ.

The first reports on the shooting of some 18 people in Arizona--with six dead, including a federal judge, and the critical wounding of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Tuscon--led almost at once to speculation that the shooter might have been someone influenced by the tea parties and by Sarah Palin, in particular. The fact that the Congresswoman was a Democrat who had been opposed by a tea party backed candidate in the last election gave rise to this assertion, but in no way justified it.

Now that we know that Jared Loughner, 22, was a mentally disturbed person with a grab bag of incoherent grievances about the government's supposed control of grammar and interference with consciousness, there obviously is no future in trying to blame conservatives for the killing spree. (The federal judge who was killed, in fact, was an appointee for Pres. George H. Bush). So, instead, there are mutterings about "hateful speech" in the media (meaning conservative talk radio, one guesses) that would inspire such an atrocity. The New York Times even hints that the controversy over federal funding of health care may be responsible.

That is exploitative, free-floating speculation. Promoting civility in public life is a great idea. But there is nothing at all to suggest that this deranged young man was motivated by anyone in or out of politics.

Here instead is the real question: what was such a sociopath doing on the loose? Why was he not in a mental institution? Let that question guide the investigation ahead. It's the best way to make sense of this and similar terrible incidents, and to prevent more of the same.

The most perverse message film of all time may have been One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975. Brilliantly scripted and acted, the movie that won five Oscars; however, as several reviewers noted at the time, it lent itself to political assumptions against mental hospitals that were overwrought, at the least. The film and other tales of wrongful incarceration of people whose only offense was harmless eccentricities, led to a spate of laws to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill and raise the bar even for compulsory incarceration of those who are potentially dangerous to society. As I said at the time, it forged an unholy alliance of politicians eager to save money and politicians eager to advance libertarian individualism.

In recent years I have seen examples of how good care can salvage the life of a mentally ill person who is, indeed, potentially dangerous. But such cases take attention and professional services. Unfortunately, since the 70s, neither political party has made mental illness a high priority. Yet who among us would disagree that Jared Loughner should have been in an institutional setting, not loose on the street?

Every time we have one of these "senseless killings", as they usually are called, it seems that an unbalanced person is involved. Every time there nonetheless are media voices trying to find some political explanation or demanding a ban on guns. Isn't it time to get serious about such killings and provide help for the mentally ill who are potential killers--and safety for the rest of society?

January 5, 2011

Political Poetry Reading on the House Floor

They are reading the whole Constitution on the floor of the US House today, and it seems to annoy the media and many Democrats. If these folks were smart, they would use the occasion to state their own views on the Constitution rather than protesting the "Constitution worship" with which they accuse Republicans. Instead, they have reacted as conservatives predicted, with attempted ridicule and petulance.

Conservatives are right to revere (they don't worship) the Constitution, along with the Declaration of Independence. At a singularly propitious point in a new country of only three million people, a uniquely remarkable group of leaders came together to establish by reflection and consultation the finest guiding document in political history. It is principled and yet capable of amendment. It has lasted longer than any comparable document.

Unfortunately, since at least the Progressive Era, the Left that supposedly trusts the people has sought to avoid the amendment process as a way of modernizing the Constitution and to change the document's plain meaning by judicial decree and administrative fiat. Today the new House leaders are calling them on it. So, what it is the Left is really feeling today is not amusement or annoyance, but embarrassment. The more liberal (er, "progressive") critics carry on, the more they reveal their ignorance and bias. A lot of Americans accordingly are getting a bit of education in civics.

Death Panels: Fear of Rationing

If you have insurance, America's health care is probably the best in the world. Even if you don't, it's up there with the second tier. What you also have is a certain amount of patient control, an ability for you and your family and your doctor to shape your care. At worst, if an insurance company refuses to pay for some procedure, you can pay for it yourself. In many socialized systems, you can't do that. In order to make the system work, private citizens are stripped of the option to buy their own health treatments.

That is why rationing is so feared by Americans. At some point, the government, lacking money for comprehensive coverage, decides who gets treatment and who doesn't. At an extreme, the government encourages old and very sick people to stop fighting the odds and make an end-of-life plan that eases a medical decision to cut off care--and save the government money. A "living will", sadly, seems to be sensible mainly when one signs it, but not necessarily so sensible (as my late mother found out) when emergency care is needed. In my mom's case, she was intubated after a heart attack, even though her living will said she shouldn't be. She was greatly relieved later that the living will had not been consulted; the oversight saved her life.

Wesley Smith, of our Center on Human Exceptionalism, blogs today at First Things about the latest decision of the Obama Administration to pull the plug on what seemed to be another try--administratively--to adopt what Sarah Palin dubbed "death panels."

Continue reading "Death Panels: Fear of Rationing" »

January 3, 2011

Death Panels in State Health Plans

by Wesley J. Smith (posted originally at National Review Online's "Corner")

Norman Ornstein had a piece in the Washington Post railing against "death panels" in Indiana and Arizona, both of which involved Medicaid budget limits. He omitted the death panel in Oregon -- perhaps because it is a liberal state? -- which has explicitly rationed care under Medicaid since being allowed to conduct rationing under the Clinton administration. In Oregon, Medicaid has a list of over 700 procedures, and will cover only the number permitted by their budget, usually in the low- to mid-600s. All those procedures on the wrong side of the line are not paid for by Medicaid.

The point of Oregon's experiment was to expand coverage at the expense of cutting off the sickest people. For example, double organ transplants have been refused. That hasn't worked, but the state has kept its rationing scheme anyway. As a consequence, many poor Oregonians have, over the years, been denied potentially life-extending treatments. In 2008, two late-stage cancer patients were denied chemotherapy that could have extended their lives by Medicaid -- but were offered payment for their assisted suicides!

What is the common thread that connects the death panels in these three states? Medicaid is a single-payer system in which budgets are limited. When the money runs out, people's options shrink. See also, the U.K.'s NHS and, increasingly, Canada's national health-care system, in which life-extending chemotherapy has also been restricted in some places.

Many Obamacare supporters see the ACA is a necessary step to the ultimate goal, a federal single-payer system. But those who are attracted to this option should learn from Indiana, Arizona, and Oregon: Government can get away with treatment restrictions that would never be countenanced within a market-based system in which regulators would be on the side of the patients, rather than the government funder. In other words, if you like death panels -- as Norm Ornstein points out, although he probably missed his own message -- single payer is the way to get them.

-- Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism

December 28, 2010

World Hails Claire Berlinski, Ben Wiker

Before this year of economic hope and ideological change concludes, I would like to record World magazine's citation of two of 2010's literary accomplishments, Claire Berlinski's "There is No Alternative": Why Margaret Thatcher Matters and Ben Wiker's Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read.

Actually, Basic Books brought out the Thatcher book in 2008, but it is becoming more topical--and popular--daily in the aftermath of the Tea Party's success and Mr. Obama's failures. Regnery's publication of the Wiker work is newer, but timeless in its application.

Both authors, saluted by editor Marvin Olasky in the December 18 issue, are Discovery Institute fellows. But you probably knew that.

December 27, 2010

Maybe Not "Death Panels," But Getting Close

The Obama Administration is trying on several fronts (FCC, EPA) to accomplish by bureaucratic executive fiat what Congress would not approve. And they are doing it during Christmas holidays, probably to prevent a bigger public--and Congressional--outcry. The latest example is the institution of end-of-life advice for senior citizens. Discovery Sr. Fellow, Wesley J. Smith, points out at National Review's "Corner" that having doctors seek directives of elderly patients on end-of-life or emergency care is innocuous on its own, but sets the stage for the kind of "death panels" and care rationing that Sarah Palin vividly described.

Continue reading "Maybe Not "Death Panels," But Getting Close" »

California's Latest Budget Buster

It is not enough that the State of California is nearly insolvent and headed into inevitable crisis; the state may be on the verge of another multi-billion dollar boondoggle that has nothing to do with serving the normal and necessary functions of state government and everything to do with runaway ambition, wishful thinking and waste. Wesley J. Smith, Discovery Sr. Fellow on Human Exceptionalism, writes about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.

December 22, 2010

The Day the Spending Died

Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter has a smart, tidy analysis of the impact of two conservative victories in Congress as the folks prepare to go home. It's in The Daily Caller.

The conservative failure on other matters--notably, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell bill and the SMART treaty (presumably)--are relatively less important than the success in continuing the current tax rates and the defeat of the omnibus budget.

December 21, 2010

Sun to Blame; Maybe Time to Ban the Sun

We may be in for a mini-ice age. Some say it is the perverse responsibility of climate change (aka, "global warming"). The more you heat your house, the colder the climate. Make sense?

Meanwhile some say it is really the fault of the sun. As a result, many are figuring out how to ban the sun. Or sue it. Or regulate it. Has anyone contacted the EPA? The ACLU?

Is a Crisis Still a Terrible Thing to Waste?

Former Presidential Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is now running for Mayor of Chicago. Assuming he is able to establish residency, is his election something to be savored--by Rahm himself?

Chicago is overwhelmingly in debt. Mayor Richard E. Daley has left a huge, inevitable debt for coming years and has used up the resources he supposedly husbanded for the future. Chicago suddenly is in very bad shape.

Can the state of Illinois help? Nope. It is in terrible shape, too. Illinois is spending about 35 percent more than it is taking in. Its bond rating is the second worst in the country.

A hearing in Chicago was held today to decide whether Emanuel is even eligible to run for mayor, his having lived in Washington, DC rather than the Windy City the past couple of years. Given Chicago's financial prospects, he may hope that the ruling--expected next week--will not be favorable.

December 14, 2010

Curtail the Authority of Lame Ducks

It is hard to believe that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi could damage the reputation of Congress further, but they are proving it's possible. The President's leadership is lacking, too, and his popularity sinking further. This Congress is America's rival to the infamous Long Parliament of England.

It's time to eliminate or legally curtail the authority of Lame Duck legislative sessions. What is happening now in Washington, DC shows that the repudiated majority in the House and the reduced majority in the Senate cannot handle the few things the public needs to have done and wants to have done before they leave and instead are trying to ram through legislation they couldn't pass earlier (when the voters had them in their sights).

Not only should these lame ducks fly home, this kind of abuse of public trust should be procedurally constrained in the future by a more reform-minded Congress.

The Legal Challenge to Obamacare is Serious

Discovery Senior Fellow Wesley J. Smith , among his other credentials, is an attorney with a long background in public policy law. As such, he is capable of a keen interpretation of the recent ruling against the Obamacare provision requiring each private citizen (adult) to purchase health care insurance. He has, indeed, provided such an interpretation at the online version of the journal First Things. Other websites are picking it up, too. The reasoning is fascinating. In sum, the legal issues are a lot more consequential than the mainstream media are suggesting.

December 13, 2010

An Olive Branch Grows Into a Christmas Tree

President Obama's olive branch to Republicans over taxes is going through a huge change in Congress. It is swelling and morphing into a familiar seasonal object, the legislative Christmas Tree. Its boughs now are hung with new treats for various constituencies--from ethanol subsidies to Samoan economic development. These baubles have little to do with taxes, of course, and they run up the cost of the bill so much that some Republicans now may vote no. The GOP could do better with a retroactive bill in January that preserved the original Obama-McConnell deal.

The Pelosi-crats in the House are ill-disposed to the tax compromise, anyhow, and media commentators are speculating on whether they will demand changes in order to allow passage. Actually, this has turned out to be a perfect time to do the lame duckery that Republicans have feared all along, engorging an already swollen budget deficit. Faced with defections from special interests (like Sen. Grassley of corn-rich Iowa), the Senate Minority Leader McConnell may find his filibuster numbers easily falling below 40.


Continue reading "An Olive Branch Grows Into a Christmas Tree" »

December 10, 2010

Real Political Reform: Strengthen Parties

The Republican National Committee is asking the US Supreme Court to support greater coordination between political parties and party candidates' campaign committees. The case is from a 2008 campaign by Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao who was the party candidate for Congress in New Orleans. He won, but then was defeated in 2010. The issue is not really about him, but about whether a political party has the right to work with its own candidates. In this case, the "coordination" was only about the timing of a TV ad. Nonetheless, the principle is vitally important.

Our country's political system is founded on the principle of representative democracy. Within a few years of the Founding, political parties came into being as a natural means to express public will and to ally candidates. By the late 19th Century parties had become corrupt and in some cases tyrannous. In the past 120 years much has been done to correct the abuses of political parties, but now we are at the ridiculous point where candidates sometimes cannot even coordinate with their own parties. Before the whole electoral system implodes with silliness, the Supreme Court should look favorably on the request before it.

Remember, with political parties you can see what you get and the candidates of the party are responsible at least to the Republicans or Democrats. With ad hoc arrangements and specialized groups doing their own separate campaigning, accountability is vitiated. "Reform" these days means strengthening parties, not weakening them further.

Cancun Chills Climate Talks--Literally

Last year it was snowdrifts in Copenhagen, at this year's climate conclave in Cancun it is decidedly un-tropical temperatures in the low 50s. They're calling it the "Gore effect."

December 6, 2010

Federal Tax Fight; We'll Do it Again in '12

The sweeping tax deal worked out by President Obama and (mainly, it appears) the Republican leaders in Congress is the first fruit of the 2010 GOP victories in the House and, to a lesser degree in the Senate. Without those victories, no deal.

There is some question whether the Democrats led by Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid are going to go along. (Many liberal groups are livid.) Democrats in Congress really are stuck now. If they don't pass this deal, they spoil any chance for any other Lame Duck session legislation and will be blamed when the deal is enacted later--and with great disruptions--in the new Congressional session that begins in less than a month.

But this is certain: the decision to make only a two year extension in tax rates and the 35 percent tax cap on estates over $5 million (the "death tax") guarantees that these issues will be right back in the 2012 election debate. Maybe the White House thinks the public will back tax increases then, decoupled as they apparently will be from general tax rates. If so, President Obama, as a candidate (presumably), will benefit. But it may be that the public really don't want any tax increases, which seemed to be their mood in last month's election. If that is the case, it was a bad mistake for the President to arrange for the whole debate to get kicked into the next election cycle.

Cut State Salaries, Pensions--or Basic Services?

We have so many economic problems that stem from reckless federal government spending that financial problems in the states are getting relatively less attention. But the state problems--especially in big problem states, led by California--may be even worse than those in Washington, DC.

In the other Washington, the state, the voters last month defeated any attempt to raise taxes. So the governor and legislature are forced to choose now between cutting government salaries and pensions--which is very hard--or cutting basic government services--also very hard. Spending went up fast in the "fat years" and the only way to reduce it now may be to go back to the spending levels of several years ago.

The dominant Democrats are beholden to the public employee unions that supply much of the effective voter outreach in campaigns these days, so, in the end, rather than face their wrath, majority legislators may find it less painful (though horrible) to savage social programs for school children, the handicapped, the ill and prisoners. Regardless, the choices are grim. And Washington State is not at all atypical.

In fact, problems are much worse in California, Illinois and a few other notoriously spendthrift states. In California and Illinois the range of legislative choices will be greater, however. In addition to the options of salary and pension cuts and program cuts the option of still higher taxes will be very tempting. Democrats control Illinois and California, so expect to see the tax route followed in those cases. Unfortunately, higher taxes will not solve the problems of the biggest spending states, only damage the private economies that provide revenue in the first place.

Regardless, a bright light is going to be shown on completely unsustainable state and local salaries and pensions. The crisis developing in this sector is not unlike the mortgage bubble. And you know how that resulted.

Hot News: No Global Warming for 15 Years

Was it only 12 months ago that we were chuckling over the plight of attendees at the world climate change (aka, "global warming") conference in Copenhagen? Remember how most world leaders fled early because of an impending blizzard? The US President had put his prestige on the line, imagining that his famous charisma would break the diplomatic ice and produce a treaty. It did not. The ice held.

Now, with much less publicity coming out of this year's conference in Cancun, it seems that the swell computer models that predicted a spectacularly warm 2010 have failed once again. So, of course, did the hurricane predictions for the 2010, but then, those unfulfilled predictions are becoming predictable. But the global warming predictions are more consequential, leading to untold billions in government spending and truckloads of new regulations. Now, David Rose reports for the Daily Mail in London, it seems that the temperature has not materially warmed for fifteen (not just ten) years.

The Daily Mail concludes, "The question now emerging for climate scientists and policymakers alike is very simple. Just how long does a pause have to be before the thesis that the world is getting hotter because of human activity starts to collapse?"

Here's another question: When do journalists start to realize that computer models often are completely unreliable in science? Why have people forgotten the very oldest maxim about computers: "Garbage in, garbage out"?

December 4, 2010

TSA and the Maginot Line

When World War I was over the French built an impregnable Maginot Line to keep out any future German invasion. In World War II the Germans simply went around the Maginot Line to attack France--successfully.

The airport security we employ and endure today is the Maginot Line of the War Against Terrorism, the constantly updated effort to protect against the 9/11 terrorists' tactics, the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber. Our colleague John Wohlstetter explains the well-meaning futility of this strategy.

The purpose of terrorism is not to inflict casualties on enemy combatants, but to terrorize the civilian population. That aim succeeded after 9/11 when our stock market tanked and Americans undertook increasingly invasive searches at our airports before ticketed passengers board planes.

Meanwhile, what prevents terrorists from blowing up hundreds of passengers at the departure counters before they ever board?

Nothing more than prevents some Somali fanatic from blowing up the Christmas tree lighting crowd in Portland, Oregon; namely, FBI detective work. THe terrorists aren't stupid. They eventually will find their way to vulnerable football games in Nebraska, shoppers at Macy's and faith gatherings in American cathedrals. What stands in their way is not metal detectors or pat downs, but advance police work.

Memo to the incoming Congress. Ask the old 9/11 Commission: how are we doing?

November 30, 2010

San Francisco is New Capital of California

The City of San Francisco and its suburbs are considered unusually left wing when compared to the rest of California, let alone when compared to the rest of the country. Yet, as a result of the recent election the state electorate apparently decided to be governed in its top leadership almost exclusively by San Franciscans.

The newly recycled governor, Jerry Brown, is a former San Fran dweller who served a while recently as Mayor of Oakland. The Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom, is stepping up from Mayor of San Francisco. Kamala Harris of San Francisco won a close race for Attorney General.

Retiring US House Speaker, soon to be Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, is San Francisco through and through. So is re-elected US Sen. Barbara Boxer and the senior senator, Diane Feinstein, another former Mayor.

In my childhood, Baghdad by the Bay, as the late columnist Herb Caen called it, actually had a Republican mayor, George Christopher (1956-64). Then the mayors started moving progressively left. Frank Jordan, a Democrat ex-Chief of Police, was elected in 1992, but he was replaced four years later by the more liberal Willie Brown, who was replaced by Gavin Newsom in 2004, who moved the ideology meter further seaward. Newsom's successor is likely to be the still further leeward State Assemblyman (from San Francisco) Tom Ammiano.

If San Francisco moves any more left, it will fall into the Pacific, pulling the state into the drink with it.

November 24, 2010

California Can't Figure it Out, Warns Gilder

"They're going to have to grow a lot of medical marijuana out there," George Gilder says on Fox News Business today. At some point his warnings about California's suicidal state fiscal policies are going to have to be heeded.

November 23, 2010

Who Guards Economy From Ambitious Prosecutors?

Excuse me if I seem cynical, but the new SEC scandal about hedge funds reminds me a bit of the legal festivities of ambitious former New York A.G., later Governor, then "Client No. 9", Eliot Spitzer. The Wall Street Journal news story today (subscription may be required) suggests that the purposes of the "insider trading" investigations may include breaking new prosecutorial ground to "shake up stock research" customs. Call it "reform by other means."

Continue reading "Who Guards Economy From Ambitious Prosecutors?" »

Wily Coyotes Loose in the Loop


It's sounds great: 250 coyotes with radio collars are on the prowl in downtown Chicago to catch mice and rats. The City says they are "shy" and "no danger". They will provide someone with a good research experiment, which is probably the most likely motivation for their being loose.

However, the coyotes may not know that they are limited to such kill as rodents. They have been known to catch pets, especially cats. In packs they can chase down and kill a big dog. One can forsee the news story when one or more take Fifi the toy poodle away from her Grand Dame owner on North Michigan Avenue. The Grand Dame will call Da Mayor--and her lawyer, and The Chicago Tribune.

So it should be an interesting human experiment, too.

Cartoon credit: Chuck Jones Enterprises

End Ethanol Subsidies for Corn


The excuses for huge federal subsidies for corn-based ethanol are running out. Now Al Gore has admitted that his original endorsement (and casting the key Senate vote in 1994 when he was Vice President) was a mistake. Not a political mistake; it benefitted him back then. Just a policy mistake.

In 2010, however, the environmental community is finding the ethanol program an embarrassment.

Corn ethanol cannot be supported by the market; it costs too much to produce. It doesn't help the environment. It doesn't really free us from overseas oil and has much less potential than other biomass products. Moreover, federal subsidies have driven up the cost of food, especially since corn is used in so many different food products.

Finally, the farmers whose votes are at stake (many of them Republicans) in key states like Iowa--where the presidential caucuses for 2012 will take place only 14 months from now--are getting good corn prices these days. They don't need the subsidy. If getting rid of corn ethanol subsidies is part of a broad range of budget cuts across the country and across varied occupations, it probably will be accepted in the farm belt.

So let's see: corn ethanol is not a wise source of alternative energy, it is hugely wasteful of taxpayer dollars at a time when the country is deeply in debt, it raises food costs and doesn't particularly help the farmer. All it has going for it is a lobby of fadied-green lobbyists who profit from the subsidies. Can we find a little courage in Congress to cut it?

Photo credit: planetware

Social Issues Not Lost in New Congress

A number of political observers think that the new Republican majority will ignore social issues because of the high priority everyone attaches to economic issues. That's misleading, however.

First, one of the easiest votes for conservatives next year will be to defund organizations like Planned Parenthood that conduct abortions in this country or overseas. That's one reason NARAL was so active in the political races this fall.

Says Iowa Congressman Steve King, ""I think that we're going to start this Congress out, it will be about debt, deficit, jobs and the economy, but part of that is un-funding Planned Parenthood through the appropriations process," he said. "I think that would satisfy a lot of social conservatives. If we ended public funding for abortion in America, that would be a huge step in the right direction."

This doesn't mean that the effort to defund NARAL will succeed, only that the effort will get pretty united Republican support, especially in the House.

Second, in a real sense, the financial issues facing America also are moral issues--social issues, if you will. That's much of the motivation behind the Tea Party movement. When a government debauches its own currency and runs deficits that cannot realistically be repaid short of confiscatory taxes, the morale of the public is assaulted. People are discouraged from thinking long term. Self-reliance withers. Trust in others erodes. Thrift is undermined.

All of this constitutes a moral issue, and a big one.

November 22, 2010

California Owes So Much it Has Lost Track

Unfunded pension commitments in the state of California are so big that even officials differ on what they represent. Is it $200 billion? 300? 500? Regardless, it is coming due and Calpers, the state pension system, is counting on what seem like unreasonable returns on its investments.

Much is based on Calpers' decision to invest heavily in "green technology" that requires federal subsidies.

November 18, 2010

Would You Rather be Profiled or Groped?

Israelis are even bigger targets for terrorists than Americans, but they haven't had airplane bombings or hijacks in decades. Why not? Because they "profile" in the sense that they use all the information available from their intelligence agency, provide psychological training for airport screeners and actually interview each passenger. It doesn't take long; in fact, security lines move faster than in most US airports.

In the US we cannot tolerate any kind of profiling, at least, not officially. So we now are reduced to full body scans of an undignified kind that are not permitted anywhere else outside the privacy of a doctor's office. We have children in tears, old ladies confused, attractive young people humiliated. Why? For the sake of security or for the sake of political correctness?

The riot of jokes going around (this is a family blog, so I won't indulge) may be the new custom's undoing. Meanwhile, the process is not funny for most people and not really relished either by the TSA folk who have been ordered to perform it.

Fire Homeland Security. Hire the Israelis.

French cartoonist Frederick Deligne's take in the newspaper Nice-Matin

Discovery Authors on Congressional Reading List

You might wonder how the newly elected House majority members have time to read, but of course busy people often read the most. So it is that George Gilder's The Israel Test and Claire Berlinski's Why Margaret Thatcher Matters are named in an article today by Tevi Troy at National Review Online. (Hat tip to Alex Lykken.)

If you are going to someone's house for Thanksgiving you might want to bring them one of those books ("It's what they are reading now on The Hill") instead of a bottle of wine or flowers. Or consider God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards and just published by Discovery Institute Press, especially if you have a misguided relative who thinks Darwinism is compatible with orthodox Christian or Jewish faith. Guaranteed to keep the table talk lively.


Continue reading "Discovery Authors on Congressional Reading List" »

November 16, 2010

Memo to Southern Methodist University: Be Glad

Ground was broken today for the George W. Bush Presidential Library that will grace Southern Methodist University, opening in 2013. People seemed to be in a good humor as the work began, except for publicity seeking protesters who don't want the library on their campus. George and Laura were there, so were Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice and former President Uribe of Colombia (testifying to Bush's role in helping defeat the Marxist rebels in his country).

Writes the Wall Street Journal for Wednesday's edition, "Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who used a cane to climb to the dais, made a dig at the Obama administration, calling the presidential center 'the only shovel-ready project in America,' drawing laughs."

Continue reading "Memo to Southern Methodist University: Be Glad" »

California's Fall Threatens All


Our Sr. Fellow George Gilder commands the "most read" space on the Wall Street Journal opinion page today with his article, "California's Destructive Green Jobs Lobby". The information adds nails to the coffin that voters in the Golden State have fashioned for themselves. It has been a familiar theme for this space, Discovery News, for several weeks now.

You might think that the California calamity opens opportunities for other states, notably nearby Washington, where voters just turned down an income tax on the wealthy (e.g., entrepreneurs, small businesses, investors in new jobs) and where the next state legislative session is not about new taxes, but major surgery on spending. Washington has energy for power-hungry computer companies and it has an outstanding employee base. Texas is another state that would seem likely to benefit from the follies in California.

However, in the last analysis, we all are damaged by the bad judgement of California politicians, high tech leaders and, yes, voters. Gilder spells it out, but it's only "Chapter 1." There is more to come.

Romantics are in charge in the energy field in California now. They have equally romantic friends in Silicon Valley and Hollywood. They need a course in realism and they are going to have to take it. So are we all, unfortunately.

Getty Images

November 15, 2010

Comeuppance Nears for Earmarks Abuses

Erie Canal1.jpg
Construction on the Erie Canal, 1817.

The outrageous abuse of earmarks in recent years has led to proposals to ban earmarks altogether. It was a promise on the lips of every Tea Party candidate and many others. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader in the Senate, today signed onto the idea, reversing his previous position.

There is a reason for earmarks and it is one you have not seen described much in the media or in campaign addresses. It is that when elected officials pass laws on subjects that affect their constituencies--say, Kentucky, Mitch McConnell's state--there is no assurance that the bureaucrats who manage the subsequent program or law will pay any attention to what the legislators intended. What counts later is the language of the legislation and the amount of money allocated to it.

Continue reading "Comeuppance Nears for Earmarks Abuses" »

November 11, 2010

Awareness of California Crisis Grows

It would be nice to consign Californians to their own selected (and elected) fate. But the numbers coming out of that state are so horrible that they threaten not only California, but also the rest of us. Here is the report from the California Legislative Analyst's Office that describes the $6 billion that the state will be short this year, and the $19.3 billion it will be short next year.

Where will they get the money?

November 10, 2010

Potential Tax Hikes Threaten Non-Profits

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many, if not most, non-profit organizations--from colleges and universities to church run charities--are populated by political liberals who support tax increases for the well to do (often described as annual income of over $200,000). One wonders how many of them have considered the link between high taxes and philanthropy. A Merrill Lynch study just out suggests at least that a bad market means cuts in charitable giving.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the damage may be worse than is being reported. If the number of semi-desperate appeals I receive from non-profits in the mail and by email are an indication, the long economic slump is biting harder as time goes by.

Raising taxes at this point not only would hurt small businesses and entrepreneurs, but also, indirectly, non-profits. The added money that goes to the government, in many cases, would stop going to charities. Instead of toying with new taxes, officials would be better advised to urge all folks with good jobs to give more to favorite charities.

Public Employee Pensions in Hot Spotlight


One reason public employee unions spent so much money on the this year's campaigns was to prevent state legislators from looking to state and local pension systems as places to cut. Having failed to help their candidates win in a number of big states--Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, etc.--the union leaders probably will realize their fears come budgetary sessions in January.

Even in solid blue states like California, Illinois and Massachusetts, the prevailing Democrats themselves are going to face alternatives of cuts to services or cuts to the growth of pensions and salaries. In Illinois, where Gov. Quinn, a Democrat who won a narrow election to a full term advocating tax increases, the issue of pensions will prove daunting once the public sees their sacrifices increasing in order that state employees don't have to sacrifice.

Today the Christian Science Monitor editorialized in favor of pension cuts. "Few politicians, even Democrats backed by the public-worker unions," declares the Monitor, "could afford not to propose reforms for these retirement benefits that are often abused, underfunded, and usually far more generous than those in private business."

The Monitor is a kind of canary in mine shaft of media opinion, so watch for more public pressure on pension costs once the alternatives become clearer. You won't wait long.

(Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

November 9, 2010

The State of Washington, Down for the Count

It's a week after the election supposedly was concluded, yet Washington State is still counting in a big way. Several close races remain undecided, as has become commonplace since the all-mail ballot was adopted statewide (except in Pierce County--Tacoma).

There is no other state that I know of where political operatives seem to become busiest after the returns start coming in. On election day in Washington, come 8 p.m., PDT, the non-existent "polls" close and the first results pour forth on computer and TV screens. At that point, the candidates and parties start really bustling, calling "their" people who did not vote and urging them to do so.

In various close races, campaign callers offer to come to a person's home to pick up the ballot and, presumably, even put a stamp on it and deliver it to one of the post office outlets that stay open until midnight. (After all, if a person was too lazy to vote before the polls closed, you can't count on his rushing out later to a post office.) Only after midnight--four hours into the vote count--do ballots no longer qualify for the election day postmark that makes the ballot legal. Get it? Uniquely in Washington State you can legally go out and get more votes if your candidate is behind in the early returns.


Continue reading "The State of Washington, Down for the Count" »

Can US Regain Prosperity Without California?

Syndicated radio host Dennis Prager, who lives in Orange County, asks, what is the difference between Californians and the passengers on the Titanic? The answer:

"The passengers on the Titanic didn't vote to hit the iceberg."

I have my own question: How can the United States recover from the slump when California, home to Silicon Valley and representing one-tenth of the nation's population, is bent on destroying its economy? Voters in California, as noted before, have voted to give themselves a huge hike in energy costs for the dubious honor of combatting global warming and have elected the same governor, Jerry Brown, who in the 70s opened the door to collective bargaining for state workers, even though the government now has $500 billion in unfunded pensions and already is unable to pay its bills. They have passed an initiative sponsored by the teachers union that will make it easier for the Legislature to increase spending and taxes.

The Census count for 2010 is expected to show that for the first time in its history, California is not growing enough to add a new House seat. It soon may be showing a substantial outflow of middle class voters. What's left are those too rich to care about taxes and those to poor to care. Ah, but the real tax base is in the vast middle, and that is about to shrink.

The states that will benefit most are Texas, Arizona and Washington.

Canada Deals With Illegals Fleeing US Election

This ran last summer in the Manitoba Herald, but is getting wide circulation now, for obvious reasons.

by Clive Runnels
The Manitoba Herald, Canada
The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The recent actions of the Tea Party are prompting an exodus among left-leaning U.S. citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and agree with Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.

"I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota. The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left before I even got a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?"

Continue reading "Canada Deals With Illegals Fleeing US Election" »

November 11, 2010

Remember, and Be Grateful

In Flanders Field.png


November 8, 2010

Elected Black Tea Party Candidate Hits "Racism" Charge

Two newly elected Congressional Republicans who are black--from Florida and South Carolina--are rather sure to end the bogus campaign charge that The Tea Party was racist. Allen West, elected to the US House from a long time Democratic seat in Boca Raton, Florida, had fun with Sean Hannity on the subject. Speaking of leftist tactics, West, a former Army Colonel, said, "(T)he No.1 thing that you always try to do to silence an opponent in the United States of America is to call someone a racist."

So true. But that truth has more clout when the speaker is both black and a big supporter of the Tea Party himself.

West points out that the "Tea" in Tea Party stands for "Taxed Enough Already." The transparent purpose of the movement was to elect officials who would stop runaway federal spending, prevent tax increases and support Constitutional government. Making out such people to be racists was a sign of desperation on the part of their foes.

November 5, 2010

Great "Jobs Report" for Republicans

If, as the previous post notes, there has been a small uptick in hiring nationwide, there is one precinct in the country where hiring suddenly is red-hot: Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Of course, as a result of Tuesday's election unemployment rates there also are high. The turnover in the House is greater than after any election in sixty some years. As a result, Republican Members are encountering a dearth of seasoned talent, unless they want to hire Democratic staffers on their way out. Some old Republican staff veterans of the Hill who retired years ago are fluffing up their resumes and sending them in. Experience may not count much any more in elections, but it still does in staffing Hill offices.

Meanwhile a similar picture is emerging in state capitols, where the GOP picked up some 680 new seats around the country, a bigger shift than any since the 1920s. The staffing needs are less than in a Congressional office, and some cover only the Legislative sessions that typically start in January next year and end three months later.

New Jobs Come Late for Democrats

In the past--under Ronald Reagan and Bush 41 and Bush 43--Republican strategists believed that some curse afflicted them when it came to the timing announcements for unemployment and jobs figures. It seemed that just after any campaign wherein the Republican president and his party were attacked for high unemployment rates the picture would improve almost immediately after the election. That was frustrating.

Now the curse seems to have settled on the Democrats. Today's jobs report shows 151,000 new jobs created in October, the greatest gain since April. Had the numbers come out last week there would have been quite a lot of partisan crowing. The "summer of recovery" finally would have arrived, albeit a couple of months late. Instead, there has to be some gnashed teeth at the White House and the Democratic National Committee. Of course, skeptics might point out that the unemployment rate remains stubbornly at 9.6 percent.

The employment/unemployment numbers are collected each month by the Census Bureau (in two forms, based on business' unemployment figures and on self-reported figures by individuals). Then they are analyzed and publicly announced by the Labor Department. No peaking allowed at the White House, which is probably a good thing if you want people to believe in the objective of our statistical services.

November 4, 2010

California Not as One-Party as it Seems

Republicans disappointed that their gubernatorial and senatorial candidates lost in California have been writing off the future of the Golden State as far as two-party competition is concerned. Among other things, in comparison to the country as a whole, the political identification of voters going into the polls in California Tuesday was far more Democratic--by 13 points. Seen that way, it's surprising that Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina did as well as they did.

Moreover, once in the voting booth, Californians voted this year to end the budgetary restraint that exists now and allow a simple majority, rather than two thirds, of the Legislature to approve a budget. It seemed like a harmless vote, a way to end gridlock, but effectively it assures runaway spending, followed by higher and higher taxes. The voters also voted against Proposition 23 that would have delayed implementation of California's severe new anti-global warming law until unemployment dropped to five percent.

Continue reading "California Not as One-Party as it Seems" »

Demographics, Schmemographics: Issues Decided the Election

In order to get the post-election agenda right, it is important that the election itself be understood. It was about issues: spending, jobs, taxes, over-regulation. William Galston's article, "It's the Ideology, Stupid," gets that right at the liberal New Republic. Others are trying to rationalize the outcome; people were confused, the White House didn't do a good enough job communicating, etc. The best path ahead for Democrats is to come to terms with reality.

The old legislative rubric is, if you have the votes, vote; if you don't, talk. In this election the rubric was, if you have the issues, campaign on the issues; if not, throw sand in the voters' eyes.

How to Trap a Lame Duck

The economy needs investors to get back to investing. They have demurred out of fear of tax rate increases and a general uncertainty about the government's intentions. A short term (e.g., two year) extension, as the Administration, post-election, seems prepared to grant, will not work well. It is urgent to settle the Bush tax cuts as normative until at least after the next election, as our senior fellow, John Wohlstetter, points out in his Letter from Washington:

"The outlines of a compromise tax bill are being suggested by pols & pundits alike.  Essentially, the compromise under consideration would permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for those below a certain income ceiling ($250K is Obama's number, $1M is Chuck Schumer's number), while extending the tax cuts for those above the ceiling for two years.  GOP leaders may support this idea.

"Here is the trap: Tax cuts only increase incentives to invest if they are sufficiently long-term to induce investors to increase investment.  Ideally the reductions would all be permanent, maximizing incentives to invest.  Tax rebates (such as those signed by President Bush 43) do not change incentives, and thus to not stimulate economic activity.  Permanent tax cuts (e.g., President Reagan's 1982 cut & the 1978 & 1998 capital gains tax cuts) increase government revenue (capital gains historically increase in the first year the new rates take effect).

Continue reading "How to Trap a Lame Duck" »

November 3, 2010

Electoral Determinism May Overcome Demographic Determinism

America is becoming a more heterogeneous society, with growing percentages of people from other countries and cultures, especially Latin Americans. The election of 2008 was thought to be the watershed moment when the old stock white Americans, who tended to vote for people like John McCain, were overcome in influence and votes by the new Obama coalition that included blacks, Latinos, urban progressives and "mind workers", blue collar workers, gays, and youth. James Carville wrote a book called "Forty More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation," that limned this theory.

There is something to it, but the obvious hole in it is the same that is seen in all theories of social determinism--the assumption that the future will be a direct line projection of the present. Once upon a time, for example, "Irish Americans" voted Democratic and, as their numbers grew, it was thought, so too would their role in expanding the Democratic party. Trouble was, starting with Eisenhower in 1952, voters of Irish ancestry started swinging to the Republicans. Something similar may happen to Latinos, who are not a monolithic group even now. Likewise blacks. Several Republicans with Latino background were elected this Tuesday, including two governors (Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada), at least four new House members (Jaime Herrera in Washington, Francisco Conseco and Bill Flores of Texas, Raul Labrador of Idaho, and David Rivera in Florida) and Marco Rubio of Florida in the Senate. (Florida has two other House seats occupied by Republicans of Hispanic background.) Two new members of the House Republican Caucus are black, West of Florida and Scott of South Carolina.

Continue reading "Electoral Determinism May Overcome Demographic Determinism" »

Importance of the Ground Game

The Tea Party taught the pros in both parties several lessons, including the value of a clear populist message, but the pros have shown the Tea Party a thing or two, also. Decades ago Ray Bliss, Republican National Chairman, preached the importance of "organization," to the point that sound policies and a compelling campaign message were relatively neglected. Regardless, there was no doubt that Bliss' home state of Ohio in those days, and even today, was famous for its GOP organization in depth. This year the Republicans won back control of the governorship, both houses of Ohio's legislature and replaced one Republican senator (Voinovich) with another (Rob Portman), and added four new US House seats.

This year the Republican Party National Committee did much less well in fundraising than did the rival Democrats, and it showed in turnout efforts. In contrast, the NRCC (GOP House campaign committee) did much better than its Democratic counterpart.

Meanwhile, outside conservative groups like American Crossroads were immensely successful in matching overall pro-Democratic spending on ads and internet efforts. Trouble is, TV ads this year went beyond saturation to over-kill. Sometimes the ads piled on top of one another. Yet Republicans paid in places like Nevada and California for lack of year round paid organizational effort.

Continue reading "Importance of the Ground Game" »

November 2, 2010

Politics' World Series Is Over, Now Back to Inside Baseball

The pundits, if not the people, have spoken and the Republicans are expected to make major gains in Congress. There probably will be some nail biters that signal plane loads of party lawyers to descend on whatever unfortunate jurisdiction has the close race. If the anguishing contest(s) happen in a state with all mail or mostly mail-in ballots, expect weeks of frustration and outrage. Just what you wanted at the end of a long, bitter campaign

But that's not the half of it. Remember the Lame Duck session? It has to happen. All the big tax and budget decisions were put off in order not to rile up the natives. The natives, having become quite riled up anyhow, will now watch, and comment on, either a statesmanlike effort by Democrats to compromise with the outnumbered, but just-mandated Republicans, as a pile of prickly issues grows on legislative desks. Among them: income tax rates scheduled to jump in January; the Alternative Minimum Tax (many millions of middle income families will pay if this annual adjustment is not approved, and even if they are forced to pay now, they will pay back later the party that hits them with a tax supposedly levied on the rich only); and the estate tax (death tax) that, if not prevented, will rise to 55 percent in January ("Shoot me now!").

When they've got all that settled, they can resolve the budget that didn't get passed.

Continue reading " Politics' World Series Is Over, Now Back to Inside Baseball" »

November 1, 2010

"The Ground Game" and the Election Outcome

Candidates who are a bit behind in the polls are counting on either "enthusiasm" or their "ground game" (or both) to win for them.

The ground game is mainly about painstaking efforts to identify voters--door to door is most effective--and then get them to the polls. As Ford O'Connell and Steve Pearson of The Daily Caller observe, in modern campaigns TV is essential but insufficient, particularly in a close race.

Polls show a Republican tide, but look closely and you see that while people who seem to be "likely voters" are prepared to vote Republican this year "registered voters" are more Democratic.

Organizational action can make up for a deficit of commitment on the part of voters. Public employee unions are good at the ground game, whereas only once recently, in 2004, have Republicans developed a ground game that was very successful. Therefore, to the extent Democrats are able to get their voters out they will cut their otherwise major losses tomorrow.

Of course, one problem with a ground game: getting voters to the polls may bring out a goodly proportion that don't wind up voting your way!

October 29, 2010

Oh, Please Propose "Universal National Service"

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is a powerful member of the current House majority. He has serious competition in the election this year, but is expected to survive just fine. One of the bills he loves most and would like to see the Obama Administration embrace is expansion of National Service to make it universal and mandatory. At 18 you would serve either in the military or in some approved civilian (government-funded) position, such as hospital care, education, or parks maintenance. A bill to achieve this aim already has been submitted.

President Obama himself endorsed the idea in the 2008 campaign, but then dropped it, as World Net Daily reminds us today, and it is a favorite of many progressives. It also is an idea that has been around since well before the military draft was abolished in the early 70s. That means that the arguments are well known. Ultimately, the sides trace to differing worldview conceptions of freedom and service. Progressives of an idealistic bent suppose that if voluntarism is good, the benefits would only increase if service became universal and compulsory. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead suggested back in 1966, think of the crooked teeth that could be straightened if all young people came through the hands of the government in their late teens; think of the improvements to study habits and personal hygiene that could be effected by a stint in "service". You see, we could help the younger generation (the folks who have trouble otherwise cleaning up their rooms) even as we taught them to help others.

Continue reading "Oh, Please Propose "Universal National Service"" »

October 28, 2010

Campaign Conversion of Barney Frank

I was at Harvard with Barney Frank. He was immensely popular in front of a crowd, the scourge of authority, tribune of of uncommon sense, the court jester of liberalism. The more outrageous he seemed, the more the university folk urged him on. Barney learned that you could make rude funny. He later apparently found that in Massachusetts discourteous tactics that would be regarded as out of bounds for a conservative were all right--almost a source of satisfaction--on the majoritarian left. In Congress today, people not his equals in power are afraid of him.

Rep. Frank, along with Sen. Dodd and Sen. Schumer, was one of the biggest defenders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when the Bush Administration tried to reform them.

Peter Wallison also was at Harvard about the time that Barney Frank was performing. Peter, an ace lawyer and former Treasury official, is soft spoken, immensely amused by politics and life, but in a gentle way. He also is deeply knowledgeable about the legal and financial mistakes that led to the housing bubble. He warned about it for at least nine years before the bubble burst and then he described that process to any who would listen. A fellow at AEI, he is writing a book about the subject.

Today Peter writes at AEI's American blog about the surprising acknowledgements by Rep. Frank a few weeks ago that maybe, just maybe, it was a mistake to insist on government support for bad housing loans. But, he concludes, the turnaround in Barney's thinking seem to have been a temporary diversion.

One way or another, the new Congress is likely to take up Peter Wallison's topic, regardless of whether Barney Frank is on board.

Time for Compromise? Maybe, Maybe Not

If 75 percent of Americans, according to some polls, don't know who Rep. John Boehner of Ohio is--even though a Republican capture of the House would likely make him Speaker--they surely are even less familiar with Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. Chairman of the Republican Conference, Pence is the number two ranking Republican in the House. More importantly, he is being considered as a dark horse candidate for President. Many conservatives comment approvingly about his general voting record, character and "viability."

Tomorrow Rep. Pence is slated to speak on behalf of Daniel Webster, who is running for a Florida seat the GOP is probably going to pick up next Tuesday. According to, Pence is going to declare, contrary to some recent DC gossip, that a GOP majority would not be inclined to compromise with Democrats, including the President.

Regardless of how you feel about this theme, don't get too excited. A party that doesn't stand firmly for the program upon which it campaigned (in this case, spending cuts, no tax increases and reduced regulation) would demoralize its supporters. On the other hand, most voters know, as they did with Ronald Reagan, for example, that government entails responsibility to...well...govern. So, if Republicans get control of the House, or even the House and Senate, they still will be unable to roll over the President. What they can do is deny spending approvals and tax increases. They can hold hearings about government abuses, including over-regulation. They can pass good bills that it will force the Senate and the President to go on record, one way or another. And....they can compromise, on those occasions when getting half a loaf is better than none.

What people want to see, I think, is steely resolve to put principles into action. On the other hand, they don't expect or want ostrich-like avoidance of realities. It's hard to see the dividing line, of course, especially a week before an election. But it's there and finding it is a test of leadership.

October 27, 2010

Time for Real Election Reform

Relatives asked me a couple of days ago if I wasn't concerned about all the "corporate" money coming into campaigns "anonymously" this year. Implicit in the question is the idea that the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court has made soft money campaigning so profitable that literally hundreds of millions have been raised outside the two political parties this year.

Surely the cure is to have more laws to control or, even better, prohibit such activity?

Actually, no. If anything, the new money merely begins to compensate for the even vaster sums of money that government unions have long been able to put into campaigns and the natural advantages that our current laws give to incumbents. Even this year, incumbent Democrats, for example, are far out-raising their Republican opponents.

Continue reading "Time for Real Election Reform" »

Marriage Down, Poverty Up

Twenty eight years ago a Census Bureau study by Dr. Gordon Green, an economist and chief of the bureau's Government Division, revealed that poverty was not going up in those days because of lack of federal programs to support the poor, but because of family breakups. This was a splash of cold water on the face of social analysis in America since it contradicted the familiar trope that it is poverty that causes family breakups. In fact, to repeat, it is family breakup that causes chronic poverty in most cases.

Now the Census is out with another study. We see poverty growing again, even during relatively good times (2008, before the economic slump began to bite) and this time it is happening largely because families are not forming at all. Marriage is going out of style among the poor. It is not too much in style among the upper classes, either.

No one wants to talk about this as a public policy issue, but it is major. Some 3.7 million Americans fell into poverty in 2008, which, as I say, was well before the brunt of the recession was felt. Crucially, single mothers bearing children out of wedlock are five times more likely to fall into poverty than those women who are married.

Continue reading "Marriage Down, Poverty Up" »

The Myth that Social Conservatism is Losing Ground

Jay Richards, a senior fellow of Discovery Institute and editor of the new Discovery book, God and Evolution, today debunks the idea that the salience of economic issues in the 2010 mid-term elections means that prospective Republican gains mean that the GOP will be less friendly to conservative social issues. The opposite seems to be true. Social conservatives happen to see a moral dimension to economics that other voters miss.

Most of the new candidates are conservative on all issues, including abortion, for example. It's just that some campaigns are fought over different sets of priorities, depending on the year. Sometimes it is social issues, sometimes foreign policy, and this time it's the constellation of spending, jobs and taxes.

October 25, 2010

The Next 9/11 May Well be a Cyber Attack


Watch out for what is not being covered prominently in the news. There were many warnings about Islamist terrorism before 2001, including an explosion detonated at the World Trade Towers. Yet Americans preoccupied with domestic politics in September 2001 were caught unawares by the jihadists, changing our lives ever since. Likewise, the Bush Administration itself, and Sen. John McCain, were warning about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the mis-regulated housing market as early as 2003. Yet they and all of us were thinking about politics, not economics, when the bubble burst in the fall of 2008, bringing about the slump we still endure.

Today, we are getting news about cyber-warfare that should alert even the politicos and observers fastened completely on next week's mid-term Congressional elections. Seymour Hersh is not my favorite writer, but give him credit for the warning in the latest New Yorker, "The Online Threat".

According to Hersh, there is a bureaucratic territorial struggle between the Department of Homeland Security, which is adding 1000 cyber security staff, and the N.S.A. (Sound familiar?) There is also a struggle between the cause of defending against cyber-attacks--which would militate in favor of everyone, public and private, obtaining encryption (which is available already)--and the interests of the military in having as much acces so computers as possible in order to catch cyber-terrorists in the act.

But surely if we know that encryption is the way to go, so do our opponents? To put it another way, if encryption is outlawed (or discouraged), only outlaws will use encryption. That is an exaggeration, but sanguine predictions that the kinds of terrorists who would like to destroy us (e.g., al Qaida) rather than merely spy on us (e.g., the Chinese) are unlikely to attack successfully and soon remind me of the same sanguine attitudes toward homeland attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon--prior to September, 2001. It will not go well with today's national leaders if they fail this time to protect us. Of course, in case of a successful cyber-attack, it will not go well with any of us.

What the Juan Williams Case Opened Up

Former Bush aide Peter Wehner submits in a Commentary magazine post today that the Juan Williams affair--and the revealing and damaging comment by Vivian Schiller, NPR's CEO, that Juan Williams might want to see his "psychiatrist"--has exposed NPR to new and unwanted scrutiny. The threat to NPR is not so much that the government will cut off its funding--it's only a small share of NPR's budget, assigned through the quasi-governmental Corporation for Public Broadcasting--but that foundations and corporations that in the past have seen NPR as a neutral news source they could sponsor without risk to their reputation may now become cautious. As is, NPR already gets a lot of its money from groups that have an ideological stake in how news is covered.

The most serious immediate repercussion of the Juan Williams firing may be that Mara Liasson's position is now rendered shaky. Liasson is less well known than Williams, but is a generally well regarded newswoman who appears on Fox as well as NPR. If NPR's stated policies regarding Fox are strictly enforced, she may be forced to choose.

Meanwhile, if Republicans win control of the House, you also may see hearings about NPR and its objectivity.

October 22, 2010

The Education of Juan Williams

Twenty nine years ago, Juan Williams was a brash young reporter for the Washington Post. I was at a convivial luncheon party where he didn't really recognize me as a new member of the Reagan Administration. With his guard down he let it be known at our table what contempt he had for President Reagan and his policies. He was so harsh that I remember thinking, I don't believe I should ever allow myself to be interviewed by this man.

Indeed, a couple of years later, I had moved from the Census Bureau to the White House's Office of Planning and Evaluation. One of our initiatives was development of a family issues program--one that led in time to changes in the tax treatment of families, enactment of adoption-friendly policies and an anti-crime effort to protect missing and exploited children. Somehow, Juan Williams got wind of the families initiative and decided to write about it.

Continue reading "The Education of Juan Williams" »

October 30, 2010

Moving Toward Government Of, By and For the Government


This year, for the first time, the general public is becoming aware that the huge debts of states and local governments are largely the result of public pensions and salaries that under collective bargaining have far outpaced inflation. As The Economist reports, they now are at a point that they probably cannot be paid back without bankrupting some jurisdictions. Facing freezes or cutbacks, it is no wonder the unions are among the most ardent proponents of tax increases.

What people are discovering, in this and other ways, is that the biggest special interest in government is the government itself. The part of the electorate that is never bored by an election campaigns and that never fail to vote are the public employee unions. Do you want to hold a rally? If you're on their side, they'll supply the crowd. Do you want someone to attack your opponent? Look to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee Union (AFSCME), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and their counterparts.

This year is different only in that the power of government unions finally are getting some media attention. The Wall Street Journal has reported that public employee unions not only are bigger than private sector unions, but are supplying more campaign cash than any other group.

How did the government unions get such power? A hundred years ago the study of government was not considered a "science" in any modern way. Americans and Englishmen studied "political economy" or "government," or just "history". Asked how to take a role in government, Churchill advised, "Study history! In history are all the secrets of statecraft."

But starting in the late 19th Century American college graduates found reasons to do advanced study in Bismarkian Germany, where universities had invented something called "political science." Like everything else in their government, the social democrats and social Darwinists of Germany wanted to turn what--since the time of Aristotle--had been regarded as a art or craft into "science", a predictable, testable field reserved to experts. The American graduate students came home to places like Johns Hopkins and Columbia and created "political science" departments.

Continue reading "Moving Toward Government Of, By and For the Government" »

October 21, 2010

Huge New Bailout Coming for Fannie & Freddie

Rep. Barney Frank is beginning to own up to his mistaken judgment in the runaway spending at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--which played a huge role in the housing bubble. But, meanwhile, the Administration is planning an even bigger bailout for these two semi-governmental entities.

This is the most significant and most neglected issue in the current campaign. The airwaves are alive with exaggerated attacks on opponents' character and slippery insinuations about opponents' policies. But the glaring issue that started the recession--and may cause a double dip--is still not being faced.

In Britain the new Conservative/Liberal government is cracking down on many of the "quangos" (quasi-governmental organizations) that operate largely outside the accountability of parliamentary democracy. But America has not begun to do anything similar.

October 18, 2010

Higher Taxes May Mean Less Charity

Raising taxes--as planned for next year, if President Obama has his way--will likely lead to a continued decline in charitable giving. The poor economy of the last two years already is taking its toll on non-profits that count on donations.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy today reports that the top 400 charities in America experienced an 11 percent decline in contributions for 2009.

As an indication of how stock drops can hurt charity, the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund plummeted 40.3 percent in 2009, according to the report.

On the other hand, some charities experienced an increase, perhaps attributable to those with jobs trying to help out more in hard times. Something similar happened in the early days of the Depression. Catholic Charities, for example, rose an impressive 60 percent. World Vision and AmeriCares both posted gains.

The economy is a bit better in 2010 and the charitable sector therefore may stabilize or show a tiny gain this year (the Chronicles report sees a possible 1.6 percent rise). But if taxes go up as planned in 2011--the income tax, the capital gains tax, the Estate Tax, and state and local taxes and fees--you can probably expect a further belt-tightening.

For me, the implication is clear: money the government gets will come partly at the expense of private philanthropy.

October 16, 2010

New "Stimulus" Okay if It's for Seniors?

The White House and Congressional Democrats have been trying to recover from assertions that they have wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on unproductive stimulus programs that failed to stimulate. Yet now, in face of a second year with negligible inflation, the President and Speaker Pelosi are promising to give a $250 check to seniors to over-ride the Social Security law that provides a cost of living increase (COLA) for recipients only if there there really is a cost of living increase in the economy. The point of the law is that people on fixed incomes cannot accommodate to inflation, so a cola is warranted in such times. However, we are in an economy with little or no inflation, and where, on the other hand, our future is burdened with ever-increasing federal deficits--now $1.3 trillion.

Reckless U.S. spending is contributing to a weakening of the dollar worldwide. Eventually, with further Fed paper manufacturing expected, the effective devaluation of the dollar will lead to inflation in American prices. Oddly, the President and Speaker Pelosi are causing the very kind of problem they supposedly would like to compensate for.

Candidates this fall who have been had a born-again conversion to fiscal integrity should think hard before they get behind this latest boondoggle. "Rather than pluinge $14 billion deeper into debt, Congress should get to work to save Social Security, averting painful across-the-board cuts for those in an near retirement as scheduled under current law, " is the way Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) puts it.

Some liberal voices already have been raised again the latest cyncial election campaign pander. "On this the president gets a failing grade," says a Washington Post editorial this morning.

October 14, 2010

Truth Emerging About Economic Meltdown

Rep. Barney Frank's re-election campaign has become the scene of a surprising spate of truth-telling about the economic meltdown in the housing market that began two years ago this fall and still complicates recovery. Several stories have appeared in which Mr. Frank acknowledges his own failure to grasp the true nature of the problem seven years ago when something still could be done. In fact, he and Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut virtually demonized those warning of danger.

The Bush Administration at the time was trying to promote more regulatory oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and Sen. John McCain was sponsor of unsuccessful legislation on the topic. Unfortunately, they did not push hard enough and publicly enough. When the crisis broke in 2008, Sen. McCain did not even understand at first that his own warnings of three years earlier had been vindicated. He pointed instead at "Wall Street greed."

In fact, a very large majority of bad loans in 2008 were those arranged by federal agencies.

The federal commission that is supposed to be looking into the whole matter is slated to report to the public by December 15 this year. Rumors are that the report is slow in developing and may not make its deadline. Nonetheless, the pressures of campaigning and the current tensions over foreclosures seem to be bringing the subject back into view.

It's important that the full truth of the 2008 economic crisis be told and be told accurately if we are to dig out permanently from the current economic slump.

October 13, 2010

The Futility of Polls

In Washington, DC today, I find the place awash with polls. All show Republican gains in the Congressional and state elections three weeks off, but the polling range is from a few points in the Democrats' direction nationally--based on registered voters--to a Republican blowout, with gains of 60 or so House seats, based on likely voters and a relatively low turnout. Faced with such data, the political prognosticators descend into complicated matrices of analysis.

Nonetheless, the trend is Republican. However, when Bloomberg News' poll asked voters for their opinion of the Republican Party, 49 percent expressed an unfavorable view. Democrats have a 46 percent unfavorable rating.
So, what does that tell us? Well, to start with, it would be a real surprise if voters ever expressed a strong positive feeling for either party. In our ironic age, one doesn't want to sound credulous--not when the TV is ablaze with negative ads about both parties. In other words, the poll question itself is suspect. People tell you what party they like by telling you about the party they don't like.

But as for the present national trend, one pollster I met today provided the curious, possibly telling (but "anecdotal") information that he was having trouble finding an adequate Democratic sample for his polls. For example, in a state with two to one Democrat registration, he lately has had trouble getting two out of three people to even identify themselves as Democrats. That alone say something about the condition of the brand right now.

On the ground interviews with voters, door to door, in the style of the late Sam Lubell, would be most instructive at this juncture in a national campaign, but I don't know of anyone doing such shoe leather research these days.

Relying mainly on polls is like an intelligence agency resting its judgment mainly on data intercepts rather than "Humint", the human intelligence gathered by old fashioned spies. We don't need spies in politics, but some old fashioned, on the ground interviews would give the current picture more vividness, more clarity.

October 11, 2010

How the Rich will Cope When Their Taxes Go Up


When the irrepressible Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform makes a speech these days he likes to pass out a sheet that lists all the tax increases that are coming on line in the weeks ahead. (His website provides the list, too.) You get the idea that even if the Tea Party and its candidates swept the elections clean next month there would be no stopping some of the tax hikes. And it all is going to hit in the midst of a de facto recession.

A former Bush economic adviser from Harvard, N. Gregory Mankiw, wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times this past weekend that people like him simply will work less when taxes get so high that added income only represents a gift to the government. In effect, they will withhold some of their labor, and it is the economy that will feel the loss.

Unfortunately, most Americans are too young to recall the 1970s when this kind of dis-incentive last obtained. In England, pre-Thatcher, it was even worse. I remember visiting London in those days and remarking on all the highly visible money. I remember exclaiming, Some economic slump!

The trouble was, appearances were deceptive. For a wealthy person, the last dollars (or Euros) he earns in a high tax economy are virtually worthless to him, so he or she not only spends less time working, but more time in consumption of luxuries. You saw lots of Rolls Royces on the street in the old U.K. There was Lucullan, expense account-driven eating at fine restaurants. Business and law offices became grande and imposing. That sort of thing escapes the tax man. Plenty of other money went into pricey property overseas, especially in tax havens like the Bahamas.

Continue reading "How the Rich will Cope When Their Taxes Go Up" »

October 8, 2010

Big Hurricane Season that Wasn't

One of the pleasures of the Internet is that it allows one to keep track of predictions for later references. Once again this year we heard that 2010 was going to be a big hurricane year. Well, it's about over, and it wasn't. Once again.

This is how much we know about climate.

October 7, 2010

One Small Step for Voting Sanity

It was hard to believe that a federal court would overturn a state ban on voting by convicted felons serving prison time. But it happened. Now, fortunately, a 9th Circuit Court has reversed that decision and supported the State of Washington--and the 47 other states that ban felons voting.

Had the suit succeeded, can you imagine the nature of politicking in the pen? The precinct meetings? The doorbelling by candidates? The promises of the pols? The vote buying?

Can you also imagine why recruiting votes in the prison might attract certain politicians?

October 6, 2010

No Election Yet, But the "Pre-Mortems" Begin

Almost a month before the mid-term Congressional elections it may seem premature to start analyzing the failures of the new President. But that isn't stopping the pundits, including the previously laudatory Gloria Borger of CNN. "They didn't change Washington," she concludes, and describes the early strategic error of thinking that the White House could push its own agenda while it was trying to rescue the economy, even though it was the economy that had given Democrats their election mandate and complete control of the federal government.

Continue reading "No Election Yet, But the "Pre-Mortems" Begin" »

October 3, 2010

Federal Accreditation, Next Step to Takeover of Higher Education

Private colleges and universities have been quite willing to bow the knee to the federal government since federal aid began to arrive in the 1960s. But that may not be enough. The Obama Administration wants to tie its student loans and other grants to a new accreditation process that would make receipt of any funds--by students or faculty or administrators--subject to conformance to federal standards passed on to the states. This development could lead to an effective control of higher education by Washington, DC.

This threat should stir up even the laziest, conformist college president and trustees. Dissent is frowned up by this Administration. Academic freedom on many campuses already is confined. Now whatever is left may be placed in PC jeopardy. Robert Knight has the story in the Washington Times.

Knight calls attention to a Denver Post article by former U.S. senators Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown, who also have served as presidents of universities in Colorado, warning of the federal Department of Education's plans. "The department's power grab carries with it an implicit invitation for various pressure groups to seek legal mandates requiring colleges and universities to implement their pet theories about curriculum, degree requirements, faculty qualifications, teaching methods, textbooks, evolution, phonics, ROTC, climate change, family policy, abortion, race, sexual orientation, economic theory, etc. ... This assault on academic freedom and institutional autonomy is a slap in the face to regional accreditation agencies whose peer reviews have been bulwarks of integrity and academic quality for decades. Loss of accreditation is literally a death sentence."

Brown and Armstrong warn that action may be taken as early as next month to effectuate the new government role.

October 2, 2010

As Governor, Jerry Brown was Vociferous Foe of Vietnamese Immigration

Jerry Brown, as candidate for Governor of California in 2010, is presenting himself as a strong friend of immigration, but when he was governor in 1975 he was the nation's most outspoken and active foe of immigration by political refugees from Vietnam. It is astonishing, as I visit California this week, to see how this relevant history seemingly has been forgotten.

I remember it very well. After the post-Watergate election of 1974, an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress cut off support for the government of South Vietnam. At the end of April, 1975, it became apparent suddenly that Saigon would fall. Almost as soon, the possibility arose that some, possibly large numbers of Vietnamese would try to flee the country as the Communists took over.

Eventually, about 130,000 Vietnamese successfully settled in the United States. They and their children beame citizens, and, as it happens, many reside in such places as Orange County and San Jose. The nation's first Congressman of Vietnamese decent, Anh ("Joseph") Cao, was elected recently in New Orleans as a Republican.

But in 1975 Gov. Jerry Brown made it starkly clear that he did not want any Vietnamese to come to his state. He went further and tried to stop them from coming. Julia Vedala Taft, who chaired President Ford's interagency task force on refugees recalled, "'The new governor of California, Jerry Brown, was very concerned about refugees settling in his state. Brown even attempted to prevent planes carrying refugees from landing at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento. . . . The secretary of health and welfare, Mario Obledo, felt that this addition of a large minority group would be unwelcome in California. And he said that they already had a large population of Hispanics, Filipinos, blacks, and other minorities.'"

At the time, I was Secretary of State in Washington State. I had a friend who had married a Vietnamese woman and was trying frantically to help her family escape. I contacted Joel Pritchard, a member of Congress from Seattle, who said that his information was that few of the "boat people" and other refugees would succeed in getting out. But I knew from history that some determined and perceptive people usually do find a way to flee tyranny, as, for example, in Europe before World War II. I called another friend, Les Janka, who served under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Janka reported that refugees were getting out all right, but that Governor Brown's opposition to any of them settling in his state was making it hard to win national support for helping them.

I then called our own governor, Daniel J. Evans, who was out of town at a conference, but was able to take my call. Evans didn't have a lot of respect for his California colleague and was undaunted by the challenge of differing with him. The next day he assigned two aides, (future Secretary of State) Ralph Munro and Tom Pryor, state director of Emergency Services, to see what the state could do to help. Importantly he announced publicly that, in contrast to California, Washington State would accept refugees from Vietnam. Very quickly, Evans' announcement was welcomed by a relieved State Department. When the time came, Govenor and Mrs. Evans personally met the first planeloads of Vietnamese refugees to land on our shores--after a brief stop at a military base in California. Instead of trying to keep out the refugees, our state warmly welcomed and assisted them.

That was a moment that brought pride to Washington and to Governor Evans. The contrast with the attitude of Gov. Jerry Brown could not be more striking.

It's useful to recall the times: In 1975 the new Vietnamese arrivals represented no voting bloc. Backing them offered no elector advantage, while there was an anti-war sentiment in California that applauded Brown's stand. However, four years later, as he prepared for a run for president, Gov. Brown set up a committee to consider how to help the refugees. But I don't know of his ever admitting that he had been wrong in the first place.

This vivid memory is very much on my mind, therefore, as I hear what seem like opportunistic statements about immigration from the revived gubernatorial candidate of 2010, Jerry Brown. Once again, the man seems mostly motivated by political expediency, not principle.

September 27, 2010

Conventional Wisdom at Harvard


A Wall Street Journal review of a book on the works of economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) describes the Paul Krugman of his day, a highly politicized economist on the left. Galbraith scornfully coined the term, "the conventional wisdom", but in truth he exemplified it.

James Grant of Grant's Interest Rate Observer demonstrates that the highly decorated Galbraith--he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice--was an uncommonly charming and witty writer. It's just too bad that his economic recommendations were almost always wrong. In the mid-50's he predicted another Great Depression and kept predicting it as markets soared to new heights. An adviser to presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson in '52 and '56, he certainly knew young Sen. John F. Kennedy, but it was not Galbraith whose advice President Kennedy took when marginal tax rates were cut in the 60s and another boom ensued.

Continue reading " Conventional Wisdom at Harvard" »

September 22, 2010

Phony Biology Claims Back Embryo Research

Discovery Institute senior fellow Wesley Smith, who co-directs our Center on Human Exceptionalism, is on top of the continuing effort to obscure just what is at stake in human embryo research. Since they are not getting very far in arguing that only human embryos can yield productive stem cell medical advances (because experience doesn't back up that claim), the proponents are reduced to misrepresenting the biology.

Continue reading "Phony Biology Claims Back Embryo Research" »

September 21, 2010

The Prejudice Against Candidates who are Poor

Those who cherish our representative form of government should fight back hard against the trends that militate against anyone running for office who isn't rich or financially subsidized. True friends of popular democracy especially should be on guard against bogus "reformers" like the so-called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government that file "process" lawsuits in the midst of political campaigns to damage financially strapped candidates.

In an assault this week, the self-appointed "Citizens" organization--described by the AP as a "government watchdog"--attacks Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell in Delaware for using campaign funds to pay her rent and other personal expenses. The complaint is as unjust as it is petty.

Continue reading "The Prejudice Against Candidates who are Poor" »

September 20, 2010

Public Unions Move to Front of Politics

Nobody anywhere wants to take on the public employee unions. First of all, while the problem with the unions is not the members, but the leadership, it is hard to make that clear if the latter are running an "independent" ad campaign tearing you apart. Second, while businesses can take advantage of "soft money" provisions in elections, they so far have been shy about doing so; they have mixed constituencies, after all, and they are afraid of retribution. But labor unions toil under no such inhibitions. Third, unlike the business sector or manufacturing unions, public sector unions are not being hurt much by the recession. But they are very alarmed that future cutbacks may reach them. That means they currently have money to spend on political campaigns, along with ample motivation to spend it.

The role of the unions in politics is back in the news in England, where some old timers recall that resistance to union abuse in the 70s is what propelled Margaret Thatcher to power and maintained her there.

Continue reading "Public Unions Move to Front of Politics" »

September 19, 2010

770,000 Jobs Lost with Tax Hike

Robert J. Samuelson is one of the more adroit and useful economists writing for the media, and almost opposite from the ranting Paul Krugman, who finds a propaganda angle and then tries to support it. If anything, Samuelson of The Washington Post and Newsweek tries too much to coat his bitter pill of reality with sugary moral equivalence, as in Monday's column on whether tax hikes on "the rich" will help the economy.

You have to get well down in the article before you realize that the real point of the piece is the folly of raising taxes on investors and small businessmen in a recession.

Quoting Moody's, Samuelson cites predictions of 770,000 more jobs lost if the Obama tax increase goes through. Elsewhere Moody's has predicted a net loss of .4 percent of GDP with the tax increase. In other words, in the end, soaking the rich right now is a money loser for the federal government, as well as an economy poisoner.

September 17, 2010

America's "New Class"

Fifty three years ago a former Vice President of Communist Yugoslavia, Milovan Djilas, published a book that landed him in jail. It was called The New Class and it has changed the way we understand the people at the top of societies that employ propaganda and coercion to replace a reviled former set of rulers with a new set--one just as privileged, if not more so, and one more autocratic than the class it removed.

Later, in the Soviet Union, the term "Nomenklatura" was used for those party leaders, generals and top bureaucrats who were entitled to the best apartments and "dachas", access to foreign luxury goods, travel and resort vacations and top educational opportunities for one's children.

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Baseball is as American as, well, Free Enterprise

Earlier this week New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter was embroiled in a minor controversy when he pretended to be hit by a pitch and so got a free ticket to first base. Replays, and an after-game admission by Jeter, proved that he hadn't been hit by the pitch at all, but simply pretended to have been. Even as he was pretending the home plate umpire was telling him to take his base. Whether he was granted the base because of his dramatic antics is unclear, as the umpire seemed to already have been persuaded that he'd been hit by the pitch. You can watch MLB's coverage which shows you specifically what happened. And then the fallout.

Needless to say. there are a lot of views within the sports world about what transpired that are all over the board. While this is a rather minor instance to be sure, it still involves a major player. And I think it strikes a chord in Americans for a reason they may not realize. Because they're Americans! And by that I mean, capitalists. Entrepreneurs. People who like innovation and who like to succeed.

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September 16, 2010

"Wait 'til Next Year": the Mariners and America

Our senior fellow Michael Medved, who on the air brings the erudite down to earth, has an amusing column in USA Today comparing the sorry record of this year's Seattle Mariners and the current condition of America.

The fans are still around and good natured. The hot dogs and beer--and, in Seattle, the suchi--remain excellent. "It's still a joy and a privilege to watch the game," David reminds us.

September 14, 2010

Amazing Timing for Book on Tea Parties


Tonight's victories by Tea Party candidates in Delaware, New York and New Hampshire will be all over the news in the morning, and happily commenting on them will be Scott Rassmussen (of the Rassmussen Poll) and Doug Schoen. They are authors of Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System.

Their book's pub date is today. How is that for timing?

"So-called professionals in politics, business, and media have completely failed to comprehend the grassroots challenge to the status quo and have dismissed it as marginal and extreme," says the promo literature. "The authors explore the broad-based nature of the Tea Party movement and explain how it is reshaping American politics--whether politicians and elite journalists like it or not."

Rail Reform a Victim of Politics

It is, shall we say, like watching a train wreck. In various places, such as Wisconsin, the federal passenger rail program has become a symbol for the wastefulness of the Obama Administration. Republican and Democratic candidates for US Senate and Governorare at sword points over the issue.

In Wisconsin and elsewhere Democrats apparently want high speed inter-city passenger rail even under the present arrangements and Republicans primarily want to stop wasteful spending. Losing out in this Hobson's choice (no new passenger rail service or government bloat) is an objective analysis that might show how passenger rail responsibly can and should have a comeback for inter-city service, especially over intermediate distances (over 75 miles, under 500). It's the option that has been ignored by the Democrats and all but ignored by Republicans-- reform.

Reform in this context starts with two principles: 1) public works, including rail projects, should be managed as DBOMs--projects where the same winning bidders design, build, operate and even maintain the infrastructure. This lowers costs and usually maximizes private sector investment. 2) Encourage private contractors to bid for service on existing routes as well as new ones. If the private sector can figure out how to make money on a route, why should taxpayers continue to fund Amtrak to run it?

Recently, a French company won a Virginia contest to take over rail traffic from Amtrak. That is nearly unprecedented. Meanwhile, Amtrak has made the remarkable decision to fire its government Inspector General. Clearly, organizational reform is needed, too.

If the Republicans win either house of Congress, they should finally push for passenger rail reform. But first they have to decide whether any infrastructure will have their support, especially any future for passenger rail.

September 8, 2010

Coming Next, A Tea Party Protest Against Big Over-Bearing Non-Governmental Institutions

The Tea Party movement is a protest against big government spending, high taxation and over-regulation. You might say that the Internet is a protest against dominance of news and commentary by Big Media.

But there are other oppressive monopolies that are being challenged. And still other challenges are coming.

For example, there is rumbling against the largely unchecked power of large government unions that manage to grow and prosper as the private sector shrinks--and also escape much of the scrutiny that accompanies individuals' and businesses' forays into politics.

There is the growing frustration with a higher education monopoly. As the public finds out about sweetheart deals for tenured faculty and bureaucracy, and costs for students (and parents) rocket upwards, a higher education bubble is developing.

Continue reading "Coming Next, A Tea Party Protest Against Big Over-Bearing Non-Governmental Institutions" »

September 2, 2010

Speech Codes Beginning to Fall

Enacting speech codes on college campuses is one of those causes that leftists pursue to win arguments on which they cannot prevail democratically. It all sounds so reasonable and humane, avoiding "hurtful words", based on race, gender, etc., etc. But, in the end, the codes are really about stifling dissent. They almost always are applied against conservatives. If, indeed, a conservative tries to use a speech code against an "offensive" liberal, the judges (all liberals) will likely throw the case out, or maybe even reverse the case to target the party complaining.

From the beginning it should have been obvious that speech codes are inherently opposed to the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. The courts are now weighing in, and not a moment too soon. The Alliance Defense Fund deserves special congratulations for its leadership on these matters. A victory in the Third District court can now be applied elsewhere in the country.

August 29, 2010

What Happened to the "War for Oil"?


There are still cars zipping around America's bluer neighborhoods with bumper strips from way back in 2003: "No War for Oil."

That was the Iraq war, of course. There is no need to belabor the memories of the marches, the snide TV and radio commentaries, the alternative media fits about the supposed conspiracy. The idea that George W. Bush and his evil buddy, Dick Cheney, were sending American boys to die for oil was simply taken as a proven truth.

Only now, seven years later, as US combat troops leave Iraq, is oil production in Iraq finally back to its pre-war levels of production of 2.5 million barrels a day and easing upwards. Electricity production is doing better, but not great.

And the US oil companies that benefitted? Well, Exxon is there, but the biggest players are the Chinese. Does anyone remember the Chinese sending any troops to Iraq? Or the Russians?

Hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars have been spent on the Iraq war. By no conceivable accounting will anyone in the U.S. get that much back in Iraqi oil revenue--ever.

The Iraqis, meanwhile, do have oil as their big economic hope. The country's reserves are nearly those of Saudi Arabia and already supply 90 percent of government revenue. The big danger, simultaneously, is that oil will corrupt a country already steeped in traditions of corruption.

But it is long past time for those "No War for Oil" bumper strips to come off, don't you think?

August 25, 2010

False Panic Over Embryonic Stem Cells

The New York Times, as usual, leads the attack on the federal court ruling Monday against US Government funding for embryonic stem cell research (mainly through the National Institutes of Health), and as usual the reporting is tendentious.

"This decision has the potential to do serious damage to one of the most promising areas of biomedical research," says Dr. Francis Collins, director of NIH.

In a companion article ("The Two Plaintiffs at Center for the Ban on Stem Cell Use"), the Times employs innuendo to raise personal questions about the lead researchers who brought the case, Dr. James L. Shirley and Dr. Theresa Deisher. It is one of those stories that sounds worrying until you read it again and realize how empty the charges are. (Basically, the plaintiffs have had disputes with colleagues. Big surprise.) In other words, just because the Times runs a negative article about someone doesn't mean there is any content to the charges. The truth is that the scientists who are plaintiffs have put their careers at risk by taking on the Government and especially the likes of powerful funders at NIH--not to mention biased journalists. They are, in short, very courageous.

In a third article, "Stem Cell Biology and its Complications," way down the page, long after we read how people with diabetes and other ravaging diseases are distressed by possible funding cuts for cures, the Times admits, "Yet despite the high hopes for embryonic stem cells, progresss has been slow--so far there are no treatments with the cells." (Emphasis added.) After all these years and who know how much much money: "no treatments with the (embryonic stem) cells."

Finally, the Times leaps in with a fourth article, an editorial deploring the decision, "Wrong Direction on Stem Cells." Expect attacks by columnists to follow.

The plaintiffs would have no chance against that kind of stacked journalistic deck. Fortunately, they apparently have a better case in court.

Ideology is largely responsible for the insistence on embryonic stem cell research to the relative exclusion of other stem cell approaches. It is another case of Big Science and its journalists enablers acting like Big Brother.

August 24, 2010

Huge Victory for Social Conservatives

The news about the court victory for critics of embryonic stem cell research is huge, though it is not being played that way. You can be sure it would have been a bigger story if the case had been won by the government.

Nonetheless, it is in the first section of most papers and even on page one of the Wall Street Journal (above the fold). Theresa Deisher of Seattle is one of the plaintiffs who sued the Obama Administration over the matter. She kindly sent us a copy of the ruling, found here.

Obviously, the Administration will appeal. But they have been called out and the pro-life issues now have a legal force lacking before. It is amazing and grand that Deisher and company have shown what citizens can do--on the right side.

The Journal story says the ruling "was cheered by some Christian groups as a defense of human life" (imagine that), but "denounced by scientists who called it a major setback for medical research."

But it is not a setback for science. Deisher is a scientist in the field and Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow of Discovery Institute, has pointed out repeatedly that you don't need human embryos to get scientific progress using stem cells. Furthermore, evidence suggests that human embryos are bad candidates for research in the field.

Embryonic Stem Cells are wonderful candidates, of course, for the effort to pit human life defenders against people who long for medical advances. Judge Royce Lambert of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. has thrown a monkey wrench into that strategy.

August 10, 2010

Ted Stevens' Death Casts Pall on Politics


Former Senator Ted Stevens, killed in a tragic plane crash in his beloved Alaska, is going to be the source of a great deal of sadness and regret in his home state tonight. It should induce some soul searching in Washington, DC.

Before Sen. Stevens was killed in real life he was ruined in political life by unscrupulous federal prosecutors. He finally was able to clear his name in court, but the indictment that preceded the 2008 election was timed so it would be all but impossible for him to be re-elected. Even so, he nearly was re-elected. The final vote margin was small. Clearly he would have returned to the Senate had it not been for the malign political activity of the federal prosecuting team.

Ted Stevens will be hailed correctly as one of the greatest sons of our fiftieth state, a giant of the Senate, a remarkable, durable public servant.

I hope his life story also will help speed reform of the judicial system that allowed rogue prosecutors to play politics with his honor and, frankly, with the democratic rights of Alaskans and the political well-being of the country.

August 9, 2010

The Old South Wins the New Civil War

The special army of 2010 Census workers is still being demobilized, but we already know that the south (including Texas, of course) is going to gain a lot of new Congressmen and certain northern states are going to lose. You can chart the way various states are faring by examining the various counties within them. It was clear even from figures from the boom times of a couple of years ago; I expect that the trends are stronger now.

With the exception of the political swing state of Ohio, almost all the states that have backed liberal candidates for the White House and Congress lead those losing Congressional districts. It's a blue state phenomenon. But it is not politics that characterizes this decline, but public policies. States (including Ohio) that have over-spent and over-taxed are hurting most.


The new "civil war" is really a struggle over those public policies. California, which since statehood never before failed to gain Congressional representation, is not going to gain any after this Census. The once-Golden State actually is losing people by the hundreds of thousands as punitive taxes and regulations destroy manufacturing and agriculture. People who own or run factories and farms are being hurt, but so are their workers. The Central Valley is being literally decimated.

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August 3, 2010

New Book Pricks Higher Ed Bubble

Americans' superstitious belief in the assured blessings of a college diploma is waning. A degree by itself does not mean someone is well-educated, in the classic sense of, say, 100 years ago. If it did, there still would be an audience for philosophy, for example, and for poetry, but there is not.

A college diploma (in contrast to most doctoral degrees) also does not by itself signify that someone has acquired a vendable set of economic skills--the litmus test of most parents paying the bills these days. The current recession displays how inadequate a college degree has become, with your average espresso barista boasting a bachelor's degree in English literature theory or sociology. Slowly the frustration is growing among the young as they realize that they have not just been indulged, but cheated.

A college degree doesn't even mean that students are smarter, rather than merely older, than when they arrived as freshmen. Surveys show, for example, that some seniors know less about the U.S. Constitution and the American form of government (crucial knowledge for a responsible citizen in a republic that subsidizes these students' education) than do their first year counterparts.

But what our education system does accomplish in the college years is to provide increasingly good livings for tenured professors, largely trivial journals that publish their trivial writing on navel-gazing trivial subjects, and layers of administrators to create and manage forms.

The higher ed bubble is pricked in a new book by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Breifus that is reviewed today in the Wall Street Journal.

Before readers complain that the article and the book (and my comments above) constitute an overly sweeping indictment, let us all acknowledge that there are some fine colleges and that even the bad ones have a some good professors. A few professors can even be called outstanding, whether on teaching or research grounds, or both.

Okay? But let the reader also acknowledge that the institution of college education is ripe for reform. If nothing else, the customers will demand it.

August 1, 2010

Careful who you call "Crazy"

David Klinghoffer, a Discovery Institute fellow, published a column today in the LA Times descrying the descent of conservatism from the heights of "neocons" to the swamps of "crazycons", from the high-minded polemics of Bill Buckley (who did not see himself as a neocon, by the way), Irving Kristol and Richard John Neuhaus, to, well, internet innovator Andrew Breitbart and his supposedly "deceptive" attempt to reveal Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod as a racist. The latter episode, Klinghoffer thinks, typifies a rise of uncivil behavior and a decline of interest in positive policy alternatives.

The article is bound to provoke misunderstandings. Liberals will use it to pummel all conservatives and all conservative arguments, though that, of course, is not what Klinghoffer intended. (Exactly what he did intend is not at all clear.) Conservatives will see it--also incorrectly--as a demand that the Right lay off attacks on liberal leadership failures that are all too apparent in Washington, D.C.

This reminds me, sadly, of the early 60s when George Gilder and I criticized the Goldwaterites for tolerating segregationists and the John Birchers who was who were calling President Eisenhower a communist. We had good arguments on both points and maybe they helped lead to change. It certainly is gratifying to read recent historical accounts that show how Bill Buckley and others made a successful effort to turn the conservative movement around on civil rights and rhetorical extremism. Republicans in Congress at the time, as it happens, supported civil rights legislations in higher percentages than Democrats did, and the influence of the John Birch Society's paranoia managed to evaporate rather fast.

But meantime, many of the positive things Gilder and I were trying to contribute to right of center politics temporarily got lost in the controversy. Constructive conservative initiatives we tried to present languished. We found that we were perceived as foes by many on the right (that abated in time, of course), while the left only valued what we had to say so long as they could use it as a weapon against conservatives. The lesson I learned is that conservatives can make news by criticizing their natural allies, but seldom (given mainstream media bias) by criticizing their natural adversaries or by offering new policy ideas.

In only a few years it became clear, in any case, that the real locus of extremism was on the left. America and the West are still suffering from what the 60s and 70s wrought.

On the right, the conservative movement went on to triumph in the election and policies of Ronald Reagan. Buckley and Reagan brought people like Gilder and me more closely into the conservative fold. Both of us, in different ways, were able to provide ideas and leadership on national policies in the now-iconic Reagan administration.

Yes, today there are a few cringe making voices on the Right. Still others make mistakes, despite generally solid analyses. But it is one of the Left's favorite tactics to exaggerate and misrepresent mistakes by conservatives and to try to marginalize conservative spokesmen based on opportunistic and one-sided criteria of political correctness. I have not followed the case closely, but that may have happened to Andrew Breitbart.

Self-indulgence of stridency once again is much more pronounced on the Left. Only recently, for example, Tea Party activists were being accused of violent tendencies. When a federal judge voided much of the Arizona law on illegal immigration, who demonstrated in the streets? The angry Right? Nope, the Left.

Conservatives do need more policy initiatives in both domestic and international policy. The country needs it from them. But that hardly warrants now taking the spotlight off the destructive policies presently in place in Washington, D.C. First things first.

July 19, 2010

Future in Space, Courtesy the Private Sector

Bill Whittle enthuses over America's space program that thrilled him as a boy, but now is relegated to sclerotic, bureaucratic drift. Plainly, the current Administration is not much interested. The odd and exciting consequence, Whittle says in a Pajamas Media TV talk, is that the way has been cleared for private pioneers using their own money, "or money they can talk out of someone else." Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos are among the the new class of space explorers, like Lindbergh and Howard Hughes.

Douthat Asks, Are White Christian Students Discriminated Against?

If you follow such things, you probably are aware that elite universities are fond of applicants who can pay the exorbitant tuition fees to attend--some $55,000 and up. Full-paying customers and the endowments of grateful alumni together make possible free or subsidized tuition for poorer applicants. However, as they fill the balance of their student bodies with scholarship applicants, admission officers tend to favor minority groups of various kinds. They used to favor women over men, but, since women are now a majority on many campuses, that emphasis has relaxed.

So what categories of students are not favored? Are there some that actually are discriminated against? Well, as you might also suspect, those effectively pushed away at elite universities are the very kinds of cases the schools might have sought out a half century ago, such as Asians, poor white students and middle class white students from rural areas and small towns. If they are demonstrably Christian--which might be revealed by essays submitted by applicants, or from leadership roles the applicants report having held in Christian youth groups--that is often a minus. So is excelling at activities regarded at retrograde, or at least unfashionable by the colleges, such as 4-H or ROTC.

The latter folks, the squares, who are rejected by admissions offices at the Ivies and other elite institutions, may well wind up in military academies and less prestigious state schools. They may become generals, entrepreneurs and small businessmen, rather than college professors and lawyers.

Ross Douthat (a Harvard grad) has a column today daring to expose the matter publicly. He concludes, "If such universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there's more to diversity than skin color -- and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers."

Meanwhile, a friend who counsels students seeking graduate school admission tells me that cautions them to remove from their applications references to religious participation or activities. Thus, a church mission to build an orphanage in Guatemala, for example, should be reported simply as a "humanitarian trip to Guatemala to build an orphanage." Tutoring disadvantaged youth under a church program should become merely "tutoring disadvantaged youth."

Continue reading "Douthat Asks, Are White Christian Students Discriminated Against?" »

July 16, 2010

Obama Names Tom Alberg to New National Council on Entrepreneurship

Tom Alberg, who helped found Discovery Institute in 1990 and was president of its Board for many years (and still serves as a Director), is one of the most innovative entrepreneurs around. He knows the importance of pro-growth economic policies and is keenly aware of the dangers of the present moment. So it is with delight that I note that he has been appointed by President Obama to the prestigious new National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Council will operate under Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, former governor of Washington State.

Alberg is a lawyer by background, who served as Sr. Vice President at McCaw Cellular when it was sold to AT&T. He was an early investor in Amazon and a founding principal in Madrona Venture Group, the Seattle-based high tech investment house. He also is responsible for Novelty Hill winery and several other original-ideas-taken-concrete-shape. Many of his business projects, such as Oxbow, a model farm in the Snoqualmie Valley east of Seattle, combine philanthropic vision with business purposes-- as for example, a teaching program for schoolchildren visiting Oxbow Farm.

Tom has a talent for innovation, appreciates talent and promotes talent. He's an unusually enlightened and resourceful businessman. Good for President Obama for recognizing this, and here's hoping the President listens to his appointee's advice on his Advisory Council.

Among the other members of the Council announced yesterday are Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo! and Carl Shramm, CEO of the Kauffman Foundation.

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July 8, 2010

U.S. House Gives Up on Passing Budget Plan


The failure of the US House of Representatives, under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to write a long range budget plan "makes no sense" according to Kent Conrad, the Democratic senator responsible for managing a budget plan in the "Upper House". Thus, David Broder, the venerable Washington Post columnist (I was interviewed by him first in 1962!), points out the irresponsible attitude of the House majority in dealing with the spending issue--regarded by American voters as the most important facing the country.

Do Democrats, with a huge majority in the House, actually think their record will stand scrutiny this fall?

Says Broder, "Of all the times for Congress to abandon its responsibility for long-term fiscal planning, this is the worst."

July 3, 2010

Illinois, Midwestern "Greece", Could Trigger Crisis for the Whole Country

The New York Time's Michael Powell has a disturbing story about the fiscal bind of the State of Illinois, where bills the state owes to its agencies, such as universities, and to private contractors, such as funeral directors who bury the indigent, are many months behind. The State's collapse is damaging the private economy and exacerbating the already high (11 percent) unemployment rate.

The policy under the Democrats has not been "tax and spend," but even worse, "borrow and spend." Today, the state deficit is $12 billion, equal to about half the state budget.

California, New York and other states are in bad trouble, too, but Illinois may be closest to the brink. If it goes over, it could trigger other defaults and help drag down the economy of the country.

Brits Set Good Example with Law to Repeal Laws

The idea apparently traces originally to Ralph Harris of the conservative Institute for Economic Analysis in London, according to Charles Moore in this morning's London Telegraph, but it has received most of its publicity from Nick Clegg, Liberal Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister in the new Conservative/Liberal coalition government in the UK. In any case the Great Repeal Bill that Clegg proposes invites all citizens to suggest laws and programs whose elimination would represent progress for the realm. Thousands of bad laws were passed under Labour, says Clegg, and "it is our liberty that has paid the price."

One suspects that Labour wasn't the only responsible party, but never mind.

It is proving to be a popular cause, as ordinary citizens seek vengeance on plush government job sinecures, spendthrift do-gooding, pushy bureaucrats, invasive and time wasting regulations and unnecessarily protracted government processes that succeed mostly in driving people bats.

We need a similar initiative in the US of A. Start with the various follies coming to light in the new 2,000 page health care act.

It's a suitable pledge for tomorrow's celebration of our nation's birth.

July 1, 2010

New Federal Tax Policy Creates New Mysteries

The new Health Care Bill defies clear understanding, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted when she said we would have to wait until it was adopted to find out what's in it. In truth, though adopted now, it is still opaque.

Here's an example. A helpful Capitol Hill staff analyst has assisted me as I try to comprehend all the taxes that are going to be raised by the Congress and Obama Administration. By now you know (I hope) that the top income tax rate for wage earners is going from 35 percent to 39.6 percent as of January 1, 2011. The capital gains tax goes up to 20 percent, the Estate Tax goes up to 55 percent (from zero percent this year). Pretty horrible if you think that economic recovery requires private sector incentives to invest in new businesses and jobs.

But another downward pressure on growth is uncertainty, including the sheer complexity of the tax code.

Note that Obamacare now adds new surcharges on "high income" earners and investors at the beginning of the following year (2012). But the process is so byzantine that it definitely will confuse many and frustrate everyone, even accountants, as they seek to comply. See if you can follow.

Continue reading "New Federal Tax Policy Creates New Mysteries" »

June 29, 2010

Independence Day as Our Forefathers Planned

The Tea Parties, whatever you think of their key themes of the danger of runaway federal spending and coming high taxes, also also tend to a background theme of patriotism that is worth thinking about as Independence Day approaches.

A recent Internet sensation was caused when retired Marine Lewis Shaeffer, attending a Georgia Tea Party, extemporaneously reminded the crowd of the usually neglected last verse of The Star Spangled Banner-- by singing it.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause. it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

It reminds me: when you are told at some civic event that a prayer would be unconstitutional, you can suggest that we all just sing the full National Anthem instead! Who can call that unconstitutional?

And as the event concludes, we can sing America the Beautiful, including the magnificent lines of Katherine Lee Bates in the second stanza, "America! America! God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law."

For this troubled generation--tempted to solipsism and secularism--those are words to live by, and prosper from.

June 25, 2010

Do You Know How High Taxes Are?

I meet all kinds of people, including frustrated liberals who think that many of our problems today would disappear if only the "rich" and "the corporations" paid more in taxes. Government obviously needs more money, or else budgets wouldn't keep going up, right? So we need to take a bit more from people who have more than they need and redistribute it.

So I try this experiment. I ask people, "How high do you think the top federal income tax rate should be?" I get a lot of blank stares, then they often say something like, "Twenty percent."

Then I ask, "What do you think the top income tax rate actually is right now?" This is a test, obviously, and it makes some people uncomfortable. But many finally answer something like, "Fifteen percent?" Maybe, "Twenty percent?"

I then explain that the top federal marginal rate of income tax today is 35 percent. Obviously, by their own valuation, that is too high.

In a couple of cases, people say, well, maybe that's just fine.

Then I ask if they are aware it is about to go up--January 1, 2011--to 39.5 percent. At that point, they start to perceive the truth: taxes are already too high. We are at the point where we start to discourage entrepreneurship and strangle growth--when what we desperately need is strong economic activity.

Then I point out that the new Obama Health Care Act will add a further "surcharge" of three percent to payroll taxes of the "rich"....Meanwhile, the Estate Tax (the "Death Tax") goes up to 55 percent next year on estates worth at least $1.2 million....Capital gains taxes are slated to rise from 15 to 20 percent.

And all of this comes before state and local income taxes in most states.

The truly rich can manage it. Their money is mostly not in salaries. The people who get soaked are those folks aspiring to get rich by building businesses and creating new jobs--the people on salaries or commissions. High income taxes thwart their ability to save and invest.

I have had some success with this socratic approach. Deep down, even many liberals don't believe in the policies of their leaders.

June 24, 2010

Here's a Rich One: You

The great hope of political liberals is that ordinary Americans can be made to dislike and resent "the rich". Most don't, fortunately.

Some very rich people--the folks with millions or billions in banks, securities, tax-free municipal bonds, Treasuries, gold, trusts, various shelters--are calling for increases in income taxes. Easy for them. The income tax primary hits salaries, and the rich don't have much of their real income in salaries.

People who want to become rich do. They are the ones about to get socked by rising income taxes and surcharges (Obamacare). Today "rich" starts at $200,000.

Now we learn that that may not be enough. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says so. In comments two days ago he says the middle class may have to bear more income taxes, too.

Death Without Dignity in Oregon

The 19th century travel saying about Italy was, "See Naples and die." That is, when you've escaped the cold rain of England, say, and savored the Mediterranean sun, you will feel you've experienced all of the joy available in this life.

Now, it's "See Oregon and Die." The meaning is changed. These days you can hire a company to help you dispatch yourself, or help a "loved one" to do so. It's legal, it's probably a profit-center for someone, and they are even holding fashionable lunches at El Gaucho to advertise the exiting service.

El Gaucho is famous for great food. You might want to change your mind after dining there.

June 18, 2010

Fascinating Map: Population Winners, Losers

Forbes magazine once again scores imaginatively with an interactive map of the nation's counties, showing which ones are gaining and which ones losing population. It is stunning. Black lines show exits, red lines show entrances, and from where.

Chicago, for example, appears to be bleeding people all over the country, but especially to the Northwest, Southeast and Texas. Seattle (King County) gains (as usual, the intake is strong from Alaska and the Mountain West, but also the Northeast). Spokane has people coming and going--the interesting red lines are from California. Los Angeles is losing, while San Francisco continues (it appears) to gain. The no-longer Golden State as a whole is sliding for the first time, thanks to the poor economy and oppressive taxes. Texas is picking up a lot of others' losses. Might it have something to do with lower taxes and stronger growth?

Find your county.

So, Can You Keep Your Existing Health Care Plan?

and No.

There will be rationing. There will be doctors shortages. Private insurance will disappear as a realistic option for millions.

But don't tell the media, who are reporting that the American public is now fine with the health care bill--very little of which has taken effect yet.

June 16, 2010

Warren G. Harding Profundity Prize


"I would like government to do all it can to mitigate; then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved."
--Warren G. Harding, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1921

"(W)hat has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny - our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet know precisely how to get there. We know we'll get there."
--Barack H. Obama, First Address from the Oval Office, June 15, 2010

Oil Escrow Account a Bad Idea All Around


It must have seemed like a way the President should show he was in command: "inform" BP that they would be setting up an escrow account to fund payments for damages in the Gulf oil spill. BP has now agreed. The amount is $20 billion and the fund is to be administered by federal officials.

Continue reading "Oil Escrow Account a Bad Idea All Around" »

June 14, 2010

California Taxpayers Fooled Again

In 2004 the taxpayers of California approved a bond issue of $3 billion to set up a state program for embryonic stem cell research. Medical miracles were virtually promised. We are now six years later and there are no miracles. They are always just around the corner.

But what has arrived, meanwhile, is public indebtedness in California that is requiring cuts in public services and public employment--and tax increases. I wonder if anyone in California would like to have their 2004 money back.

A Los Angeles Times opinion piece acknowledges that little has happened with the billion dollars spent so far. But what no one seems to be asking is, why was this a state initiative anyhow? If the case for embryonic stem cell research was so terrific, why didn't the federal government handle it?

One public policy analyst who did see the problem clearly at the time was bioethicist and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Wesley J. Smith.

Continue reading "California Taxpayers Fooled Again" »

June 13, 2010

Americans, Other Than Mr. Obama, Like England

Peter Hitchens of The Mail in London says America doesn't like England, and he is whining about it. (Or, as he would put it, whinging.)

He's wrong; someone please hand him a tissue and pat his hand. President Obama and some old pals like Bill Ayers may dislike England, or rather, condescend to her. They have imbibed a lot of radical rot in universities. But the striking thing about American opinion is something else. It's this: Most Americans probably like the British more than you all like us.

Continue reading "Americans, Other Than Mr. Obama, Like England" »

June 12, 2010

Mitch Daniels for President?


Behind the scenes, even before the 2010 mid-term Congressional elections, Republicans are beginning to think about who can run for President in 2012. A great deal of attention has been paid this past week to Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana. He is featured on the cover of the Weekly Standard, accompanied by a first rate article by Andrew Ferguson. Philip Klein of The American Spectator online covered a press conference at the Heritage Foundation that Daniels held in Washington, DC Tuesday. And if the press conference was any indication, there will be much more speculation about a possible Daniels candidacy in the days ahead.

Governor Daniels is well-qualified for the presidency. As he says, the Republicans are going to want a winning candidate, but they also are going to want someone who is experienced. With Daniels himself they would have someone who has been a senior staffer on Capitol Hill (Sen. Lugar) and the White House (President Reagan), a public policy think tank head (Hudson Institute), a successful businessman (Eli Lilly Company), a Cabinet secretary (Director of OMB under G.W. Bush) and a popular governor with a record of accomplishments that are highly relevant to the needs of the country as a whole.

Continue reading "Mitch Daniels for President?" »

June 11, 2010

Medved Comments on U.S. Jews and Israel

A relatively new development in American politics and foreign policy is the increase in the number of liberal American Jews who have become pronounced critics of Israel.

The Obama Administration feels free to pressure Israel today because of the change in sentiment among this segment of opinion. And liberal American Jews undoubtedly have become critical of Israel, or at least ambivalent, because many are first and foremost liberals, and, hence, devoted supporters of President Obama.

These are some of the observations made in the June issue of Commentary. Within the magazine's symposium on "Obama, Israel & American Jews" is this excellent essay by Michael Medved, cultural critic, talk-show host and Fellow of Discovery Institute:

"At his core, Barack Obama is a leveler-an eraser of distinctions. Most Americans savor his unique ability to blur divisions based on race, or to demolish barriers between the impoverished and the privileged. In other areas, the president's leveling instinct creates far more controversy, particularly when it morphs into a stubbornly nonjudgmental form of moral relativism.

Continue reading "Medved Comments on U.S. Jews and Israel" »

June 10, 2010

Is Big Business the Problem?

Things are falling apart for the Obama Administration and the White House folks are not interested in taking responsibility. It's getting a bit late in the term to blame George Bush, though that continues. And while there also are efforts to blame recalcitrant Republicans in the Senate and House, it's obvious to anyone that Democrats control Congress overwhelmingly.

So who you gonna blame?

Big business. In a number of fora progressives (nee, "liberals") have decided to try left wing populism and put the fault for the nation's ills on big business.

There are a couple of problems with that. First, many of the failures of the Administration--in foreign policy, for example--have little to do with business, big or small.

Second, for the past two elections rich people have donated more to Democrats than to Republicans. President Obama carried all 20 of the zip codes with the highest percentages of rich people. And big businesses have been prominently won over to support of such legislative aims as Cap and Trade and Obamacare. Big Pharma alone spent $150 million in soft money TV ads boosting leading Democrats who supported the President's health bill. Seduced or coerced, either way they paid. As for Wall Street, their strong Democratic proclivities in 2008 definitely were the product of easy seduction.

As for oil, BP contributed $1 million to the Obama campaign and more to Democrats than to Republicans in Congressional races.

So, blaming big business makes something of a circle of blame that winds up back in the White House.

June 9, 2010

Heck of a Job, Browny!


John Herbert of the New York Times reminded us recently that "President Obama's top adviser on energy policy, Carol Browner, unintentionally underscored the monumental futility of the (Administration) response in a comment she made on NBC's 'Meet the Press...

"This is obviously a difficult situation," said Ms. Browner, "but it's important for people to understand that from the beginning, the government has been in charge."

Well, at this point, all we can say is, "You're doin' a heck of a job, Browny!"

June 8, 2010

News Source on Philanthropy Debuts

Dr. Jeffrey Cain, cited several days ago here for his important paper on government threats to the independence of the philanthropic center, officially begins Philanthropy Daily online today.

Cain and his associates have strong backgrounds in the fields of philanthropy and fund-raising for non-profits. Most valuable, in addition, is their perspective of respect for the tradition of charity and their suspicion of government offers to "help" the sector.

June 4, 2010

Next Takeover Target: US Philanthropy

Dr. Jeffrey Cain heads Philanthropy Daily online and has just published an important article (at Washington Legal Foundation) on efforts by activist groups and government to gain control of what used to be called the "independent sector". It isn't enough that most non-profits are led by people who enthusiastically supported the present Administration and that the over-whelming majority of foundations that take an interest in public policy back "progressive" causes. Now the left wants direct pay-outs. Dr. Cain's paper follows:

Five Threats To Philanthropic Freedom In These Recessionary Times

By Jeffrey Cain, Ph.D.
June 4, 2010 (Vol. 25 No. 22)

The generosity of individual Americans is the envy of the world. No developed country even comes close to the amount of time that Americans volunteer or the amount of money Americans give to charity. Within eight days of Hurricane Katrina, Americans had donated over $580 million to relief efforts; within fifteen days of the earthquake in Haiti, $528 million.1 Collectively, Americans gave over $308 billion to charity in the recessionary year of 2008. We are uniquely, even congenitally, generous. When it comes to philanthropy, something has gone gloriously right in the United States.

Yet one would hardly know this from the litany of grievances and regulatory proposals now emanating from activists, politicians, and philanthropic bureaucrats. Recent years have yielded bumper crops of reports, legislative efforts, and pleas calling for greater oversight, transparency, and governance of America's independent charitable sector. In different times, these complaints might be brushed aside as the perennial chatter of self-proclaimed and self-serving advocacy groups. However, as the effects of the recession linger -- widespread unemployment, soaring deficits, budget shortfalls, and popular dissatisfaction with elite institutions -- long-held grievances against private philanthropy may find a more receptive ear, especially given Washington's reform-minded political ethos.

Continue reading "Next Takeover Target: US Philanthropy " »

June 3, 2010

What the U.S. Loses When Israel Loses


Here is what you are not getting right now, even from that section of the media in America that is still pro-Israel: Israel is as important to the U.S. as the U.S. is to Israel. To the extent we damage our most reliable Middle Eastern ally, we are damaging ourselves.

George Gilder's The Israel Test is the one book out now that tells, extensively, how Israel matters to both the U.S. economy--especially in the cutting edge high tech field--and to America's strategic aims. It treats the cultural and historical reasons for U.S. support of Israel, but others do that, too. What matters, and what is missing from our national discussion, is how vital Israel is to American inventive prowess, manufacturing relevance and national defense. Israelis even have invented a device to let soldiers see through walls to activities that might be going on in a building they are about to inspect!

Continue reading "What the U.S. Loses When Israel Loses" »

May 21, 2010

Economic Growth is the Only Way Out of the Hole

How can we get out of the deep economic hole we're in?

The old advice, "First, stop digging," is apt, since the Obama Administration continues to contend that "stimulus" is helping and we just need more of it. We also supposedly need more taxes on individuals who make investments in businesses and jobs.

The stock market for a while had some people feeling confident, even though salaries weren't rising and unemployment has remained high. Now that confidence is shaken, too. Demand side economics isn't working.

The real advice we need is reduced public spending and reduced (or at least not increased) taxes especially on investments. We need growth.

Continue reading " Economic Growth is the Only Way Out of the Hole " »

May 19, 2010

Now Comes Global Cooling?

An emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington State University (Bellingham, WA), Don Easterbrook, says we are in for global cooling for another twenty years or so.

It certainly seems so this spring. Winter on the East Coast was grim and summer temperatures are hard to find now in the West. Snowfall also higher than in decades past.

It doesn't mean anything except this: there is (and should be) a real debate.

May 17, 2010

Boomers Are Having their Senior Moment

Dave Earling, a former Discovery Institute colleague (in the Cascadia Center), is president of the Senior Services board of directors, and Deborah Knutson is president of the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County (Everett, Washington and the northern Seattle suburbs), but their message is for the country as a whole. In an oped article in today's Seattle Tmes, "A Commitment to Help Nation's Golden Boomers," Earling and Knutson lay out the new ethic for the Baby Boom generation as it begins to enter senior citizen status.

Continue reading "Boomers Are Having their Senior Moment" »

May 15, 2010

Sympathy for the Greeks? Save it for U.S.

The "back story", as they say, about the Greek riots and the supposedly harsh cutbacks Greeks are bearing in order to win European Union and IMF (including U.S.) bailouts is not the sort of thing as to make one overly sympathetic.

Greece really is an advanced case of the statism that threatens Spain and Portugal, but also the U.K, and, yes, the U.S. down the road. Public employees are numerous--more numerous than France!--and given lavish pay programs that include 14 months of pay for 12 months of work. Government workers with an extra month's pay each Christmas and Easter. So do government workers for their retirement pensions. Some can retire as early as their 40s.

Continue reading "Sympathy for the Greeks? Save it for U.S." »

May 14, 2010

Governor Christie, Hero for Restored Economy

There are so many "wets" around--the name Margaret Thatcher gave Conservatives who talk about conservative principles but are hesitant to put them into practice once they achieve office--that it is exciting when a true "conviction politician" (another Thatcher term) emerges.

One has emerged in New Jersey, of all places. Moreover, he defies the standard expectations of politicians since John F. Kennedy that newcomers, at least, should be svelte, blow-dried anchorman-look-alikes. Gov. Christie is, well, not that.

What he is doing, with little media support and large public support, is trimming the fat in Trenton and trying hard to re-ignite the dynamism of New Jersey. Here is his takedown of a liberal reporter who asked if he didn't think his "confrontational" position on spending would damage his cause:

May 12, 2010

President Obama, Call Yourself


He called Angela Merkel of Germany to ask her to bail out the Greeks--and demand cost-cutting by the Greeks in return. Now he's on the phone to Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain about the big spending problems in that socialist-run country.

He's right to do so, of course, since we in America are on the hook for all these interventions, if only indirectly. The developed nations have spent too much for too long.

But, then, how about a little trip to the woodshed for the US of A? Our debt is right up there with the best (worst) of them.

Maybe our President also should call the governors of a number of our freewheeling states, starting with Mr. Schwarzenegger.

How about a public lecture to Congress on the ways that public "servant" salaries have outpaced the private sector for years, as have public servants' health plans and, especially, public servant pensions? Cut those back to where they were only a few years ago and much of our immediate budget problems are solved.

Call it fulfillment of Candidate Obama's "transparency" pledge.

May 6, 2010

FCC Power Grab Further Pummels Economy

A sudden decision by the head of the Federal Communications Commission to accept Net Neutrality rules flies in the face of the economic arguments--and the fairness arguments--against such a departure. Hance Haney made the case earlier this week in the Seattle Times.

"An open Internet where broadband providers do not block access to websites or discriminate between content or applications isn't a vision," he writes. "It's a description of the unregulated Internet we already enjoy today. Those in Washington, D.C., who want to change it could stymie it instead and damage the economy." He was speaking of the FCC.

Read it all here.

May 4, 2010

Neglected Nashville


The flooding in Nashville remains a major disaster and much worse than most Americans--preoccupied by the Gulf oil spill and the terrorist attempt in Times Square--realize. The federal government has been slow to mobilize and, reports Discovery senior fellow Yuri Mamchur. But local people are exceedingly energetic.

The flooding of the Cumberland River continues, thanks to upriver creeks that are feeding it, and significant lowering of the water levels is yet days away. Greatly damaged are many landmarks such as the Grand Old Opry and the Opryland Hotel, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center (built for $126 million in 2006), the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, LP Field (home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans and the Tennessee State teams), St. George's Episcopal Church and many office buildings, stores and restaurants.

Whole buildings floated down the river and across freeways at the height of the 48 hour storm that began early last Saturday. Golf Club clubhouses were among them, as was at least one school whose dramatic destruction was chronicled on TV.

Some 29 people have died, some in drownings when their cars were swamped. Others died in a tornado that accompanied the rain. Nashville's stellar hospitals--many with helipads for emergency airlifts--have been relatively unscathed. But food ran out at a number of fast food restaurants and some supermarkets. Many people store food in freezers in basements and even houses on hills were partially flooded, in many cases. One MacDonalds owner shut off his lights and announced to shouting, horn honking people outside, "I'm out of food. There's nothing left!"

Most major freeways were flooded, but, except for I-24, most are now reopened. The I-24 has serious damage as road surfaces crumbled.

No one has calculated the costs yet. This is the beginning of one of the busiest tourist seasons for Nashville, and, while Grand Old Opry and other programs will find temporary replacement venues, the outlook short term is not good. But Tennesseans are pretty resilient people. As Yuri says, they are very energetic right now.

May 2, 2010

Don't Misread Arizona Lessons

The media and "progressives" are sure that Arizona's new law on immigration will lead to a backlash among Hispanic voters. Perhaps. But almost everyone seems to agree that the problem's origins lie in the failure of the federal government to act. An editorial in the Arizona Republic blames Arizona officials of both parties, but lays primary blame on Washington, DC. It points out that Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano, former Arizona governor, was supposed to be setting up an immigration bill for this year.

Karlyn Bowman has covered demographics and public opinion surveys for many years, and with sage insight. She shows at that public opinion is not as hostile to immigrants in general or to Mexicans in particular as one might think. Public opinion is hostile to failure in Washington, DC to address the question of border security.

The decision of the Obama Administration to duck the issue now and to hope it works for Democrats politically in the fall, therefore, could be a mistake in every sense.

UPDATE: George Will justifiably chastises Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles for his over-the-top rhetoric.

April 29, 2010

Supremes Unlikely to Support Privacy for Initiative and Referendum Petitioners

Questions by Supreme Court justices indicated at a hearing Wednesday that the Court probably will not support the right of initiative or referendum petition signers to remain anonymous. The Washington State case, Doe v. Reed, expresses the fear of opponents of same sex unions that referendum signers would find their names published on the Internet and, thereafter, subjected to harassment.

In fact, some same sex union proponents expressly announced intentions to put referendum signers' names on the Internet and to encourage "uncomfortable conversations" with them. Justice Antonin Scalia, hearing about this possibility, expressed skepticism and pointed out that democracy requires "civic courage".

Allow me to express my skepticism about placing such expectations on ordinary citizens. Maybe ballot votes should be made public, too? Also, votes within juries? Show a little "civic courage," people!

When I served as Secretary of State of Washington in the late 70s I opposed publication of petition signers' names because of the potential to intimidate citizens and to chill public participation. The current case confirms my fears. It was not brought idly, but out of genuine fear of retaliation.

Continue reading "Supremes Unlikely to Support Privacy for Initiative and Referendum Petitioners" »

April 27, 2010

The Big Pander on Wall Street

If you fully understand the problems of the American finance, please feel free to opine on the bill before Congress. But following the political horse-race coverage of the bill by the Washington Post, you can see that not everyone is really interested in the content. Instead, politics rules.

The one thing certain is that is that Democrats, having lost this vote, finally may be ready to deal. Indeed, maybe the point of the vote was to show their base the necessity of so doing.

Strangely, multi-billionaire businessman Warren Buffeted added at the end a note of sobriety to the proceedings by arguing frankly for his own interests. Buffet is much admired. He supported Obama. But he does not see this bill as advancing real reform. His Nebraska senator, Democrat Ben Nelson, voted with the Republicans.

Republicans, however, also are ready to deal after this vote, and have been ready to deal all along. They are not, in fact, any more in bed with Wall Street than are the Democrats.

Republicans must disenthrall themselves publicly yet again from the image of the "Party of the Rich." In fact, they deserve a reprieve, especially since the "rich" voted for Democrats in 2006 an again in 2010.

The problem for Democrats is that they have not disenthralled themselves from the new and entirely valid image as "the party of big government" that gets into every aspect of life as an uninvited and self-proclaimed "expert."

April 19, 2010

"Dissent is Patriotic," Yes, Indeed


Remember those great bumper strips that Iraq war critics wore on their cars, right next to their "Obama '08" stickers?

If dissent was patriotic then, why is it not now?

Bill Clinton warns against violence in the Tea Party movement, though there hasn't been any. Yes, you will find cranks in at least the fringe of any movement and there is no doubt that incendiary rhetoric can unhinge some already unstable minds--left or right. It is worth while being on guard about that.

But as for actual violence, the most outrageous example so far is the little noticed protest that took place outside a Southern Republican Leadership Conference fundraiser in New Orleans. It sent two GOP attendees to the hospital with serious injuries (broken leg, broken jaw, etc.).


Continue reading ""Dissent is Patriotic," Yes, Indeed" »

April 14, 2010

Competition Brings Good Budget News

In recent years supporters of sound public works--infrastructure and the like-- became used to cost overruns, so it is something of a happy shock these days when bids for major projects come in under budget. In the case of a portion of the replacement for the Alaska Way Viaduct in Seattle, for example, the difference was huge--$114 million versus the state's estimate of $153 million.

So many public costs are squeezing taxpayers at all levels of government that we ought to pause to savor the occasional break. Of course, the recessionary economy is responsible for such good outcomes. But so, too, is a little thing often ignored in other areas of government: the benefits of competition.

April 8, 2010

The Face of "Extremism"

One could not avoid the news that someone was arrested for threatening Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A friend complained, this is getting to be serious; there are real extremists moving into the opposition to Obama.

Well, there are always extremists, and publicity--especially heated public arguments--probably will set them off. So does a full moon.

When George W. Bush was president the vitriol was noxious. Of course, it came from the left, mostly, so commentators--who also come from the left, mostly--thought it merely a sign of how GWB had divided the country. Now vitriolic opposition in manifesting itself under Mr. Obama, only now it's coming from the right (and from independents). So the commentators--who still come from the left, mostly--think that incidents of bad taste, not to mention physical threats, are signs not of mere division, but of growing right wing extremism.

Continue reading "The Face of "Extremism"" »

April 6, 2010

Is the National Pastime Past its Time?


Discovery colleague John R. Miller is co-director (with Wesley Smith) of our Center on Human Rights and Bioethics. Often the former Congressman and former U.S. Ambassador writes about human trafficking (his field while in the State Department). He also was carried on the oped page of the New York Times not long ago on the topic of international public opinion polls (Mr. Miller is not impressed by their significance). In fact, the Wall Street Journal did something highly unusual after the Times ran Mr. Miller on the public polling subject: they excerpted it. In February John wrote for the Times on the subject of George Washington and the establishment of the principle of civilian rule after the Revolutionary War.

This time it's another unusual topic for our long time friend and Senior Fellow: baseball. It's in the Tuesday Wall Street Journal. The article probably will spoil a few corporate baseball owners' breakfasts.

April 2, 2010

The Embarrassing Truth About Tea Parties

One can understand why "progressive" commentators would try to pin the "extremist" label on Tea Party activists; it's a way to deflect attention from the public protest against the increasing size and encroachment of government. But the mostly bogus theme of extremism also has been picked up in mainstream media that purport to operate on fact-checking standards.

It now turns out that Hutaree, the one actual extremist group that has had its members arrested--in Ohio and Michigan this week, operated out of run down trailer and sported at least one loyal Democrat in its tiny leadership. The party affiliation of other members, though voters, could not be ascertained. Any "Christian" connection, as headlines alleged, was strictly incidental, if not just false.

Meanwhile, the attempt of Nevada Democrats to accuse Tea Partiers of egging their own bus backfired, when it turned out that the main accuser may have done the egging himself. (Stories here and here.) This is in the spirit of age-old scapegoating.

Some right wing crowds undoubtedly do attract anti-social persons or just folks with an adolescent sense of humor (a picture of President Obama with a Hitler mustache, for example). Some fringies threw bricks at Democratic party headquarters in a couple of cities after the health care vote and left contemptible voice messages on the phones of Congressmen. But the one credible threat was to a Republican, Eric Cantor of Virginian, whose office was hit by a bullet and his life and his children threatened.

Continue reading "The Embarrassing Truth About Tea Parties" »

March 25, 2010

Hidden Burdens of Obamacare Emerge

Dr. Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute is one of the shrewdest health care analysts around. He is predicting now what many have feared, the slow motion consolidation of the insurance industry as the big boys become government sanctioned monopolies and small providers disappear. Insurance policies for individuals and small organizations will become untenable.

The new order will start as soon as next January when new rates are announced--two months after the 2010 elections.

Your choices will be narrowed and narrowed again.

Says Gottlieb, the "rich" that the President has targeted will turn out to be any couples with incomes of $100,000 or more. To afford the level of care they enjoy now such families will be looking at expenditures reaching 20 to 25 percent of their income. In the end, nearly everyone will be in the public system, lucky if they can buy special private policies for extra benefits, as under Medicare now.

It will be very complicated, a bureaucrats' delight, a citizen's nightmare. This is crony socialism: the form of a "free market" will be preserved (along with the opportunity to extract massive campaign contributions from it), but it will be a government industry in all but name.

Contrived Indignation Over States' Lawsuit: Another "Shoe on Other Foot" Situation

News stories after passage of the health care bill are focusing on proponents' outrage over the negative reactions to the bill. It is as if the left wants to hide the new law's contents and implications by anathematizing the act's opponents.

The most ridiculous example is histrionic partisan distress over a lawsuit that is being brought by 14 Republican state attorneys general, including Rob McKenna of Washington and Bill McCollum of Florida. The state officers contend that the new act's requirement that every adult purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. The federal government, they argue, has no authority to make such a requirement. Attempting one infringes upon both individual rights and powers the Constitution reserves to the states. The state attorneys general either will succeed or fail with their case and it is the federal court system that will decide the matter. (By the way, the McKenna, McCollum et al warned in advance that they would file this legal challenge if the offending provision was adopted by Congress. They didn't spring their suit on anyone.)

Meanwhile, contrary to fulminations from various Democratic sources, the attorneys general are entirely within their rights as state legal officers to take such a matter to federal court. All the arguments against them so far are political posturing and hand waving. Some simply misrepresent the legal case of the attorneys general, apparently hoping to confuse the public about what is at issue. Even sillier is the attempt in the Washington State Legislature to pretend that state funds are being misused by the state attorney general. That too is just projection.

Liberals who have been dissatisfied by the actions of conservative Congressional majorities and presidents in the past have never hesitated to take their complaints to court. What makes them think it is somehow wrong for conservatives to do likewise now when the shoe is on the other foot?

March 23, 2010

Bill Gates' Excellent Idea

I don't care if Bill Gates believes in man-caused global warming, he is right about at least one creative and practical response to the energy problem: The former Microsoft head has teamed up with Toshiba and--putting his money behind his ideas--is figuring out how to make the small nuclear reactor, via "Traveling Wave Reactor" technology, a business reality.

Toshiba's model nuclear reactor

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has noticed the opportunity, too, publishing an op-ed today by Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy. "Small modular reactors would be less than one-third the size of current plants. They (would) have compact designs and could be made in factories and transported to sites by truck or rail."

My own dream is something even smaller: a nice, safe nuke for a neighborhood or city district. Even your private basement. ("The Bloom Box.")

GOP Needs to Look Ahead, Not Just React

"Make my day!" is the reaction of White House political advisor David Axelrod to the prospect of critics making an issue of Obamacare this fall. His view (and hope) is that once enough people think they are getting free or reduced price health care--paid for by "the government"--they will never let it be taken away. He may be wrong, at least in the 2010 election, but he may be right long term.

Therefore, if conservatives want to deal with the looming takeover of medical care, they are going to have to come up with something more than a call for "Repeal." Sadly, the insurance industry, Big Pharma and the American Medical Association, as well as platoons of big foundations, have bought into the idea that the government should, indeed, run medical care. It is the public that the Administration and Democratic majority in Congress has defeated, and the public, as such, doesn't fund much research.

Therefore, it will take a lot of careful thought and planning in coming months to develop the ideas and methods to disentangle Obamacare--even if Republicans regain one or both houses of Congress--and to propose something else.

The question, therefore, is what is the "something else"? There is no need for an answer today, but there will be soon.

March 21, 2010

Stupak Isn't Stupid

Pro-life groups are denouncing the supposed pro-life Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, who voted for Obamacare based on the transparent excuse of an unenforceable Executive Order.

Were the pro-life Democrats fooled?

No, they are all politically savvy. More likely, they were successfully undercut by their political base, especially the increasingly powerful public employee unions. In the case of Stupak, for example, the unions may include many people who support the Congressman's pro-life views, or are indifferent, but they undoubtedly made it clear to him that they regarded the bill as a priority and his pro-life principles as expendable.

Had the pro-life Democrats held out, they might have forced the original House anti-abortion funding language to be adopted by the Administration and (once again) Speaker Pelosi in the bill itself. Instead, it was Stupak & Co. whose bluff was called. As between their base and their principles, they chose their base.

Stupak Gives In, Way Cleared for Obamacare

As I wrote Friday (and earlier on March 9), all it took at the end was for the President and the Speaker to induce Congressman Stupak to accept a fig leaf pledge that funds under Obamacare will not fund abortion. He gratefully accepted such a fig leaf--an "Executive Order"--today.

How likely is it that the Executive Order will make any lasting difference? Yuval Levin, who served on the policy staff of President George W. Bush, tells his readers, not much.

Only a legislative fix would have mattered.

The supposedly anti-abortion Democrats, in the end, couldn't take the heat.

March 19, 2010

Abortion Con Job Coming Into Open


I pointed out on March 9 that if the White House and Congressional leaders cannot get the health care bill passed, all it will take to sway the final needed votes is a Leadership concession to the handful of Democratic anti-abortion forces. The pro-choice Democrats will make ritual complaints, but they still will vote for the resultant, supposedly "anti-abortion" product.

That is what is now in the works, perhaps, according to The Hill. Watch for developments in the coming hours.

Meanwhile, I repeat my prediction that any such supposed legal agreement will be betrayed. Indeed, it is so obvious to insiders that it will be betrayed (perhaps almost immediately, perhaps after a decent interval of a few months) that some of the anti-abortion Democrats may not go along. However, some will go along because the parliamentary fig-leaf they are being offered gives them a way to pretend that they have not caved in on the abortion issue. Actually, all the Leadership needs is about half the anti-abortion Democratic members. Once the bill's future is secured, Speaker Pelosi can give the other members a pass to vote "no".

As I say, the pro-choice Members of the House, meanwhile, will know full well that any abortion "compromise" is synthetic, a fig leaf. They will pretend otherwise while voting for the bill.

There are so many open deals like this that are tied to certain members and certain districts on the issue of health care "reform" that one can only imagine the behind the scenes deals--the ones based on promises of jobs after a likely election defeat, for example, and the ones based on threats of various kinds. A "no" vote Member can be threatened with everything from loss of a treasured committee assignment--where the real work the House supposedly takes place--to loss of good office space after the next election, not to mention election campaign cash meanwhile. A truly vengeful Leadership could even threaten a potential "no" vote Member with discreet disclosure of unsavory personal information to inquiring media. (Sorry if that sounds cynical.)

It is risky for the Leadership to act in a really vengeful way; there is always next month's votes, and the votes after that. But the stakes are really high now. If the bill passes, watch for more and more deals to come to light. It may be too late, but they will come to light.

March 17, 2010

The Reasons to Answer the Census

Some folks are bothered a bit by a couple of trends in the taking of the Census; yes, the one being taken right now.

First is the letter householders are getting in the mail to alert them that they are about to get an official Census form to fill out. It's a bit expensive, but there is nothing wrong with sending out this little teaser. Response rates go up when people are advised that the real thing is on its way. That means fewer, more expensive personal Census worker visits later.

The more troubling problem, rather, is the admonition written in the letter (and in many of the radio ads for the Census) that "Results from the 2010 Census will be used to help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need. Without a complete and accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share."

Continue reading "The Reasons to Answer the Census" »

March 15, 2010

Scandal Arises Over Vaccine Doctor

Do you still contend that scientists are a breed apart, a superior species that should hold others, mere mortals, in awe? Then please digest the latest scandal about money, greed and "science", and this time keep in your mind's eye the thousands, maybe millions, of infants that are affected by autism. It is their welfare that must now come into focus.

Danish scientist Paul Thorsen has disappeared, apparently, along with a couple million dollars of U.S. public money and some of the data that formed the basis for studies in which he participated. Now those enormously influential studies--supposedly disproving any connection between mercury and autism--are coming into question, and deservedly so.

Maybe the studies were valid. By all means, let's find out. In fact, a thorough and independent public investigation is imperative. Since the Center for Disease Control's money was involved, surely the CDC should not be the only body looking into this matter.

A U.S. Court decided just now that the autism link to mercury is invalid. Maybe so, but given the timing it doesn't seem that the court was at all aware of the Thorsen scandal. The Court ruling and the Thorsen revelations seem to have overlapped.

March 10, 2010

A Neglected Feminist Cause

by Anika Smith

Jonah Goldberg has a thought-provoking article up at NRO where he reminds us that "Feminists Get It Right" when it comes to the plight of women subject to abuse simply because of their sex. After giving a few examples of grisly practices where women are punished for men's inability to restrain themselves (particularly the opening scene, where he explains how young girls in Cameroon are disfigured by their mothers in order to discourage the randy local boys), Goldberg explains that this a familiar story on a global scale. "Around the world, women -- girls -- have to pay the price for the barbarity of boys."

It's a fact too often ignored in what Harvey Mansfield calls the gender neutral society, that purposefully obfuscates the differences between men and women, but it's still true: where men are most brutal, women, being the weaker and more vulnerable sex, suffer most.

Continue reading "A Neglected Feminist Cause" »

March 9, 2010

Opposition to Obamacare Vulnerable to Sudden Collapse

In the course of this one day Rep. Bart Stupak, D-MI, who leads a Democratic pro-life group of about 12 House members, was quoted in support of a possible "sidebar" bill to prevent abortion funding, and then, later, minimizing the prospect. This underscores the problem that opponents of Obamacare face. It is only the abortion issue that stands in the way of a narrw majority House vote for the expensive, cumbersome Senate health care bill that President Obama favors.

But all it really will take to reach a successful compromise is a decision by the President and the Senate Democrats to concede this point in language acceptable to Rep. Stupak, either in a "sidebar" bill or in the health care bill itself. That would be painful, and a few House and Senate votes might shift against the bill, but only a very few. In return, Obamacare proponents would get the 12 pro-life Democratic votes for their bill, and with it the prospect of a much bigger government role in health care from now on.

They could and probably would betray Rep. Stupak later on.

Pro-life groups are urging Rep. Stupak to hang tough. The reality is that only when the present legislation is buried can a genuine bi-partisan effort develop that ends some of the bureaucratic sclerosis in the present system, and yet prevents the even worse bureaucratic sclerosis that Obamacare would entail.

March 1, 2010

Logic and the Gorey Details

My colleague Jay Richards, writing on the The American blog, was picked up today on Real Clear Politics for this excellent dissection of the logic of Al Gore's Saturday New York Times article on global warming (see my previous post).

I wonder how people who read the New York Times and don't read blogs will get at the hidden assumptions and assertions of the Gore rhetoric. Where on the Times pages will that case be made?

Al Gore Versus Booker on Climate Change


Al Gore wants you to know that global warming is still the consensus scientific truth, even if there have been a couple of trivial mistakes made in the thousands of pages of the IPCC report of 2007. Hey, we're all human!

But Christopher Booker of the London Telegraph tears the whole defense to shreds. There are not just a couple of mistakes and they are not incidental to the global warming case. They are legion and they are integral to the climate warming case, and they bespeak intellectual if not financial corruption.

Read the pieces for yourself.

February 27, 2010

White House Staff Battling White House Staff


There's no war like a civil war, and one seems to have broken out in the Obama White House. Now the public is learning about it. Every president has numerous assistants, of course, and, being human, they tend to compete. Sometimes it is over ideology (as under FDR, who encouraged it), sometimes it is over tactics (as under Reagan, who couldn't figure out how to stop it). In the Obama White House it seems to be worse--it seems to be personal revenge as well as rivalry.

When such differences make it into print, you usually can assume that a little bird gave the reporter a self-serving exclusive. In the Obama case, there have been a number of columns attacking Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Continue reading "White House Staff Battling White House Staff" »

A Nuclear Plant in Your New Home

It is an idea that may seem like science fiction: every new home with a power plant of its own, maybe even a nuclear plant. Each house might or might not be connected to a grid. This may have been a fancy in old comic books or in Popular Mechanics, but could be the near future.

In that kind of future, there would be much less broad a danger from storms or earthquakes that knock out power for whole cities and where disrupted power lines ignite ruinous fires. If whole cities or even neighborhoods were powered by numerous individual energy plants, terrorist attacks on the power grid would become much less threatening. Even if only a fraction of homes and office buildings and schools were independently powered, those could serve as refuges for the rest of the community in natural or man made catastrophes.

Continue reading "A Nuclear Plant in Your New Home" »

February 26, 2010

Presidential Succession and Alexander Haig

by John Wohlstetter

On March 30, 1981, as President Ronald Reagan lay at death's door in Georgetown Hospital, and with Vice-President George H. W. Bush in a plane bound for DC but without air-to-ground communication with the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes stood at the podium in the press room of the White House. Asked about who had control of the "nuclear football" Speakes was unable to give a coherent answer. To the rescue came Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

Rushing from the situation room to the press room, Haig told reporters: "As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending the return of the vice president." Haig added, re presidential succession that "Constitutionally you have the president, vice-president and then the secretary of state..." in a formulation that omitted the Speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate, as designated by a 1947 law. Haig went on to say that if anything happened he would "of course" check with the VP upon establishing communication.

Haig, deeply unpopular with many reporters for his suspected role during Watergate, was roasted alive by the press, practically accused of attempting a palace coup. Imagine, for a moment, if Haig had stayed down in the situation room and no one else stepped forward in place of Speakes. A stammering press flack unable to explain who had control of nuclear codes would have thrown the press into a tizzy, generating all sorts of headlines the next day (and on the nightly news) about a rudderless administration during time of potential nuclear crisis. Thus Haig deserved praise, not condemnation. His flub on the succession sequence was of no serious moment, versus his stepping forth to indicate someone was in charge.

Which brings to mind the antiquated 1947 Truman administration law.

Continue reading "Presidential Succession and Alexander Haig" »

Faux Bi-Partisanship Entering "a Boorish Phase"

A televised leadership meeting is the sort of cynical substitute that modern politics, abetted by the media, offers in place of real negotiations. It is about as honest and true as a marriage proposal made on reality TV. And about as propitious.

If the President really wanted to create a bi-partisan health care bill, all he had to do was invite the key participants to meet in private. True bi-partisan bills develop that way, not on television. Performances are what you get at shows like the one the President staged yesterday.

Peggy Noonan spoke for many in saying "the President has entered a boorish phase." He takes advantage of his position to monopolize time and to patronize rivals.

Continue reading "Faux Bi-Partisanship Entering "a Boorish Phase"" »

February 25, 2010

George Gilder Hails "The Hockey Stick Illusion" on the Science Scandal of Global Warming

by George Gilder

The infamous "hockey stick"

Epitomizing the plot ofThe Hockey Stick Illusion by A.W. Montford and the special gratifications it affords the reader are any of the Colombo shows on television. In each case, we see the humble investigator initially ignored, brushed aside,stonewalled, disdained, doubletalked, waffled, red herringed, and evaded by lofty and complacent Establishment figures, citing their own authority, crowded schedules, sophisticated reasoning, advanced degrees, abstruse mathematics, and exalted ideals.

In this story, the Columbo figure is Steve McIntyre, a Canadian mining
consultant, and A.W. Montford's book tells the gripping and suspenseful
details of McIntyre's pursuit of the self-denominated "hockey team" led by
Michael Mann, who wrote the key chapters on his own work for the IPCC, and
Phil Jones, who maintains the temperature record used by the IPCC to
document the "Hockey Stick": limning allegedly unprecedented and anomalous anthropogenic global warming in the Twentieth Century while denying that any comparable or greater warming occurred in the Medieval period.

Continue reading "George Gilder Hails "The Hockey Stick Illusion" on the Science Scandal of Global Warming" »

February 22, 2010

Forbes Hails Timely Medved Defense of Business


One of our favorite publishers and political thinkers, Steve Forbes, provides a four star review of writer/talk show host and Discovery Senior Fellow Michael Medved's new book, The Five Big Lies About American Business.

The timeliness of the Medved book could hardly be more striking. Business has not been under such federal government attack, literally, in our lifetimes. What the Administration doesn't own (and then dictate to, such as banks and GM) it tries to browbeat. What the White House cannot get Congress to enact, it attempts to achieve by regulation. In addition, there is a constant drum beat of criticism against the private sector--this from the most inefficient, wasteful and, in many ways, most unjust sector of society.

Writes Forbes (in the March 1 issue of Forbes magazine), "Medved has his most fun with the fairy tale that 'the pure-souled and disinterested idealists in government will serve people more reliably than the greedy go-getters in the private sector.' Whether it's the Post Office, public schools, Amtrak, Medicare, Medicaid, public parks or light rails, the government's record has been routinely abysmal when it comes to efficiency, effectiveness, service and careful use of financial resources."

February 15, 2010

Election Fundraising More Fun--and Constitutional--After Supreme Court Ruling

We have had time to put the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the case of "Citizens United". Here is the opinion of Discovery Adjunct Fellow and attorney, Howard L. Chapman:

Last month the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that may result in profound changes in the conduct of future elections. During the political campaigns of 2008, a non-profit organization named Citizens United produced a ninety minute movie entitled "Hillary: The Movie," which is very critical of Hillary Clinton. Citizens United wanted to run the movie during the campaign, but the Federal Election Commission told them that it would be a violation of federal campaign finance laws if they ran it. Citizens United filed a lawsuit to challenge that ruling.

The law in question is The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (better known as the "McCain-Feingold Act"), and, in particular section 203 of that law. That section says that corporations and unions are prohibited from using their own money to run advertisements or publish anything else that is critical or supportive of a named candidate. The ban applies only in federal elections, and is only in effect within thirty days prior to a primary election, or sixty days prior to a general election.

The various courts that heard the Citizens United case found in favor or the FEC (agreeing that the movie could not be shown), and the case eventually arrived at the Supreme Court. It initially was contested on rather narrow statutory grounds, i.e., was a full length movie the kind of electioneering that the act prohibited. After hearing oral arguments the first time, the Court did something that is rather unusual; it directed the parties to submit additional briefs, and set the matter for additional oral arguments on the issue of whether or not the act itself was in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Continue reading "Election Fundraising More Fun--and Constitutional--After Supreme Court Ruling" »

On President's Day, Remembering Washington's Contribution to Civilian Rule


John R. Miller is a former member of Congress from Washington State, a one-time Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute, and is now the co-director of our Center for Human Rights and Bioethics. The following article ran in today's New York Times:

CIVILIAN control of the military is a cherished principle in American government. It was President Obama who decided to increase our involvement in Afghanistan, and it is Congress that will decide whether to appropriate the money to carry out his decision. It is the president and Congress, not the military, that will decide whether our laws should be changed to allow gays and lesbians to serve in our armed forces. The military advises, but the civilian leadership decides.

Yet if not for the actions of George Washington, whose birthday we celebrate, sort of, this month, America might have moved in a very different direction.

In early 1783, with Revolutionary War victory in sight but peace uncertain, Washington and the Continental Army bivouacked at Newburgh, N.Y. Troops were enraged by Congress's failure to provide promised back pay and pensions. Rumors of mutiny abounded.

Continue reading it here.

February 12, 2010

Toyota Goes to Court, While Volkswagen Goes to Chattanooga


Class action lawsuits from at least a dozen law firms are being filed against Toyota in exploitation of the recent accelerator recall; trial lawyers now only lack tragic stories to justify billion dollar settlements. The federal government, of course, is there to help.

When GM had recalls recently, there was little news attention. But the Toyota story is huge, not because the problem is so major, but because it is widespread. A lot of people are affected. They will lose a couple hours of time each. Big deal.

The story is also newsworthy, I suspect, because Toyota is foreign-owned.

You don't hear Toyota owners clamoring for revenge against the company, however. As a long time customer, I mostly am worried that people like me will wind up paying higher prices and dealing with overly-cautious dealers , not due to the recall, but to the legal threat and government intimidation. I dread talking to a dealer who feels he has some lawyer listening in.

Some of the media passion against Toyota probably abated, however, when the governors of American states like Kentucky and Indiana where Toyotas are made spoke up in defense of the company--and the employees/voters who will be hurt if Toyota is punished unduly.

Meanwhile, according to former Volkswagen executive Heinz Gundlach, speaking yesterday in Boca Raton, Florida, VW plans to open its own plant (finally) in the US next year. Chattanooga, TN will receive the blessing of the German investment and the hiring of 1200 new employees.

Gundlach also shared some sobering numbers about the state of the auto market. The total number of cars sold in the U.S. has declined during the recession, while sales (including VW and GM, as well as new local models) are going up in China. In 2007 China bought five million cars; last year (2009), China bought nine million. The U.S. bought 14 million in 2007, and only 10 million in 2009. In the U.S., 500 of every 1000 people already own a car, while only 30 in every 1000 in China own a car. It is not hard to anticipate China's overtaking the United States as the number one car market soon.

Meanwhile, within the U.S., what Gundlach calls the "Detroit Three" (they used to be "The Big Three") have seen their market share drop in ten years from 65 percent to 44 percent. (When I was a kid, it was 95 percent.) Remember, this decline in the share of the auto market pie is taking place while the market "pie" itself is growing smaller. The prospect: the customers Detroit is losing are probably not coming back.

Regardless of the absolute and relative decline of U.S. auto companies, some 75 percent of cars bought in America are built here (or in neighboring Canada and Mexico). Dealing with fluctuating exchange rates is simply too risky for foreign companies like VW; the price offered the buyer can jump up or down too much, based only on the changing value of the dollar versus, say, the Euro. That and the politics of national pride have caused foreign car makers to open plants here. VW is one of the last to do so. The Koreans will probably be next. Right now, if you order a part for a Hyundai, it has to come from Korea.

Yes, unions and health care costs are a problem for American manufacturers, Gundlach says, but not decisive ones. Labor constitutes only 20 percent of a car's full cost, which is why, he indicates, China is not much of a threat to automakers in the U.S., Japan and Europe. The material that goes into a car comes from all over. That is why you have Toyotas made in Kentucky today and Chrysler PT Cruisers made in Toluca, Mexico. China will not sell many cars in the U.S. for some time.

What does matter in competitive advantage is simply the quality of the product. "Product, product, product!" Gundlach stresses. For decades, Detroit let go of that concern in its pursuit of novelty, indulging in constant change. In contrast, Toyota understood the importance of consistent, reliable quality of the product and the service behind it--and has prospered.

With my gas-efficient, cheerful, easy-to-park 2010 Carrolla (I call it my "Red Crayola"), I am confident that Toyota will take care of me. I am hopeful that Detroit will give them increasing competition for my business in the future. But meanwhile, I wish the government and the trial lawyers would leave them all--and me--alone.

February 9, 2010

Hot Air and Cold Wind Turbines

Someone sold farmers in Minnesota some swell, if slightly used wind turbines from California, but they froze up solid once the deep North winter set in. If you not one of the farmers, it's a funny story. (Hat tip to IT dystopian Matt Scholz.)


On a drive recently through the usually peaceful, verdant countryside of Northwestern Illinois my eyeballs were stretched uncomfortably to a vast horizon of giant wind turbines--with the tiny-seeming houses and barns of the old countryside below them mocked and trivialized.

Unfortunately, such scenes are not unusual. Wind turbines are "green energy," right up there with ethanol and other trendy causes that derive their profitability from huge public subsidies and the sad gullibility of the local gentry upon whom they are imposed.

Continue reading "Hot Air and Cold Wind Turbines" »

Stage Show Bi-Partisanship


Purely as a cold political calculation, the Republicans do not need a health bill of any kind and they do need to defeat the messy bills that respectively have passed the House and Senate with Democrat-only support.

The President and the Democrats (also speaking politically) meanwhile need a bill, any bill, that addresses health care, so they can take credit and stop looking so ineffectual. And, of course, it would be great politics if they could pull a rabbit out of the hat and get either the House or Senate bill passed.

As far as the public is concerned (as Massachusetts showed), no bill is better than a bad bill. But, also, even a modest good bill would be very cheering right now. It would be good for the country and for the tone of government in Washington. One might hope that sometimes the public interest might take precedence over the partisan interest.

Continue reading "Stage Show Bi-Partisanship" »

February 8, 2010

Economic Conservatism and Social Conservatism are "Indivisible"


Jay Richards, I am glad to report, is now back at Discovery Institute full-time, having left a few years ago to work at Acton Institute on issues of entrepreneurship and free markets (among other things, he helped produce the films The Call of the Entrepreneur and The Birth of Freedom, and the book, Money, Greed and God), to start a blog for AEI's The American and to edit several manuscripts for Heritage Foundation. It is a fine mix of talents Jay has assembled in his career. A Phd from Princeton, he has expertise in theology, science, economics and culture, all very helpful for the mission of Discovery Institute. (In his earlier Discovery stage, among other things, he co-authored the book and film, The Privileged Planet, with Guillermo Gonzalez.)

Now comes a very useful new book, Indivisible, that Jay edited for Heritage Foundation on the natural linkage of social issues and economic issues. We are hearing a lot lately about how the subjects should be separated, supposedly because social issues damage conservative candidates for office. But that, I would suggest, derives mainly from the success of the left in misrepresenting and then stigmatizing conservative positions on social issues. As Scott Brown showed in Massachusetts, however, conservative candidates can surmount the criticism.


In the battle over health care, similarly, there is no doubt that the opposition by Catholic bishops and other Christian groups to abortion provisions in the Senate bill helped kill the whole thing. The bishops weren't demanding that no one with government provided insurance coverage be allowed to have an abortion, but only that such procedures not be financed by taxpayers. Yet this principled and prudent distinction had the effect of providing tremendous assistance for economic conservatives' objections to the health care bill on myriad other grounds.

Continue reading " Economic Conservatism and Social Conservatism are "Indivisible" " »

The Most Interesting Congressman Emerges


Suddenly, it is Paul Ryan season in Washington, D.C. The six-term Wisconsin congressmen is still young, but until now mainly has been a wonks' favorite rather than a media darling--one of the few folks on the Hill who knows big subjects in depth. He is, for example, the House's leading minority spokesman on the budget. That kind of subject usually makes people yawn.

But now, in a matter of days, Congressman Ryan is all over the news, even attracting the attention of the President. George Will is hailing him as a future national leader. Russ Douthat touts him. Ezra Klein, Washington Post wonk-on-the-left, admires his seriousness and originality. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has gone from curious to enthralled.

Continue reading "The Most Interesting Congressman Emerges" »

February 6, 2010

Unscientific Survey: Global Warming Issue is Waning

It is impossible to keep track of the new information showing that what one wag calls the "grantrepreneurs" of science have finally coming under mainstream scrutiny in the global warming scandals. A good summary piece by Margaret Wente is found in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The cover-ups have been successful in some cases, but not entirely. What is stunning is the failure of the "consensus science" scolds to defend the situation. They are reduced, it seems, to repeating the old mantras that everyone knows, there is "overwhelming evidence," etc. What they do not do is debate

Meanwhile, public belief in the Al Gore scenarios has waned, too, and the whole issue is coming off the public agenda. A Yale/George Mason University survey on the topic of public concern is mostly significant for the trend it shows--which is downward.

Meanwhile, if you are on the East Coast today, buried under the second record-breaking snowstorm in six weeks, you probably are not taking global warming at all seriously. But if you are in British Columbia, where snow is being trucked to the Olympic Games, it is a very present disaster.

That is too bad, in a way, since pollution and energy dependence are still important and valid concerns.

January 30, 2010

Here's Who Won and Lost When Obama Met with the House Republicans

Fox News thought the House Republicans triumphed by having the President speak to their weekend retreat in Baltimore and answer questions in front of TV cameras. In contrast, MSNBC thought the President showed up the Republicans as the contemptible pipsqueaks they are. For themselves, the President and the House GOP leaders all said that the spirited, yet civil exchange was the sort of thing that should happen more often in Washington.

So, who really won and lost?

First, the public won, because the televised Q & A demonstrated that politicians can debate seriously and with substance, and without constantly interrupting one another. Real questions were asked and real answers given. This is how representative democracy is supposed to work. Imagine if it happened routinely in Washington.

Second, President Obama won, because he presented himself without the teleprompter and with a sense of humor. He showed he knew about the proposals the Republicans have been trying to offer, thereby undercutting somewhat the claim that the White House is ignoring the GOP's views.

Third, the Republican House members won by displaying to the public their thoughtful, positive positions and ideas, almost none of which have been addressed in Congressional deliberations or in the media. They also were able to showcase an admirable array of political talent from within their ranks.

Fourth, however, there was a loser, and it was Nancy Pelosi. After the GOP program, a fair-minded person would tend to recognize the reality that the Speaker has made it very hard for Republicans to be heard in the House, and therefore has silenced not only them, but also the districts that elected them and the sizable point of view they represent in the country.

A Real "Breakthrough"--Give it Support

President Obama apparently was serious about nuclear power and is prepared to put lots of money behind it. His State of the Union nod to nuclear energy, if followed up, could result in a huge win for him and for the country. Republicans should get behind it creatively and forcefully. Do the White House and the GOP minority want to show that they can work together? Here's the perfect test.

The nuclear energy issue avoids the claims and counter claims about the causes and extent of global warming and goes straight to one of the solutions that all agree can prevent air pollution--however you define it--and lessen dependence on foreign oil.

Here is one spending priority, moreover, that can easily be justified in hard times as well as flush times. Nuclear power truly will "create jobs."

January 27, 2010

State of Nuclear Power--Was Obama Sincere?

The State of the Union sported synthetic emotion and formulaic policy statements. Most (such as cap and trade) are what you might call place-holders--positions that say, "I am for this, but don't plan to do much about it."

But one of those placeholders excited Republicans as well as Democrats. President Obama pledged support for nuclear power as way to achieve energy independence and pollution-free energy. If he means it, it's really important.

Wrote technology reporter Declan McCullagh: "What drew the audience to its feet, cheering, was Obama's call for the construction of more nuclear power plants."

Now let's see whether Congress will follow through. The scares of the 70s are history and many environmentalists already have moved on.

The Republican response by Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia was cheerful and substantive, and it mentioned off-shore drilling and nuclear power, but didn't note the President's endorsement tonight. It would have been a great time to tie a ribbon on the idea(s) and say, okay, Mr. President, how about moving forward on this right away?

January 26, 2010

President Roots for New Orleans in Super Bowl


President Barack Obama has thrown his support to the New Orleans Saints in the upcoming Super Bowl. This undoubtedly will bring joy to the Big Easy and grumbling to a whole state of Hoosiers.

Obama, formerly a senator from neighboring Illinois, carried Indiana in 2008, but lost Louisiana. Unfortunately for him, it is human nature for folks to forget an endorsement of their team, but not to forget an endorsement of the opposition. Colts fans may be especially militant that way.

New Orleans fans, in turn, should hope that Mr. Obama does not go down to the Bowl game in Fort Lauderdale and speak out for the Saints. His last endorsement speech was for Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, and that didn't turn out too well.

January 23, 2010

The Biggest Lobby in Government

Unionized government workers now constitute more than a majority of all union workers in the country, according to a report yesterday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recession or not, the number of government workers--and, therefore, union members in government service--went up again last year, while non-government union membership went down.

Your taxes made possible the continued growth in government employees. How so?

In case you haven't noticed, the SEIU, AFSCME and other government unions are among the most active in political campaigns, nearly always on behalf of liberal Democratic candidates and issues. For them, the business of government is government, and the more the better. The special interest lobby that always agitates for more government is the government itself, and unions are at the leading edge of that agitation.

Able, dedicated civil servants who are required to join the public employees unions often are less than enthusiastic about "their" representatives and have little to do with them--other than paying union dues. Union meetings in government agencies are seldom well-attended. The leadership seldom is relatively undistinguished, other than by the narrowness of its concerns.

But just because government union members don't always vote the way the union suggests (as reportedly was the case in Tuesday's U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts) doesn't do much to shrink the clout of union leaders. Consider that when, as is the case even in the Obama Administration, you have an Education Department nominally supportive of charter schools, that endorsement is trumped by fervent opposition from the teachers unions. (Not the teachers, mind you; rather, the unions.)

Of all special interest lobbies, then, government itself, including unions, constitute the one that is most single-minded and devoted in its involvement in government legislation, regulation, taxation and personnel issues. That reality gets almost no public attention in the media, but it often is determinative as a political force.

I have said before that Lincoln's description of America as "government of the people, by the people and for the people," is being upended by the new mission statement: government of the government, by the government and for the government.

If you think I am exaggerating, ask yourself, who got the lion's share of last year's federal stimulus money? Was it not used to shore up state and local bureaucracies? Did those bureaucracies not shrink far less in the recession than the private sector?

How is it that government officials so often announce that they just have to increase taxes rather than cut the size of this government program or that? Where is such empathy and concern when private factories and shops are closing?

I am not an absolutist conservative. I see a number of government activities that should be increased, not reduced (besides defense and foreign policy). They would include, for example, transportation infrastructure, parks and recreation maintenance and mental health. But these days money for such purposes cannot be found, even in the big-spending states--maybe especially in the big spending states--because every spare dollar has to go to government employees.

The lobby of government itself demands it. Increasingly, elected officials work for the government, not the people, and soon the people will work for the government, too. At least, that is the clear and present danger.

January 21, 2010

New Tide Now in Full Flood

Don't look now, Mr. President, but change is afoot...

In two days, the Massachusetts election has catalyzed an astonishing reversal of national politics. Suddenly Obamacare seems dead. Was it only Monday that it seemed inevitable? The New York Times was in denial about it this morning, which demonstrates anew that the Times is more out of touch than even, say, Martha Coakley.

If the Administration tries to jam through a bill by "reconciliation", preventing the need for 60 votes in the Senate, the already sour public mood will become even more irate.

Tuesday (see below) I wrote that the tide had changed. Did it ever!

Cap and Trade is dead. Meanwhile, many chances have been squandered to get bi-partisan backing for common sense energy conservation and development of alternatives to foreign oil.

Immigration liberalization is dead.

Now comes a Supreme Court ruling overturning McCain-Feingold's limits on corporate spending on political races. It's as if the Court took a Sanity Pill and suddenly realized that the First Amendment is meant to protect political speech as its number one priority. Without free, unfettered political speech you can't assure the liberty to hold the robust debates upon which democracy depends.

Continue reading "New Tide Now in Full Flood" »

January 20, 2010

They Have "PETS" at the White House

Call it "Post-Election Trauma Syndrome" (PETS). It confuses one's judgment, apparently.

The problem in Massachusetts was a failure to communicate. We were just so busy working for the people, say White House sources, that we failed to explain to them what we were doing on health care. Wait until they learn about all the great things we have hidden under the Christmas tree! Won't they be delighted!

Okay, we know that the public is angry, but it is part of the same anger they expressed when they elected me a year and three months ago (says the President). That indicates in turn that the anger--and the Massachusetts defeat of Martha Coakley, perversely--was George W. Bush's responsibility.

The Brown election, it seems, also was not about health care, but about anxiety over job losses.

And Coakley's incompetent campaigning. Etc., etc.

The Obama Administration has a hard time facing facts until there is no other option. Recall that the initial reaction to the Christmas Day airline assault by the Underwear Bomber was to proclaim it the work of "an isolated extremist." It took a couple of days for reality to dawn over the White House.

Very similar is the effort to obfuscate the Massachusetts election results. It all is in service of a determination, somehow, to push ahead with the current health care plans. If clever stunts haven't been sufficient so far, why, we should try some new clever stunts! Maybe they will work.

If the statesmanship alternative I advocated in the previous post is to prevail, it definitely has to overcome a great deal of self-delusion.

Barack's Choice: Mid-Term Correction or More Defeats

Former Clinton adviser Lanny Davis was in the Wall Street Journal today explaining the way the Obama Administration's leftward lurch has disaffected the public, as vividly shown in Massachusetts. Later, on the Michael Medved Show, Davis explained the opportunity before the President to acknowledge the recent setbacks and reach out to Republicans in both houses of Congress and invite them to write a health care bill. He then would invite moderate Democrats to join them. The result would be a lot less than he has in front of Congress now, but unlike the present monster, it actually would pass, overwhelmingly, and would give Obama a legislative accomplishment. Our conservative Discovery colleague Michael Medved, interviewing the liberal Davis, agreed with his advice.

The advice proposes the statesmanlike thing to do, not the political one. Insisting on some bill based on the present efforts will do more to keep the left wing base mollified (they are close to coming unglued right now). Collaboration with the Republicans, on the other hand, is also risky, but could lead to recapture of the the vital independent voters.


A mirror image calculation applies to the GOP: at this point; no bill would seem to be the best politics going into the fall. But, though the political temptation would be hard to overcome, many Republicans would be pleased to offer a sound bill for the good of the country if the President would cooperate.

Continue reading "Barack's Choice: Mid-Term Correction or More Defeats" »

January 19, 2010

Changing of the Tide


However the election in Massachusetts comes out, it appears that a majority of voters nation-wide have been rooting for Scott Brown. That means that the issue of health care has become a liability for the Obama Administration, as have the special deals and taxes that go with it.

Only one year ago the nation was in the grips of Obamamania, an unrealistic mass excitement similar to the disproportionate grief that overcame Britain following the death of Princess Di. Now that the fever has broken, the passion is hard to recall.

Regardless, the chance for Hope and Change along bi-partisan lines, where government business is conducted with "transparency", spending is brought under control and taxes are not raised couples making under $250,000 is long gone. So is the enthusiasm of the nation's leading businessmen, bankers, insurance executives and other investors, a huge proportion switched their politics in 2008. Wall Street staged a big rally today on the mere prospect that Brown might win in Massachusetts. In that sense "hope and change" are back in the air.

January 16, 2010

Tax Hypocrisy Lights a Fuse

The news on the secret House-Senate health care bill conference is destined to alarm tax payers, in time, if not at once. Far from becoming more palatable once it is adopted, Obamacare is bound to rankle the more its details become clear.

The provision in the bill that taxes high-cost private health insurance plans is bad enough, at 40 percent. It not only is a tax, but a huge one. People effectively are being forced to pay for health insurance as if it was a shameful luxury item. But making things much more irritating is the latest decision by the Conference Committee to exempt union members from the tax. A large share of those union members are public employees, so the principle could not be clearer: you poor private sector taxpayers should subsidize the insurance of you "public servants" who have the same kind of plan as yours. This isn't class warfare, it's political warfare, another example of government by the government, of the government and for the government.

(Of course, not all union members and not all government employees are going to be favorably impressed by the latest concession to their leadership.)

Then there is the looming extension of the Medicare tax to capital gains, another first. What this does is hit a few high earners, but also the nation's huge constituency of senior citizens and others who depend on stocks and bonds to provide their livelihood. Seniors already are antagonized by this health bill--and the process--that brought it about. How will they react when they find out that they are going to pay again for Medicare? Some may remember a candidate's pledge that no one making under $250,000 would have his taxes raised.

Others will recall with irony how this bill was advertised as a "reform".

January 6, 2010

Lobbyists for Dog's Breakfastfood

Obamacare by now is a dog's breakfast of policies. It's obvious that the only coherent "health care" purpose in the mess is to get something done soon, rather than to get something done well.

While this travesty against good government is underway, note that the public is far ahead of American big business "leaders" in expressing opposition. Many of the latter, in practice, have been trying for the past year to find a way to ingratiate themselves with the Administration. Each special interest wants to be spared in the coming onslaught of federal taxation and regulation. These opportunists have been quite willing to put themselves in the most obsequious postures of assistance to the Administration--and, of course, have compromised their supposed free market principles without the equally compliant media taking much notice.

You should place high in the category of willing victims much of the insurance industry, "Big Pharma" (the most craven interest in this regard) and a large share of others of the biggest corporations in the land. Now comes the restaurant industry.

Ever since the Clinton Administration, big business has put its external dealings--lobbying, public relations and philanthropy--into the hands of liberal staff. It started doing this to buy off opponents. Now it has been captured by them. "Personnel is policy" is a description that applies as much to business as to government.

Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was slow to figure out which side of the present health care debate it should be on, and then, when it did decide, it had to contend with the defection of a number of its most significant members, especially the ones beholden to the federal government for contracts. But the Chamber, at least, did get to the right place: Obamacare, it is making clear, will be bad for the American economy.

It would be nice to say that the others in the business world--the willing victims--will deserve what they get, but, unfortunately, we will all in the boat with them if it sinks. Let no one confuse the short term Machiavellian devices of big business with the long term interests of America.

January 4, 2010

Success: Obama "Breakthrough" at Copenhagen Talks Ended Global Warming

Most of the Northern Hemisphere is shocked and awed by Mother Nature. Records are being broken in places that were really cold to start with, such as Iowa. I don't know if Sen. Bernie Sanders, a cap 'n' trade enthusiast, is at home in Vermont or in his office in Washington, D.C., but either way he is buried in snow--in Vermont it's one for the history books.

Thank you, Barack Obama! Skeptics who derided the significance of the President's "historic breakthrough" statements in Copenhagen last month are forced to admit that since those important pronunciamentos, the climate has responded beyond anyone's hopes.

Even in South America, where it is supposed to be summer, they are feeling the wrath of "climate change".

Today's high is 58 degrees in "sunny South Florida," where I am heading tomorrow, and you can be sure there will be endless self-pitying comments by locals as well as tourists. When temperatures get down to an expected 35F tomorrow night, you will see news stories about frostbitten poodles in Palm Beach and otherwise politically correct matrons getting their fur coats out of mothballs for dinner parties.

Indeed, if this kind of chill continues, we soon will need to convene a U.N. Summit on Global Cooling.

January 1, 2010

A Private Way to Help the Troops Win the War


The Weekly Standard does a good turn in its New Year's issue by highlighting the work of Spirit of America, the philanthropy that provides funds for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to use as they sit fit in encouraging the local population.

One of the long standing frustrations of even top U.S. government officials who try to prosecute a war is the rigidity, red tape and second-guessing of bureaucracies when asked to supply funds quickly to troops on the ground who see first hand a need and want to fill it. You can rail against this sort of thing, but it has been the case for many years. No bureaucrat wants to make a mistake--by trying something new that isn't predictable and commonplace--the very expenditures, often small, that can make a big difference. The rule book is at hand to punish those who deviate.

That is why private groups are important. They can get things done--especially in building community support for U.S. objectives--in ways the government is not well organized to accomplish. Spirt of America is such a group. It warrants our financial support.

December 31, 2009

Ike Warned Us: The Government-Foundation-Academia Complex

Fox News ends the year with a list of under-reported stories of 2009. It is notable how many are related to science or, generally, to the politicization of supposed "experts".

Nearly a half century ago, as he left eight years in office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of a "military-industrial complex" that promoted particular new weapons systems and concomitant budgetary and foreign commitments. Ike, the former five star general and Columbia University president, warned that selfish professional ambitions and interests can create a deceptive perception of national interest. The term "military-industrial complex" has become famous.


However, less noticed, Ike's farewell address also warned of development of a grants-corrupted "scientific-technological elite."

Continue reading "Ike Warned Us: The Government-Foundation-Academia Complex" »

December 30, 2009

Government of the Government, by the Government, for the Government

That is how far we have come from Lincoln's description of the United States' system as "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

The federal Stimulus money largely has gone to shore up the budgets of city and county employees rather than encouraging new jobs creation in the private sector. That is no coincidence when you consider that the government employee unions are now the biggest share of the union movement and the most persuasive lobbyists in the Obama Administration.

Michael Barone has some useful details.

Policy of Treating Terrorists, and Terror States, as Criminals is Shredded

President Obama has tried to deal with Iran on the basis of reasoned diplomacy. Now we see a regime that has its vehicles run down demonstrators and blame "Zionists" and the Americans for the popular protests.

The President aims to empty Guantanamo prison and either prosecute the terrorists in U.S. courts--at enormous cost--or to send them back to their country of origin, such as Yemen. This approach is becoming an embarrassment as we learn that many returnees released by the Bush Administration (under pressure from Congress, please recall) have rejoined al Qaida.

Presumably the underpants bomber will be treated as a mere criminal, too, and given all the rights afforded to American citizens. He will be allowed to make grandiloquent propaganda statements along the way.

What makes President Obama think that the rest of the world understands and appreciates his policy of diplomatic niceness for dictators and criminal court cases for terrorists? After all, even most Americans don't understand--or agree--with it.

December 24, 2009

Is it Constitutional?

Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter comments on passage of the Senate version of health care this morning (60-39, with no Republican votes):

"This exchange between Sen Jim DeMint (R-NC) and the Senate parliamentarian identifies an astonishing abuse of senatorial power, very possibly in conflict with the U.S. Constutition. This is the doing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Mars ): dumping a sleigh load of presents for special friends of big government.  The specific provocation in the 2,000-plus-page list of boondoggles is a provision creating a Medicare panel and setting a 2/3 super-majority rule for rescinding it--effectively declaring it out of order--and, hence, not able to be considered--by senators or representatives in any future Congress.  The new review panel will decide, from Olympian hieghts, who gets insurance coverage and for what, as among Medicare mendicants.
"Reid's parliamentary gambit depends upon whether courts will hold as merely procedural--and thus solely a matter of Senate concern--the erecting of a super-voting barrier to future legislative rescission of the new rule. Courts may instead find that it is unconstitutional.

"I have not seen court rulings on this point.  But it seems hard to credit any legal argument that enables a current House of Congress to bar future Houses from reconsideration, via a super-majortiy vote.  Put simply, the current Congress cannot diminish the power of subsequent Congresses to rescind legislation.
"Perhaps judicial imperialists will ignore this.  But the effort must be made.  A precedent like this will permanently disempower future legislative powers in a fashion never contemplated by the Framers." 

December 23, 2009

Mr. Obama's Pleasure Island


Economist Richard Rahn is warning of a darkening economic future in America as spending under Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats reaches new extremes of recklessness. First comes the death of the dollar as the international currency, along with strangulation of U.S. government revenues from the private sector. When a supply-sider like Rahn says deficits now really do matter, and matter a lot, it shows that the tolerable spending limit truly has been reached. Eventually, even a robust economy cannot grow out of the hole dug by spendthrift politicians. "Eventually" has arrived.

Next come inevitably higher taxes, and not just on the rich. Small businesses already are saving any profits--knowing their taxes will be going up--rather than expanding and hiring new employees. The increasing resort to contract employees is a direct result of business wariness. When the reality of higher business and personal taxes arrives, things will get worse. Anemic growth is the best we can hope for in that case. A new recession, or worse, is just as likely.

Along with the growing tax burden comes increased government direction and a concomitant rise in the burden of paperwork--more forms, less human interaction and less customer service. This trend will leave us all on permanent "hold", as it were, and futilely "pushing '0' for more options." As Disraeli said, a crucial difference between left and right is that conservatives make you fill out less paper. In practice, that is not a small difference. It is the difference between freedom and petty tyranny.

Continue reading " Mr. Obama's Pleasure Island" »

December 21, 2009

Raising McCain on the Health Care Bill

Sen. John McCain could have been Barack Obama's most effective buddy in the Senate if the new president had bothered to solicit his involvement in any number of fields, including health care. Whatever else he is, John McCain is a patriot who would have responded to a president asking to meet him half-way. The result on health care would have been a compromise bill that would have sailed through Congress with at least a number of Republican votes. Afterwards, the GOP might well have wobbled into the next election disarmed and quarreling with itself.

Instead, the "Hope and Change" candidate who said he was going to end partisanship in Washington has been the most partisan president in living memory. Mr. Obama has done something George W. Bush did not do-- completely unify the GOP in Congress and the country. Yes, he has a likely legislative victory pending, but the victory is likely pyrrhic.

The media seem uninterested in McCain's views these days, but it is worth while for the rest of us to see how the Arizonan is characterizing the health care bill (from a press release):

Democrats have used Bernie Madoff-style accounting to assess the cost of health care reform. And when this bill becomes law, the reality of higher taxes and Medicare cuts for seniors will settle in on the American public.

President Obama made a promise when he campaigned for president to sit down and negotiate health care reform with Republicans and Democrats. He also promised C-SPAN cameras would be in the room. But, that was all campaign rhetoric. This disastrous health care bill was negotiated behind closed doors and Republicans were never brought into the negotiations.

The result is a health care bill supported by 60 Democratic Senators, but opposed by 60% of the American public.

Dr. Obama admires his health care bill.

In short, the Obama Administration seems to have been entirely motivated by politics and willing to take ownership of any legislative monster in order to boast success. But the monster will probably turn on its master.

Republicans might be expected to take perverse political satisfaction in this, except that most of them are, like McCain, patriots first and are anguished about what this kind of "Change" is going to do to the country.


By Jay Richards
(from The American)

In the biblical story of Babel, the tribes of the world conspire together to build a tower to reach to heaven. Before long, God decides to thwart their efforts, by dividing the languages of the mutinous tribes so that they can no longer communicate. Thereafter, the nations scatter across the face of the Earth, presumably limiting the collective damage they could do. The story is sort of a recapitulation of the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, who fell for the serpent's temptation to be "like gods."

As I watched the last three days of the Copenhagen Climate Fiasco, I kept thinking of the Tower of Babel. The Copenhagen Summit was the "largest gathering of world leaders in recent history." It was not, however, unprecedented, still less a "turning point in human nature," as Colin Blakemore in the Guardian opined. It was, rather, another instance of the human propensity for self-aggrandizement and hubris. Instead of building a tower to heaven, delegates from 193 nations gathered in Copenhagen for the purpose of controlling the future climate of the planet. Instead of unified agreement, however, they got chaos.

Continue reading "Copen-Babel" »

December 18, 2009

A Thick, Hot Smog of Insincerity Descends

It is great fun to read the reactions of various parties to the Copenhagen climate conference that just ended. In reality, there was no signed international agreement, just some statements, vague promises of action and comparable dangles of money--results to come about somehow, sometime (2020, when none of the major players is likely to be on the scene)--and fulsome, self-serving congratulations. It was a classic attempt to cover up a classic diplomatic bust.

China "promised" to cut the rate of increase in its emissions, sorta, the U.S. "promised" billions of aid, but everything was highly conditional and deliverable only in the sweet by and by. No international treaty. The death throe was an unannounced address by Hugo Chavez (a figurative tin pot on his head) yelling about Obama, "the Nobel Prize of War," to a quickly emptying chamber.

No dictator's brother-in-law in the Developing World got a job out of this, after all, there are no fine new green boondoggles for salespeople in the "Rich Nations" to post in their order books, and nothing but pretended political glory to follow the jet contrails of CO2.

Rule one for international conferences: Don't send your leader there unless an agreement of consequence has been worked out in advance. Otherwise it is just another "meet and greet." Once Obama agreed to show, the other big shots felt they should, too. All were embarrassed.

Is Kyoto dead?

December 17, 2009

Energy Efficiency Can Kill

It turns out that someone's idea of saving electricity on no-heat traffic lights doesn't work so well in places like the Middle West where the climate hasn't got word yet about global warming. In fresh experience, snow accumulates on the swell new lights and then the colors disappear. There has been one fatality already.


But, "Fear not," says IT expert Matthew Scholz, " there is a solution: In St. Paul, Minn., for example, city crews now use air compressors to blow snow and ice off blocked lights. This allows the hiring of more government employees, stimulating the economy. I suggest that cities also could apply a device that turns on a light-heater once snow is detected... Or maybe someone can can up with a little windshield wiper for stop lights... Or perhaps there is potential for a federal earmark to support a 'small business' government contractor solution - a cute girl in a French maid costume with a feather duster."

December 16, 2009

Growing Media/Liberal Disconnect from Public; Why Obama is Missing his Chance

The more public opposition to Obamacare grows, the more the mainstream media tries to block criticism from being heard. The editorial pages of major dailies ignore critics. So do many news broadcasts. George Stephanopolous, former Clinton aide supposedly performing now as an objective newsman on Good Morning America, features one defense after another of Obamacare and scolds Howard Dean for imperiling the Obama Presidency--as if GMA were an official mouthpiece for the Administration.

The same is happening on climate change. Instead of encouraging discussion (or even debate), the MSM reaction to Copenhagen is to try to shut down critics. When officials cut off the microphone of a questioner, only the Washington Times reports it. Where there could be agreement (e.g., hybrid cars, nuclear power), there is only grandstanding on crisis claims.

The public is not buying the propaganda approach. What to do? Get a new public?

For nearly a year we have been urging Mr. Obama to be the kind of president he promised to be: one who listens, who tries to find common ground, who is genuinely bi-partisan. Had he followed that path he could have had a health bill by now that enjoyed Republican as well as Democratic support and he could have had energy and environmental policies that were reasonable, forward looking and productive. The reason these paths have not been pursued has to be ideological. It is not smart politics or statesman-like policy.

Oddly, even the liberal base (e.g., Howard Dean) isn't happy now. The Administration is failing, and while that is good political news for Republicans, it probably is bad for American leadership in the world. Only on Afghanistan, where the President actually has listened (to Defense Secretary Bob Gates) is his approach working.

Why wait, as Bill Clinton did, for a mid-term defeat in the Congressional elections for a mid-term correction in policy, Mr. President?

December 15, 2009

These Folks Were Not "Gate Crashers", at Least

A couple of tourists from Georgia were on what they thought was the White House tour, an even better tour, they surely must have thought, than they had expected. They were ushered right into breakfast and had a chance to meet the President.

The surprise visit happened several weeks ago, but just came to light--not long after the famous gate-crashers episode during the state dinner for the prime minister of India.

The folks from Hogansville, GA were there as bona fide tourists, albeit a day early. Can't call them "gate crashers", can you?

Sane Views on Copenhagen are Not in Copenhagen

Al Gore says Arctic Ice will melt within five years, except that the expert he cites disputes the assertion. As usual these days, the Nobel Prize winner isn't taking questions from the media.

Some 1200 limos have been hired for the Copenhagen summit, so many that they had to be brought in from hundreds of kilometers around. Denmark didn't have enough.

Mayor Bloomberg flew in on a private jet to demonstrate firsthand his commitment to keeping a small carbon footprint--for other people. Prince Charles pleaded with the attendees to put their signatures on something or other, and, of course, we are all eager to comply with the instructions of the Prince of Wales. Arnold Schwartzenegger was there (fly in, fly out), to say that climate change is completely affordable, just asked the totally broke state of Cali-for-nia.

Poor countries represented at the conference are incensed, as they usually are at U.N. meetings of all kinds, that the "rich" countries, including Cali-for-nia, aren't handing out enough money to them. Actually, the "countries" aren't agitated at all, just the professional bureaucrats and action agents whose job prospects merge seamlessly with U.N. handouts.

And Tony Blair arrived with a big snowstorm. The best development yet.

Meanwhile, the most sober reflections on the issue of global warming come from people far from Copenhagen, including climate scientist Dr. Michael Hume those who see the folly of forcing science to carry the freight for politics.

December 14, 2009

Trying to Deny Climategate

Even some supposed conservatives at Little Green Footballs are trying to downplay Climategate, the "phony" and "unimaginatively titled" scandal.

George Gilder sees through it:

These guys want you to believe that their opponents are talk show hosts and other people seeming to rant. They carefully ignore Arthur Robinson, Fred Singer, Freeman Dyson, Antonio Zichici and the many other scientific "deniers."

Meanwhile they allow the debate to be governed by Al Gore's and James Hansen's Nobel laureate and Academy Award balderdash. They actually straight-face Holdren as a scientist. I'll take Rush any time.

December 9, 2009

Downgrading Christmas Now Riles Reporters

Diane Medved's blog, Bright Light Search, expresses the generous and sensible views of an Orthodox Jew on many subjects, including Christmas. Last year she had a fabulous time at the Bush's Chanukah party in the White House, which employed most of the same decorations as the Christmas parties. This year she has noted the strange development that the Chanukah party has been downgraded by the Obamas, and so, too, have the Christmas celebrations.

Now even the media are a bit miffed, it seems, because lead reporters have cherished the special occasion when they get their picture taken with the President and First Lady. Their gift this year is not exactly coal and switches, but it's down to a last-minute party, a smaller list of invitees and no pictures.

I was invited to one of the G.W. Bush's Christmas parties a couple of years ago and took my oldest son. It was well worth the trip to D.C. In the 80s, when I was on the White House staff, my wife and I recall with fondness the Christmas party where we had a chance to mingle and chat with President Reagan and Nancy. Such moments are precious.

I can understand why the Obamas resent the strain of attending so many holiday events. But they are coming off as grumpy and mean (in the sense of smallness).

December 8, 2009

The Climate Conference's New Suit of Clothes

A nonsense tale worthy of Hans Christian Andersen is playing out live in his homeland of Denmark today. Developing countries at the Copenhagen climate conference reportedly are "furious" about a leaked climate agreement text that "rich countries" (including the U.S., the U.K. and host country, Denmark) hope to push through. It would "allow" the rich countries to pollute at twice the levels of poor countries and take the U.N. out of the climate control process. At least, that is what the developing countries contend.

This is going to be a classic international performance, full of fulsome speeches, ultimately signifying nothing but the folly of imagining that mere words and "commitments" will do anything about carbon dioxide or anything else.

The Danish text exposed

Agreements won't end pollution, new technologies will. Agreements won't force compliance, free markets with proper incentives will.

Meanwhile, the shade of the great storyteller is looking down and wondering, is this performance going to turn an ugly duckling into a swan? Not likely. The story is more along the lines of the Emperor's New Clothes.

December 4, 2009

The Political Climate is the One That's Changing


A year ago the nation was in love with Barack Obama and blissful about Hope and Change. Today the latest CNN poll says that the President's popularity has fallen under 50 percent--48 percent, actually.

Meanwhile, a number of progressive causes seem to be flagging. For example, enactment of gay marriage laws failed in Maine (by public vote) and this week in the New York Senate. The legislative outlook has turned sour in New Jersey's Senate, as well, and activists in California have concluded--after conducting a study--that the political chances for same sex marriage have declined there, too. The President may or may not be prepared to do battle for repeal of the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), but if the topic is toxic in New Jersey, how appetizing will it be on Capitol Hill?

Despite the endless media accounts of global warming and strong White House backing, Cap and Trade prospects seem to be colder than today's early winter snow in Houston. The ClimateGate scandal still has not been covered by the big three broadcast networks--and when it is covered it probably will be with a report on the "hacker" (aka, the leaker or whistleblower), rather than on the possibly shabby research methods behind the climate change "consensus". Nonetheless, the word seems to be getting out. Polls that already were negative on Cap and Trade are now decidedly so.

But instead of seeking common ground (nuclear energy, natural gas, conservation), the cultural and environmental left seems determined to push economic overehaul rather than energy reform.

Next we have the Afghanistan policy--and another split on the left. Conservatives seem more or less united in support of a troop surge (my Discovery Institute colleague John R. Miller is an able exception). And almost all conservatives are critical of the President for being unclear about our goal.

But on the left there is confusion and resentment on the whole topic. Isolationism in the 21st century has its home in the Democratic party. Effective pacifism is now the altar where the activist base worships. But the Democratic office-holders who have to get elected on the national level are realistic enough to see that the U.S. cannot abandon the war on terrorism, even if it no longer is P.C. to describe it as a "war on terrorism." Afghanistan will open the split wider.

Meanwhile, the biggest reason the air seems to be going out of the "progressive" balloon is the economy. Once again, the right seems substantially in agreement that the amount of government spending is wantonly irresponsible and also that taxes should be cut, not raised, to spur the investment to create jobs. (Remember, that was the Reagan formula.) They also hold that government regulatory failure--starting in Congress--was largely to blame for the recent real estate bubble. But on the left, Democrats cannot decide what to do about spending or taxes. The famously problematic health care issue is no political substitute for dealing with the economy as a whole, yet it has absorbed most of the Administration's attention and the House's, too. The left's divisions on all these topics are now in the open.

So, less than eleven months into the Obama Administration, man made change in the Earth's climate is a lot less certain than change in the political climate.

November 30, 2009

The Government-Foundation-Academia Complex

Nearly a half century ago, leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of a "military-industrial complex" that promoted particular new weapons systems and, hence, concomitant budgetary and foreign commitments. In other words, warned the former five star general, selfish professional ambitions and interests can create a false perception of national interest.

The term "military-industrial complex" has become famous. Neuroscientist Michael Egnor reminds us, however, that Ike's farewell address also warned of development of a grants-corrupted "scientific-technological elite."

"Today," President Eisenhower said, "the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present -- and is gravely to be regarded."

"Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should," he continued, "we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."


Today, almost fifty years later, we are seeing the mature fruits of a Government-Foundation- Academia complex in science. It is beginning to appear almost as sinister and corrupt as the military-industrial complex ever was. It is wanton hubris to assert that "science" and the agenda of the Government-Foundation-Academia complex are the same and that to criticize the latter is to be "anti-science." In truth, that kind of smear is just the problem with the system now coming under investigation. Even if man-made global warming is just as bad as we have been told, the case for it is undermined by efforts to suppress data and stigmatize opponents.

Continue reading "The Government-Foundation-Academia Complex " »

November 29, 2009

Data Pollution in Turn Polluted ClimateGate Studies

It isn't just the emails about covered up information, it also is the huge store of bogus data--out of control studies--that the Climate Research Unit (CRU) pretended to rely upon. Lorrie Goldstein describes it in the Toronto Sun, relying, apparently, on a close reading of the voluminous documents by CBS News' columnist, Declan McCullagh. Note, however, that McCullagh's investigation is not getting a lot of support from CBS. Indeed, the MSM are in denial.

Reviews of Peer-Review are Peerless

Humorous political writer Mark Steyn has it right about the corruptible peer review process that helped keep the Climate Research Unit in charge of global climate studies.

"'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' wondered Juvenal: Who watches the watchmen? But the beauty of the climate-change tree-ring circus is that you never need to ask "Who peer-reviews the peer-reviewers?" Mann peer-reviewed Jones, and Jones peer-reviewed Mann, and anyone who questioned their theories got exiled to the unwarmed wastes of Siberia. "

Meanwhile political humor writer Iowa Hawk has this delicious take on the way peer review operates as a grant seeking hive.

November 26, 2009

"Hide the Decline"--the Mantra of Corruption

The perpetrators of the ClimateGate scandal are trying hard to minimize the significance of their email trail and what it reveals of efforts to prejudice climate change discussions. The obfuscation and hand-waving are working (of course, and as usual) with The New York Times and certain other major media. The BBC had the story and attempted to spike it. But the story is just too compelling to suppress in other outlets and on the Internet.

Scientists know that this is an honest tattle-tale moment. They know that the treatment of dissenters has been disgraceful. First you say they can't be heard because they haven't published in supposedly sacrosanct "peer-reviewed journals," then you keep them from appearing in those journals; then, when a journal does publish them, you denounce the journal as--by definition--"unscientific".

It's nice to see The Wall Street Journal and other leading organs take up this issue of authoritarianism. Lorrie Goldstein of the Toronto Sun further points out that money and power are central to the climate change debate and that Big Government provides money to push in a certain direction.

In the practical world of politics and public policy, the ClimaeGate scandal further diminishes prospects of an international agreement at the forthcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen.

But what will it take for the media to take up the exactly parallel case of scientists who question the ability of Darwinian natural selection to explain the origin of life and the development of species? In several instances (the Richard Sternberg case, the Guillermo Gonzalez case), email trails have shown a similar attitude of entitlement and coercion. And money in the form of federal grants also suggests a similar pattern of prejudice and cronyism in universities and research institutions, not to mention at supposedly scientific journals.

Or do the media really imagine that the case of climate change is unique?

November 24, 2009

Chanukah Lights Dimmed at White House

Politico reports that the annual Chanukah celebration has been downgraded at the Obama White House.

One well remembers the reports of last year's ecstatic celebration, the last of George W. Bush's palpable expressions of admiration for Judaism and Israel. Dancing broke out in joy, Diane Medved reported. People were swept up in the excitement.

What changed?

November 23, 2009

Finally, the Word is Getting Out: the Young are Targets

Young people are conspicuous victims of "federal health care reform." They just don't know it, and opponents are really dim-witted about the subject, imagining that the young will figure it out for themselves. Robert Samuelson describes the truth.

So, when the Republican National Committee calls during the dinner hour, asking for a contribution, I intend to ask them what they are doing about the young--the sweet, ignorant, gullible young.

November 20, 2009

Possible Science Conspiracy Cools Copenhagen Climate Talks Still Further

South Park's Al Gore explains the danger of Manbearpig

The news is filtering out, but growing, that someone "hacked" the U.K global climate science computers and put up emails that suggest a conspiracy to promote global warming against the evidence. Or was it a leak in disguise?

Regardless, there will be a major spin effort to make the story the crime of hacking, while climate skeptics will be pouring over the released data to show how the data on climate change may have been altered and how dissenting scientists have been sabotaged.

Apply Chapman's "Shoe on the Other Foot" rule and imagine the outpouring of journalistic indignation and investigation if the story was that evidence supporting climate warming had been suppressed.

Meanwhile, one can't read the emails and the personal animus they express without seeing the veil of scientific objectivity shredded before his eyes.

Copenhagen's Ardor Cooling, Along with Climate

What do diplomats do when circumstances change before a scheduled international conference to take action? They put out a resounding statement and pledge to meet again. That is what you can expect from the coming global climate summit in Denmark.

The problem for the global warming hysterics is that the globe is not warming this decade. Activists like Chris Mooney who have tried to smear anyone who questioned the extent or causes of global warming now have to deal with growing dissent within the ranks of climatologists.

How much better it would be for them to try to find common practical ground with doubters. You don't have to buy the idea that human beings have caused global warming to agree that Americans should reduce pollution and reduce dependency on foreign oil--and on oil in general. The Obama Administration that has ditched cap and trade for now could achieve an alternative victory by encouraging conversion to nuclear power and abundant, cleaner burning natural gas. At that point, electricity becomes relatively cheaper and electric cars become viable. Meanwhile, agreement also could be reached on helping developing countries to effect a similar conversion.

Instead, we get endless Chicken Little statements that seem to have increasingly little point.

November 19, 2009

Democrats Turning on Obama Economic Team

Pete Defazio is a popular and senior Democrat member of the U.S. House from Oregon and a leader in something called the "Populist Caucus" that was created earlier this year. His call for the resignation of the President's two top economic advisers, Larry Summers and Tim Geitner, should send shudders through the White House.

The misuse of TARP money now reverberates through the President's party on Capitol Hill. It means that the economic recovery is sputtering on Main Street, where it matters most.

Of course, the real scandal is not the salary bonuses at Wall Street, but the way the government has misused stimulus money on low impact, temporary projects that do nothing to create permanent jobs.

November 18, 2009

A Weak Dollar Produces a Weak Economy


Talk to everyone you know and find out how many are investing in new businesses, new technologies, new equipment. Not many. Those who are investing are mostly in fields that are being revolutionized as part of sectoral technological change. does well, a start-up in traffic data, Inrix, does well.

Other people are making money bottom fishing in the old economy; for example, businesses buying up home foreclosures and distressed office buildings.

But try to find a new retail outlet. Drive down Main Street and notice the increasing number of boarded up shops and the office buildings at 4 p.m. whose lights are not burning.

You can blame the high spending, the penchant for demonizing businessmen, increasing regulations and plans for higher taxes. All that is true.

Continue reading "A Weak Dollar Produces a Weak Economy" »

"Insurance Reform" Translates to "Higher Prices"


The assertion that Obamacare will lead to lower costs fortunately is not believed by most Americans.

Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, a Board Member of Discovery Institute, describes the true situation in the Seattle Times.

November 15, 2009

Health Bill Foes Foolishly Ignore Young Adults


Conservatives are lining up some fine arguments against the strange health care beast being shepherded through Congress this season. Oddly, however, as the public as a whole turns against the Obama Administration on health care and other issues, the critics have neglected the young adult constituency that voted 66 percent for Mr. Obama last fall and are the least engaged now in the health care debate.

Move them and you will move the debate substantially. So far, the critics are not making the effort. They attack rationing, Medicate cuts that threaten seniors, lack of controls on tort excesses and much else. But they don't address the interest of the young.

Yet there is every reason that young voters should be anxious about the health care bill that recently passed the House, as well as the bills under consideration in the Senate. They stand to lose a bundle.

Among other things, as papers from CATO (libertarian) and the Urban Institute (liberal) make clear, the House bill provides for "community rating" that will prohibit insurance companies from offering young people--who are almost always "low risk" so far as health is concerned-- commensurately lower rates for health insurance. It doesn't matter whether their health now is good, whether they eat right and don't smoke and exercise regularly. Effectively, young people--unless they are poor and therefore subsidized--will see the price of health insurance skyrocket.

Moreover (here's the kicker), under the "individual mandate" they will find they must buy such insurance. The new law requires it. They can even go to jail if they don't.

In short, young people are going to be forced for the first time to have health insurance and, and unless they are the subsidized poor, they are going to pay through the nose for it. How popular can that be?

Popular enough, so long as the young people involved don't know about it until it is too late. As is, young adults tend to think health care "reform" is just apple pie and Mom, something all good people should support. They haven't bothered to learn about it. And no one is telling them. For example, if the Republican National Committee has any significant outreach to college students and other young adults on this topic, it is keeping the message secret.

Again: the highest level of support remaining for the Obama Administration and its health care bill(s) are young voters. If they desert, the bill's base will be greatly weakened. So, why are they not being educated about the bill by its critics?

November 11, 2009

Obama's Idea of "Bi-Partisanship" versus Reagan's

Dr. Steven Hayward, historian and Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, visited Discovery Institute this week to discuss his new book, The Age of Reagan (volume two, the presidential years). Here is how he handled my question asking him to compare President Obama's idea of bi-partisanship with Reagan's. "The large majorities Obama has are (also) his curse," says Hayward. See the video after the jump.

Continue reading "Obama's Idea of "Bi-Partisanship" versus Reagan's" »

Abortion a Hobson's Choice for Health Care Bill

The Democrats are now in a fix. If they advance the House bill--with its anti-abortion language--they risk losing some 40 pro-choice members on a final vote, not to mention certain Senators meanwhile. If the Senate strips the anti-abortion language out (or the Conference Committee does), Speaker Pelosi faces a final vote defection of about 40 pro-life Democrats.

Discovery colleague Jay Richards discusses the conundrum at the "American" (AEI) site today.

November 10, 2009

Climate Change, All Right: It's Been an Unusually COLD Year

Oct. 10, 2009: When Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, turned into a hockey rink.

The hurricane season of 2005 (Katrina) supposedly showed the way global warming is increasing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. You haven't heard much of that theory lately. This past season has been downright boring.

Now we find that the cooling trend of the past decade is continuing. Some areas of the U.S. had record cold temperatures last month.

Here is another useful NOAA map.

November 9, 2009

Great Day to Encourage Freedom

Ingratitude is part of human nature. So, too, is the convenient memory lapse. In Germany itself we see reports recently of East Germans who mourn the loss of the old DDR, though they quickly add that they surely wouldn't want the old system to return. West Germans, in turn, are quick to count the cost of rehabilitating the East after reunification, but they fail to mention the priceless gift of increased national unity and security.

Our friends at CEI have made a perfect short video to help us all remember and keep this anniversary of the Wall's fall in historic context.

Meanwhile, this afternoon at Discovery Institute we are hosting Steven Hayward, whose truth-telling chronological history of the Reagan Administration--The Age of Reagan--is a riveting reconstruction of a period too often represented now in a kind of gauzy glow. In fact, as Hayward shows, the Reagan years were tumultuous and sometimes even frightening for those who fought its battles. The judgement that they had been hugely successful was not clear until well after President Reagan left office. Unfortunately, human nature also can create a false nostalgia.

Hayward's book is like a splash of cold water in the face in the morning. It wakes you up. It is not agreeable at once, but then it refreshes and encourages. It helps you face the pessimism of now.

November 8, 2009

Pro-Life Victory in House Surprises, Stuns Planned Parenthood

Amendment co-author Bart Stupak

Most coverage of the U.S. House vote late last night adopting the Pelosi health care bill ignored or downplayed the successful last minute amendment to prohibit use of federal health care funds to perform abortions. The consequences would seem to reach beyond the Hyde Amendment language of the past. The vote on the "Stupak-Pitts" pro-life amendment was 240 to 194.

Prof-life backers are trying to contain their enthusiasm. They point out that the bill, as adopted, has many other problems that will trouble pro-lifers. Dr. Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life emailed supporters that, "While we applaud the passage of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, serious concerns about H.R. 3962 remain. The Rules Committee did not permit amendments to address concerns about conscience protection, the use of comparative effectiveness research and end of life provisions."

Planned Parenthood's President, Cecile Richards, meanwhile, was stunned and indignant over the vote, seeing it as a rollback of women's health. "Simply put," she declared in a message to supporters, "the Stupak/Pitts amendment would restrict women's access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market, undermining the ability of women to purchase private health plans that cover abortion, even if they pay for most of the premiums with their own money. This amendment reaches much further than the Hyde Amendment, which has prohibited public funding of abortion in most instances since 1977."

Feminist groups now say they may oppose the bill altogether if comes out of the Senate with similar pro-life language. On her blog this afternoon, Jane Fonda (after reporting on the cold she caught) issued a call to arms over the health bill.

On the other side of the issue, there suddenly is new interest in the bill by the Catholic Bishops, whose main objection has been abortion.

Regardless, the House amendment was still a signal accomplishment for pro-life forces that have have been struggling in the new Washington, D.C. environment. What happens next should be interesting. The battles won't stay behind the scenes and out of the mainstream news very long.

November 6, 2009

James Baker Understates Ronald Reagan's Role


One reads over Jim Baker's article for the new Newsweek, looking for acknowledgement of President Ronald Reagan's crucial role in bringing down the Berlin Wall in 1989. It turns out that Reagan is mentioned by Baker, but only in passing. Others are credited more.

But it was Reagan who rebuilt America's military might, confronted the Soviets around the world, promoted Star Wars and revived the American economy while the Soviet's command economy was crumbling. In diplomacy, it was Reagan who pursued "peace through strength" when dealing--brilliantly--with Mikhail Gorbachev.

It was Ronald Reagan who stood before the Wall in 1987 and demanded, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The famous declaration was made in the teeth of advice from his own White House staff and top State Department officials that he not provoke the Russians and embarrass the Germans. The famous line, writes Steven Hayward in his fine new history of the time, The Age of Reagan, actually was extracted from early drafts of the speech text several times by would-be in-house censors. The President kept putting it back in. Hayward describes a conversation between the President and his aide, Kenneth Duberstein, in which Reagan actually has to remind his own staffer that he is the President and the staffer is not!

Ronald Reagan does not deserve all of the credit for the end of "The Evil Empire," as he called it (also famously, and to the howls of his domestic critics). But he deserves a lot of the credit, along with Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher, one should say, and, of course, countless Eastern European martyrs to freedom and such luminary intellects as Alexander Solzhenitsyn. So, yes, give credit to Mikhail Gorbachev, to George H. Bush, and, by the way, to Jim Baker, too. But without Ronald Reagan it probably would not have happened.

James Baker was Secretary of State under President George H. W. Bush at the time the wall came down, ten months after Reagan left office. (He was Chief of Staff in the Reagan White House in the early years.) I well recall Mr. Baker's reaction the day in 1989 that the wall first was pried open by East German youth. I was watching TV, thrilled, tears coming to my eyes.

Secretary Baker was asked (by CNN, I think) for his reaction. He said he thought it was "a good first step." I couldn't get over that tepid reaction. I said to the television: "A good first step, Jim? The Berlin Wall is coming down!"

It is likely that the Mr. Baker was just being professionally cautious. After all, he must have thought it important not to celebrate too much in public while the Soviets could still use troops to quell the change.

Still, Jim Baker seemed as surprised as anyone.

In contrast was Ronald Reagan, who often had predicted the defeat of communism. He worked most of his adult life to that end. He also and a very few others also saw ahead to the fall of the Wall. Give him due credit.

PLEASE NOTE: I will have the pleasure of introducing Steve Hayward, author of The Age of Reagan, at Discovery Institute headquarters, 208 Columbia, Seattle at 4:30 p.m. Monday--the 20th anniversary of the fall of The Wall. Email Mollie Tschida at if you'd like to join us.

November 5, 2009

The Longest Running Election Returns

King Country (Seattle), Washington is getting a reputation as home to the nation's longest delays in counting ballots. The problems now are chronic. Operating an all-mail system mean central office delays in checking signatures that used to be checked at hundreds of polling places. The state law that allows ballots to count if they are post-marked anytime before midnight on election day further compounds the wait. And, this year there is yet another innovation in causing delays, the bureaucratic decision at King County to hold up returns for a full day after each new batch of a few thousand is reported. On election night there was a report at 8:15 and then nothing--until the next afternoon at 4:30, when a few percent more trickled in. Same thing today. (The elections report schedule shows ballots being counted daily until November 24.) The County has budget problems but no one is saying how they are effectng the counting of ballots.

As of Thursday afternoon, the mayor's race in Seattle is still undecided and, apparently, only about 50 to 60 percent of the ballots cast have been received and counted. Delays in King County have been long enough in close races of recent years to keep the issue of victory in doubt for weeks and to start attracting lawyers like political vultures. If you want anxiety and contention, go with this system.

The old system usually worked fine. Most votes were tallied and reported election night. People who were ill or out of town cast absentee ballots, but these were not numerous enough to overwhelm the elections staff. Polls closed at 8 p.m.--period. Soon after the polls closed the "early returns" were reported, and then new reports continued being reported through much of the night. In Washington, as in many states now, a near-complete tally was often available by midnight.

Same day voting in Washington State's past--and in other states now--meant that the community aspect of voting was respected. Voters all got the same information about the candidates from the media and the candidates at the same time, as (to repeat) they still do in most of the country. People also received the election results together during the evening after the election. There often was a satisfying drama about it--the democratic process in relatively efficient and transparent operation.

Today in Washington, we face the prospect of election campaigns in the future where a truly important late-breaking event or development will not be reflected in a major way at the polls because a large part of the electorate already has voted. ("If only I had known!"," people will say.) Indeed, the old rhythm of campaigns has been disrupted has been disrupted and it can be said that some election results might be different if people voted en bloc on one given day. As to ending the vote gathering at a time-certain, this past Tuesday evening, after the first vote tally reports, it became clear that the race for mayor in Seattle was a near tie, so workers for one candidate actually went out looking for more voters who could be helped to vote, with the resulting ballots then taken to a late-night post office near the airport.

To be sure, there is certain pleasure in sitting around the kitchen table now, perhaps as a family, and deciding how to vote--and actually voting--and preparing the ballot for the mail. But in the recent past (and in most of America) you and your family could still go over a sample ballot and the information in the voters pamphlet together. On election day in the recent past you had the satisfaction of seeing your neighbors doing their civic duty at the polls. (See Steve Buri's article from Crosscut below.) And you did not have to worry, as now, about the potential for fraud when special interests corral the otherwise uninterested and effectively vote them.

What we have now is technological regress, not progress. In the computer era things have slowed down more than in the 19th century when ballots were cast on paper, or in Canada today, where national election results by riding (district) are available within about two hours.

Has all-absentee balloting increased participation? Not a lot, apparently. But it certainly has increased frustration and doubt.

Now imagine if the whole country adopted this system!

Postscript: Secretary of State Sam Reed has asked the Washington Legislature to require that the mail-in ballots be received by election night. The legislators have not acted on this reform for the obvious reason that people won't trust the Post Office to deliver the ballots to the elections officers on time. How do you know that the ballot mailed on Monday will arrive by the next day, for example? The proposed reform still would represent an improvement on the system we have now. But it is not the full answer. Thanks especially to King County, Washington State's election system has been painted into a corner.

November 4, 2009

A Majesty Lost

My take on the voting process in King County (below), appeared in today's issue of Crosscut. The original article appears here.

On November 3, 1992, I strode into the United Methodist Church in Colfax, Washington to cast my first ballot in a U.S. presidential election. I remember the moment vividly -- not only because I was doing my part to help choose the next leader of the free world, but because of the excitement I felt at the people I saw there, working the polling site. Colfax is a small town farming community of 2,800 so, in a sense, the people were the same ones who helped raise me and instill within me many of the values that I hold today. Key among them was the responsibility to vote: both to exercise my constitutional right and to honor the sacrifice of those who had given their lives to preserve it.

Fast forward to the present, in King County, and to the convenience of Vote-by-Mail. Sadly, while the ballot represents the same sacrifice, it is relegated to the status of my cable bill -- both due on a date certain. But it gets tackier. In King County, ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day. That means that many of the ballots cast won't arrive at the elections office until several days after the election is over. Most races by that point will have been decided, rendering those late ballots effectively meaningless. (Okay, not really, but are they really that meaningful if they have little to no impact on the outcome?)

Continue reading "A Majesty Lost" »

November 3, 2009

The Huge News on Energy: We Have Lots, Right Here

Three years ago this month Discovery Institute reported on massive new North American explorations of oil and gas--especially gas--that offered to transform the energy scene and the economies of the United State, Canada and Mexico. My colleague, Charles Ganske, and I described how these developments could liberate North America from dependence on overseas energy, with very positive effects on international relations.

Interstate pipelines (in the blue) and intrastate pipelines (red) blanket the country. Graph courtesy of the Energy Information Administration.

Last week in this space, and on Russia Blog, I commented on the recent article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the London Telegraph about the World Conference on Gas that took place in Buenos Aires and the growing optimism that natural gas is becoming so abundant as to blow away the pessimism about energy--and even about global warming, since the carbon effects of gas are far less than for oil or coal.

Today The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Daniel Yergin (author of the The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power) and Robert Ineson of IHS CERA--"America's Natural Gas Revolution"--detailing the way the new gas discoveries already are expanding America's ability to lean more on domestic natural gas.

Sometimes it takes a while for major news to break through into the mainstream media, especially, and perversely, if the developments reported are helpful to America's national interests. In this case, it also is a way to help meet concerns about climate change (regardless of one's opinions on the topic). It would help if our leaders would take note, and allow themselves to applaud. This is real "change we can believe in." It is happening now.

October 31, 2009

Mental Illness and Homelessness


Usually it is productive for left and right to get together on a common reform; but, not always. Instead of getting the best of both perspectives, you can get the worst of both. That is what happened in the early 70s when liberals who wanted to free the occasional sane person from mental hospitals teamed up with conservatives who wanted to save the money they thought was being wasted on state hospitals for the mentally ill.

"De-institutionalization" may have offered freedom to the unusual person who had been confined unwisely, but it resulted in many more people with disabling mental conditions being set loose on the streets.

We wound up liberating people with serious disorders from those who could help them, and ending the relative minor costs of mental institutions and greatly adding to the costs of emergency health care, police protection and assorted housing and food expenses. Addled street people can be, and often are, dangerous to others. And the homeless can wind up dead. Read Mike Johnson of the Union Gospel's Mission's account and ask yourself why public officials are not addressing this problem in the ways he describes.

Can't liberals and conservatives come together again: this time to find a pathway--not backward to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest--but forward to humane, common sense policies that provide long term mental care for some and part time care for others? There are many homeless people who aren't insane, of course, but it would be a huge improvement for those who are mentally ill--and for the homeless problem overall--if they were separated out and provided treatment.

October 22, 2009

Numbers Guy Skewers Misleading Health Care Stats


You do not have to be a statistician (I'm not) to appreciate the work of someone like Carl Bialik who writes the Numbers Guy column for the Wall Street Journal. When I served at the Census Bureau during the Reagan Administration I privately urged the Journal editors to create such a post and find some who not only could crunch numbers, but write well. Belatedly (by a few decades), it has happened. Bialik is the man. Regardless, there is nothing else like this column in mainstream journalism.

Yesterday's Numbers Guy piece, "Ill-Conceived Ranking Makes for Unhealthy Debate", is a fine example expert reportage made pertinent to everyone. I especially like the article because it validates some of the assertions on health care I made a few days ago (October 19, below)!

A Fresh Breath of Air on the Carbon Issue

Peter Huber is one of our best science writers, mainly because he sees through the hooey of official jargon. In Forbes this week he disassembles the Chinese position on carbon, which, itself is a response to disingenuous pleas from the West.

October 19, 2009

"They Gave the Train Soul"


It is a remarkable, but largely unremarked history: the Pullman Porters of America's legendary passenger rail past. A short article in the AARP Bulletin's November/December issue connects to a longer site online and a five minute film by Seattlite Thomas H. Gray on one of the most significant chapters in the rise of the black middle class and the success of the civil rights movement. There is ambivalence in this story. On one hand, a segregated, servant class job. On the other, the dignity of upwardly mobile opportunity in the pre-civil rights era.

Fine men were engaged in this hard work. In all cases, the story is surrounded by the haunting call of the train whistle, leading on, moving ahead.

A Cheaper, Faster Way to Reform Health Care


Ross Douthat's column in The New York Times today shows the benefit of a generalist's attacking a specialist's problem, in this case health care. The problem itself, as we have known for years, is a mare's nest of complex, often-hidden trade-offs. Douthat manages to clarify while simplifying. His solution of universal care for catastrophic illness is sensible and useful.

Universal coverage for catastrophic health care may not be as difficult, however, as Mr. Douthat believes. It's my personal view that we don't need vouchers for such policies (the conservative choice), or a federal insurance policy (a liberal alternative). We can provide the catastrophic health care covered in most insurance policies today, and then subsidize existing public health hospitals and clinics for all those not included in the private system.

Continue reading "A Cheaper, Faster Way to Reform Health Care" »

October 15, 2009

Court Ignores the Law of Unintended Consequences

Be careful what you sign!

The Ninth Circuit Court, in an extremely terse opinion, has reversed a lower court ruling that the Washington State Secretary of State could not release the names of people who signed Referendum 71, the proposal to roll back recognition of homosexual unions.

My own terse opinion is that the Ninth Circuit has set in motion actions that either will lead to a state legislative fix (disallowing the publication of initiative and referendum names in the future) or it permanently will chill the tradition of direct democracy in Washington and other supposedly progressive states in a fashion that many of those celebrating this decision have not bothered to consider.

As a former state Secretary of State and a former Director of the U. S. Census Bureau I cannot imagine anything more sure to deter participation in the initiative and referendum process than the threat that one's signature may be made public. No, it is not the same as voting, but neither is jury decision-making or filling out a Census form. Think what would happen to participation in the Census if one's information could be made public. (It can be, but only after 70 years!) And as in those other cases of civic participation, the government should be eager to assure participants that their actions will not lead to the danger of harassment or public notoriety.

Maybe the Initiative and Referendum petitions from now on should have a "Warning" label on them that "Signing this list is a political activity and can result in publication of your name." After all, ordinary people are now advised that their privacy is to be set aside in the same way that politicians' privacy was set aside years ago.

I personally think the initiative and referendum process is overused in Washington State and elsewhere. But this solution, unless reversed on appeal, is a perverse way to deal with such a defect.

October 13, 2009

Tax Increase for Middle Class Hidden in Health Care Bill?


The Joint Committee on Taxation was asked by Sen. Orrin Hatch to figure out who will bear the brunt of the cost of the Baucus bill just passed in committee. Here is an account of the resulting report: the middle class, mostly.

There are certain statements by presidential candidates that you know, when you hear them, are destined for the contradiction of experience. One was Jimmy Carter saying, "I will never lie to you." Another was George W. Bush saying that anyone on his staff even caught in an apparent unethical lapse would be fired at once. Another, for sure, was Barack Obama's promise never to raise the taxes of anyone making under $250,000 a year.

October 6, 2009

Opportunity for Real Bi-Partisanship on Afghanistan


America's national interest and the safety of the world lies in successful prosecution of the war on terrorism--by whatever name you call it. Accordingly, a full year before the next Congressional election it ought to be possible to forge a bi-partisan consensus on a crucial element in that struggle: the war in Afghanistan. This is not just about tactics. It is about political will and a determination to sustain it.

If the two parties in Washington, DC can get their respective acts together, the public will agree. In to win--and there is no other reason to be there.

October 5, 2009

The Stale Nature of Political Options

The fungible Mr. Cameron

The London Times tells us that a poll shows the Conservatives of Britain are more popular than the Labor Party, but only because the Laborites are so unpopular.

In other words, the U.K. public are prepared to throw out Labor and return the Tories, but only because they want to get rid of Gordon Brown and Co. They are not inspired by the Conservatives, just itching to show their displeasure.

That is not a sign of long term of hope for the Conservatives. To make matters worse, the Tory leader--the fungible Mr. Cameron--is more popular than his party.

Two thoughts: 1) Image is triumphing over substance in many countries these days. The British survey has no particular programmatic aspect to it, for example. 2) Polls, as Discovery senior fellow John Miller indicated in his New York Times piece Saturday, and as George Gilder has said repeatedly, are not reliable indicators of significant public viewpoints.

Partisanship and publicity distort rather than refine policy options today. It's not just in the U.K. The people who try to roll everything into a poll are damaging serious public deliberation. Parties that are poll-driven are making a glib mistake. Live by imagery, die by imagery.

October 3, 2009

As Acorn Scandal Deepens, Call a Special Prosecutor


Andrew Breitbart, who learned of the videos of Acorn staff making now-infamous suggestions to supposed seekers of federally supported home mortgages, is a conservative public relations man. He also is an internet entrepreneur who, ironically, was an organizer of the the liberal Huffington Post site.

This story, Breitbart saw, was huge. Here apparently were publicly backed non-profit Acorn staff--in one city after another--offering help to a man and woman who said they wanted to open a brothel; a brothel, no less, for young girls brought in from El Salvador.

Breitbart, who shrewdly suggested sending out the explosive videos ad seriatim, rather than all at once, made it possible for the story to break slowly and then build. The story marks another triumph for new media.

Regardless, what the young amateur investigators found, and Breitbart helped publicize, merits appointment of an independent counsel. An inquiry conducted within the Department of Justice will not suffice.

The videos may be just a glimpse inside Acorn. Lending credibility to suspicions of wider malfeasance are public lawsuits over alleged electioneering fraud by Acorn, including one attracting attention this past week in Nevada

The Census Bureau, stung by Judicial Watch FOIAs that inquired into Acorn activities with the coming 2010 Decennial Census and wisely worried about the perceived integrity of the census count, cut off relations with Acorn several weeks ago. Then other federal agencies did, as well. Congress fled for the exists--even many former friends of Acorn.

Now foundations are dropping Acorn, and some are saying (belatedly) that they have been suspicious of the organization for some time.

It also appears that Acorn benefitted from a number of possibly coerced deals with banks that were given to understand that their own good relations with the federal government, and such quasi-governmental bodies as Fannie Mae, depended on agreements to fund Acorn programs.

Special prosecutors have been over-used in recent decades. But a volatile scandal like this one needs to be put into conspicuously disinterested hands. If the problems aren't thoroughly and fairly investigated, they are likely to happen again in a new guise.

Why Polls Don't Matter

Our senior fellow John Miller appears in today's New York Times to tell why international popularity polls are so unreliable. This is timely, given the defeat yesterday of Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics bid. If President Obama's charisma was as overwhelming as some in the media imagine, one might have thought that after his personal arrival in Copenhagen to argue Chicago's case that Chicago would have come in first. Instead it came in fourth.

But, almost to console the President, Miller points out the way that international popularity is a poor guide to how well America is doing, or anything else.

Polls have very little use in domestic politics and almost none in foreign affairs. At least they shouldn't. Study human nature instead, Mr. President--and national interest.

One hopes the President bears this in mind as he develops his policies on Afghanistan and Iran.

October 1, 2009

Trade Deal Finally Close

Trade relations between the United States and Canada suffered an apparent rupture last year when candidate Barack Obama suggested that he would "re-open" the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada (especially) and Mexico. Then came a "Buy American" campaign once President Obama was in office.

The re-opening of NAFTA was quietly buried. Now we appear close to a settlement of the "Buy American" campaign, at least so far as Canada, our biggest trading partner, is concerned. The Canadians have kept their cool, as did America's professionals in trade diplomacy, and this issue, too, seems likely to fade. That's progress.

This was always about the politics of pleasing the unions in the U.S. But, one supposes, so much else has been done in that regard that the unions are willing to let this one slide.