Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Dictatorship of Hope and Change

Roger Simon at Pajamas Media calls it nostalgie du fascisme ("The Culture Wars are Turning," May 24, 2010). Woody Allen tells a Spanish magazine that Barack Obama needs to be given dictatorial power for just a "few years" to get us out of what he sees as our various messes.

Sentiments such as Woody has expressed indicate a liberal impatience with messiness of free government, which is in part the necessity of persuading your neighbors in sufficient numbers to bring your views into law. It also indicates a liberal arrogance that precludes democratic compromise.

I would be tempted to dismiss these as the ridiculous babbling of a Hollywood comedian, except that liberal columnist Thomas Friedman, the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes (1983, 1988, 2002), recently said the same thing on Meet the Press, and veteran journalist Andrea Mitchell agreed with him.

MR. GREGORY: I want to follow up on one point, though, Tom Friedman, which is when you have such activism on the left and the right, what does that do to the political center and how do you govern in that respect? Bob Bennett, the senator who was defeated in a nominated convention in Utah, wrote this in The Washington Post this morning, "The tea party movement's ... two strongest slogans," he writes, "are `Send a message to Washington,' `Take back America.' I know both very well because they were the main tools used to defeat me ... two weeks ago. ... Yet when the new members of Congress whom these slogans elect in November take office ... will they stand firmly on partisan sidelines continuing to shout slogans? Or will they reach across the aisle in the interest of the country? ... If they want their movement to be more than a wave that crashes on the beach and then recedes back into the ocean, leaving nothing behind but empty sand, they should stop the `gloom talk.' These are not the worst of times we have ever faced, nor is the Constitution under serious threat." Where is the center that actually does something, that actually achieves things in Washington if this is what we're creating?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, David, it's been decimated. It's been decimated by everything from the gerrymandering of political districts to cable television to an Internet where I can create a digital lynch mob against you from the left or right if I don't like where you're going, to the fact that money and politics is so out of control--really our Congress is a forum for legalized bribery. You know, that's really what, what it's come down to. So I don't--I, I--I'm worried about this, it's why I have fantasized--don't get me wrong--but that what if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions, and I do think there is a sense of that, on, on everything from the economy to environment. I don't want to be China for a second, OK, I want my democracy to work with the same authority, focus and stick-to-itiveness. But right now we have a system that can only produce suboptimal solutions.

MS. MITCHELL: And, in fact, Tom, you're absolutely right. One case in point, the Financial Regulation Bill, which we can get to...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MS. MITCHELL: ...but Chris Dodd realized that Bob Bennett, with whom he wanted to work, the ranking member on the Banking Committee, was so swept away by his fight back home in Utah that he could not work across party lines, and that there is so much punishment for anyone who works across party lines to try to come up the best solutions so they end up with things that are not optimal.

MR. GIGOT: We'd all be in jail if we were China for a second.

MR. FRIEDMAN: No, I--it's--I understand. I don't want to be China, I want our system to work, though.

We all know what's right, apparently. It's just our hopelessly broken democratic process that's getting in the way. They speak as though we're the Weimar Republic. And what do you think of someone who laments the disappearance of the political center while at the same time longing for dictatorial powers? Notice that it took the Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot to step in with the obvious: The cameras are rolling, and you're talking like crazy people.

Friedman, the prophet of the broadsheet, expressed the same fascinating political proposal to Tom Brokaw in 2008, again on Meet The Press.

MR. BROKAW: You have an intriguing proposition in this book. You'd like to be China for a day, just one day.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, it comes from actually a dialogue I had with Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, and Jeff was making the point that, you know, really almost out of exasperation of a company that's been trying to be an energy innovative leader, saying, "Look, Tom, we need is"--what Jeff said is we need a president who's going to set the right price for carbon. Set the right standard, set the right regulation. Shape the market so it will be innovative. Everyone will kind of whine and moan for a month and then the whole ecosystem will take off. And I thought about that afterwards and I said to him, "You know, Jeff, what you're really saying is, `If only we could be China for a day. Just one day.'" So I wrote a chapter called "China for a day, but not for two." Really, about what we would do if for one day we could impose, cut through all the lobbyists, all the amendments, all the earmarks, and actually impose the right conditions to get our market to take off.

As he indicates in the interview, he was summarizing the point he makes at the beginning of chapter 16 of his book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, "China for a Day (But Not for Two)."

As far as I am concerned, China's system of government is inferior to ours in every respect--except one. That is the ability of China's current generation of leaders--if they want to--to cut through all their legacy industries, all the pleading special interests, all the bureaucratic obstacles, all the worries of a voter backlash, and simply order top-down the sweeping change in prices, regulations, standards, education, and infrastructure that reflect China's strategic long-term national interests, changes that would normally take Western democracies years or decades to debate and implement (pp. 372-373).

In other words, China's system of government is inferior to ours in every way except for the totalitarian power the rulers have at their disposal. It's like saying you deplore apartheid except for the way it treats the races.

But the source of their annoyance is not really those nasty Republicans. At bottom, it is the dumb sheep they represent--chief among whom are country people and Evangelical Christians. Elizabeth Scalia reports more fully on this at First Things, including this nice observation:

The leftist party that these people support is currently in control of both houses of congress and the White House (and they are well-represented within the federal judiciary) and yet, it is not enough. The power is not pure enough, it is not invincible enough; their power is diluted because, dammit, those little people crowing about the constitution all over the internets are mucking things up!

Republican government, that is, self-government by a free people, unlike mere democracy, requires a people who has the collective capacity for self-government. They need a minimal level of education generally, an understanding of their system of government and of the value of their liberties, and a moral restraint that in most cases comes by devotion to a religion that is compatible with republican government. People who long for these sorts of emergency powers--or perhaps only the power to "deem" major health care reform bills into law--think of most Americans as comparable to the poor, tribal, historically tyrannized, and culturally slavish people in "developing" countries who are not quite ready for democratically accountable government. This is one reason there is a Tea Party movement storming its way across the American political landscape, heading for November and beyond.

Click on the blog's "fascism" label for posts during the 2008 election season observing fascist tendencies on the left in general and among Obama supporters in particular.

Also, have a look at Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Killing Prosperity and Security As Policy

The Democrats are working at full throttle to get this country under the firm and detailed direction of left wing bureaucrats before their two year window of opportunity closes in January of 2011 when the new Congress is sworn in. Friday's Wall Street Journal opinion page lays out what that means to us, our children, and our grandchildren. Peter Wallison explains how they are choking the source of our prosperity. Mortimer Zuckerman shows how they squandering our existing prosperity. Douglas Feith and Abram Shulsky explain how they are casting away the nuclear umbrella that has been securing our prosperity and all our liberties.

Wallison points out in "Republicans and America's New Deal" that even though Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal actually lengthened and deepened the Depression, President Obama and the old liberals in Congress has pressed forward with similar policies.

The signature initiatives of the Obama administration were very much in the mold of the old New Deal—the heedless spending, a stimulus plan focused on government employment, a health-care program that brought one-sixth of the economy under government control, and now the financial regulatory bill that would control another sixth. ...

Because of ObamaCare, the failed stimulus package, and the massive deficits that will afflict the country for years to come, the Democrats are likely to pay dearly in November. But not before those who are still in the thrall of the New Deal will have taken the U.S. financial system back almost 75 years. ...

The only good thing to come from this spectacle is that it shows the business community and American voters that the Democratic Party—despite the moderate face of the Obama presidential campaign—has not outgrown their New Deal mentality. Democrats are still the party of government and the special interests that cling to it.

In "The Bankrupting of America," Mortimer Zuckerman turns the spotlight on how the huge public service unions and the party of government serve one another at the expense not only of taxpayer, but of the country's long-term economic viability. Think of GM and California, but with no possibility of a bailout.

Public unions organize voting campaigns for politicians who, on election, repay their benefactors by approving salaries and benefits for the public sector, irrespective of whether they are sustainable. ...

What we suffer is a ruinously expensive collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers, purchased with taxpayer money. ... No wonder the Service Employees International Union has become the nation's fastest-growing union: It represents government and health-care workers. Half of its 700,000 California members are government employees. More and more, it wins not on the picket line but at the negotiating table, where it backs up traditional strong-arming with political power. It spends vast amounts of money on initiatives that keep the government growing and the gravy flowing. ...

City government was developed to serve its citizens. Today the citizenry is working in large part to serve the government. It is always hard to shrink government spending. It is particularly difficult when public-sector unions have such a unique lever of pressure. We have to escape this cycle or it will crush us.

Finally,  Barack Obama is trying to bring us a nuclear free world, and isn't that special. His government's statement on how to reach this blessed goal is expressed in a document called the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The Defense Department states that, "The Nuclear Posture Review is a legislatively-mandated review that establishes U.S. nuclear policy, strategy, capabilities and force posture for the next five to ten years." In "The Dangerous Illusion of 'Nuclear Zero'," Douglas Feith and Abram Shulsky, both of the Hudson Institute, argue that the one awkward little catch to fulfilling this dream is that, as the document itself tells us, it requires world peace as a precondition. But on we go, just the same.

One of the conditions that would permit the United States and others to give up their nuclear weapons "without risking greater international instability and insecurity" is "the resolution of regional disputes that can motivate rival states to acquire and maintain nuclear weapons." Another condition is not only "verification methods and technologies capable of detecting violations of disarmament obligations," but also "enforcement measures strong and credible enough to deter such violations."

The first condition would require ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, settling the Korean War, resolving Kashmir and the other India-Pakistan disputes, and defusing Iran's tensions with its neighbors and with the U.S. It also means solving any other significant conflicts that might arise.

Verification would be tough, but even if technology could solve the problem, the question remains: What kind of "enforcement measures" do those who drafted the NPR imagine? ... "Strong enough" enforcement would have to include military measures. Is the idea here a U.N. military force that could fight large wars, as some diplomats proposed when the U.N. Charter was negotiated in the late 1940s? Or would military enforcement be the duty of the strongest state, presumably the U.S.? Only an arrangement verging on world government—an entity that could deploy overwhelming military power against a violator without interference by other powers—could possibly fill the bill. ...

In the event of a serious crisis, countries would race to reconstitute their nuclear arsenals. The winner would enjoy a fleeting nuclear monopoly, and then come under severe pressure to use its nuclear weapons decisively. The resulting instability could make the competitive mobilizations of the European armies in 1914 look like a walk in the park.

No matter how hard the polls turn against them, these New Left Democrats who emerged from the radicalism of the 1960s (with whom Barack Obama is noticeably comfortable) will drive home their political and economic agenda because they are sure that they know better than everyone else, and also because they are moved by a moral passion that is as deaf any appeal to the historical record, the economically obvious, and even their own political self-interest as the most fanatical jihadist.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Elena Kagan's Murky Bottom

In "Kagan is Coming" (, I bring together observations by David Brooks at the New York Times, James Copland at City Journal, and Mark Steyn with his Canadian perspective, to show how Elena Kagan could be a shoe-in, but might give Senators pause for thought, or may even emerge as a scary prospect.

The scariness lies in her view of free speech which she sees as a right that stands in need of "balancing." Certainly the freedom to speak whatever you want, whenever you want, and to whomever you want has never found defenders except among certain libertarian radicals. All speech is subject to reasonable limitations concerning time, place, and manner. The law cannot permit shouting fire in a crowded theatre or passing secrets to enemies during wartime. We have laws against libel and slander, and "fightin' words" are in a special class. At one time, profanity and blasphemy were highly regulated, and perhaps still should be. But even today, there are words you cannot say on the public airwaves.

But Kagan would go beyond those limits and "balance" speech against considerations of its "societal costs." In other words, she would limit speech in political ways, i.e., in precisely the ways that the first amendment is designed to protect against.

Mark Tapscott found this quote through David L. Hudson of the First Amendment Center. It is from a government brief she authored for United States v. Stevens, a case concerning a law that banned depictions of animal cruelty.

Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.

Of course, any decent and sensible person will immediately sympathize with her point, but no republican patriot would agree with the way she words it. It is the politically obnoxious speech that needs legal protection, speech that will always find condemners who cite its "societal costs." But she goes there. And if the Senate confirms her nomination to the Supreme Court, insofar as her influence among her eight colleagues prevails, she will take the rest of us there as well.

Her handling of the military recruiters at the Harvard Law School when she was dean of that powerful institution is equally scary. Rich Lowry takes us through each stage of the development and Kagan's role that was anti-military and careless of the law she would be charged with interpreting and upholding ("A Shameful Record," New York Post, May 18, 2010).

She blasted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as "a moral injustice of the first order." That would presumably put it on par with the worst crimes in world history. When the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said in 2004 that the Solomon Amendment was "reasonably likely" to be unconstitutional, Kagan immediately used it as an excuse to reinstate strictures on military recruiters -- never mind that Harvard isn't in the 3rd Circuit, or that the court blocked its own ruling from taking effect. When the military again threatened to cut off Harvard's funds, Kagan backed off, an implicit admission that she was on shaky ground. In 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the Solomon Amendment and rejected an argument against it in an amicus brief from Kagan by a stinging 8-0 margin.

Far from scrupulously following the letter of the law, as her supporters claim, "she acted in defiance of it until called on it by the military."

The New York Times observed in an editorial, "Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view." We cannot allow this. We have here two very disquieting insights into Elena Kagan's approach to the law. One suspects that we are far from reaching the bottom of the murky waters concealing her judicial philosophy and her thoughts on public affairs. Given that the business of the judicial branch is to "say what the law says," as Chief Justice John Marshall put it so long ago, it is essential that we discover and scrutinize what those views are in the course of her confirmation hearings, especially as she has no record as a judge. The law itself is at stake.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Greek Tragedy and Our Fate

Greece, the ancient birthplace of democracy, is coughing up blood on account of the democratic disease of bribing the people with their own money, or, in its current form, not even their grandchildren's money but money that no one can ever afford to pay. Theodore Dalrymple says the story is a common one among Western nations ("Know Thyself: rather than pointing fingers, Greek citizens should look in the mirror," City Journal, May 7, 2010).

My WORLDmag column yesterday, draws a parallel between the bankruptcy that cities like San Francisco are facing ("Freakish Frisco: where one-third of city workers make $100,000 and Willy Brown is a budget hawk" by Pete Peterson, City Journal, May 4, 2010) and the Greek tragedy that is playing itself out across the sea.

Read "Our Own Greek Tragedy."

Also, consider these debt-to-GDP ratios for 2009 from the CIA World Factbook:
Australia 18.6%
Belgium 99%
Canada 72%
Chile 9%
France 79.7%
Greece 113.4%
Hong Kong 18%
Italy 115%
Japan 192%
Netherlands 62%
Spain 50%

The United States is listed as having a ratio of 40% in 2008 and of 53% the next year. Pretty stable. The CBO director's blog reported last year: "The current recession and policy responses have little effect on long-term projections of noninterest spending and revenues. But CBO estimates that in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the federal government will record its largest budget deficits as a share of GDP since shortly after World War II. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public will soar from 41 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to 60 percent at the end of fiscal year 2010. This higher debt results in permanently higher spending to pay interest on that debt." In March, the CBO estimated the ratio would reach 90% by 2020.

But those are only partial figures. The CIA World Factbook appends the following illuminating information to the figures they report:

note: data cover only what the United States Treasury denotes as "Debt Held by the Public," which includes all debt instruments issued by the Treasury that are owned by non-US Government entities. The data include Treasury debt held by foreign entities. The data exclude debt issued by individual US states, as well as intra-governmental debt. Intra-governmental debt consists of Treasury borrowings from surpluses in the trusts for Federal Social Security, Federal Employees, Hospital Insurance (Medicare and Medicaid), Disability and Unemployment, and several other smaller trusts. If data for Intra-government debt were added, "Gross Debt" would increase by about 30% of GDP. 

That puts the 2009 debt figure at roughly the 87% of GDP it is reported as being today. Do the rest of the math.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Consider these gleanings.

David Brooks, "What It Takes." Kagan has been extraordinarily caution throughout her legal career. 

She has become a legal scholar without the interest scholars normally have in the contest of ideas. She’s shown relatively little interest in coming up with new theories or influencing public debate. Her publication record is scant and carefully nonideological. She has published five scholarly review articles, mostly on administrative law and the First Amendment. These articles were mostly on technical and procedural issues.
Kagan has no experience in actually judging. Of course, neither did Earl Warren, but that is no defense. Read James R. Copland at City Journal. ("Kagan Flunks Her Own Test.")

Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee to succeed John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, published some thoughts on the judicial confirmation process in 1995. Reviewing Stephen Carter’s book The Confirmation Mess in The University of Chicago Law Review, Kagan asserted that prospective jurists should have demonstrated a talent for judging: “It is an embarrassment that the President and Senate do not always insist, as a threshold requirement, that a nominee’s previous accomplishments evidence an ability not merely to handle but to master the ‘craft’ aspects of being a judge.” While not in my view an “embarrassment,” Obama’s decision to nominate Kagan to the nation’s highest bench flunks her own test. If confirmed, Kagan would become the first justice in 38 years to join the Supreme Court without judicial experience.

Mark Steyn sees a stealth Canadian. ("The Canadianization of America, cont.")

For some of us, Elena Kagan is deja vu all over again. Whether or not she belongs on the Supreme Court of the United States, she'd be a shoo-in as successor to Jennifer Lynch, QC, Canada's Chief Censor. Ms Kagan's views on free speech could come straight from any Canadian "human rights" tribunal hearing: "Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs."

"Balancing" is the code word there. Canada's thought police are all about the "balancing".

Steyn points us to Mark Tapscott, "Kagan: Speech is free if government decides it has more value than 'societal costs'," and the defense by Jennifer Lynch, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, of a good government's obligation to limit free speech in the interest of preventing expressions of hatred and contempt: "Hate speech: This debate is out of balance."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gleanings from The Economist

I do not read The Economist from cover to cover. I start at the back with the book reviews, perhaps the obituary, proceed into the science and technology section, and maybe catch a political or business piece if I have time.

Here are some gleanings from the most recent issue I opened (May 1, 2010).

The Vatican becoming a bit more open with its "Secret Archives," and is publishing a lavishly illustrated book to publicize their liberality. "Past Papers: The Vatican Turns a Page--Slowly" tells us,

NO UMBERTO ECO fan should go near the Tower of Winds: it could bring on sensory overload. Up a seemingly endless winding staircase is a room whose frescoes are alive with symbolism. The floor is sprinkled with signs of the zodiac and bisected by a line of white marble onto which a sun ray falls each day at noon. The so-called Meridian Hall, created to verify the accuracy of the calendar Pope Gregory XIII promulgated in 1582, is in the Vatican Secret Archives, which hold some 10m documents stored by the papacy over the past 1,200 years. The name is a misleading anachronism that dates from when secret meant private (“secretary” has the same derivation).

From the review of Norman Stone's The Atlantic and Its Enemies: A History of the Cold War:

"The word 'besides' appears with alarming frequency as a way of linking page-long paragraphs." The reviewer has other, more serious criticisms, but that one touched my heart.

From the review of Last Words of the Executed by Robert Elder. The book is a collection of just that.

The last words are remarkable for their remorse, humour, hatred, resignation, fear and bravado. “I wish you’d hurry up. I want to get to hell in time for dinner,” a 19th-century Wyoming murderer told his hangman. Some rambled; others were concise. Several blamed the drink; others reasserted innocence, or (especially in recent years) railed against the death penalty. Some accepted their fate. “If I was y’all, I would have killed me. You know?” said a Texan, who had murdered his son’s former girlfriend and her sister, as he readied himself for lethal injection. America’s diverse heritage is stamped even onto its killers’ final moments.

It seems that the celebrated Harvard biologist and octogenarian, E.O. Wilson, has written his first novel. This line in "It's a Bug's Life" stood out for me.

One part of “Anthill”, by the world’s leading myrmecologist, demonstrates that in Mr Wilson ants have found not only their Darwin but also their Homer.

From the science pages, I learn that the ancient role that men and women have played as hunters and gatherers, respectively, is rooted in our sexually distinct biologies, i.e. our natures and men and as women. This from "Hunters and Shoppers: Men and Women Navigate Differently."

The results, to be published in Evolution and Human Behaviour, show that the men and women collected on average about the same weight of mushrooms. But the men travelled farther, climbed higher and used a lot more energy—70% more than the women. The men did not move any faster, but they searched for spots with lots of mushrooms. The women made many more stops, apparently satisfied with, or perhaps better at finding, patches of fewer mushrooms.

Previous work has shown that men tend to navigate by creating mental maps of a territory and then imagining their position on the maps. Women are more likely to remember their routes using landmarks. The study lends support to the idea that male and female navigational skills were honed differently by evolution for different tasks. Modern-day hunter-gatherers divide labour, so that men tend to do more hunting and women more gathering. It seems likely that early humans did much the same thing.

The theory is that the male strategy is the most useful for hunting prey; chasing an antelope, say, would mean running a long way over a winding route. But having killed his prey, the hunter would want to make a beeline for home rather than retrace his steps exactly. Women, by contrast, would be better off remembering landmarks and retracing the paths to the most productive patches of plants.

And finally, in "The Hormones of Laddishness," I learned that through genetic modification, researchers have found a way of reducing, but not eliminating, aggressive and distinctly male behavior in mice. Of course, you know they're not interested in mice. Be on the lookout for government mandated (what shall we call it?) socialization therapy for in utero little boys. Progress is lovely.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Political Pitfalls of Settled Science

My column today looks behind a couple of scientific "advances" to the political shadow that trails behind them. The first is a new corn-based plastic, and the other is a new report on the link researchers claim to have found between spanking children and violent behavior in the same children later in life.

If you want to read the expanded version that includes references to Francis Bacon (I knew that would get your attention) and politico-environmental corruption in New York State, go to my more theologically and philosophically oriented blog, Piety and Humanity, "When Science is in the Saddle."


To be modern is to live in a world of man-made marvels that continually astound, that give us ever-growing power over space and time, and yet that leave us perhaps more subjugated than we realize at first. TIME magazine reports on two recent proud conquests of nature, one industrial and the other human. The politics of it, however, require some unveiling. ...

The conquest of nature necessarily points us, and without pausing for a breath, to the conquest of human nature. If the one is problematic, the other is treacherous at the very least. ...

As we have discovered in the global warming controversy, whenever people try to get quickly past public discussion to public policy with the conversation-stopping phrase “the science is settled,” you can be sure that there is more than dispassionate science at issue.

Of course, this is just a teaser. To read the whole thing, go to, "The Political Pitfalls of Settled Science."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Crook in Your Office Photocopier

This CBS report tells us that every photocopy machine made after 2002 has a hard drive that stores images of every document that you copy. When your machine goes onto the used machine market, all your documents go with it on that hard drive--along with whatever medical records, social security numbers, personal identification documents, etc. that you have copied. That machine, that sells for just a few hundred dollars, is a treasure trove for identity thieves and other leeches.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

So whenever you copy anything anywhere--at work, at the library, it makes no difference--you should assume that whatever we photocopy will one day be made available to the criminal element. The only machine that is safe is the personal printer/copier/scanner that sits at home beside your personal computer.

Every technological advance brings with it unforeseen consequences. Never assume they will be minor, though in this case they can be easily remedied.