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American Politics Archives


July 27, 2014

Paul Schell: Mayor, Innovator, Friend

paul schell.jpg

Paul Schell, a former Mayor of Seattle and civic innovator, died unexpectedly this morning from complications after heart surgery. Paul is remembered fondly at Discovery Institute as a founding Co-chairman of the Board in 1990 (with Tom Alberg) and served for several years in that capacity. He was my long time friend, his daughter Jamie a god-daughter.

Paul, born in Iowa in 1937, the son of a Lutheran pastor, went to Wartburg College (which has since honored him). He attended Columbia Law School in New York, where he met and married Pam. They moved to Seattle in 1967. A lawyer at the Perkins, Coie firm, and then in his own, Paul was active in Seattle's political reform movement of Seattle in the late 60s and early 70s. He chaired the Allied Arts organization at a key juncture in civic history--fighting for the Pike Place Market, historic preservation, neighborhood community groups and good urban design. He was part of the citizens group that combatted the erection of new freeways, such as the elevated Bay Freeway that would have walled off Lake Union.

I used to come to the Schells' house after church on a Sunday and one of Paul's favorite pastimes was driving around the city with Pam and me, pointing out where new buildings were going or where they should go. He saw the potential of the downtown's growth north to Lake Union long before others did. There surely has never been another local leader in Seattle as well-grounded, or as visionary, in city design.

Mayor Wes Uhlman made him the city's Director of Community Development, enabling Paul to give form and substance to ideas he had long promoted. He also gained practical experience with development issues and the operations of bureaucracy. After City service at this point he entered private development with Weyerhaueser support (the Cornerstone group) that had a major effect on the preservation and re-use of buildings along the Seattle waterfront.

In 1977 Paul ran and lost a spirited and principled race for Mayor, beaten by Charles Royer. He subsequently was elected to the Seattle Port Commission, where his service resulted in a number of improvements, including erection of the new International Conference Center, among other things. He was a long time exponent of better trade and cultural relations with our Northwest neighbors in Oregon and British Columbia and helped popularize the concept of "Cascadia". He encouraged and supported a project under that name at Discovery Institute that continues today.

Continue reading "Paul Schell: Mayor, Innovator, Friend" »

July 25, 2014

Don't Fall into "Impeachment" Trap

The Administration is pretending to be concerned about the possibility that Republicans will try to impeach President Obama. This is bait for catching conservative hot-heads. To the extent they take the bait, they create a prize fund-raising argument for Democrats.

First, there isn't going to be any impeachment in the timetable of politics ahead. The evidence of bad government and of political corruption abounds, but an actual impeachment would take years, not months, to develop. Recall that the Watergate break-in happened in the summer of 1972, but Richard Nixon did not resign (which he did under the threat of likely impeachment) until mid-1974. So, even if provable scandals were much further along than they are, an impeachment process would not make serious headway in the months ahead, though an attempt at it would be used by Democrats to mobilize their base in advance of the mid-term elections.

Second, impeachable offenses have to raise to the level of demonstrable felonies, not just incompetence and alleged corruption. Bill Clinton lied under oath, but still was not impeached. The bar is very high.

Third, the Senate, in case you hadn't noticed, is Democratic. There is almost no chance under the current circumstances of convicting a Democratic President, even if a Republican House were to pass a bill of impeachment.

Continue reading "Don't Fall into "Impeachment" Trap" »

July 15, 2014

How to Relive the Fifties (and the 40s, and 30's, Etc.)

Charles Atlas.jpg

AImost nothing was "before your time" if you let history bring it to life for you. Living only in the present and its enthusiasms robs you of the experiences of the past that you can enjoy vicariously. Some of those experiences literally can give you the feel and tastes that preceding generations knew. That's why I am thrilled to see tweeds come back into style, for example, and frozen custard stands re-invented. These reactionary fashions follow the return of salsa music about 20 years ago and the martini before that. My family's vinyl collection and rickety phonograph player is more popular now with the younger generation than with the older. ("Awesome," one remarked to me, listening to Cole Porter. "You can understand the lyrics!") Thanks to the much-reviled Tea Party, more people actually are studying and discussing the Constitution again, as once happened regularly in Civics Class--when there still were civics classes.

Howard Chapman, Discovery's Midwest Philosopher, sends a YouTube link of a Diamond Films nostalgia trip through the 1950s. I can add some recollections: John Wayne, school crossing guards, Estes Kefauver and his coon-skin hat, "Art Houses" showing foreign films, Dairy Queen, the Korean War, slow dancing, Red China gets the bomb, girls' crinolines skirts, C. Wright Mills' "The Power Elite", Bill Buckley's "God and Man at Yale," Gina Lolllobrigida, blue suede shoes, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White (the mambo and the cha-cha), Newsreeels ("Time Marches On"), Green Rivers and chocolate Cokes, "You Are There" (with Walter Cronkite), pink shirts and charcoal gray slacks, The Hungarian Revolution, Charles Atlas ads, Hawaiian themed restaurants and bars, ties with hand painted hula dancers or palm trees, barn roofs advertising "Lookout Mountain, 40 miles", Boys State, Chicken a la King for company at home, Steak Diane and Baked Alaska at night clubs, blue jeans rolled up at the bottom, Kick the Can...or am I getting back to the 40s now? In which case: collecting tin foil balls, "free cone" paper slips in the bottom of some ice cream cones, running through sprinklers, hot rods, "Who Lost China?", Schwinn bikes, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," men's bathing "trunks" with belts, canvas awnings in summer.. ETC!

Continue reading "How to Relive the Fifties (and the 40s, and 30's, Etc.)" »

July 12, 2014

WMD in Iraq: Surprise, Surprise

There were and are WMD in Iraq, and now there are Wikileaks that support the claim. What to do? Maybe start by taking that old "Bush Lied, People Died" bumper strip off your Volvo?

Continue reading "WMD in Iraq: Surprise, Surprise" »

July 8, 2014

Terrorism is Now a Pandemic

Like a lethal virus, Islamist terrorism continues to spread around the world, even while President Obama underestimates it. There is little effort in the White House or media to connect the dots, to chart a trajectory. The opposition Republicans need to take up this task, getting as many Democrats as possible to join them.

In the 2012 campaign the Obama-Biden team asserted that that the killing of Osama bin Laden meant that. Even the deadly mortar attack and siege of the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya that fall was treated as trivial--and falsely represented as a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video.

Now, the problem worsens--and we have to be alert to the chance of another terror attack on the U.S homeland. There are roughly a hundred Americans (people who understand technology and media), and several thousand Europeans, training with terrorists in Syria. Is there any doubt that those who survive will come back to the U.S.?

Continue reading "Terrorism is Now a Pandemic" »

What is Best Way to Spur Economy Now?

Sr. Fellow George Gilder is one of a number of writers asked by the Wall Street Journal (on its 125th anniversary) to give advice for the economy. HIs is to sunset regulatory regimes, following the sage opinion of the late Peter Drucker.

Continue reading "What is Best Way to Spur Economy Now?" »

June 18, 2014

"Impeachment" Foolishness

Republicans who speculate that they "have the votes" to impeach President Obama need some counseling. Yes, President Obama's popularity has sunk to 41 percent, and, yes, that mainly makes people like me wonder what's the matter with those 41 percent--aren't they paying attention? He deserves to be down to a hard core of, say, 20 percent.

Still, launching impeachment efforts is an idea that would backfire (as they did with Bill Clinton) and distract from discussion of pressing issues.

Continue reading ""Impeachment" Foolishness" »

June 16, 2014

Israelis and the Kidnapped

Overwhelmed amidst the ghastly news of mass killings in Iraq is the account of three young Israeli hikers who have disappeared, the likely victims of a Hamas kidnapping. They likely will be held for ransom. Diane Medved on her blog (Bright Light Search) explains the Jewish community response.

One thinks of the relatively united Israeli attitude toward Islamist terrorists and contrast it to the conflicted American attitude. (9/11 seems so far ago.) One also looks with alarm at the rise of anti-Semitism (again) in Europe. One looks also for American leadership.

June 13, 2014

Nobody is Madder than Mr. Obama

Once again the White House is slow and unprepared. On Iraq, Mr. Obama is telling us what he will not do (send in troops), but not what he will do.

Maybe the best solution would be a new hashtag campaign led by the First Lady: "#Don'tOverrunIraq".

Or organize a huge lead-from-behind Twitter campaign--world-wide! with Angela Merkel and David Cameron and all the rest dispatching messages on their iPhones to bring the Al-Qaida linked terrorists to account! Meanwhile, since the President is a very busy man, Vice President Biden should be tasked to publicly admonish the terrorist-in-chief, Mr. Al-Bagdadi, that taking over democratically elected regimes and beheading the police and forcing the Christians to flee or convert and generally tyrannizing the population is really something that is "not done" in the 21st century.

Send the ISIS a stern message, Mr. President, and insist that they "must" stop.

Continue reading "Nobody is Madder than Mr. Obama" »

June 14, 2014

Petri-Rubio Ed Loan Plan Makes Sense

Congressman Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida are promoting an idea that has gained broad, but not yet deep, support to finance student loans. The loans--most recently estimated at $1.2 trillion--could be most fairly and successfully repaid by charging each recipient a flat percentage of income--an individual loan repayment. If you make less, you pay less, if you make more, more; but it is a limited and identical percentage in each case. It could be deducted from salary in the same way that income tax is deducted.

Obviously, it would take people in lower income brackets more years to pay off their loans than it would higher earners, but in neither case would the repayments represent the burden they are now, nor would the program result in giving the government even more control over the lives of college graduates, and hence, of colleges and universities themselves.

Continue reading "Petri-Rubio Ed Loan Plan Makes Sense" »

June 12, 2014

Will Washington Govern Your College?

It's a great mistake to ignore the way the debate over student loans is going. A new documentary that just happens to come out this weekend is clever and potentially consequential. I write about it here, at The American Spectator

George Will raises a companion issue about the tendentious re-definitions of rape that threaten to ensnare colleges in endless adjudication of relationship disputes among students. I feel the same way about rape on campus as I do about charges of child molesting in the clergy or schools: take it to the police. Unless it involves the parties coming together to sort things out themselves, the adjudication does not belong in the seemingly more benign, but ultimately more prejudicial (pro-or-con), environment where the complaint arose.

Continue reading "Will Washington Govern Your College?" »

June 6, 2014

Minimum Wage's Unintended Consequences

Assunta Ng reports for Northwest Asian Weekly that the $15 minimum wage adopted by the town of Sea-Tac (the neighborhood of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) is having results--and causing resentments--that the proponents of the new law probably did nor foresee.

Among them, fewer collateral benefits like free parking, free food during working hours and lower tips.

Continue reading "Minimum Wage's Unintended Consequences" »

June 4, 2014

War on Coal is War on Economy

Why now? Why when our economy is struggling and American energy production is the most hopeful aspect of our foreign policy are we making coal production more difficult?

Democrats, too, might be asking, why when so many coal producing states have Democratic U.S. senators who already are vulnerable in this fall's elections does President Obama decide that now is the time to alienate voters in those state even more?

Continue reading "War on Coal is War on Economy" »

June 3, 2014

Watch Louisiana for School Choice Progress

Louisiana is turning out to be one of this century's top "laboratories" for public policy innovation, the way Wisconsin was a hundred years ago. The state has a Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, and a Republican legislature, meaning that the powers of the teachers union is lessened and reform is more feasible than in other states. Among other things, charter schools are becoming increasingly common.

Here is what the Legislature is citing as their current session ends:

Continue reading "Watch Louisiana for School Choice Progress" »

June 2, 2014

Maybe the U.S. Should Have a King?

The reign in Spain is mainly down the drain. King Juan Carlos, 74, is quiting, retiring, resigning or (best choice), abdicating. He has come under a lot of criticism for spendthrift ways that Spanish kings could get away with four hundred years ago, but no more. His son will take over the ceremonial post.

What good are kings, anyhow?

What they do, actually, is provide traditional societies with a human symbolic link to the past; at their best, an embodiment of "the nation". If they are a bit stuffy, distant, hard-to-read and old fashioned--like Queen Elizabeth of the U.K.--so much the better. Having a hip king is like having a hip grandfather; it doesn't fit the role. In reality, royal presence is not just an adornment, a way to provide classy pageantry to otherwise drab affairs of state. It does do that, and stimulates trade and tourism to boot. But it also is a kind of unwritten constitutional check on elected officials, a way to keep their heads from swelling too much.

We all know that the people, not the king or queen, is "sovereign" in countries like Spain and England, let alone Denmark or Sweden. But the royal personage, in a somewhat aloof, but friendly way stands in for the people. The king or queen accepts resignations that lead to new elections, and receives the credentials of new officials. The royal entertains diplomats from afar. A king must fine these routines suffocatingly dull after a while, just as a young traveling salesman soon tires of all the "free" rooms and food on the road. But they seem to get used to it.

In European countries that have thrown out their royals--such as Austria--the people elect a "President", an executive with almost no responsibilities other than to serve as a poor man's king, cutting ribbons, giving charming addresses at senior citizen residencies, awarding ribbons at wine festivals, and generally beatifying all events with a So Nice to See You smile.

Iimited in his power. And with a real king we could get our President back to governing rather than reigning.

Continue reading "Maybe the U.S. Should Have a King?" »

May 30, 2014

Illinois' Resurrection Program

We all knew that dead people could still vote in Chicago, going way back, but now it seems that they also can receive Medicaid benefits. Some 8, 232 nominally "dead" seem to be enjoying treatment under Medicaid.

Is there something miraculous in the water in Illinois?

May 29, 2014

Reichert's Reagan-Style Reform on Foster Kids

President Reagan's pro-families program (titled "Fairness for Families") was promoted thirty years ago and accomplished a lot, including, for example, creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But subsequent Administrations have not really taken up the Reagan agenda. As someone who worked in the Reagan White House on that program, therefore, it is especially gratifying for me to see advances being made now--at long last--on several neglected issues. Near the heart of the effort is legislation developed by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and several colleagues, including Rep. Eric Cantor, to rescue teen-agers being trafficked for sex. Reichert's bill is titled the Preventing Sex Trafficking of Youth in Foster Care Act.

Much of the problem of sex trafficking in America traces to the failure of the welfare system to get abandoned and abused children out of foster care and into permanent homes--often with adoptive parents. The lack of official and enforceable plans for such children often leaves them in limbo. Many are well cared-for as wards of the state, but others become the base from which future dysfunctional adults develop.

According to Reichert's office, 59 percent of children and teens exploited by sex-traffickers are from foster care, often as runaways. At one time or another these kids have been mistreated. The welfare system frequently puts a low priority on moving them out of foster care. One reason may be that establishing permanent plans is hard for time-strapped welfare workers. Another is that welfare agencies are influenced by the soft-headed supposition that if a child's original parent or parents are still alive, even if, for example, they are in long term prison terms and have abandoned their parental role, there is always a chance of a fruitful reconciliation some day. Yet another reason for inaction on permanent plans for kids is that welfare agencies derive funds from caring for foster care children, but not for moving such children into adoptive homes. (In those adoptive homes, of course, the costs of raising the children is born by the adoptive parents, not the government, and the long term benefits include more productive adult citizens who add value to society rather than burdening it with problem pathologies.)

The U.S. House has now passed the Reichert bill and several companion bills that have gone to the Senate. It will be interesting to see what happens when the federal bureaucrats weigh in. Will they try to obstruct reform (as they did in the Reagan days) or support it? In any case, conservatives who want to show the compassionate thrust of their philosophy should insist on promoting the Reichert legislation.

Continue reading "Reichert's Reagan-Style Reform on Foster Kids" »

May 27, 2014

Jeb Bush Quote on Gilder Book

A speech last week by Jeb Bush to the Manhattan Institute was described by Jennifer Rubin in her Washington Pos blog as "rhetorically non-ideological but in substance very conservative.>"

"(Bush) explains why conservative polices (regulation needs to be outcome-based and more practical; lower and both pro-growth and pro-family taxes) work: 'As George Gilder has eloquently written, on taxes and societal rules, the less the noise, the greater the acceleration of innovation occurs, which is the source of sustained economic growth.'"

Continue reading "Jeb Bush Quote on Gilder Book" »

May 26, 2014

Santa Barbara Killings & Political Points

It is appalling the way that the Left tries to deflect the need for serious reform of our mental health laws as they relate to people who are dangerous to themselves or others (note, of course, that this is a small subset of the mentally ill population). The Santa Barbara case already is raising calls for tougher "gun laws," despite the fact that Elliot Rodger in Santa Barbara killed a good many of his victims with hammers, knives and his own BMW.

The knee jerk gun reaction also ignores the fact that California has very tough gun laws already and that Rodger owned his guns legally.

No, the problem is that someone whose own parents desperately wanted to see in institutional care were unable to make headway against a bureaucracy and legal system that repeatedly avoids the obvious. The breakdown in law enforcement (the cops that failed to check out Rodger's room after their interview of him) stems for laws that are like a Catch 22: you have to do damage to yourself or others to show that you are a danger. Rodger hadn't down that--although he was publicly planning to--before this weekend.

If you want a political point that is valid out of this, here it is: The Republicans in the U.S. House have a bill tailored to this exact need. It is authored by Rep. tom Murphy of Pennsylvania, a psychologist . And it had 29 Democratic co-sponsors until Nancy Pelosi decided that she could not afford to let the Republicans take credit for progress in this area. Pelosi got a more unrealistic bill introduced--one that could not pass--and thus helped stultify all action.

Kimberly Strassel in the Wall Street Journal reported this situation as recently as May 8.

Continue reading "Santa Barbara Killings & Political Points" »

May 25, 2014

Jeb Bush Energizes Gilder Book

Knowledge and Power (Regnery Press), by Discovery Senior Fellow George Gilder, has been out almost a year but its influence continues to grow. In an article by Michael Barbaro, the Sunday New York Times describes the reading list of potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush and puts Gilder's Knowledge and Power in the front rank.

Note that the New York Times has yet to review Knowledge and Power. When it does (which I predict) it likely will do so as a phenomenon of politics, something like a lightening storm, rather than the serious challenge to conventional economics that it is.

Continue reading "Jeb Bush Energizes Gilder Book" »

May 11, 2014

Mental Health and Gun Rampages

A real difference between liberals and conservatives is that most (but not all) liberals believe that gun violence is the product of the availability of guns, whereas conservatives point out that nearly all serial killers and rampage killers are mentally ill. Going after guns won't stop guns and other weapons from being used by the criminally deranged, though it may keep law abiding gun owners from stopping such rampages--as we have seen at military installations lately.

That is why Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal is so right to call attention to the effective termination of bi-partisan support for a bill by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a psychologist, for "fixing privacy laws, revamping commitment standards, increasing assisted outpatient treatment, (and) overhauling that broken agency, the substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration." Rep. Murphy has over twenty Democratic co-sponors of his bill.

Or rather, he had the Democratic co-sponsors until Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi persuaded Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) to sponsor a separate bill that avoids reform that mental health advocacy groups support in the Murphy bill and instead simply calls for more federal spending. When a liberal sees a problem, he thinks the solution is to throw more money at it. Money for mental health is, indeed, a crying need, but reform must come with it.

Continue reading "Mental Health and Gun Rampages" »

April 29, 2014

Propaganda Scandal on Benghazi

A newly reported White House email shows that the Administration did indeed contrive to make the killings of the US Ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi in 2012 the result of a YouTube video that supposedly inflamed Muslim sensibilities. This fraud not only covered up for White House and State Department bungling and neglect, but also put a pathetic video maker behind bars for a year. A scapegoat. Not a martyr, mind you, but a scapegoat nonetheless.

Continue reading "Propaganda Scandal on Benghazi" »

April 28, 2014

Administration's Keystone Kops

Discovery fellow Scott Powell is more generous than I would be about the decision to hold up (indefinitely) the building of the Keystone Pipeline.
He is published today in the Daily Oklahoman.

April 23, 2014

Supremes Likely to End Dopey "Anti-Lying" Law

The difference between an unreflective prejudice against politicians and an informed understanding of the First Amendment is that people with the prejudice probably suppose that politicians and their advocates can be forced by the law to tell the truth in a political campaign; or, more importantly, that some bureaucrats can adjudicate the "truth" question in the midst of a political race.

In a hearing today, the Supreme Court seemed skeptical of the prejudice and gave indications that both liberal and conservative justices are likely to support a suit by the Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL) against the State of Ohio and its Election Commission. Ohio is one of a half dozen states with laws against political lies.

The Ohio law and its counterparts conflict with the voters' right to determine for themselves what is "true" and "false" in politics. That is, they are anti-democratic. In any case, they would seem to be unconstitutional.

Continue reading "Supremes Likely to End Dopey "Anti-Lying" Law" »

April 19, 2014

Networks of Virtue

Thursday evening was the first meeting of participants in this year's (newly re-named) Chapman Center Roundtable on Civic Leadership, a year-round project of Discovery Institute. At what was largely a get-acquainted program I was asked to talk about qualities of leadership generally, and especially leadership in politics. I was happy to oblige since I happened to have at hand my own list of such qualities. That is not remarkable except I uncovered the list only recently in my personal journal from 41 years ago. I was a fairly new member of the Seattle City Council back then. Also perhaps surprising is that I still agree with everything on that list. (I'll spare you the details.)

However, absent on my list from 1973 a number of qualities I'd mention today, among which would be the importance of friendship in politics and the constructive nature of what is now called networking. In my own case, friendship has been crucial at every turn of my own career, and also an abiding joy.

Networking can be crass in a way, the social means by which people use one another to get ahead. That's Machiavellian, but also a rather defective dialectic that often backfires. But networking also can be the glue of virtuous politics and civic action. People in our civilization make progress by working together and the people you work with consistently become your network.

I bring this up to showcase the Director the Chapman Center, Hans Zeiger, a writer who is now a State Representative from Puyallup, Washington. He, by the way, is part of a very seemly and productive network in his own district and beyond. At 29 he also has another worthy quality of leadership, which is the ability to abstract--to get outside oneself and see the world objective and yet creatively.

In a nice coincidence, Hans has an article on the networking theme in a new Philanthropy Today, "Networks of Love". It is less sentimental than it sounds, or maybe it's just more practical. What it displays, indeed, is a thoughtful examination of how to get people of faith together to meet social needs.

Continue reading "Networks of Virtue" »

April 18, 2014

Medved Nails "War on Women" Trope

The President might worry about Vladimir Putin, the U.S. economy or the truth about the Affordable Care Act, but instead he raises issues about the "War on Women". Our friend Michael Medved takes him on in the Wall Street Journal.

While U.S. Gas Idles Obama Gasses

Discovery senior fellow Scott Powell is in the Detroit News today with an op-ed that tracks close to my own thinking. At some point these arguments have to reach the stage of front page controversy. If American public opinion agree with the need to exploit the U.S. advantage in gas and oil, the President may well be forced to change his position. That is a big "if".

Obama Ukraine Response: Delay Keystone

Many observers in both parties agree that expansion of North American oil and gas supplies is one way to lower the world prices of energy and therefore put pressure on the Russians (and Venezuelans, for that matter) who rely on oil and gas to support their wobbly economies.

But President Obama's decision not to decide on Keystone is worse than his heretofore weak reactions to Russia's depredations in Eastern Ukraine. He has put the Keystone Pipeline decision on still further study delay, fearing, one expects, disapproval from environmental groups that oppose the pipeline (or any new energy production other than windmills and solar panels). Once again he acts on domestic political concerns rather than international security.

Red state Democrats in the Senate have said before that they favor the pipeline, as do almost all Republicans. For Obama now to plead the need for more time sounds disingenuous coming from the President who finds no obstacles at all to changing written law (The Affordable Care Act) on a moment's notice.

Continue reading "Obama Ukraine Response: Delay Keystone" »

April 11, 2014

India's Under-reported Eugenics History

When I was a young man working for the N.Y. Herald Tribune in 1965 I wound up in India, hoping to cover the war of India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Since the government wouldn't let me even near the front they mollified me with visits to socially significant projects in the country-side from agricultural production (which was to skyrocket later in the century) and hospital construction--to population control.

Discovery-linked scientist Michael Egnor posts this week at Evolution New and Views about some of the consequences of India's population control policies. We have heard a great deal about the coercive policies in China, but somehow the blackmail of India by the West in the later 1960s under LBJ and the effective genocide and gender-cide that resulted from Western government and foundation pressure to meet population controls has received far too little notice. From the standpoint of history, eugenics in India paints an ugly picture.

Continue reading "India's Under-reported Eugenics History" »

April 10, 2014

Outsider Trading Scandal Noted at Last

For years George Gilder, Discovery Senior Fellow and author of the new Knowledge and Power, has been railing against federal laws and regulations that prosecute investors and others who have "insider" information. The result of these laws is to make the market more volatile as investors make fewer informed decisions. The subject warrants a chapter in Knowledge and Power.

It also warrants an excellent column by Wall Street Journal tech writer, Gordon Crovitz,

Continue reading "Outsider Trading Scandal Noted at Last" »

April 9, 2014

US Does Respond to Putin's Subversion

The good news is that the Obama Administration has responded to Russia's invasion of Crimea and its current subversion of Eastern Ukraine. The bad news is that the response is an amazing preemptory surrender of US nuclear power, even in advance of treaty obligations--and even after Russia repeatedly broken its treaty commitments.

This news has been downplayed so much that you almost have to hunt for it. Using Google, guess where you can find this story? Answer: At RT: "Russia Today," the Kremlin sponsored site.

I

Continue reading "US Does Respond to Putin's Subversion" »

New Opponents to Opinion Suppression

Slowly the liberal left--that is, the ones are not committed to illiberal suppression of opposing viewpoints--is finding its voice. Now it even comes from The Nation.

Of course, Liberals Against Viewpoint Supprression have to cover themselves by warning that when things change, and the left in Washington, DC finds itself no longer in charge, liberalism will rue its present willingness to suppress politically incorrect speech.

In fact, that won't happen. There is no way the right could completely take charge in America anytime soon. Even a clean, Reagan-like conservative sweep in the federal elections this year and 2016 would still leave in place a judiciary branch leaning to the left (outside the narrowly divided Supreme Court), a uniformly left wing and intolerant higher education system and the almost equally "progressive" media.

However,one still feels some satisfaction and relief that at least some liberals have not yet lost their minds. Maybe some doors to intellectual diversity will open now.

Continue reading "New Opponents to Opinion Suppression" »

April 8, 2014

The Wages of Weakness

What happens when the U.S. is seen to be hesitant? Authoritarians press their advantage.

The Obama Administration response to the subversion and occupation of Crimea was to shake John Kerry's locks furiously and threaten to hold its breath until it turned blue. Russia was not impressed, and now the Kremlin is attempting to subvert Eastern Ukraine. Of course, the attempt is obvious, but the Russian people don't know and their government doesn't care.

Watching this, what do you think the Chinese are think? They think that this would be a good time to press their interests in islands in the South China sea. They will use force, if necessary, they say. The U.S. response is stuttering vagueness by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Continue reading "The Wages of Weakness" »

April 3, 2014

Poverty Roots and Solutions

While I was getting ready for surgery and then having it this winter, Discovery Institute created the "Chapman Center for Civic Leadership." I really didn't see it coming. Suffice to say that I am greatly honored.

And also that I am very glad that Discovery President Steve Buri has chosen Hans Zeiger, a smart, policy-orientred Washington State Representative (from Puyallup) as the Director.

In Philanthropy Daily Hans writes sensibly this week about a growing theme among conservatives: poverty. As he says, conservatives have tended to cede the subject to the left, which is a terrible mistake--a moral misjudgment as well as a political one.

Continue reading "Poverty Roots and Solutions " »

April 6, 2014

Top Liberal Arts Schools Aren't (Liberal)

"Inside Academe," the always interesting newsletter of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), reported in its winter issue (I realize I am late getting to this) that the 25 top liberal arts colleges in the United States (based on the US News ratings) are not "liberal" in the old way.

I would add that they are, of course, liberal in the new progressive way.

According to the ACTA study, few of the liberal arts schools still have general education requirements. "We asked whether each college requires seven basic core subjects: Composition, Literature, Math, Science, US History or Government, Economics and intermediate-level Foreign Language. Twenty schools required three or fewer of these subjects. Five required none at all."

"Not one school," the ACTA report continues, "adequately protects freedom of speech and expression." A parallel study of speech codes by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that, on the contrary, "every single one maintains at least one policy that threatens free speech and expression on campus."

Continue reading "Top Liberal Arts Schools Aren't (Liberal)" »

April 1, 2014

Continuing Confusion on Obamacare Numbers

One estimate is 9.5 million previously uninsured individuals. That is lower than the anticipated number (13 million), but still a lot to crow about. Except:

A sizable percentage of the newly insured are enrolled in Medicaid. Presumably, Medicaid expansion was possible without disrupting the whole existing insurance system. Or was disruption the point all along, despite the election hype about average families saving $2500, keeping your present plan if you like it, etc.?

A large percentage of those who are paying premiums (not being given free medical insurance) are paying more--after having their existing plans cancelled. The respected Cleveland Clinic says the percentage paying more is three quarters.

A Rand study shows only 858,000 previously uninsured have signed up and paid premiums.

Continue reading "Continuing Confusion on Obamacare Numbers" »

March 31, 2014

Sue the College Board Over Biased History

The Heartland Institute reveals that the Advanced Placement test for the college-bound is suffused with left wing bias. It seems that the American colonialists were most notable for their racism, not their quest of freedom, and the Declaration of Independence was a rather trivial document, apparently. Etcetera.

Some students are not going to do well on such a tendentious exam. They should sue the College Board that puts it on (along with the Student Achievement Test). Careers and life success depend on an objective understanding of history. A vain, novel and far left perspective is damaging to to the college prospects of people in the mainstream. Someone who thinks highly of the American Founders (as most people do) will be disadvantaged by the new AP.

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Prosecute the Prosecutors

Prosecutors who abuse their mandate are sometimes worse than the supposed criminals they pursue, especially when the pursued actually are not guilty or are guilty only of trivial offenses. That was true of the prosecutors who effectively brought down Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. They were brought down themselves for this grotesque machination. Meantime, they arguably changed the balance in the U.S. Senate, which may have been their illicit aim all along.

So, if you think all prosecutors are non-political, think again.

The pursuit of Rep. Tom DeLay in Texas falls into the same category. DeLay was a tough politico, but the case against him was trumped up. He had to leave Congress and at first was convicted--then acquitted. His assailants, meanwhile, go free.

Now we have the case of the collateral damage visited on Kelly Rindfleisch, a minor worker in Scott Walker's county executive administration when Walker--now Wisconsin's Governor--was its occupant. Collin Levy of the Wall Street Journal tells the tale. Note this kind of persecution could happen to almost anyone. Note also in this story how the wrath of the prosecutors can be turned on whoever tries to help their target, for example, someone who contributes to a legal defense fund.

Eventually, as the courts get ahold of such matters, the spotlight may and should turn from the innocent person being harassed and harried, and rest on the real miscreants, the rogue prosecutors who have abused their trust. Literally anybody can be prosecuted. A Judge Saul Wachler is attributed with the statement that a prosecutor can get a grand jury "to indict a ham sandwich" if he wants to. That sadly is true.

Continue reading "Prosecute the Prosecutors" »

Dirty Little Secret About Special Interest Money

The media and academic trope on campaign finance has long been that "fat cat" Republicans raise and spend far more money than the "party of the little guy," the Democrats. But if that was true, say, thirty years ago or more, it definitely is false today. The new tech billionaires are usually Democrats (social issues liberals with little sympathy for businessmen who struggle to get ahead). Many have some environmental crotchet that is quite separate from however they made their money. Such people back the Democrats. Most of the richest Congressional districts are represented by Democrats.

The public employee unions, meanwhile, have more political money to spend than any conservative organization or groups of organizations. The Tea Party was an off-setting force in 2010 and 2012 because it was able to mobilize volunteers and small donors. But as a rule few ordinary conservatives conceive it their duty to send money to a political party or candidate. (Of course, neither to ordinary liberal voters.)

There are a number of Republican big-givers left, such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. Their reward is to be demonized.

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March 23, 2014

Poverty Question Meets Inequality Issue

Without gaining much attention, candidate Barack Obama let it slip in the 2008 campaign (remember his conversation with "Joe the Plumber"?) that fairness in the economy might require "spreading the wealth around." A slip five years ago, it has been a theme in office, one emphasized by the Occupy movement and plugged by the media. Actual inequality has increased in recent years, but the left sees that as an argument for doubling down.

Finally, the right has taken up the challenge. Yes, by all means, let's talk about inequality. Indeed, where is inequality most pronounced and how does that correspond with politics? Dr. Richard Morrill, noted geographer from the University of Washington, has a recent study that shows that the most economically unequal areas of the country are places like Manhattan and San Francisco. Dr. Morrill draws no policy implications, but readers can. As Joel Kotkin points out in Forbes, those just happen to be hubs of blue state politics and cultural attitudes.

The least unequal places (with some exceptions) tend to be medium sized cities and the much derided suburbs.

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March 17, 2014

Newspaper's Great Idea for Political Accountability

Newspapers typically like to give advice to politicians on how to clean up their act, but the papers often fall short of thinking of what they can do besides observing, critiquing and endorsing. Congratulations therefore to the San Francisco Chronicle that has come up with one of the best reform ideas in years--and one they themselves can implement.

The subject is special interest group questionnaires that go out to political candidates trying to pin them down on issues before an election. It sounds harmless until you realize that it can become a kind of extortion. The public views of a candidate--in sync with the electorate--are something else in the questionnaires, constituting a kind of hidden promise.

The prime example used by the Chronicle, as you'll see from the article, is the teachers unions. The demands they make on candidates is breathtaking--almost as daunting as the money the union leaders raise from mandatory dues and then throw into election races. Republicans almost automatically are out of consideration, but Democrats--if they favor school reform--are in a real bind.


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Energy is Glaring Hole in Ukraine Response

Let me be succinct. We cannot go to war over Crimea or even Ukraine. Economic sanctions will cut both ways and, like the sanctions on Iran, wind up getting undercut with the passage of time. But the response of the Obama Administration so far has been so tepid as to ignite humiliating laughter on the part of the Russians.

What is most glaringly absent is a US response based on Russia's dependence on its energy sector for economic survival. Without oil and gas sales the Russian economy sputters. Russia's customers--often intimidated and manipulated by the Kremlin--are the weakest link in the Putin power strategy. The US has a fine opportunity right now to work in concert with those customers--the Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), plus Western European countries--to circumvent the Russian monopoly. They will gain confidence and Russia may will be sobered up by the long term prospect of declining markets.

President Obama likes Executive Orders. How about one accelerating approval of US sales of liquid natural gas to Europe?
How about approval of the Keystone Pipeline--thereby further increasing US energy independence and lowering the international price of oil (and thereby restraining Maduro in Venezuela as well as Putin in Russia)? How about announcing the opening of US federal lands for fracking--with the same results?

How about specific aid to Eastern Europe to encourage development of fracking? Failure of such encouragement in recent years has helped hold them back--to Russia's advantage.

Continue reading "Energy is Glaring Hole in Ukraine Response" »

March 15, 2014

Fateful Mistakes in Ukraine

It is important to hear differing opinions as nations head into conflict, whether the conflict is economic and political or military--or all of those. One of the problems with Russia's deceitful takeover of the Crimea and its fomenting of agitation in Eastern Ukraine is that people in Russia know almost nothing about the reality. Vladimir Putin has been busy closing down all dissenting domestic news organs that might inform them. For example, videos of the obscene palace erected by the corrupt President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, were seen all over the world, but not in Russia. Indeed, the Swiss report today a deep investigation into large scale money laundering by Yanukovych "and his entourage".

But none of this comes to the notice of ordinary Russians because only Putin's propaganda is tolerated there now. No wonder he is popular.

On the other hand, as we go forward Americans need to come to grips with the failure of US diplomacy two decades ago when the USSR folded. We had the chance, as Reagan's ambassador to Russia,Jack Matlock explains in a Washington Post article, to make Russia a close ally, as we did Germany and Japan after World War II. We made some gestures, but that's about it.

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March 14, 2014

New Orleans Charter Schools Can Become an Inspiration for Other Communities

In the months after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 New Orleans found itself with a great many unusable public schools, as well as a drop in the number of students. The crisis gave rise to a major change; the city went to charter schools, eventually making school choice available to every parent in the city.

If you visit New Orleans, as my wife and I did recently, you will find that residents make it point of pride to show off the new charter schools and announce the subsequent rises in student achievements in standardized tests, graduation rates, etc. Whereas the Big Easy used to lag the rest of the state, it now leads.

Continue reading "New Orleans Charter Schools Can Become an Inspiration for Other Communities" »

March 13, 2014

Colorado: Obamacare Becoming Very Consequential

Is Colorado typical? It appears, according to an article in the D.C. Examiner, that Colorado has seen almost three times as many health insurance cancellations under Obamacare as new enrollments under Obamacare (249,000 versus 89,000).

A friend in Indiana, meanwhile, reports that his insurance company cancelled his private insurance as a result of Obamacare, saying they were leaving the state. Indiana now has three private insurance providers where they had five before. Is this progress?

Continue reading "Colorado: Obamacare Becoming Very Consequential" »

March 9, 2014

Defense and Economics Are Meeting

Cutting the defense budget still further as the Obama Administration proposes is looking more and more like historic folly. In some respects, this is absolutely the worst time to be signaling a U.S. conviction that the world has become safer and more friendly to American economic interests.

Robert J. Samuelson is an economist who is making the economics-defense connection. Eventually, U.S. businesses are going to wake up to the danger of defense cuts, too.

The reverse is also true; namely, economics is another strength in defense and needs to be employed that way. In Ukraine right now the U.S. should pursuing Eastern European energy development--and Western European return to nuclear power--as a way to prevent Russian intimidation. America itself needs to announce plans to ship its own liquid natural gas to Ukraine and anyone else who wants an alternative to Russian natural gas.

Continue reading "Defense and Economics Are Meeting" »

March 8, 2014

Take Up Request for Natural Gas

The U.S. Congress has been asked to expedite U.S. shipments of natural gas to Central Europe. Four Central European countries--Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia --have written Speaker John Boehner and are writing Senate Leader Harry Reid--asking for Congressional action to speed permits to export natural gas.

If the U.S. Government wants to do anything that will counter Vladimir Putin's invasion of the Crimea without using the military, this is a sound proposal. The Central Europeans whose countries once were under Soviet domination know that their ability to resist Putin's intimidation will be stronger if they have a new supply of gas.

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Qatar Spotlighted as Sponsor of Islamists

Most people think of Qatar merely as one of the six Gulf states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and part of one of Islam's quieter regions. Yes, it sponsors the often-irritating Al Jazeera television network, but that's about as much notice as it gets in the West.

But to some of its neighbors, Qatar is seen as a hub of finance for radical Islamists and anti-Saudi forces, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the regimes of Iran and Syria. Qatar is accused of financing Hezbollah and its takeover of Beirut. Qatari support helps Assad's regime, but also Assad's most dangerous al-Qaeda linked opponents, al-Nusra. In sum, wherever there is trouble, Qatar seems to be found in the background. Most pertinently, it is widely thought that the Emir of Qatar would like to see the leaders of some of his neighbor states replaced in due course.

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March 4, 2014

Oil, Gas and Failed US Foreign Policy

What if the US in recent years had allowed gas fracking on public lands and had, for example, permitted the Keystone Pipeline to be built? What if instead of preventing oil and gas development, that is, we had supported it?

What if we and the European Union had encouraged fracking attempts in Poland and Ukraine instead of looking away as business was made difficult for private companies in the region?

For one thing, we and the Europeans would be in a much stronger position in Ukraine right now and Ukraine would have a better chance at economic survival.

Russia, of course, is the beneficiary of US and EU diffidence. The Russians' main income sources are oil and gas. The Russian pipeline to Europe runs through Ukraine and Russia has not been shy about using it to intimidate Eastern European governments. (A 20 percent "discount" is offered to friends.) But if we and the EU had encouraged regional sources--which would have meant urging regulatory reform, for example, and stamping out corruption--the gas story would have been much brighter. Instead, most Eastern European fracking efforts have been thwarted.

President Obama and the US and EU left have thus handed Vladimir Putin a very handy weapon to control the former Soviet satellites. He has gas, they need gas.

Continue reading "Oil, Gas and Failed US Foreign Policy" »

February 28, 2014

Yanukoyvch's Palace, and Putin's

One reason for widespread disgust with the administration of ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukoyvch was the display on TV and in newspaper accounts of his secret palace near Kiev. A public servant, supposedly, Yanukoyvch could not have afforded a luxury resort for himself--golf course, restaurant in the shape of a galleon, a zoo, etc. It all had to come from public monies he misdirected.

The damning news reports of stunned locals walking through the palace outside Kiev reminded one of the Russian Revolution and the awe of revolutionaries after they stormed the winter palace in St. Petersburg.

But it is unlikely that Russian media, which echo the official government assertions of Kiev's over throw of Yanukoyvch as the work of "hooligans", have displayed the film footage of the recent kleptocrat's palace.

Why not? One reason is that it would change minds of ordinary Russians about what has happened in Kiev. The other is perhaps that many people believe that Vladimir Putin has built himself an even more elaborate palace on the Black Sea. Reputable news organizations, such as the BBC have reported this story.

Continue reading "Yanukoyvch's Palace, and Putin's" »

February 26, 2014

Stop Targeting Political Beliefs by IRS

By a vote of 243 to 176 the U.S. House passed tonight a bill to stop the planned added IRS rules and intimidating investigations of charitable groups. Called the "Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014", with lead sponsorship of Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), it attracted the backing of all Republicans and 14 Democrats.

The IRS seems to be in an appalling process of politicization that ultimately threatens free speech by all sides. Tax prosecution is the weapon of choice for authoritarian regimes--from Russia to Venezuela. It must not happen further in the U.S.

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February 20, 2014

Nice Little TV Station You've Got Here

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a federal agency with considerable power. Among other things, it grants broadcast licenses. Should that power be allowed to influence the news coverage of broadcasters?

It is naive to think that the FCC's forthcoming set of interviews with broadcasters will not have an editorial effect. Just asking questions about how much coverage is given to one subject over another, and why, is implicit insertion into the decision-making process. Another example is asking reporters if their news judgement on coverage has been over-ridden by superiors.

It's a bit like "protection" people coming to your store; only it's to a TV or radio station: "Nice little station you've got here; it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it."

Note Howard Kurtz' column for FOX News.

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January 31, 2014

Guest Article: My Predictions in Bioethics Right Again!

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By: Wesley J. Smith

Can you believe a year has come and gone since I last told you what would happen, before it happened, in bioethics? Maybe it's my increasing age, but time is passing too fast!

So, how did I do? Not as well as in years past, but still an A-. Let's take a look:

Continue reading "Guest Article: My Predictions in Bioethics Right Again!" »

January 20, 2014

Honors for Accomplished Friend of DI

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Pat Herbold, a long time friend of Discovery Institute and a former Board member, has been honored with the Horatio Alger award--that we learned about from an article by Nicole Brodeur of The Seattle Times.

Continue reading "Honors for Accomplished Friend of DI" »

January 17, 2014

Government Attempts to Strangle Free Speech

Laws at the state level that let publicly appointed panels decide the truth or falsity of political speech have the result of stifling dissent and undermining democracy. So do new IRS rules at the federal level to sic regulators onto conservative opponents of big government.


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January 16, 2014

Another School Mismatch: MSNBC v. Obama

It is not surprising that conservatives might scorn President Obama's speech today calling for more students to go to college, especially when he misuses statistics to back up the increasingly tenuous claim that a college degree--by itself-- is the path to financial well-being. But it is a surprise--a nice one--that MSNBC has joined the critics of this conventional assertion.

As the MSNBC report points out, the problem is not the need for more and larger loans--debts to keep students in hock to government during their startup careers and to give them another reason to postpone marriage and add to the birth dearth. The problem is that the very years of loan increases, the tuition and other college cost burden on students and their parents has grown.

Consider this fact from the report: ""From 1950 to 1970, sending a member of your family to a public university cost you four percent of your family's income; in 2010, that number nearly tripled to eleven percent."

Continue reading "Another School Mismatch: MSNBC v. Obama" »

January 15, 2014

Charter Schools Continue to Advance

President Obama recently decided to showcase charter school development in Harlem, even as progressives, dominated by the teachers unions, continue to campaign against this or any other reform movement that threatens their hold. Democrats, as well as Republicans, however, realize that they represent parents and kids, as well as ordinary teachers, not just union chiefs.

Dangers to teachers union power in politics include declining school enrollments that shrink the need for public schools, , especially in the union-friendly Northeast, passage of legislation in Wisconsin and Michigan that obviates the need for teachers to join the union (and therefore reduces the pool of available political money at the discretion of unions), and most of all, the worsening fiscal problems of states that limit the option of school improvement based simply on more money.

Continue reading "Charter Schools Continue to Advance" »

January 13, 2014

Youth Consciousness Raised--But Not Enough

As I wrote a few days ago, the surprise is not that young people are becoming more "miserable" about politics and turned off by the Obama Administration, but that they are not not far more so. A story by Matt Viser in the Boston Globe, reporting from the University of New Hampshire, indicates that the mood developing on campus is probably even sterner news for Democrats than the numbers show.

Continue reading "Youth Consciousness Raised--But Not Enough" »

Homeschooler Protection Act Needed

Memo to the likes of Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul: A Legislative Opportunity.

In Germany it is against the law to homeschool one's children. Indeed, in the name of making sure that children grow up to appreciate a "tolerant" society (!) they may be taken away from their parents and made wards of the State. A recent court case demonstrates the folly of such an inhuman--but fully statist--mentality. Unfortunately, it feels very much a throwback to the totalitarian mindset of an earlier German era.

But in the United States, homeschoolers also are at risk. In another case from Germany, a family emigrated from Germany to the U.S. largely to be able to educate their children outside state schools (does this not also remind you of many of our ancestors who came here for similar reasons?)--and the Obama Administration, in thrall as usual to the teachers' unions--wants to deport them back to Germany!

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January 9, 2014

Why Aren't Youth Even More Miserable?

A conservative college group has put out a "Youth Misery Index" that uses a combination of youth unemployment rates, college loan burden and share of the national debt to show that youth misery has been increasing under President Obama. It's an interesting ploy, borrowing on Jimmy Carter's famous "Misery Index" that combined the rate of unemployment with the rate of inflation to charge that President Gerald Ford, against whom he was running in 1976, was on the wrong track. Ronald Reagan brought the Index back and threw it at the Carter Administration in 1980, and later enjoyed noting the decline of the Misery Index under his own policies.


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January 7, 2014

Little Sisters of the Poor versus Big Brother

Of the 91 lawsuits over ObamaCare's alleged violations of religious liberty, the one that has made it to the Supreme Court most conspicuously is that of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Becket Fund has had this case in hand for a long time and should be credited with bringing it home.

All the groups suing the Administration over the religious liberty issue deserve attention, but the Little Sisters of the Poor perhaps most of all. In a follow-up report, Becket Fund links to the remarkable work of the Little Sisters--the kind of charitable vocations that illustrate how religious orders still have an important role in society.

Continue reading "Little Sisters of the Poor versus Big Brother" »

January 4, 2014

Sudden Insight on Health Economics

Science magazine reports a study that people who go on Medicaid, make more trips, not fewer, to hospital emergency rooms for health care services. Forty percent more.

Yet another Obamacare theory is upset by experience.

Continue reading "Sudden Insight on Health Economics" »

January 2, 2014

A New Year's Thoughts about a New Economy

The following article by Bret Swanson, founder of Entropy Economics, ran on the excellent Forbes site on Christmas Eve. Since you probably were otherwise occupied that day, it is both saluted and reproduced here. These are excellent insights into George Gilder's new book, Knowledge and Power that should be kept in mind during the current economic debate:

In three short months, Obamacare has exposed, with 200 proof concentration, the fundamental mismatch between government's limited knowledge and its unattenuated power.

The Administration is now "discovering . . . that insurance is complicated to buy" - and to assemble, price, purvey, and regulate. Many health care experts predicted Obamacare's failures with amazing specificity. But why did the Administration's claim that Healthcare.gov is now "operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness" prove such a deep self-indictment?

In his latest book, Knowledge and Power, George Gilder shows -- fundamentally -- why enterprise excels, and government often fails, at these complex tasks. From top to bottom, foundation to spire, atom to bit, Gilder has integrated economics with the most powerful force of our time -- the science and technology of information.


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January 1, 2014

Lead Lawsuit of 2014

Could you imagine any lawsuit more revealing in its mere title than "Little Sisters of the Poor versus Obama'? Of course, it won't be titled exactly that, but the stay issued (interestingly) by Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor on New Year's Eve opens the way for a legal battle that definitely will excite wide interest. Meanwhile, it temporarily will stop the federal government from enforcing the Obamacare provision that requires Catholic and other religious organizations to fund insurance for employees' birth control.

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December 30, 2013

Seattle's Economy and Politics--and California's

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Seattle is as politically liberal and quirky as any other big city on the West Coast, yet it remains more affordable than many and is succeeding in attracting new enterprises, especially in the tech field.

An article in Newgeorgraphic.com shows that both office and home prices in the Seattle area are far below those in the San Francisco-San Jose area:

"Average listing prices in cities such as Los Gatos, San Francisco, Cupertino, Redwood City, San Mateo, and Sunnyvale are anywhere between $1.1 and $1.4 million. To illustrate what this means to a young entrepreneur or skilled technologist looking for a home, the median price to buy a 2-bedroom home in San Francisco would cost $880,000, whereas in Seattle it would cost $385,000." (Granted, we are talking starter homes by the definition of someone in, say, Omaha.)

Salaries in the Bay Area are higher than in Seattle, but taxes and most other living expenses more than make up the difference.

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that San Francisco County's median income is $99,400 and King County's median income is $85,600. However, $100,000 salary in San Francisco is comparable to living on roughly a $70,000 salary in Seattle, according to CNN's Cost of Living Calculator. Keeping these comparisons in mind, housing costs about 53% less in Seattle and groceries costs about 13% less. Utilities, transportation, and health care costs are roughly the same."

One of the seldom-mentioned advantages of the Seattle area is that its land development is less advanced than the Bay Area's, or even Los Angeles'; there is more room to grow. Seattle itself still has plenty of opportunities for new apartment houses and condos. For example, from the I-5 Freeway in central Seattle one can see upwards of ten cranes in or around the South Lake Union area where billionaire Paul Allen's Vulcan development company is active. The City also has lifted some height restrictions for residential units around the University of Washington and the Northgate shopping mall.

Continue reading "Seattle's Economy and Politics--and California's" »

December 23, 2013

Flying Censorship Monster Crashes in Kansas

Kansas is a supposedly conservative state, but it has an exceptionally pugilistic liberal counter-culture at the Universal of Kansas. When the subject is criticism of Darwin's theory--on scientific grounds, mind you--the left is eager for blood. There have to be some limits to toleration, but criticism of a science theory considered crucial exceeds those limits! Just try to get tenure at any university in Kansas--and not just in the Biology department--if you express public doubts about Darwinism. The faculty could hardly wait, moreover, to urge the State a few years ago to prevent high school teachers from raising any questions about Darwin's theory whatever.

But, historically, there is a funny thing about censorship; once it starts it doesn't know where to stop. So now we get University of Kansas faculty and their media backers all in a dither because the Administration has cracked down on a tasteless tweet about the NRA. Surely, it should be open-season, so to speak,on the NRA! Not Darwin, mind you, just the NRA!

Continue reading "Flying Censorship Monster Crashes in Kansas" »

Obamacare Pie in the Sky

Health insurance for all is just around the corner. The next corner. Or the one after that.

Those corners must be on one of Washington, DC's famous traffic circles because they never arrive. In the real world Obamacare's problems never get close to a corner.

Sally Pipe's explains how the truth is now covered up--unsuccessfully. Remember: the cover-up scandal is usually worse than the original.

Continue reading "Obamacare Pie in the Sky" »

December 20, 2013

Fix the India Foul-Up

The President should apologize for the arrest and humiliation of a female Indian diplomat in New York. He also should order an investigation of the individual or individuals who thought that the arrest and bizarre mistreatment were appropriate.

Whatever the rationale by the prosecutor in New York, there is such a thing as diplomatic immunity. Overseas, no country relies on that more than the United States. It is appalling that the President has let this incident escalate, leading the Indians to retaliate.

The public, thanks to Obamacare, is starting to understand what amateurism does in domestic policy. The international incidents are not covered as well, but are just as consequential.

December 18, 2013

When Ideology Hits Reality

I must be channeling Peggy Noonan, who writes on her blog that she is worried about the dangerous incompetency of the Obama White House, the crowd that thinks they're so smart--and aren't.

There are so many screw-ups in this Administration, in contrast to, say, George W's--which was mocked, however, by the media--that Noonan worries about the President's safety. Think of how that fake signer for the deaf got into the Mandela event with Obama. What if he'd been an assassin?

The NSA fiasco shows a lack of oversight.

Continue reading "When Ideology Hits Reality" »

December 17, 2013

Victory for Religious Freedom Over Obamacare

A Supreme Court review of the religious freedom implications of Obamacare seems likely to be sooner rather than later after a federal district judge in New York ruled against the ACA. "Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York v. Sebelius" is the second judicial rebuke for the Administration.

This will encourage related freedom of religion cases and adds to the financial as well as legal setbacks endured by Obamacare only two and a half months after the law's official rollout.

Continue reading "Victory for Religious Freedom Over Obamacare" »

December 16, 2013

Speak Out, Act on Persecution of Christians

The American Spectator has run my article on the growing persecution of Christians worldwide and the need for governments and churches to rise to the challenge. My suggestion: raise this issue with your Congressman over the Christmas break. Once the hemming and hawing are over, he or she may feel the need to act.

In terms of showing the extent of persecution of Christians, I'd like to recommend the work by Paul Marshall of Hudson Institute, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea, and especially their book, Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians. Paul, I know, also is looking to produce action items for concerned Christians and their friends.

Meanwhile, we have a statement this week (reported by John L. Allen, Jr. in the National Catholic Reporter) by Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako wanting to know when Christians in the West will answer the cries of suffering co-religionists in places like Iraq. What does it take?

Conservatives Need Health Care Cure

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The case against Obamacare gets stronger by the day. Economist Michael J. Boskin's article in today's Wall Street Journal is about as comprehensive as a mere op-ed can be. What Boskin shows is that the "train wreck" just keeps coming; more and more cars go off the track. And it isn't going to end anytime soon.

What conservatives need now is some alternative legislation that they can rally opinion around. The trouble, of course, is that by providing an alternative they also provide a new target. Instead of talking about what is wrong with Obamacare conservatives will be peppered with media demands that they explain and explain and explain their own ideas.

Photo Credit

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December 15, 2013

The Affordable Care Act--Isn't

The Seattle Times describes the continuing failure of the Washington State exchange version of the Affordable Care Act. Yet Washington State is hailed nationally as an exemplar of Obamacare.

The worst surprise is that some of the people the Times interviews want more government involvement, not less.

Face it, the Affordable Care Act is none of those things:

Continue reading "The Affordable Care Act--Isn't" »

December 10, 2013

Correcting the Record on Reagan and So. Africa

There have been some attempts to revise history in a partisan way relative to the life of Nelson Mandela. Arnold Steinberg, therefore, deserves credit for his useful article explaining how President Reagan took a personal role in changing the minds of the rulers of white South Africa in the 80s.

Continue reading "Correcting the Record on Reagan and So. Africa" »

December 9, 2013

When the Left Undermines its Own Base

College campuses are full of hot-headed "progressive" rhetoric. But even in that closed environment--regulated by opinionated faculty--students may be figuring out that their hero, Barack Obama, has played them false.

By passing year after year of pension increases for public employees--at the behest of the public employee unions that supply much of the left's political finance and muscle--city and state governments around the nation are in deep trouble. In order to rescue themselves, states and localities are going to have to make pension cuts and also reductions in basic services. Today's youth will see these basic services deteriorate and myriad local taxes increase. They haven't done this to themselves--it was done to them.

Continue reading "When the Left Undermines its Own Base" »

December 5, 2013

How to Get Rid of the Doctors

To its great discredit, the American Medical Association, like the AARP that claims to represent older people and the major insurance companies, got in bed with Obamacare and helped get it passed. Unfortunately, as older people and insurance companies--not to mention the public--have found out, doctors now discover that the plan is a disaster.

Many already knew it, of course. In a fine article in The American Spectator today, Jonathan Witt, a fellow of the Acton Institute as well as of Discovery Institute, describes the damage. This is a good and novel piece, but I'm afraid it is not the last on the subject.

November 26, 2013

Seniors Also Targeted by Obamacare

People who have insurance provided by employers probably were confused--and misled-- as to whether they would be affected by Obamacare. The millions already irate about the false promises of the President and his Administration about the individual mandate are going to be joined by this time next year by scores of millions of those under employer-provided plans.

Meanwhile, senior citizens are targeted, too, and that reality still has to settle in. Yet many were suspicious in 2012 (and earlier), which may be why President Obama lost this age cohort in the election.

Sometimes a letter to the editor is better than an editorial, and that is the case of a letter to the Washington Times by Thomas Bower of Towson, MD that appeared today:

Continue reading "Seniors Also Targeted by Obamacare" »

November 24, 2013

Who Do You Believe on Iran?

This paper was just posted at Family Security Matters by Discovery Sr. Fellow John C. Wohlstetter:

Iran's Thugs Smile, We Lose

Sunday morning's interim nuclear deal that six Western powers made with Iran's rulers is a disaster in search of catastrophe--the latter in the form of the planned final deal six months hence.

On Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace began his report on the deal having been reached with "While many were sleeping"; it would have been more accurate for him to have said "While our negotiators were sleeping."

President Obama's first official statement about the deal included this:
While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back. Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium. Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran's nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.

The canary in the diplomatic coal mine, however, is this report, that the US had been secretly negotiating since March 2013 with Iran--(a) without telling its mortally-endangered ally, Israel until two months ago (seven months into the talks); and (b) negotiating (for one of the five meetings) with Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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November 22, 2013

When the Money Runs Out

by Discovery Sr. Fellow Scott Powell

Most everyone--economists and policywonks alike--take Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's statements at face value and refer to QE (quantitative easing) as a policy developed to help the private economy. QE may have started out with that objective, but after nearly four years of failure to spur job growth, combined with the accumulation of $6 trillion of new federal debt, it may be plausible that QE's purpose has morphed into a policy to enable government to borrow cheaply so that it can spend more money itself--more for corporate and low-income welfare, more to grow state power and more to buy votes.

Continue reading "When the Money Runs Out" »

December 2, 2013

The FDR I Knew Little About

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FDR carves a turkey as his wife Eleanor looks on

Franklin Roosevelt was one of the most consummate politicians ever. Emitting charm and practical intelligence, he was the Democratic sun in the 30s and 40s. A hero of experimental and energetic big government, conservatives believe he prolonged the Depression rather than ending it and was naive about Stalin's post-World War II aims. Regardless of one's appraisal, FDR, like his wife Eleanor and his distant cousin Theodore, continues to dazzle historians.

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Film maker Ken Burns (far left)
In Warm Springs, GA recently, where my wife, Sarah, a descendant of Theodore Roosevelt, and I were involved in a family reunion of both the "Oyster Bay" (TR) Roosevelts and the "Hyde Park" (FDR) Roosevelts, visitors were treated to a screening of excerpts from a seven installment, 14 hour Ken Burns documentary, "The Roosevelts". It is set to air on PBS over a solid week next fall.

The reunion, with descendants now reaching to great-great-grandchildren, was an odd encounter, where in a reception hall holding 160 you could say, "Hey, Ted!" and a sizable share of the room's males would turn their heads. There also were small platoons of "Elliotts" and "Nicks", and even some "Eleanors" and "Franks." It was happy confusion.

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Chapel FDR built in Warm Springs, GA
Among the agreeable discoveries was the extent of Franklin Roosevelt's personal attention to development of Warm Springs, GA-- where he erected a "Little White House" as a private retreat--as home also to the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation for polio victims. In Warm Springs the political FDR recedes and the compassionate innovator and detailed planner emerges. Fighting polio and disabilities was his personal cause.

He surely didn't do it for the publicity. FDR feared, perhaps correctly, that if the public fully understood how much the Infantile Paralysis he contracted at age 39 (in 1921) disabled him his political career would be damaged. Polio terrified people at the time. He would not want to advertise his infirmity.

The media kept his wheel chair out of sight for his whole later career and FDR himself found inventive ways to appear at podiums to speak--in leg braces, often with one of his sons helping to hold him up--and to drive a car with special hand controls. What he was doing to help other polio sufferers was known, but not prominently.

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Model of Warm Springs therapy pools
Indeed, what FDR did at Warm Springs came at his own initiative and at risk to his personal fortune. Yet it had his devoted attention. In the mid 1920s he purchased a small spa in Bullochsville, Georgia south of Atlanta known for its warm, supposedly restorative mineral waters and persuaded the local council to rename the town Warm Springs to better showcase its main attraction. But then he found that tourist spa-goers were uninterested in sharing the waters with polio victims--it made them afraid--so he concentrated on making the facility a unique center for treatment of polio and other physical handicaps.

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Campus of Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute

Roosevelt believed that the stigma of polio would only worsen with a hospital style environment for the mostly young residents. Instead, he devised a campus-style facility, sending architects to the University of Virginia to gain ideas from Thomas Jefferson's classical columns and arcades. He wanted as much year-round color and folliage on the grounds as possible and saw to it that the eating hub of the facility was not a cafeteria, but a dining room with real tablecloths, fresh flowers and waiters in bow ties.

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An early iron lung
He found inventors and artisans to design new therapy techniques and equipment for the Institute's residents, including improved wheel-chairs and early versions of leg braces. Some patients with severe cases of polio were for greater and lesser periods placed in "iron lungs", which allowed them to breathe more easily, while less difficult cases received physical therapy, especially in the supportive warm water. The different pools the Institute developed allowed FDR and others to devise exercise opportunities and mobility unavailable on dry land. Polio sufferers could not endure cold water, but the naturally warm, 86 degree water at Warm Springs permitted the young FDR--who later was to become governor of New York, then President--to frolic with the children and teens. Physical play helping to develop upper body strength.
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The Little White House
FDR never stopped innovating. The "Little White House" a few hundred yards away from the Institute, as I told my wife, can be seen as the first Americans for Disabilities Act-compliant architecture--several decades ahead of its time. Compact and accessible for its celebrated wheel-chair bound occupant, the place was a genuine retreat. FDR arrived from Washington by train, usually without attendant press or more than a couple of aides. A cook came over from a local hotel to prepare meals.
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Pike Hazanne today, a patient in 1935
At the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute, meanwhile, Roosevelt liked to make personal rounds to meet patients, especially the young. At the Roosevelt family reunion I sat with a local Warm Springs citizen, Pike Hazanne, who was only four years old when she got polio in 1935 and became a temporary resident of the Institute--and met its illustrious founder. She remains an able advocate for the continuing services the Institute provides. The spirit of the Roosevelt Institute was cheerful, not dour, she reports.

Most Thanksgiving holidays for two decades FDR managed to come to Warm Springs to carve the turkey in the dining room. Then, standing in his braces at the door, he greeted each resident as he or she exited. It was his way of showing personal interest, and also giving the clear message: If I can do this kind of thing, there is certainly hope for you. The Ken Burns documentary undoubtedly will demonstrate that, as with Theodore Roosevelt and with Eleanor, FDR's determination in life was strengthened by the hardships he overcame.

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FDR's favorite chair
On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, a few days before the end of the war in Europe, Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in the combined living and dining room at the Little White House and died soon after. The previous day, a Sunday, he worshipped, as usual, in the chapel he had erected on the Institute grounds. That chapel is still in use by Institute residents and staff.

The whole environment in Warm Springs speaks of sturdy American simplicity. The Little White House, for example, is a modest cottage. It becomes a republic, not an empire. Regardless of politics, you cannot witness what this shows about FDR without serious respect.

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FDR swimming with other Polio patients
November 21, 2013

US Ignores Persecution of Middle East Christians

You will search hard for examples of voices raised in the US Government, or even in the Christian community in the US, against the worsening persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Over half of the population of one million Christians in Iraq, for example, has now fled the country. The current population of Christians in Iraq is estimated at 400,000. Similar patterns of flight have developed in Egypt and Syria, among other countries.

The deputy prime minister of Turkey, whose government has done little for the Christian minority under either secularist or Islamic regimes, is proposing the conversion of Hagia Sophia--the great cathedral of Byzantium that later was turned into a mosque, and then in modern times into a museum that honors all its history--back into a mosque. There would be no point to this change other than an assertion of cultural hegemony. Istanbul has many, many mosques.

But the worst problem is the terrorist attacks against churches and Christian neighborhoods in Iraq and Egypt, not to mention Syria. Almost nothing is being said about it by American leaders.

Continue reading "US Ignores Persecution of Middle East Christians" »

November 20, 2013

Story of Rigged Employment Report Still Weak

A new story in The New York Post by John Crudele reports that the House Committee that oversees the Census is going to examine the story about supposed rigging of employment numbers to effect the 2012 election. So, too, as I reported yesterday, are the Inspectors General for the Labor and Commerce departments. That's good, but I would be surprised if much turns up other than conventional employee misbehavior--for example, fudging of interviews ("curbstoning") to meet quotas. In that case, it may well be that the malfeasance was caught and disciplinary action taken--the kind of "personnel" action that is fully warranted but that bureaucracies understandably are loathe to ventilate.

If the curbstoning was more widespread it could represent a pattern the Census Bureau definitely will have to address--if it is has not done so already. But that is a process problem in the statistical system not a political scandal.

What the story still lacks is any evidence that people working for the Census to collect data for the household survey (that in turn provides figures for one of the two federal monthly employment reports) were manipulated by people in the White House or elsewhere to rig the numbers to affect the 2012 election.

Connect the dots? What dots?

Most important, the unexplained fact that the figure at the heart of the story so far--one Julius Buckmon--was no longer employed at the Census Bureau after 2011, while the purported rigging of numbers happened in 2012. How could he have been involved?

Continue reading "Story of Rigged Employment Report Still Weak" »

November 19, 2013

"Faked Labor Numbers" Story is Weak

Charges by John Crudele in the New York Post that the U.S. Census Bureau fudged the monthly unemployment numbers a couple of months before the 2012 election are not persuasive.

First, according to the Census' statement today, Julius Buckmon, the individual quoted in the New York Post story "left" the Census Bureau payroll (on what terms we don't know) in 2011; so he hardly was in position to fix the numbers the following year in a September, 2012 monthly report.

Second, there is no corroborating evidence of statistical skullduggery. Reading between the lines, there would seem to be a job performance issue here that is personal, not political.

Third, the ability of one minor functionary to change the numbers is very small. Mr. Buckmon didn't have that big a role in his regional office. For example, he didn't consolidate the major numbers reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fourth, as AEI's Pethokoukis points out, the Philadelphia region where Mr. Buckmon supposedly skewed his numbers (with directions from someone else), actually reported an increase in unemployment that month. If Buckmon was finding employed people who didn't exist and reporting them, why did unemployment go up, rather than down, in the affected region?

Fifth, the unemployment reduction reflected in the September, 2012 household survey is in sync with the Bureau of Labor Statistics' trend data in the establishment survey that provides an alternative measure of employment.

Sixth, those who say that the White House must have been responsible, since it brought the Census under its direct supervision in 2009, dropped a page out of their contemporary history book. The new Obama Administration tried to take the Census under its wing, but failed after a public outcry by, among others, myself, as a former Director.

Continue reading ""Faked Labor Numbers" Story is Weak" »

November 18, 2013

Don't Try to "Fix" It: Repeal and Replace It

To cite that great Obama sage, Rahm Emanuel, never let a crisis go to waste. Wouldn't it be fine if the biggest government fiasco in decades led to real medical reform? And the reform process didn't stop with the insurance issue?

It was worthwhile suggesting a delay in Obamacare as a way of avoiding the government shutdown in October, but that option (you recall) was vehemently and successfully opposed by the President. Now the President himself wants to "allow" delays. He put the onus on dumbfounded insurers while also sowing confusion among state regulators.

The Upton bill passed by the House with 39 Democratic votes and all but four Republicans is not likely to be adopted by the Senate. However, that may be a good thing, because the problems with Obamacare keep getting more extensive and increasingly look terminal. On the current path, even with a nominal delay, everyone's rates may go up as adjustment costs cascade from the individual market to the employer-provided market. The federal government's costs also are going to rise, a story just now being sniffed out in the press. In short, with the exception of insurance being provided for people with previous conditions, there are almost no winners in this deal.

Furthermore (you probably are reading it here first), there soon could be media interest in revelations abaout the political schemes that were undertaken to pass Obamacare. The public doesn't really appreciate the extent of the wheeling and dealing that went on. First, there were the pacts to buy off the insurance companies. Remember the big pro-Obamacare TV ad campaign they provided in compensation, with fulsome "thank you" publicity for senators and congressmen who backed the bill? Then there were the special waivers--political bailouts--for favored unions and major employers that permitted them to retain advantages that were systematically denied others. As the emails and notes describing these deals come to light, what's in those emails and notes may not be pretty.

Continue reading "Don't Try to "Fix" It: Repeal and Replace It" »

November 17, 2013

Reminder of JFK Assassination Aftermath

Fifty years after President Kennedy was killed in Dallas some in the liberal press still cannot quite accept the truth that conservatives didn't do it. The New York Times publishes a review by Steven Weinberg of Dallas 1963, a book by Bill Minutaglio and Steven J. Davis that portrays Dallas as a den of hatred for Kennedy. The problem with the book would appear to be that the authors somehow think that the anti-Kennedy conservatism of Dallas (which was true) was responsible for the act of Lee Harvey Oswald, a communist sympathizer. Worse, Weinberg seems supportive of this hair brained idea.

This is a slander of conservatives in general, not to mention of Dallas, that brings back my own unpleasant memories of the time--and of more recent times, too. People in the liberal media apparently want the perpetrators of crimes to turn out to be conservatives so they can make political hay of it. Since that almost never happens to be realistic--the killers are usually deranged persons of no particular politics--you would think they would have some shame about the habit of leaping to biased conclusions. There is no word I know of for this syndrome, though you might call it victimhood projection. You want your foe to behave in a dastardly fashion so you can pretend to be his victim (or that others are his victims).

James Pierson gave the perfect rejoinder to this way of thinking about November 22, 1963--and Dallas, 1963--in an article that ran only a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, Mr. Pierson, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute, has written Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism" that should be reviewed by the New York Times, too, but probably won't be.

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Neuroscientist Ben Carson Emerges as Most Effective Foe of ACA

Dr Ben Carson.jpeg

There are many strong voices of opposition to Obamacare, but Dr. Ben Carson, recently retired head of the department of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University, may be the most effective.

Speaking at the Restoration Weekend annual conference of conservatives in Palm Beach on Friday, the highly decorated Dr. Carson analyzed President Obama's failure on health insurance as one of hubris.

"You can't be an expert in every area, but you have to know what you don't know in order to be an effective leader," Newsmax quoted him. Thinking you are smarter than everyone else and therefore don't have to have genuine experts around you is a leadership deficiency, according to the renowned brain surgeon.

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November 14, 2013

Obama & Shade of Government Shutdown

The Republicans in Congress deserve an apology from the media, among others.

It was only a month ago, but you would think it was the paleolithic age; the media and the politicracy have forgotten that the infamous government shutdown was fought over the issue of Obamacare. The Republicans wanted to stop it, or at least delay it. The White House and Congressional Democratic were totally, indignantly recalcitrant. The White House and the Democrats won. The Republicans were made to look unreasonable. Their poll rankings sank.

Now President Obama himself is acknowledging the failure of the Obamacare rollout and, quite apart from the federal website screw-ups, is having to face up to the cancellations of millions of individual policies. Actually the problems are just beginning.

Continue reading "Obama & Shade of Government Shutdown" »

November 13, 2013

Government Stifles Health Innovation

The problems attendant on big government's attempt to run health care extend to the innovation of new cures. This is yet another issue Congress must take up--in addition to all those around Obamacare and insurance.

George Gilder's article in the current Forbes brings this subject to the forefront and provides another insight into the patterns of mismanagement that characterize the present Administration.

November 7, 2013

Next to Go: Employer Provided Health

A few days ago I pointed out here that Obamacare is not just targeting the individual market. If you have a health care plan provided by an employer and it comes up for renewal in 2014 you can expect major trouble. New reports are showing this to be true.

Several million people have lost their policies now; soon it will be scores of millions.

November 6, 2013

Venezuela Health Care--Preview of US

There is a trajectory for US health care and it ends at something like Venezuela. You want lots of free services? You want the government to be responsible for individual decisions? Well, welcome to the people's paradise of Venezuela.

Says the AP,

The relevance to the United States is that the Chavistas, like the Obama Administration, seem to think you can provide high quality health care just by ordering that it be done. Real life economics is not like that.

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November 5, 2013

Coming Revelations on Obamacare

Good liberal though you are, you have learned that the wonderful website didn't work. You know, presumably, that the promise that "if you like your plan you can keep it" has been broken--unless you choose to believe that the President not only "misspoke" (in the euphemism of the New York Times) but also was sabotaged by "bad apple insurers". You may now acknowledge that millions of individuals will pay more for medical insurance, but perhaps you console yourself with the comfort that those who pay more will help subsidize those who will pay less. The redistribution is crude, you surmise, but there it is.

If you are a good progressive you also probably chalk up the claim that the average family will save $2500 a year to campaign rhetoric. That's not going to happen, but you don't care. Ho, ho, ho.

What you perhaps have not yet acknowledged--because the media have not done so--is that we have some more devastating icebergs looming straight ahead of the SS Titanic/Obamacare.


Continue reading "Coming Revelations on Obamacare" »

October 30, 2013

While We're Not Looking: Iran

American news understandably is fascinated by the unfolding failures of Obamacare--the defective exchange website, the cancelled policies, the growing budget drain. But in the history of our time, the foreign policy of Obama may exceed Obamacare as a disaster. Right at the top of concern now should be the Iranians' proximity to a nuclear bomb.

The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (where I once served as a U.S. ambassador) is holding talks again with the Iranians. But are the talks just a screen as the Iranians complete construction of a bomb? One former IAEA officlal thinks they are virtually ready now. Reports Jonathan Tobin in Commentary, "Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the IAEA, said that Iran has, 'in a certain way,' already reached the point of no return in its nuclear program. Heinonen confirmed the report released last week by the Institute for Science and International Security that said Iran could enrich enough weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb in about a month."

A month.

The US really does not stand in their way. Sanctions alone have not worked and the Obama Administration has no stomach for military confrontation. Everybody knows it, including the Iranians.

Says Discovery senior Fellow John Wohlstetter (author, Sleepwalking With the Bomb, Discovery Institute Press),

"

Continue reading "While We're Not Looking: Iran" »

October 26, 2013

Urban Farming's History is a P-Patch

A major player in the modern urban farming movement was enactment of the P-Patch program in Seattle in 1973. My former City Council colleague--and present Discovery Institute colleague--John R. Miller is hailed for his role in an article today in Crosscut.com.

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How People Lose Their Health Plans

How many people thought that the Affordable Care Act might make health insurance, well, er, more affordable?

Our Senior Fellow Wesley J. Smith has a blog post at The Corner (National Review) that, in turn, borrows on a blog post by his wife, San Francisco Chronicle writer, Debra Saunders. Wesley (and even his wife) think it is amusing that it was the piece he wrote, not hers, that got picked up by the Drudge Report today.

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October 25, 2013

Snooping on Allies: Miller Saw it Coming

Discovery Sr. Fellow and former US Ambassador John R. Miller wrote with prescience back in July about the damage the Obama Administration's sweeping spy-net might cause. Since I neglected to pick it up when it appeared in the American Conservative, here it is.

Now here's my tasty follow-up question: who has not been spied on? Anyone?

How about Mitch McConnell? John Boehner?

October 23, 2013

Why Not Postpone the Whole Thing?

The Administration is moving to delay the penalty for not obeying the Obamacare individual mandate to buy insurance. This is further acknowledgement that the system is not working.

How many reporters and commentators do you think will use this moment to observe that only last week Republicans were calling to at least hold off the individual mandate? For this they were accused of wanting to shut down the government. They were called terrorists. Now it turns out that the breakdown of the exchanges and the wildly fluctuating insurances rates and the general confusion around the Affordable Care Act (which is not affordable unless you qualify for one of the big subsidies) are forcing the Administration itself to call a halt. Just a temporary delay--which may get extended.

Continue reading "Why Not Postpone the Whole Thing?" »

October 22, 2013

Yet Another Broken Promise on Health Care

"If you like your present health care plan, you can keep it."

Oh, sure.

Tell that to the 300,000 people in Florida just notified that because of the humorously titled "Affordable Care Act" their policies are being dropped.

October 21, 2013

Largely Medicaid at Exchanges, Not Insurance Buyers

The bottom line on the Affordable Care Act: the healthy young adults aren't buying it.

There has been so much confusion over the numbers of people who are enrolling at the state and federal healthcare exchanges that the salient truth is not yet manifest to the media: the people who are needed to enroll to make Obamacare solvent are not there. That is true even in one of Obamacare's supposedly best performing states, Washington.

A lead front page story in the Seattle Times by Amy Snow Landa declared on Friday, "Obamacare: 'Great Start' Here, While Oregon Lags." It contrasts Oregon, whose exchange is still not functioning at all, with Washington, where "Nearly 25,000 have enrolled in health care coverage through (the state's) Healthplanfinder."

It is not until 29 paragraphs into the story that one learns, almost incidentally, that 22,000 of the 25,000 Washington State enrollees mentioned have signed up for Medicaid. Three thousand "enrolled in private health plans through the exchange which provides financial assistance to reduce the cost of coverage for those who qualify."


Continue reading "Largely Medicaid at Exchanges, Not Insurance Buyers" »

Nobody's Madder Than Obama

"Nobody's madder than me," says President Obama about the "glitches" that destroyed the Obamacare rollout. But who is he mad at?

He says that there are "no excuses" for the problems people have had with the new system. Great. Except, in the same press conference came a parade of excuses, blame for other people and distractions (think of the other, more successful features of the Obamacare already in place, he says).

Was it not just like this five months ago when the IRS scandal became public? At that time, the President stated, "Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I'm angry about it." Yes, and the "anger" lasted about as long as the press conference and then came the counter-attacks on the critics and investigators.

Continue reading "Nobody's Madder Than Obama" »

October 18, 2013

Take a Tour of New Orleans

Thumbnail image for NEW ORLEANS.jpegA relatively quiet night in the French Quarter.

A visit to New Orleans today does not reveal many signs that the The Big Easy took such a hard blow from Hurricane Katrina eight years ago. Even the infamous Ward 9 now displays hundreds of new houses built by private and public money. There are only a few structures left that are so dilapidated that they are still set for destruction. However, yes, there are many vacant lots.

Meanwhile, the areas not hit hard--notably the French Quarter, the Garden District, Uptown--are as bright as ever, maybe better. The attitude of the locals is positive. Tourists are thanked "for coming to New Orleans."

Eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded by Katrina, with certain neighborhoods under water for six weeks. Some one hundred and forty thousand of the residents who were evacuated or fled have not come back.

Continue reading "Take a Tour of New Orleans" »

October 14, 2013

Open a Window in DC's House of Mirrors

Please remember that the current government shutdown was precipitated by concern over Obamacare. The political left and media subject has changed now to other things: the dangers of default, raising the debt limit and the Democratic desire to prevent the added and scheduled government spending cuts in the sequester law signed by the President two years ago.

But let's get back to to the beginning. Almost all Republicans wanted a year's delay in the insurance mandate for individuals like the one given to big business. They also wanted to lift the new tax on medical devices, since it slows US innovation in life-saving equipment. They further charged that the implementation of Obamacare was disorganized, an impending "train wreck".

The way things are turning out, the train wreck is happening. The start up problems of the exchanges in most cases are major. How did a crowd that prepared the most sophisticated high tech programs to get out the Democratic vote in 2012 come up--after three years' planning--with a health care signup program that doesn't sign people up?

Continue reading "Open a Window in DC's House of Mirrors" »

October 11, 2013

Youth Team Defeats Adolescent Government

A federal court has called a foul on the Interior Department for closing down lacrosse practice fields that the National Park System doesn't even service. Well-to-do McLean, VA, across the Potomac from Washington, DC, is not populated by an easily cowed citizenry, so when the National Park Service forcibly closed the lacrosse fields that a youth league had rented from a local parks office that manages the facilities for the NPS, the team's lawyers took the government to court--and won at least a temporary victory.

It is significant that this story appeared in the Washington Post, not a conservative paper. Observed the reporter, Mark Zapotosky, "McLean Youth Lacrosse's lawsuit does not affect other closed national parks and monuments across the country. Still, it might be somewhat embarrassing to federal officials, who have been accused of closing facilities unnecessarily to exaggerate the shutdown's impact. And it might inspire similar legal actions."

Continue reading "Youth Team Defeats Adolescent Government" »

The Debt that Devours the Economy

Major growth is the only solution to the economic woes of the country, but even with that--which George Gilder describes in Knowledge and Power--America's over-spending trajectory must be restrained.

The danger, as Discovery Sr. Fellow Scott Powell writes in USA Today this morning, is far greater and more intractable that the current default crisis that is absorbing the media's attention.

Continue reading "The Debt that Devours the Economy" »

October 10, 2013

National Parks System is Obama's Goat

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I collected some things I wanted to say about the shutdown--and how it seems that the National Park Service was tasked with making things as unpleasant for the public as possible--and sent them to the American Spectator. They published them this morning.

The trouble is, new examples keep developing. Somehow there are funds even to pay guards to keep the public from going into paved public plazas, as in Philadelphia.

And yet the NPS does seem to be backing down in some cases, which means that the publicity has become negative for the White House.

Intentionally maximizing felt pain as a way to rouse the public against your budgetary opponents might make sense if the issue were Obamacare. One couldn't blame the White House for pushing those buttons. But the National Park Service?

.

Continue reading "National Parks System is Obama's Goat" »

October 9, 2013

New Meaning for "Deadbeat Dad"

A man in Ohio who disappeared in 1986 and was declared legally dead in 1994, almost 20 years ago, has come to court to ask for his life back. Nothing doing. The Court said he remains legally dead.

You might feel sympathy for the judge, who after all is trying to protect the dead man's widow--er, wife--from repaying Social Security Survivors Benefits that she and their minor children received back in the 90s.

Nonetheless, here stands the man, one Donald Miller. He wants a Social Security number so he can work again, having put alcohol behind him (he says).

It's an amusing story (assuming you are not part of it, of course), but the most amusing thing is that a story in the Findlay, Ohio Courier yesterday has provoked scores of comments. Many are inane, naturally, offering political jibes and speculation about how wonderful it must be to exit outside the notice of the government.

But one comment is by someone who knows what he is talking about, "Joe":

Continue reading "New Meaning for "Deadbeat Dad"" »

Are Slain Soldiers' Families Hostages, Too?

The President says the shutdown is Congress's fault (that is, the Republican House's fault) and that while he "will not negotiate," people are suffering. Since the Government still receives enough money during the supposed shutdown to finance most of its operations, the Executive Branch gets to pick where to spend and where to cut.

The latest is cuts in military benefits to families of soldiers killed in combat. It is hard to believe, but it's true. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is appropriately, if politely, appalled.

Putting the budget squeeze on the families of recently killed servicemen is a terrible mistake that should be corrected quickly--with apologies.

October 7, 2013

The Liberal Wing of New Urbanism

This is my friend Neal Peirce, as he starts a new career. New urbanism has several faces and this is one of the most accomplished.

October 4, 2013

The Maginot Line

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one of the Feds effort to shut down the World War One memorial is a good example. (Hat tip for photo to the Weekly Standard).

October 3, 2013

How to See Texas through Times' Spectacles

One shrugs on seeing a New York Times story about the Texas Board of Education and its science standards that support "critical thinking." Mustn't have any critical thinking in public schools, especially on science!

There are loving pictures of costumed members of the ACLU and the Sierra Club and the misnamed Texas Freedom Network. Still, it is worth recalling that the New York Times openly admits its unwillingness to cover this kind of story by what normally are considered fair standards.


Continue reading "How to See Texas through Times' Spectacles" »

Discovery Institute is Not Shut Down--Yet

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Rumors to the contrary, Discovery Institute has not been closed by the federal shutdown. Any barriers put outside our door by officers of the government will be removed. I hope.

We know that they have closed open-air monuments and parks across the country that normally have few or no federal police on hand--but that they now have uniformed, paid workers present to make certain the public does not sneak off the sidewalk and take a peak at the Lincoln Memorial or Martin Luther King's statue or the names on the Vietnam memorial. The point is to show you, the public, how irresponsible the House is for trying to hold up funding for the National Parks--oops, wait, I mean for Obamacare.

How much is it costing to have all these police and other personnel busy making sure everything is closed down and the public punished? Past shutdowns weren't so draconian, but the new Administration is nothing if not thorough in ramming home its political points.

Continue reading "Discovery Institute is Not Shut Down--Yet" »

October 2, 2013

The New Class of Poor--the Entitled Young?

Youth may be designated the newly fashionable poor--and what C.S. Lewis once called the
"willing slaves of the welfare state". Where we once had "welfare queens" in their 40s with several kids, we now may have welfare queens and kings in their twenties. Once they start looking into it, healthy young people can be seduced out of an ambition for getting ahead to one for getting enrolled in poverty programs. The latest, most clever opening may be through the door of Obamacare. But it by no means is the only route to serfdom for the Millennials.

There are "100 Unintended Consequences" of Obamacare, according to a resourceful article by Andrew Johnson at National Review Online. Prices for premiums aren't going down, he reports, they are going up. That includes steep rises for young working people. That might seem like bad news, and a surprise to those who believed the President's promises to "bend the cost curve down".

Continue reading "The New Class of Poor--the Entitled Young?" »

As Predicted, Media Blame the GOP

The new Affordable Care Act exchanges are not working at all well. Even where there is a great deal of attention to them, the number of people actually ordering insurance is not great.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration's use of the good old "Washington Monument syndrome"--closing down the most conspicuous services in order to convince the public that no money can be saved without dire results--has been taken to new extremes. We have the National Park Service, for example, blocking off open public monuments that don't require any government employees to operate, such at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. Some aging vets have "stormed" the police barricades, which is very colorful news, one would think, but not if your news outlet doesn't have such items in script for the shutdown. (Incidentally, while it takes no personnel to leave a public memorial alone, it took a crowd of government personnel to close down the site and police its periphery!)

Continue reading "As Predicted, Media Blame the GOP" »

October 1, 2013

The Odds Obamacare Critics Face

Conservatives almost all oppose the misnamed Affordable Care Act (ACA)--Obamacare--but they are frustrated to distraction by their inability to get their points across to the public. The case against Obamacare is objectively clear and (to me) persuasive. The problem is, So What?

Facing media that are 80-90 percent unfriendly (about the odds faced by dissidents in Russia or Venezuela), conservatives in general and Republicans in particular cannot hope to explain a complicated story to the public and get support for a government shutdown as a solution. It's tactics that are driving the Republicans crazy.

Continue reading "The Odds Obamacare Critics Face" »

September 25, 2013

Revealing the Activist "Experts"

Activists frustrated by representative democracy seek ways to circumvent the public and impose their will. One way is to try to shape public opinion by agenda-driven journalism--the kind that slants the news. Another is to seek jobs in the bureaucracy--the permanent government. Biased bureaucrats, as we have seen with Lois Lerner at the IRS, raise particularly pernicious problems. Laws that create regulations tend to attract enforcers who come to their job with a sense of ideological mission. You get a lot of that in many affirmative action enforcement programs. The offices tend to be staffed by people with a chip on their shoulder.

You often get these kangaroo courts in environmental enforcement, too, of course. What kinds of people do you think join such staffs, cause-oriented environmentalists or disinterested people who try to apply the regulations with an understanding of all the interests involved? Only a few such bodies try to work out settlements to the benefit of all involved.

Yet another way for an ideologue to employ unelected power is to volunteer for special purpose committees of professional associations--say, legal societies or academic boards. If they are willing to go to a lot of boring meetings and eat lots of hotel food they can get on the committees that announce the professional organization's stands on all kinds of controversial issues. Having seen this up close, I assure you that most of the time such committees don't know what they are signing onto. The activists just roll them.

But one of the best ways an activist can try to lead the public is by presenting himself as an expert on some tedious-seeming panel that, somehow, comes out with sensational findings of what is called "science".

Continue reading "Revealing the Activist "Experts"" »

September 24, 2013

Seattle Crowd Hails "Knowledge and Power"

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George Gilder, who helped found Discovery Institute 23 years ago and is the author of the recently published Knowledge and Power, foresees a new model of economics based on information theory, representing a force that is transforming many fields. He was interviewed last night at Town Hall, Seattle by Tom Alberg, original managing director of Madrona Venture Group and another influence on the development of Discovery. Audience reactions and a long line of book buyers afterwards indicated that the chemistry between the two old friends was effective in exploring what Gilder identifies as the great challenge to our economy: how to connect the entrepreneurial "high entropy surprise" that creates knowledge--and therefore, progress--with the "low entropy" reliability of predictable power in institutions of government and business.

Gilder said that information theory elucidated 80 years ago by Claude Shannon offers insights not only into the fields of physics and technology, but also into economics, biology, education and even political science.

Continue reading "Seattle Crowd Hails "Knowledge and Power"" »

September 23, 2013

Russia Resets the Middle East

by John Wohlstetter (Discovery Sr. Fellow)
(from today's Daily Caller)

"Nation-building in Iraq fell apart upon Obama's exit, when U.S. persistence had finally forged a fragile stability. Syria festered. Iran made steady progress toward joining the nuclear club, despite sabotage by America and Israel. In 2011 the Arab Spring unleashed a series of revolutions about which the U.S. could do little, upending pro-U.S. Egyptian rule in Egypt. Only the military's countercoup tossed the Islamists out of power -- as President Obama backed the Muslim Brotherhood. What little Team Obama did elsewhere also helped the Islamists. Libya, after deposing the tyrannical Muammar Gaddafi, descended into Hobbesian anarchy, which led to the debacle at the American consulate in Benghazi. President Obama's failure to impose Draconian sanctions to help the Iranian Green Movement's 2009 revolution overthrow Tehran's mullahs threw away a rare opportunity to shape tectonic events. And constant Obama administration pressure against top ally Israel weakened alliance relations and encouraged Palestinian intransigence.

"And now, this week, President Obama fumbled again...."

Read the full analysis. Most Americans probably are not paying attention, but the U.S. position in the world is getting weaker.

September 22, 2013

Harvard Report Revived on Gun Trope

Somehow a five year old report on guns and crime from the Harvard Law Journal of Public Policy that got only a little publicity when published is suddenly getting more. Maybe it's because it shows that legal gun ownership correlates positively with low crime rates--and that finding is so contrary to the common trope of the Left.

Austria, with the lowest murder rate in the West, has 17,000 guns per 100,000 people. Luxembourg, with high gun crime rates, has tough anti-gun laws, while nearby Germany, with more lenient rules, has lower rates of gun crime.

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September 20, 2013

DeLay Decision Also Shows Need for Curbs


The trouble revealed by the reversal to Rep. Tom DeLay's conviction is not just with media bias (see previous post). It also is with the prosecutorial system.

One of the most terrifying aspects of totalitarianism (or authoritarianism) is the power of government officials to find legal excuses to torment and even jail political opponents. We have seen this repeatedly now in Russia. The failed prosecution of Rep. Tom DeLay--whatever you think of his politics, as conservative leader Richard Viguerie says--shows how ambitious and over-zealous prosecutors like Ronnie Earle of Travis County,Texas (Houston) can upend the rule of law even in this country.

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September 19, 2013

DeLay Decision Should Open Media Check

It is hard for an outsider to know the details of a political corruption trial, but the trial and conviction of former House leader Tom DeLay didn't ring true at the time. The promoters were partisan Democrats with a long history of targeting DeLay, a tough political player himself. But the real pressure for indictment and conviction came from the media. I will leave it for others to cite all the editorials and self-righteous columns that attacked him.

Now his conviction has been overturned and, effectively, DeLay is exonerated. His hardball politics is no different from what we see daily in Democratic campaigns. Well, there is a difference. DeLay was forced out of office while the current crowd are in office and making the rules.

Continue reading "DeLay Decision Should Open Media Check" »

September 18, 2013

Mauldin Features Gilder's New Economics

One of the most powerful market analysts, John Mauldin, publishes George Gilder today in "Outside the Box." The online site attracts hundreds of thousands of readers.

This is a superb essay. If you want to understand George's Knowledge and Power, it's an excellent introduction.

Continue reading "Mauldin Features Gilder's New Economics" »

September 15, 2013

Richards in Forbes Describes Ec Crisis

Jay Richards' Infiltrated is getting little notice from print reviewers, at least so far. Word of mouth and radio and TV interviews, however, have been helpful in putting Infiltrated on the New York Times Bestseller list (number eight) for the third week. It's number two on the Business Best Seller list.

Continue reading "Richards in Forbes Describes Ec Crisis" »

September 6, 2013

How Marriage Got Divorced from Law

Intellectual history is worth while if only as a warning that big changes can start from seemingly small ones. In First Things this week Discovery Sr. Fellow Wesley Jay Smith lays out the story of "palimony" and how a famous case in California 35 years ago--Marvin v. Marvin--changed the legal meaning of marriage and sped the cultural transformation.

September 4, 2013

Why is it the REPUBLICANS' Problem?

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post now joins the New York Times and others who are trying to make the issue of whether to attack Syria a question of Republican support. Why should it be?

At some point the partisan press has to look reality in the face. The Democrats have a sizable majority in the Senate. It's up to them to find the votes there to support the policy of the President.

In the House the Democrats have a sizable minority, and there are at least 20 percent of the Republican House members willing to support a resolution in favor of a Syria attack. That 20 percent (40 some Congressmen) is plenty enough to assure passage--providing that the Democrats in the House support the President.

Continue reading "Why is it the REPUBLICANS' Problem?" »

Weeds that Are Choking the Recovery

The housing crisis has not been solved. The same kind of thinking that led to the collapse in 2008 proceeds, inasmuch as public understanding of the Great Recession remains clouded by media misinformation and neglect and public policies remain unreformed.

There was a crony capitalism payoff to the recession that was not covered at the time and mainly is coming to light through Discovery Fellow Jay Richards' new book, Infiltrated. His article in today's Washington Times covers some striking highlights. The most genuine scandal of the Great Recession is the one that the mainstream media have ignored.

Continue reading " Weeds that Are Choking the Recovery" »

September 3, 2013

Questions Before US Attacks Syria

Discovery's Casey Luskin asks if the WMD we are hearing about was Saddam Hussein's stockpile before the US invasion of ten years ago. It's a good question. Many speculated at the time that the reason the UN inspectors failed to find WMD in Iraq before 2003's invasion was that they had been shipped to Saddam's Baathist Party ally: Syria. So what do we really know about Syria's WMD?

Another, even more pertinent question before the US attacks: How do we know that the WMD attack really was carried out by Assad? We will feel used, indeed, if the gas killings turn out to have been perpetrated by al Qaeda for the purpose of provoking us to attack Assad.

Yet another question before we rush ahead: If the leaders of Christian denominations in Syria (Catholic and Orthodox) are asking the U.S. to keep out, why aren't we listening to them? Do we suppose (which is possible) that they are taking this position because they have to, and actually would be glad to see Assad go? It would nice, for a change, if the USG would put the survival interests of Middle Eastern Christians into the top, rather than bottom, of its calculations.

How serious is the Free Syrian Army? How independent is it from al Nusra and the other Islamic extremists? A Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth O'Bagy of the Institute for the Study of War describes a three party war: Assad's, al Qaeda (al Nusra and Hezbollah) and the Free Syrian Army, with the latter two poised to fight it out once Assad is taken down. Is this an accurate picture?


Continue reading "Questions Before US Attacks Syria" »

September 2, 2013

To Times, Syria is About Split GOP

Count on the New York Times to politicize everything, even a foreign policy crisis fourteen months before the next mid-term elections.

Online today:

"Syria Vote Sets Up Foreign Policy Clash Within the G.O.P.
By JONATHAN MARTIN
The Congressional vote will offer the best insight yet on which wing of the Republican Party -- the traditional hawks, or a growing bloc of noninterventionists -- has the advantage."

Somehow the Times thinks the current Administration muddle over Syria is about the internal state of the GOP. Mr. G. W. Bush must still be in office and the GOP in control of both houses of Congress. It's up to the Republicans to unscramble the egg on Mr. Obama's face.

Continue reading "To Times, Syria is About Split GOP" »

September 1, 2013

Demand Climate Debate in Congress

Wouldn't this be a propitious moment for members of Congress to debate the question of global warming? There is so much obfuscation and confusion on this topic that the right solution is clearly public debate. Since that is not allowed in most of the media or universities these days, it should be taken up in the people's forum: Congress.

This just in (for example): Arctic ice overall is not melting.

Yes, we just had the ballyhooed latest leaked draft of a UN report on the certainty of global warming; er, make that climate change. Many editorials and Gore-y warnings followed.

But then came reports that the US had fewer hot days this year than in a century of past summers. Also, there were fewer August hurricanes than in years. Hot weather events or hurricanes neither confirm nor deny global warming, but don't tell that to the Left when we have a heat wave or storm. It's when we don't have hot weather or hurricanes that we suddenly get common sense demurrals from them on such topics.

Same with arctic ice. The dangers were dire.

But now: Ice in the Arctic is surprisingly large this summer. It's not what global warming warners expected. In some sense, they must be disappointed, especially with winter coming on.

Continue reading "Demand Climate Debate in Congress" »

September 3, 2013

Hackers Can Take Over Your Car, House

Frank Gregorsky of Discovery Institute calls to our attention two articles from Forbes (and a YouTube piece) that describe in the first case how hackers can take over your car from a distance, and in the second, how they can make computerized items in your house go crazy.

The point is, if creative young American hackers can do it, criminals and international enemies cannot be far behind.

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August 31, 2013

What Domestic Crises Have in Common

Infiltrated is now a best-selling book, but most people still have not realized the significance of the revelations Jay Richards makes about the crony capitalists who have manipulated government toward their own private and ideological ends.

Now (in the Detroit News), Discovery Sr. Fellow Scott Powell is showing how the tactics are being applied to higher education loans and the "crisis" it has created.

Continue reading "What Domestic Crises Have in Common" »

August 30, 2013

New York Looking Forward to a Dead End

New York Democrats seem determined to reverse the successes their city has enjoyed in the past couple of decades by nominating a candidate for mayor, Bill de Blasio, who will repudiate the anti-crime policies that helped end the rot in the Big Apple and made The City a place of safety and civility. Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter has a "Letter from the Capital" podcast reviewing the mistaken view of the leading Democratic mayoral candidate that "stop and frisk" is somehow contrary to civil rights.

Continue reading "New York Looking Forward to a Dead End" »

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.


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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

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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

Crosscut.com 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

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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,


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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Richochet.com).

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.


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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.

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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.

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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.


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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."

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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).

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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.

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May 13, 2013

Pressure Cooker Whistle Blows

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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?

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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.

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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 Politico.com.

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.


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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

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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.

Continue reading "Mr. Obama's Hobbesian Health Care" »

March 28, 2012

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

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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

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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 http://www.indivisiblebook.com/, 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

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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

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

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

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

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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

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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?

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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

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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"

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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

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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

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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.

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November 18, 2011

"Jobs, Not Cuts" Theme is Beside Point

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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

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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

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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: MoveOn.org.

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?

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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"

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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

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"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"

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$31.99

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

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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.

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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 Spenditol.com.

September 19, 2011

Book: Obama Foiled by Appointees

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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"

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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.

Wired

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 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

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

February 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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Reagan's Closest Aide" »

February 4, 2011

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

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

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

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

It has some great lines of Reagan's.

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

February 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

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What next, knee breeches and powdered wigs?

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

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

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

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.

Continue reading "One Man's Dissent Tells Real Story of Housing and Financial Meltdown" »

An Uptight Priest Attempts Elvis Imitation

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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.

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

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 fact.....at 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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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November 15, 2010

Comeuppance Nears for Earmarks Abuses

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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

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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.

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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.


ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS OUT OF CONTROL
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


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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 Politico.com, 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

Continue reading "America's "New Class"" »

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.

Continue reading "Baseball is as American as, well, Free Enterprise" »

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

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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"?

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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

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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.

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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.

Continue reading "The Old South Wins the New Civil War" »

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."

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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

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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.

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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 uncon