March 31, 2005

Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse

Donald B. Hawthorne

Hugh Hewitt writes:

The Terri Schiavo tragedy has been seized on by long-time critics of the "religious right" to launch attack after attack on the legitimacy of political action on the basis of religious belief. This attack has ignored the inconvenient participation in the debate--on the side of resuming water and nutrition for Terri Schiavo--of the spectacularly not-the-religious-rightness of Tom Harkin, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson, and a coalition of disability advocacy groups.

The attack has also been hysterical...

All of these charges--from the most incoherent to the most measured--arrive without definition as to what "the religious right" is, and without argument as to why the agenda of this ill-defined group is less legitimate than the pro-gay marriage, pro-cloning, pro-partial-birth abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda of other political actors...Every political conflict is a choice between competing moral codes...

...But a strain of thought is developing that the political objectives of people of faith have second-class status when compared to those of, say, religiously secular elites. Of course, not only would such a position have surprised all of the Founding Fathers, it would have shocked Lincoln and Reagan, too.

The speed with which issues that excite the passions of people of faith have arrived at the center of American politics is not surprising given the forced march that the courts have put those issues on. It was not the "religious right" that pushed gay marriage...ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed... forced the United States Supreme Court to repeatedly issue rulings on areas of law that would have been better left to legislatures.

These and other developments have indeed mobilized new activists across the country, many of who see a vast disparity between what they believe ought to be public policy and what is becoming that policy by judicial fiat. They have every right to participate in politics, and they can be expected to refuse to support elected officials who ignore their concerns.

Attempts to silence them, marginalize them, or to encourage others to do so are not arguments against their positions, but admissions that those positions represent majorities that cannot be refused a place at the law-making table.

Five important issues arise out of Hewitt's editorial and are the focus of this posting: (i) the under-discussed but domineering presence of liberal fundamentalism, a competing moral code in American society; (ii) how judicial activism destroys the fabric of our politics; (iii) the connection between religious values and the American Founding; (iv) the long-term consequences for America of a radically secular religion; and, (v) how we discover civility and purpose in America's public discourse.

THE RISE OF A COMPETING MORAL CODE: LIBERAL FUNDAMENTALISM

Some perspective is helpful in order to realize that this is not a new debate, although the intensity of the battle between competing moral codes seems to have grown in recent years. For example, this posting contains these words from a 1984 Wall Street Journal editorial:

...we would like to offer a few thoughts on what has been far and away the most messianic religion in America the past two decades - liberal politics.

American liberalism has traditionally derived much of its energy from a volatile mixture of emotion and moral superiority. The liberal belief that one's policies would on balance accomplish something indisputably good generally made opposing arguments about shortcomings, costs or unintended consequences unpersuasive...

...many active liberals carried along their newly found moral certitude and quasi-religious fervor into nearly every major public policy issue that has come along in the past 15 years. The result has been liberal fundamentalism.

...Not surprisingly, this evangelical liberalism produced a response. Conservative groups - both secular and religious - were created, and they quite obviously made the political success of their adversaries more difficult. Liberals don't like that. So now, suddenly, we find all these politicians and columnists who are afraid someone might want to impose a particular point of view on them...

If some liberals are now afraid that certain Christian fundamentalists will reintroduce new forms of intolerance and excessive religious zeal into American political life, perhaps we should concede the possibility that they know what they're talking about. But they might also meditate on the current election and why there has been an apparent rightward shift in political sentiment in the U.S. It could be that a great many voters have taken a good look at the fundamentalists on the religious right and the fundamentalists on the political left and made up their minds about which poses the greater threat to their own private and public values.

It was commonplace for public discussions after the 2004 elections to talk about "moral values" and only mean people of faith. The quality and accuracy of the public debate would be improved if we recognized there is another large and active faith group whose religion is a radical secularism.

I believe I speak for many Americans who, while personally religious, are inclined to be tolerant of those who disagree with us. Yet the intolerance toward the worldviews of many people of faith exhibited by liberal fundamentalists, as they aggressively push their political agenda, has only polarized the public debate and weakened the fabric of civil society. Richard John Neuhaus has described the core of this intolerance in the following way:

The conflict in American public life today then is not a conflict between morality and secularism. It is a conflict of moralities in which one moral system calls itself secular and insists that the other do likewise as the price of admission to the public arena. That insistence is in fact a demand that the other side capitulate...

This demand for the capitulation of their opponents is at the heart of liberal fundamentalism, is delivered to philosophical opponents in a highly condescending manner, and is largely unreported in the mainstream media.

It is worth reiterating that the growth of the so-called "religious right" was largely a response to the attempts by liberal fundamentalists to grossly redirect public policies and the broader public debate in ways never seen before. Putting the public focus strictly on the religious right and not on the liberal fundamentalists is a clever, and so far successful, ploy to control the public debate.

Our challenge as a country is to recognize that dueling fundamentalists of both the left and right diminish the opportunity for reasoned debate in America on the great issues of our day - and that does no one any good.

JUDICIAL ACTIVISM: COMMANDEERING THE PUBLIC DEBATE & VIOLATING THE FOUNDING PRINCIPLES OF AMERICA

Many of these aggressive attempts by liberal fundamentalists to redirect societal practices have been done through a hyperactive judiciary. It has been going on for enough decades now and, with our weak knowledge of history, many Americans do not appreciate how judicial activism is a relatively recent phenomenon, it violates the governmental principles upon which our nation was founded, and it has an insidious effect on the relationship between the government and the governed.

Chief Justice Warren Burger elaborated on this in the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe:

The Constitution does not constitute us as "Platonic Guardians" nor does it vest in this Court the authority to strike down laws because they do not meet our standards of desirable social policy, 'wisdom,' or 'common sense.'...We trespass on the assigned function of the political branches under our structure of limited and separated powers when we assume a policy-making role.

Subsequently, Justice Antonin Scalia reinforced this point in his dissent in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas:

The Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed.

In the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette nearly 70 years ago, Justice Felix Frankfurter also emphasized how judicial activism is contrary to American principles of government:

As a member of this Court, I am not justified in writing my private notions of policy into the Constitution, no matter how deeply I may cherish them or how mischievous I may deem their disregard. The duty of a judge who must decide which of two claims before the Court should prevail, that of a State to enact and enforce laws within its general competence or that of an individual to refuse obedience because of the demands of his conscience, is not that of the ordinary person. It can never be emphasized too much that one's own opinion about the wisdom or evil of a law should be excluded altogether when one is doing one's duty on the bench. The only opinion of our own even looking in that direction that is material is our opinion whether legislators could in reason have enacted such a law...

When Mr. Justice Holmes, speaking for this Court, wrote that "it must be remembered that legislatures are ultimate guardians of the liberties and welfare of the people in quite as great a degree as the courts..." he went to the very essence of our constitutional system and the democratic conception of our society. He did not mean that for only some phase of civil government this Court was not to supplant legislatures and sit in judgment upon the right or wrong of a challenged measure. He was stating the comprehensive judicial duty and role of this Court in our constitutional scheme whenever legislation is sought to be nullified on any ground, namely, that responsibility for legislation lies with legislatures, answerable as they are directly to the people, and this Court's only and very narrow function is to determine whether within the broad grant of authority vested in legislatures they have exercised a judgment for which reasonable justification can be offered...

This is no dry, technical matter. It cuts deep into one's conception of the democratic process...

In his book entitled The Uncivil War: How a New Elite is Destroying our Democracy, David Lebedoff offers an explanation about the intent underlying the push for judicial activism:

Many who loudly insist on the appointment of activist judges describe themselves as political "activists," as well. But how can one possibly endorse both judicial and political activism, unless, of course, political activism has come to mean something different from what the label implies? One who believes in judicial activism can be a political activist only if he or she no longer views political activity as directed toward the achievement of majority support. If one believes that the point of politics is to see that society does what is "right," regardless of what the public thinks or wants, only then can these two forms of activism indeed be reconciled.

Lebedoff then discusses the eventual consequences of judicial activism:

As those of one political philosophy or another seek to write their own notions into law, with no restraint from themselves or the public, the immigrant wisdom of Justice Frankfurter may be recognized at last for what it really is: a timeless warning that if consent of the governed is not our goal, it will become our memory.

In their book entitled Democracy by Decree: What Happens When Courts Run Government, Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod note how judicial activism undermines government accountability to the citizenry:

Democracy by decree undermines accountability of government to the voters. Democratic accountability is, in our constitutional scheme, not an unalloyed good. The framers of the U.S. Constitution recognized that a democratically accountable government may reflect bigotry or be inattentive to the people's needs or rights that they should have. For that reason, the Constitution includes rights and authorizes Congress to enact statutes necessary to ensure that state and local government honor them. These are rights, not aspirational goals dressed up as rights.

As long as rights are honored, everything else, including how the rights are honored, is a question of policy to be left to elected officials. The Constitution and its state and local counterparts set up the ground rules for how policy should be made. These ground rules are designed with careful attention to the potential faults of people and those they elect. The guiding principles are division of power and accountability.

Division of power is required because of distrust of both the people and those whom the people elect. Power is divided, first of all, between those who are empowered to govern and those who are governed. Those who are governed retain the power to vote the elected out of office. The power of those who govern is further divided many ways - between the federal government and the states, and within each level of government among the legislature, the executive, and the courts. Inherent in the whole scheme is that elected officials should bear the responsibility for the key policy choices and must retain the power to change policy.

Although the system is far from perfect, democracy by decree makes it worse. It does not substitute the dispassionate rule of judges for the rule of politicians. Decisions by controlling groups are politics in a different form. By hiding ordinary politics behind the robes of judges, democracy by decree makes government less accountable and therefore less responsive. Judicial reason does not supplant politics. Instead, the courts become political.

It is only through the "messiness" of a reasoned public discourse that a broad societal consensus can be achieved on major issues. Judicial activism short-circuits that process, to the detriment of our democratic institutions and habits.

RELIGIOUS VALUES AND THE AMERICAN FOUNDING

Many secularists and members of the mainstream media boldly, and ignorantly, proclaim that secularism is consistent with the American Founding - with the effect of making people of faith akin to second-class citizens in the public discourse.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. For example, in the Letters to the Editor section of the April 2005 edition of Commentary Magazine, David Gelernter writes:

Michael Novak's fascinating report of a survey by Donald Lutz who "counted 3,154 citations in the writings of the Founders; of these, nearly 1,100 (34 percent) are to the Bible, and about 300 each to Montesquieu and Blackstone, followed at a considerable distance by Locke and Hume and Plutarch." Which does not mean that philosophical arguments were unimportant, merely that they were less important than biblical ones.

That secularist viewpoint is further contradicted in a posting which contains these words from George Washington's 1796 Farewell Address as President as he spoke to the importance of religion and morality in the public debate:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness - these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them...Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Another posting shares these words from Neuhaus, which reinforce how the Declaration of Independence presupposed a higher power and how attempts to deny that strike at the very foundation of the American Founding:

But the radical nature of the Declaration consists not only in its revolutionary character but in its reliance on the authority of a divine Creator. The Declaration teaches that the authority of the people is prior to government, but that the rights of the people are the gift of God. Neither man nor government is the author of liberty. That honor belongs only to God...

It is true that America's founders were scrupulously neutral between the numerous religious sects that existed in their time. But it is not true that they were hostile to the God worshipped by all of them...

What is especially sinister about the relentless campaign to remove all public references to God is that it calls the nation's foundations needlessly into question. If there is no God, then there is no human freedom and there is no government by consent of the governed...

These points are reinforced in the same posting when Neuhaus quotes Thomas Jefferson:

[C]an the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?

Another posting highlights words by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926 about the religious principles underlying the Declaration of Independence:

...Three very definite propositions were set out in [the Declaration's] preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed...

While these principles were not altogether new in political action, and were very far from new in political speculation, they had never been assembled before and declared in such a combination...

...when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live...

In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man - these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in religious convictions...Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish...

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776...that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final...If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people...

In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people...The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guarantees, which even the government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government -- the right of the people to rule...We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction...The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty...

...We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all of our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it...We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed...

A speech entitled "Limited Government to Protect Equal Rights" by Mac Owens, published on this blog site, elaborates further on the uniqueness of the American Experiment:

Before the American founding, all regimes were based on the principle of interest - the interest of the stronger. That principle was articulated by the Greek historian Thucydides: "Questions of justice arise only between equals. As for the rest, the strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must."...

The United States was founded on different principles - justice and equality...It took the founding of the United States on the principle of equality to undermine the principle of inequality...Thanks to the Founders, the United States was founded on a principle of justice, not the interest of the stronger. And because of Lincoln's uncompromising commitment to equality as America's "central idea," the Union was not only saved, but saved so "as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of saving..."

"Every nation," said Lincoln, "has a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate." For Lincoln, this central idea was the Declaration of Independence and its notion of equality as the basis for republican government - the simple idea that no one has the right by nature to rule over another without the latter's consent...

Indeed, it is the idea of equality in the Declaration, not race and blood, that establishes American nationhood, constituting what Abraham Lincoln called "the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land..."

The United States is a fundamentally decent regime based on the universal principle that all human beings are equal in terms of their natural rights...

...the only purpose of government is to protect the equal natural rights of individual citizens. These rights inhere in individuals, not groups, and are antecedent to the creation of government...

What the hard-core secularists are pushing is nothing less than a dangerous non-Judeo-Christian religious ideology of their own. In seeking to delegitimize religion by privatizing it to the individual level, the state is being established as the new church - but without any countervailing transcendent force to limit its ambitions. Neuhaus offers further thoughts on that dangerous pathway in this posting:

What is relatively new is the naked public square. The naked public square is the result of political doctrine and practice that would exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business... When religion in any traditional or recognizable form is excluded from the public square, it does not mean that the public square is in fact naked...

The truly naked public square is at best a transitional phenomenon. It is a vacuum begging to be filled. When the democratically affirmed institutions that generate and transmit values are excluded, the vacuum will be filled by the agent left in control of the public square, the state. In this manner, a perverse notion of the disestablishment of religion leads to the establishment of the state as church...

Our problems, then, stem in large part from the philosophical and legal effort to isolate and exclude the religious dimension of culture...only the state can..."lay claim to compulsive authority."...of all the institutions in societies, only religion can invoke against the state a transcendent authority and have its invocation seconded by "the people" to whom a democratic state is presumably accountable. For the state to be secured from such challenge, religion must be redefined as a private, emphatically not public, phenomenon. In addition, because truly value-less existence is impossible for persons or societies, the state must displace religion as the generator and bearer of values...

[T]he notion of the secular state can become the prelude to totalitarianism. That is, once religion is reduced to nothing more than privatized conscience, the public square has only two actors in it - the state and the individual. Religion as a mediating structure...is no longer available as a countervailing force to the ambitions of the state...

A further posting adds this comment from Ramesh Ponnuru who notes the broad implications of this effort to alter the nature of politics in America:

If I'm right about liberalism's instinctive reflexes, then contemporary liberalism has forfeited the creed's ancient claim to promote civil peace...But if liberal secularism amounts to the unwitting imposition of the views of an irreligious minority on a religious majority, then it hardly seems likely to foster social harmony. Nor has it.

That is the crux of the matter. Their efforts are nothing but a bold political move by a minority seeking to gain power by asserting a statist ideology that, by its very definition, is illiberal and highly intolerant of any who disagree with them. They know, at least implicitly, what the Founding Fathers knew: The only serious impediment to realizing their utopian dream is resistance from citizens and democratic institutions that recognize moral claims based on a transcendent authority.

THE DIRE CONSEQUENCES WE COULD FACE

The stakes for the future of America are enormously high. If we ignore these Founding Principles of America, then this T. S. Eliot quote (offered in this book by Bruce Frohnen) will likely become our future:

As political philosophy derives its sanctions from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. The term "democracy," as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike - it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God, you will pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.

Neuhaus elaborates further:

If law and polity are divorced from moral judgment...all things are permitted and...all things will be done...When in our public life no legal prohibition can be articulated with the force of transcendent authority, then there are no rules rooted in ultimacies that can protect the poor, the powerless and the marginal...

It was what led Peggy Noonan to say:

And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning. What terrible stories are shaping them. They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio. They are seeing a society--their society, their people--on the verge of famously accepting, even embracing, the idea that a damaged life is a throwaway life.

Our children have been reared in the age of abortion, and are coming of age in a time when seemingly respectable people are enthusiastic for euthanasia. It cannot be good for our children, and the world they will make, that they are given this new lesson that human life is not precious, not touched by the divine, not of infinite value.

Once you "know" that--that human life is not so special after all--then everything is possible, and none of it is good. When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber. You wind up on a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz...

In this editorial, Michael Barone paraphrases comments by George Weigel in his book entitled The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics and offers some of his own thoughts:

Reasoned moral conviction: That is one of our national strengths...Without strong religious or moral beliefs, tolerance degenerates into indifference, mere "skepticism and relativism," which fail to provide a reason that people should be tolerant and civil...A society that believes only in skepticism ultimately has no means of self-defense.

Finally, George Weigel's commentary on the radical humanism of Pope John Paul II brings added clarity to what is at stake:

...freedom detached from moral truth - the "freedom of indifference" that dominated the high culture of the triumphant West - [is] inevitably self-cannibalizing.

Freedom untethered from truth is freedom's worst enemy. For if there is only your truth and my truth, and neither one of us recognizes a transcendent moral standard (call it "the truth") by which to adjudicate our differences, then the only way to settle the argument is for you to impose your power on me, or for me to impose my power on you.

Freedom untethered from truth leads to chaos; chaos leads to anarchy; and since human beings cannot tolerate anarchy, tyranny as the answer to the human imperative of order is just around the corner. The false humanism of the freedom of indifference leads first to freedom's decay, and then to freedom's demise...

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

In this posting, Dr. Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute offers these thoughts on the Declaration of Independence and what obligations American citizens are duty-bound to honor in order to protect the freedom for all citizens:

We are all created equal, as defined by our natural rights; thus, no one has rights superior to those of anyone else. Moreover, we are born with those rights, we do not get them from government � indeed, whatever rights or powers government has come from us, from �the Consent of the Governed.� And our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to live our lives as we wish � to pursue happiness as we think best, by our own lights � provided only that we respect the equal rights of others to do the same. Drawing by implication upon the common law tradition of liberty, property, and contract � its principles rooted in �right reason� � the Founders thus outlined the moral foundations of a free society...

In the end, however, no constitution can be self-enforcing. Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution; and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do. The Founders drafted an extraordinarily thoughtful plan of government, but it is up to us, to each generation, to preserve and protect it for ourselves and for future generations. For the Constitution will live only if it is alive in the hearts and minds of the American people. That, perhaps, is the most enduring lesson of our experiment in ordered liberty.

It is indeed up to all of us to preserve and protect our American heritage. Like all other American citizens, people of faith have the right to play an active, legitimate role in the great public debates of our country. One of the greatest contributions they can make right now is to remind us that a radically secular vision for America will eventually take us down the pathway to totalitarianism. At the same time, it is important to conduct this debate using both words and a style that allows the building of a broad societal consensus by appealing to thoughtful Americans who, while not sharing the same faith, join a larger cause because of shared ethics as well as beliefs about the Founding Principles of America.

REDISCOVERING CIVILITY AND PURPOSE IN AMERICA'S PUBLIC DISCOURSE

All of us, regardless of our political philosophy, need to be dedicated to conducting ourselves in a reasoned manner. Civil society will only be strengthened in America if every side of the political debate acts honorably - something that all of us have, at some time, failed to do. For example, see this posting by Michelle Malkin. There can be no second-class citizens or the public discourse in America will be impoverished.

Neuhaus talks here about how politics is a moral enterprise:

Politics is an inescapably moral enterprise. Those who participate in it are...moral actors. The word "moral" here...means only that the questions engaged [in politics] are questions that have to do with what is right or wrong, good or evil. Whatever moral dignity politics may possess depends on it being a process of contention and compromise among moral actors, not simply a process of accommodation among individuals in pursuit of their interests.

William Voegli identifies our challenge in this way:

A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.

In closing, I would offer these thoughts on the meaning of tolerance and how we must rediscover civility and purpose in America's public discourse:

...the definition of the word "tolerance"...
sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own...the allowable deviation from a standard...

The definition of tolerance clearly states there are pre-existing standards, without which the very concept of tolerance has no significance. But multiculturism has led us into a world of relativism where there are no standards. And that means there is no way to define allowable deviations.

In a free and democratic society, we owe it to ourselves to openly debate what will be the appropriate standards and the allowable deviations from them that we will tolerate in our American society.

I hope we can conduct that debate in a context that keeps sight of the standards given to us through our Founding in the Declaration of Independence, the lessons learned over the entire history of America, and the natural law principles that have guided Western Civilization for centuries...

Or, as George Weigel wrote in describing the relevancy of Pope John Paul II's teachings:

That is why John Paul relentlessly preached genuine tolerance: not the tolerance of indifference, as if differences over the good didn't matter, but the real tolerance of differences engaged, explored, and debated within the bond of a profound respect for the humanity of the other. Many were puzzled that this Pope, so vigorous in defending the truths of Catholic faith, could become, over a quarter-century, the world's premier icon of religious freedom and inter-religious civility. But here, too, John Paul II was teaching a crucial lesson about the future of freedom: Universal empathy comes through, not around, particular convictions.

Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse

Donald B. Hawthorne

Hugh Hewitt writes:

The Terri Schiavo tragedy has been seized on by long-time critics of the "religious right" to launch attack after attack on the legitimacy of political action on the basis of religious belief. This attack has ignored the inconvenient participation in the debate--on the side of resuming water and nutrition for Terri Schiavo--of the spectacularly not-the-religious-rightness of Tom Harkin, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson, and a coalition of disability advocacy groups.

The attack has also been hysterical...

All of these charges--from the most incoherent to the most measured--arrive without definition as to what "the religious right" is, and without argument as to why the agenda of this ill-defined group is less legitimate than the pro-gay marriage, pro-cloning, pro-partial-birth abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda of other political actors...Every political conflict is a choice between competing moral codes...

...But a strain of thought is developing that the political objectives of people of faith have second-class status when compared to those of, say, religiously secular elites. Of course, not only would such a position have surprised all of the Founding Fathers, it would have shocked Lincoln and Reagan, too.

The speed with which issues that excite the passions of people of faith have arrived at the center of American politics is not surprising given the forced march that the courts have put those issues on. It was not the "religious right" that pushed gay marriage...ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed... forced the United States Supreme Court to repeatedly issue rulings on areas of law that would have been better left to legislatures.

These and other developments have indeed mobilized new activists across the country, many of who see a vast disparity between what they believe ought to be public policy and what is becoming that policy by judicial fiat. They have every right to participate in politics, and they can be expected to refuse to support elected officials who ignore their concerns.

Attempts to silence them, marginalize them, or to encourage others to do so are not arguments against their positions, but admissions that those positions represent majorities that cannot be refused a place at the law-making table.

Five important issues arise out of Hewitt's editorial and are the focus of this posting: (i) the under-discussed but domineering presence of liberal fundamentalism, a competing moral code in American society; (ii) how judicial activism destroys the fabric of our politics; (iii) the connection between religious values and the American Founding; (iv) the long-term consequences for America of a radically secular religion; and, (v) how we discover civility and purpose in America's public discourse.

THE RISE OF A COMPETING MORAL CODE: LIBERAL FUNDAMENTALISM

Some perspective is helpful in order to realize that this is not a new debate, although the intensity of the battle between competing moral codes seems to have grown in recent years. For example, this posting contains these words from a 1984 Wall Street Journal editorial:

...we would like to offer a few thoughts on what has been far and away the most messianic religion in America the past two decades - liberal politics.

American liberalism has traditionally derived much of its energy from a volatile mixture of emotion and moral superiority. The liberal belief that one's policies would on balance accomplish something indisputably good generally made opposing arguments about shortcomings, costs or unintended consequences unpersuasive...

...many active liberals carried along their newly found moral certitude and quasi-religious fervor into nearly every major public policy issue that has come along in the past 15 years. The result has been liberal fundamentalism.

...Not surprisingly, this evangelical liberalism produced a response. Conservative groups - both secular and religious - were created, and they quite obviously made the political success of their adversaries more difficult. Liberals don't like that. So now, suddenly, we find all these politicians and columnists who are afraid someone might want to impose a particular point of view on them...

If some liberals are now afraid that certain Christian fundamentalists will reintroduce new forms of intolerance and excessive religious zeal into American political life, perhaps we should concede the possibility that they know what they're talking about. But they might also meditate on the current election and why there has been an apparent rightward shift in political sentiment in the U.S. It could be that a great many voters have taken a good look at the fundamentalists on the religious right and the fundamentalists on the political left and made up their minds about which poses the greater threat to their own private and public values.

It was commonplace for public discussions after the 2004 elections to talk about "moral values" and only mean people of faith. The quality and accuracy of the public debate would be improved if we recognized there is another large and active faith group whose religion is a radical secularism.

I believe I speak for many Americans who, while personally religious, are inclined to be tolerant of those who disagree with us. Yet the intolerance toward the worldviews of many people of faith exhibited by liberal fundamentalists, as they aggressively push their political agenda, has only polarized the public debate and weakened the fabric of civil society. Richard John Neuhaus has described the core of this intolerance in the following way:

The conflict in American public life today then is not a conflict between morality and secularism. It is a conflict of moralities in which one moral system calls itself secular and insists that the other do likewise as the price of admission to the public arena. That insistence is in fact a demand that the other side capitulate...

This demand for the capitulation of their opponents is at the heart of liberal fundamentalism, is delivered to philosophical opponents in a highly condescending manner, and is largely unreported in the mainstream media.

It is worth reiterating that the growth of the so-called "religious right" was largely a response to the attempts by liberal fundamentalists to grossly redirect public policies and the broader public debate in ways never seen before. Putting the public focus strictly on the religious right and not on the liberal fundamentalists is a clever, and so far successful, ploy to control the public debate.

Our challenge as a country is to recognize that dueling fundamentalists of both the left and right diminish the opportunity for reasoned debate in America on the great issues of our day - and that does no one any good.

JUDICIAL ACTIVISM: COMMANDEERING THE PUBLIC DEBATE & VIOLATING THE FOUNDING PRINCIPLES OF AMERICA

Many of these aggressive attempts by liberal fundamentalists to redirect societal practices have been done through a hyperactive judiciary. It has been going on for enough decades now and, with our weak knowledge of history, many Americans do not appreciate how judicial activism is a relatively recent phenomenon, it violates the governmental principles upon which our nation was founded, and it has an insidious effect on the relationship between the government and the governed.

Chief Justice Warren Burger elaborated on this in the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe:

The Constitution does not constitute us as "Platonic Guardians" nor does it vest in this Court the authority to strike down laws because they do not meet our standards of desirable social policy, 'wisdom,' or 'common sense.'...We trespass on the assigned function of the political branches under our structure of limited and separated powers when we assume a policy-making role.

Subsequently, Justice Antonin Scalia reinforced this point in his dissent in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas:

The Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed.

In the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette nearly 70 years ago, Justice Felix Frankfurter also emphasized how judicial activism is contrary to American principles of government:

As a member of this Court, I am not justified in writing my private notions of policy into the Constitution, no matter how deeply I may cherish them or how mischievous I may deem their disregard. The duty of a judge who must decide which of two claims before the Court should prevail, that of a State to enact and enforce laws within its general competence or that of an individual to refuse obedience because of the demands of his conscience, is not that of the ordinary person. It can never be emphasized too much that one's own opinion about the wisdom or evil of a law should be excluded altogether when one is doing one's duty on the bench. The only opinion of our own even looking in that direction that is material is our opinion whether legislators could in reason have enacted such a law...

When Mr. Justice Holmes, speaking for this Court, wrote that "it must be remembered that legislatures are ultimate guardians of the liberties and welfare of the people in quite as great a degree as the courts..." he went to the very essence of our constitutional system and the democratic conception of our society. He did not mean that for only some phase of civil government this Court was not to supplant legislatures and sit in judgment upon the right or wrong of a challenged measure. He was stating the comprehensive judicial duty and role of this Court in our constitutional scheme whenever legislation is sought to be nullified on any ground, namely, that responsibility for legislation lies with legislatures, answerable as they are directly to the people, and this Court's only and very narrow function is to determine whether within the broad grant of authority vested in legislatures they have exercised a judgment for which reasonable justification can be offered...

This is no dry, technical matter. It cuts deep into one's conception of the democratic process...

In his book entitled The Uncivil War: How a New Elite is Destroying our Democracy, David Lebedoff offers an explanation about the intent underlying the push for judicial activism:

Many who loudly insist on the appointment of activist judges describe themselves as political "activists," as well. But how can one possibly endorse both judicial and political activism, unless, of course, political activism has come to mean something different from what the label implies? One who believes in judicial activism can be a political activist only if he or she no longer views political activity as directed toward the achievement of majority support. If one believes that the point of politics is to see that society does what is "right," regardless of what the public thinks or wants, only then can these two forms of activism indeed be reconciled.

Lebedoff then discusses the eventual consequences of judicial activism:

As those of one political philosophy or another seek to write their own notions into law, with no restraint from themselves or the public, the immigrant wisdom of Justice Frankfurter may be recognized at last for what it really is: a timeless warning that if consent of the governed is not our goal, it will become our memory.

In their book entitled Democracy by Decree: What Happens When Courts Run Government, Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod note how judicial activism undermines government accountability to the citizenry:

Democracy by decree undermines accountability of government to the voters. Democratic accountability is, in our constitutional scheme, not an unalloyed good. The framers of the U.S. Constitution recognized that a democratically accountable government may reflect bigotry or be inattentive to the people's needs or rights that they should have. For that reason, the Constitution includes rights and authorizes Congress to enact statutes necessary to ensure that state and local government honor them. These are rights, not aspirational goals dressed up as rights.

As long as rights are honored, everything else, including how the rights are honored, is a question of policy to be left to elected officials. The Constitution and its state and local counterparts set up the ground rules for how policy should be made. These ground rules are designed with careful attention to the potential faults of people and those they elect. The guiding principles are division of power and accountability.

Division of power is required because of distrust of both the people and those whom the people elect. Power is divided, first of all, between those who are empowered to govern and those who are governed. Those who are governed retain the power to vote the elected out of office. The power of those who govern is further divided many ways - between the federal government and the states, and within each level of government among the legislature, the executive, and the courts. Inherent in the whole scheme is that elected officials should bear the responsibility for the key policy choices and must retain the power to change policy.

Although the system is far from perfect, democracy by decree makes it worse. It does not substitute the dispassionate rule of judges for the rule of politicians. Decisions by controlling groups are politics in a different form. By hiding ordinary politics behind the robes of judges, democracy by decree makes government less accountable and therefore less responsive. Judicial reason does not supplant politics. Instead, the courts become political.

It is only through the "messiness" of a reasoned public discourse that a broad societal consensus can be achieved on major issues. Judicial activism short-circuits that process, to the detriment of our democratic institutions and habits.

RELIGIOUS VALUES AND THE AMERICAN FOUNDING

Many secularists and members of the mainstream media boldly, and ignorantly, proclaim that secularism is consistent with the American Founding - with the effect of making people of faith akin to second-class citizens in the public discourse.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. For example, in the Letters to the Editor section of the April 2005 edition of Commentary Magazine, David Gelernter writes:

Michael Novak's fascinating report of a survey by Donald Lutz who "counted 3,154 citations in the writings of the Founders; of these, nearly 1,100 (34 percent) are to the Bible, and about 300 each to Montesquieu and Blackstone, followed at a considerable distance by Locke and Hume and Plutarch." Which does not mean that philosophical arguments were unimportant, merely that they were less important than biblical ones.

That secularist viewpoint is further contradicted in a posting which contains these words from George Washington's 1796 Farewell Address as President as he spoke to the importance of religion and morality in the public debate:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness - these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them...Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Another posting shares these words from Neuhaus, which reinforce how the Declaration of Independence presupposed a higher power and how attempts to deny that strike at the very foundation of the American Founding:

But the radical nature of the Declaration consists not only in its revolutionary character but in its reliance on the authority of a divine Creator. The Declaration teaches that the authority of the people is prior to government, but that the rights of the people are the gift of God. Neither man nor government is the author of liberty. That honor belongs only to God...

It is true that America's founders were scrupulously neutral between the numerous religious sects that existed in their time. But it is not true that they were hostile to the God worshipped by all of them...

What is especially sinister about the relentless campaign to remove all public references to God is that it calls the nation's foundations needlessly into question. If there is no God, then there is no human freedom and there is no government by consent of the governed...

These points are reinforced in the same posting when Neuhaus quotes Thomas Jefferson:

[C]an the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?

Another posting highlights words by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926 about the religious principles underlying the Declaration of Independence:

...Three very definite propositions were set out in [the Declaration's] preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed...

While these principles were not altogether new in political action, and were very far from new in political speculation, they had never been assembled before and declared in such a combination...

...when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live...

In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man - these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in religious convictions...Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish...

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776...that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final...If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people...

In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people...The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guarantees, which even the government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government -- the right of the people to rule...We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction...The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty...

...We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all of our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it...We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed...

A speech entitled "Limited Government to Protect Equal Rights" by Mac Owens, published on this blog site, elaborates further on the uniqueness of the American Experiment:

Before the American founding, all regimes were based on the principle of interest - the interest of the stronger. That principle was articulated by the Greek historian Thucydides: "Questions of justice arise only between equals. As for the rest, the strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must."...

The United States was founded on different principles - justice and equality...It took the founding of the United States on the principle of equality to undermine the principle of inequality...Thanks to the Founders, the United States was founded on a principle of justice, not the interest of the stronger. And because of Lincoln's uncompromising commitment to equality as America's "central idea," the Union was not only saved, but saved so "as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of saving..."

"Every nation," said Lincoln, "has a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate." For Lincoln, this central idea was the Declaration of Independence and its notion of equality as the basis for republican government - the simple idea that no one has the right by nature to rule over another without the latter's consent...

Indeed, it is the idea of equality in the Declaration, not race and blood, that establishes American nationhood, constituting what Abraham Lincoln called "the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land..."

The United States is a fundamentally decent regime based on the universal principle that all human beings are equal in terms of their natural rights...

...the only purpose of government is to protect the equal natural rights of individual citizens. These rights inhere in individuals, not groups, and are antecedent to the creation of government...

What the hard-core secularists are pushing is nothing less than a dangerous non-Judeo-Christian religious ideology of their own. In seeking to delegitimize religion by privatizing it to the individual level, the state is being established as the new church - but without any countervailing transcendent force to limit its ambitions. Neuhaus offers further thoughts on that dangerous pathway in this posting:

What is relatively new is the naked public square. The naked public square is the result of political doctrine and practice that would exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business... When religion in any traditional or recognizable form is excluded from the public square, it does not mean that the public square is in fact naked...

The truly naked public square is at best a transitional phenomenon. It is a vacuum begging to be filled. When the democratically affirmed institutions that generate and transmit values are excluded, the vacuum will be filled by the agent left in control of the public square, the state. In this manner, a perverse notion of the disestablishment of religion leads to the establishment of the state as church...

Our problems, then, stem in large part from the philosophical and legal effort to isolate and exclude the religious dimension of culture...only the state can..."lay claim to compulsive authority."...of all the institutions in societies, only religion can invoke against the state a transcendent authority and have its invocation seconded by "the people" to whom a democratic state is presumably accountable. For the state to be secured from such challenge, religion must be redefined as a private, emphatically not public, phenomenon. In addition, because truly value-less existence is impossible for persons or societies, the state must displace religion as the generator and bearer of values...

[T]he notion of the secular state can become the prelude to totalitarianism. That is, once religion is reduced to nothing more than privatized conscience, the public square has only two actors in it - the state and the individual. Religion as a mediating structure...is no longer available as a countervailing force to the ambitions of the state...

A further posting adds this comment from Ramesh Ponnuru who notes the broad implications of this effort to alter the nature of politics in America:

If I'm right about liberalism's instinctive reflexes, then contemporary liberalism has forfeited the creed's ancient claim to promote civil peace...But if liberal secularism amounts to the unwitting imposition of the views of an irreligious minority on a religious majority, then it hardly seems likely to foster social harmony. Nor has it.

That is the crux of the matter. Their efforts are nothing but a bold political move by a minority seeking to gain power by asserting a statist ideology that, by its very definition, is illiberal and highly intolerant of any who disagree with them. They know, at least implicitly, what the Founding Fathers knew: The only serious impediment to realizing their utopian dream is resistance from citizens and democratic institutions that recognize moral claims based on a transcendent authority.

THE DIRE CONSEQUENCES WE COULD FACE

The stakes for the future of America are enormously high. If we ignore these Founding Principles of America, then this T. S. Eliot quote (offered in this book by Bruce Frohnen) will likely become our future:

As political philosophy derives its sanctions from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. The term "democracy," as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike - it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God, you will pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.

Neuhaus elaborates further:

If law and polity are divorced from moral judgment...all things are permitted and...all things will be done...When in our public life no legal prohibition can be articulated with the force of transcendent authority, then there are no rules rooted in ultimacies that can protect the poor, the powerless and the marginal...

It was what led Peggy Noonan to say:

And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning. What terrible stories are shaping them. They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio. They are seeing a society--their society, their people--on the verge of famously accepting, even embracing, the idea that a damaged life is a throwaway life.

Our children have been reared in the age of abortion, and are coming of age in a time when seemingly respectable people are enthusiastic for euthanasia. It cannot be good for our children, and the world they will make, that they are given this new lesson that human life is not precious, not touched by the divine, not of infinite value.

Once you "know" that--that human life is not so special after all--then everything is possible, and none of it is good. When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber. You wind up on a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz...

In this editorial, Michael Barone paraphrases comments by George Weigel in his book entitled The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics and offers some of his own thoughts:

Reasoned moral conviction: That is one of our national strengths...Without strong religious or moral beliefs, tolerance degenerates into indifference, mere "skepticism and relativism," which fail to provide a reason that people should be tolerant and civil...A society that believes only in skepticism ultimately has no means of self-defense.

Finally, George Weigel's commentary on the radical humanism of Pope John Paul II brings added clarity to what is at stake:

...freedom detached from moral truth - the "freedom of indifference" that dominated the high culture of the triumphant West - [is] inevitably self-cannibalizing.

Freedom untethered from truth is freedom's worst enemy. For if there is only your truth and my truth, and neither one of us recognizes a transcendent moral standard (call it "the truth") by which to adjudicate our differences, then the only way to settle the argument is for you to impose your power on me, or for me to impose my power on you.

Freedom untethered from truth leads to chaos; chaos leads to anarchy; and since human beings cannot tolerate anarchy, tyranny as the answer to the human imperative of order is just around the corner. The false humanism of the freedom of indifference leads first to freedom's decay, and then to freedom's demise...

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

In this posting, Dr. Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute offers these thoughts on the Declaration of Independence and what obligations American citizens are duty-bound to honor in order to protect the freedom for all citizens:

We are all created equal, as defined by our natural rights; thus, no one has rights superior to those of anyone else. Moreover, we are born with those rights, we do not get them from government indeed, whatever rights or powers government has come from us, from the Consent of the Governed. And our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to live our lives as we wish to pursue happiness as we think best, by our own lights provided only that we respect the equal rights of others to do the same. Drawing by implication upon the common law tradition of liberty, property, and contract its principles rooted in right reason the Founders thus outlined the moral foundations of a free society...

In the end, however, no constitution can be self-enforcing. Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution; and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do. The Founders drafted an extraordinarily thoughtful plan of government, but it is up to us, to each generation, to preserve and protect it for ourselves and for future generations. For the Constitution will live only if it is alive in the hearts and minds of the American people. That, perhaps, is the most enduring lesson of our experiment in ordered liberty.

It is indeed up to all of us to preserve and protect our American heritage. Like all other American citizens, people of faith have the right to play an active, legitimate role in the great public debates of our country. One of the greatest contributions they can make right now is to remind us that a radically secular vision for America will eventually take us down the pathway to totalitarianism. At the same time, it is important to conduct this debate using both words and a style that allows the building of a broad societal consensus by appealing to thoughtful Americans who, while not sharing the same faith, join a larger cause because of shared ethics as well as beliefs about the Founding Principles of America.

REDISCOVERING CIVILITY AND PURPOSE IN AMERICA'S PUBLIC DISCOURSE

All of us, regardless of our political philosophy, need to be dedicated to conducting ourselves in a reasoned manner. Civil society will only be strengthened in America if every side of the political debate acts honorably - something that all of us have, at some time, failed to do. For example, see this posting by Michelle Malkin. There can be no second-class citizens or the public discourse in America will be impoverished.

Neuhaus talks here about how politics is a moral enterprise:

Politics is an inescapably moral enterprise. Those who participate in it are...moral actors. The word "moral" here...means only that the questions engaged [in politics] are questions that have to do with what is right or wrong, good or evil. Whatever moral dignity politics may possess depends on it being a process of contention and compromise among moral actors, not simply a process of accommodation among individuals in pursuit of their interests.

William Voegli identifies our challenge in this way:

A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.

In closing, I would offer these thoughts on the meaning of tolerance and how we must rediscover civility and purpose in America's public discourse:

...the definition of the word "tolerance"...
sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own...the allowable deviation from a standard...

The definition of tolerance clearly states there are pre-existing standards, without which the very concept of tolerance has no significance. But multiculturism has led us into a world of relativism where there are no standards. And that means there is no way to define allowable deviations.

In a free and democratic society, we owe it to ourselves to openly debate what will be the appropriate standards and the allowable deviations from them that we will tolerate in our American society.

I hope we can conduct that debate in a context that keeps sight of the standards given to us through our Founding in the Declaration of Independence, the lessons learned over the entire history of America, and the natural law principles that have guided Western Civilization for centuries...

Or, as George Weigel wrote in describing the relevancy of Pope John Paul II's teachings:

That is why John Paul relentlessly preached genuine tolerance: not the tolerance of indifference, as if differences over the good didn't matter, but the real tolerance of differences engaged, explored, and debated within the bond of a profound respect for the humanity of the other. Many were puzzled that this Pope, so vigorous in defending the truths of Catholic faith, could become, over a quarter-century, the world's premier icon of religious freedom and inter-religious civility. But here, too, John Paul II was teaching a crucial lesson about the future of freedom: Universal empathy comes through, not around, particular convictions.

RIP, Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo

Terri Schindler-Schiavo is dead, killed by a judicial fiat done at her husband's request.

The posting notes:

After 14 days without food or water, Terri Schiavo died around 9:05 Thursday morning - shortly after her parents issued an emotional plea to be at her hospice bedside in her final moments of life.

Terri's husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, denied the Schindler family's final request to be with Terri as she took her last breath.

Apparently, Michael let his lawyer-of-death, George Felos, be present at her death - but not Terri's parents and siblings. That is heartbreaking, just as so many aspects of this case have been.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Schindler family. May they find some peace and purpose after this traumatic ordeal. I would encourage you to read the entirety of their family's gracious and thoughtful public statement.

I think a recent Wall Street Journal editorial put the policy issues of this case in the proper perspective:

At its heart, the public uproar demonstrates the need for a national discussion on the care of the severely disabled and, inevitably, on the "right to die." These are intensely personal questions, best left to individual families in consultation with their medical and religious advisers. But to the extent that government gets involved, the proper venue for settling debates is state legislatures, where the will of the people, as expressed through laws enacted by their elected representatives, can be heard. It is not the courts, where judges can be tempted to impose their own values, especially in the absence of specific guidance from the law.

This is one reason we are not as exercised as some of our conservative friends by Congress's decision to intervene. The legislation that hastily passed both chambers was narrowly limited to Terri's case and essentially procedural; it does not trample on states' rights. A better way to think of it is that the people wanted to be heard on the merits of this specific case. If the outrage over Congress's supposed abandonment of federalist principles means that liberals have discovered the virtues of a restrained judiciary, we welcome them to the club.

Nor was Congress making a claim of substantive due process of the sort judges have used to overturn state laws on abortion or homosexuality. Rather, by vesting narrow authority in the federal courts, it asked, in effect, that the removal of Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube be thought of as a death sentence. A criminal on death row can exercise a writ of habeas corpus by which he asks the federal judiciary to review his case. Why not Terri?...

Even an act of the Florida state legislature could not change that outcome...Last fall the Florida Supreme Court declared Terri's Law unconstitutional. The legislative branch, the ruling said in effect, is subservient to the judicial branch -- something we've come to expect from that particular court.

But the biggest failing of our legal system is that it could not accommodate the most humane outcome -- to return Terri to the care of her parents and siblings, who are willing to provide for her. Judge Greer's ruling that Terri's husband is the sole guardian made such compromise impossible. But how can it be morally responsible to let a woman die when there are family members pleading to take on the burden of caring for her?

...Yet rather than merely assailing politicians, social conservatives could better devote their efforts to persuading society about the merits of a "culture of life."

Democratic Party politics will be affected too...Even within their own party, liberals will find it harder to make the argument that the "right to die" is part and parcel of the "right to privacy."

...If Terri Schiavo's ordeal, and that of her husband and parents, can help our society reach a better understanding of how to deal with these difficult issues, that will be a worthwhile legacy.

David Limbaugh has this to say on the case.

The editors at the National Review Online have also weighed in on the underlying battle going on in this case, including these comments:

There was an honest, forthright case for ending the life of Terri Schiavo. It was that her life no longer had any value, for herself or others, and that ending it the quicker the better would spare everyone misery. We disagree with that view, holding it wiser to stick with the Judeo-Christian tradition on the sanctity of innocent life. But the people who made this case deserve some credit for straightforwardness.

But while the public may have agreed with the removal of Schiavo's feeding and hydration tube, apparently there are limits to the public's willingness to tolerate euthanasia and apparently its defenders recognized these limits. So we saw euphemism after euphemism deployed to cloud the issues.

Perhaps chief among these was the fiction that we were "letting her die." On March 18, Schiavo was in no medical danger of death. She was profoundly brain-damaged (although just how profoundly remains unknown), but she was not in a coma or on a respirator. She was not being kept alive by artificial means, any more than small children are kept alive by artificial means when their parents feed them...She could easily have gone on in these conditions for many years. She was not close to dying. For death to arrive, she would have to be killed.

And for that to happen, the use of words like "starvation" and "dehydration" would have to be discouraged. Those words might, after all, have reminded us that what was done to Schiavo would be criminal if done to an animal and provoke cries of "torture" and "cruel and unusual punishment" if done to a convicted capital murderer. And "killed," of course, was totally verboten. Schiavo was being "removed from life support," not denied basic sustenance. The phrase "persistent vegetative state" had to be repeated constantly never mind that basic tests were never performed to establish this diagnosis, and such diagnoses have a very high error rate and treated as though it meant "brain death."

We were told that her "choice to die" was being "honored," although the evidence that she had, at age 26, given any considered thought to her own mortality and potential incapacity was thin and highly suspect its lone source being a husband who incongruously proclaimed his solemn fidelity to this purported wish of Terri even as he started up a new family, denied Terri basic care, and insisted on denying her heartbroken parents their desire to care for their child.

The charade here was not performed to protect Terri Schiavo's dignity but to increase the public's comfort with the devaluation of life. So it was that Michael Schiavo's lawyer, the euthanasia enthusiast George Felos, sketched for the media (which was naturally not permitted to observe Terri's deteriorating condition) a rosy portrait of Terri's extremis: radiantly beautiful, soothed by soft music and the comfort of a stuffed animal...

Why not kill Mrs. Schiavo quickly and efficiently, by depriving her of air to breathe? In principle, that would have been no different from denying her the other basic necessities of life. Why not give her a lethal injection? The law would not have allowed those methods; but the reason nobody advocated them was that they would have been too obviously murder. So the court-ordered killing was carried out slowly, incrementally, over days and weeks, with soft music, stuffed animals, and euphonious slogans about choice and dignity and radiance. By the time it ended, no one really remembered how many days and hours it had gone on. The nation accepted it, national polls supported it, and we all moved on to other things.

Next time it will be easier. It always is. The tolerance of early-term abortion made it possible to tolerate partial-birth abortion, and to give advanced thinkers a hearing when they advocate outright infanticide. Letting the courts decide such life-and-death issues made it possible for us to let them decide others, made it seem somehow wrong for anyone to stand in their way. Now they are helping to snuff out the minimally conscious. Who's next?

May God have mercy on America as we conduct the needed public debate.

Thanks to The Anchoress, whose posting of this quote by Robert George brings the proper religious and philosophical perspectives to this case:

Let us mourn, but not be discouraged. Let us forgive those who have acted wrongly in our name, even as we beg forgiveness from the Author of Life for whatever failures and delinquencies on our own parts have contributed to the culture of death. We are all sinners, and have fallen short; and the wages of sin truly are death. Let us resolve that Terri's death shall not have been in vain. In her name, let reform and renewal be our undoubted mission. Let us now, even in the depths of sorrow, rededicate ourselves to our ancient creed, affirming that every human being, as a creature fashioned in the divine image, possesses a profound, inherent, and equal worth and dignity--a worth and dignity that it is the high duty of the officers and institutions of constitutional republican government to respect and defend.

I predict that the long-term impact of Terri's life on America will be profound.

You can read more on Terri's case here in these six previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI).

RIP, Terri.


Limited Government to Protect Equal Rights

Justin Katz

When Mac Owens first signed on as a contributor to Anchor Rising, he sent me a speech that he had given on February 23, 2002, at the North Kingston Town Committee's Annual Lincoln Dinner. The current collection of issues, both nationally and in Rhode Island, makes it particularly appropriate for posting now. (I'm told, by the way, that Lincoln Chafee, in attendance, blushed when Owens suggested that Republicans should aspire to be more than merely pale imitations of the Democrats.)

Tonight, your main speaker will talk to you about the upcoming elections of 2002. These off year elections are certainly important and worthy of discussion. But at the same time, it is occasionally useful to return to our origins, "to recur to first principles." That is what I wish to do with the time allotted me. What are the principles of the Republican Party? What do Republicans believe in? What differentiates Republicans from Democrats?

Although some here tonight may disagree, let me offer a suggestion as to what these differences are. The modern Democratic Party was founded by FDR. Its central idea is that government's job is to adjudicate the distribution of resources among competing claimants. Democrats increasingly view the United States, not as a community of individuals, but as an array of groups whose demands must be met. But since government produces nothing on its own, certain favored groups prosper at the expense of others. The modern Democratic Party invokes the language of rights, but what Democrats really mean by the term are privileges or claims to resources that are granted by government. They certainly don't mean by rights what the Founders meant when they used the term.

On the other hand, the Republican Party was founded on the basis of principles invoked by Abraham Lincoln. He himself recurred to the principles of the American Founding, specifically the Declaration of Independence, so we can say that the principles of the Republican Party are the principles of the nation. In essence these principles hold that the only purpose of government is to protect the equal natural rights of individual citizens. These rights inhere in individuals, not groups, and are antecedent to the creation of government. They are the rights invoked by the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — not happiness, but the pursuit of happiness.

We should remember that the Republican Party was created in response to a crisis arising from the fact that the country had drifted away from its founding principles. While the some of the founders may have owned slaves, they denounced the institution as a corrupt system that America had inherited, but which for the sake of security could not be abolished all at once. However, they fully expected that they had put slavery on the road to extinction.

But they were wrong. Slavery flourished in the South during the ante-bellum period. More importantly, public opinion had come to accept the idea that there was no moral reason that slavery should not be permitted to expand into the territories if that's what a majority of the white people there wanted.

Lincoln understood the critical importance of public sentiment in a democracy. "Our government rests in public opinion....Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much."

In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.

Lincoln was concerned that public sentiment was being prepared to accept the rightness of slavery. It was being prepared by Stephen Douglas's doctrine of "popular sovereignty," which professed indifference to the moral aspect of slavery, leaving the question to the preferences of the community. It was being prepared by Chief Justice Taney, who argued in Dred Scott that blacks had no rights that whites were bound to respect.

In opposition to this trend in public opinion, Lincoln invoked America's "central idea." "Every nation," said Lincoln, "has a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate." For Lincoln, this central idea was the Declaration of Independence and its notion of equality as the basis for republican government — the simple idea that no one has the right by nature to rule over another without the latter's consent: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men."

Lincoln saw more clearly than his critics, then or now, that equality is inseparable from democracy. As he remarked in 1859: "All honor to Jefferson — to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression."

Indeed, it is the idea of equality in the Declaration, not race and blood, that establishes American nationhood, constituting what Abraham Lincoln called "the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land..."

In a speech delivered just after Independence Day 1858, Lincoln clarified the link between the Declaration and American nationhood. His argument is one we should ponder at a time when "multiculturalists" are advancing the view that the US is not a land of free individuals but instead a conglomeration of discrete racial and ethnic groups.

When we celebrate the Fourth of July, Lincoln told his listeners in Chicago, we celebrate the founders, "our fathers and grandfathers," those "iron men...But after we have done this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men — descended by blood from our ancestors — among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe — German, Irish, French and Scandinavian — ...finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,' and then they feel that the moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are."

Lincoln fought to save this "central idea" from its contemporary detractors by pointing out that the United States faced two irreconcilable choices on slavery: As Larry P. Arnn, now President of Hillsdale College in Michigan has observed, we could re-dedicate ourselves to the principles of the Declaration of Independence or we could embrace the contrary doctrine proposed by Southern slavery advocates in the 1830s and '40s. According to the former, all people have equal rights by nature and government's purpose is to protect those rights. According to the latter — which harkened to European feudalism — government's task is to assign rights unequally, whether based on race or class, in order to achieve a predetermined social goal.

Lincoln's opponent in the Illinois Senate race of 1858 — and a leading national Democrat — was Stephen Douglas. He attempted to sidestep the conflict then facing the nation: whether slavery would be extended to the federal territories to the West, and ultimately throughout the nation, or whether it would be put "in the course of ultimate extinction." Douglas defended the right of the people in the territories to outlaw slavery. But he also defended the right of Southerners to own slaves and transport them to the new territories.

While Douglas repeatedly refused to say that slavery was wrong, Lincoln never hesitated to criticize the institution as incompatible with republican government. In his 1854 speech at Peoria on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln declared that he hated slavery

because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world — enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites — causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty — criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Lincoln rejected the possibility that the choice between slavery and the equality that underpins republican government could be evaded: "A house divided against itself cannot stand.... I do not expect the Union to be dissolved, I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all free or all slave." And Lincoln indicated the logical absurdity in Douglas's attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Now of course, sophisticates argue that since Jefferson and some of the other founders owned slaves, they did not really mean "that all men are created equal" when they signed the Declaration of Independence. I have had occasion to teach some political science classes at URI over the years, and the predominant view among my students has been precisely this. But, as I hope I was able to convince them, this view is false. Here's what Lincoln had to say about the founders and "all men are created equal."

As he said in his speech on the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, "I think the authors of [the Declaration of Independence] intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare men equal in all respects. This did not mean to say that all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity." They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal — equal in "certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

He also argued that the founders "did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all men were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for a free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere."

But as witnesses in support of Lincoln's assessment of the founders, we can, ironically, call upon the likes of John C. Calhoun, the arch-defender of slavery, and Alexander Stephens, a US Senator from Georgia and later vice-president of the Confederacy.

John C. Calhoun argued that

[the proposition "all men are created equal"] as now understood, has become the most false and dangerous of all political errors....We now begin to experience the danger of admitting so great an error to have a place in the declaration of independence. For a long time it lay dormant; but in the process of time it began to germinate, and produce its dangerous fruits. It had a strong hold on the mind of Mr. Jefferson, the author of that document, which caused him to take an utterly false view of the subordinate relation of the black to the white race in the South; and to hold, in consequence, that the former, although utterly unqualified to possess liberty, were as fully entitled to both liberty and equality as the latter; and that to deprive them of it was unjust and immoral.

And Alexander H. Stephens contended that the Confederate constitution, the "cornerstone" of which was the "great truth" of slavery and inequality, would correct the fatal error advanced in the Declaration of Independence.

Lincoln understood something that our current day "multiculturalists" either cannot or will not see. When the United States declared its independence in 1776, slavery was a world-wide phenomenon. But slavery was only part of a greater political reality. Before the American founding, all regimes were based on the principle of interest — the interest of the stronger. That principle was articulated by the Greek historian Thucydides: "Questions of justice arise only between equals. As for the rest, the strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must."

The United States was founded on different principles — justice and equality. No longer would it be the foundation of political government that some men were born "with saddles on their backs" to be ridden by others born "booted and spurred." In other words, no one had the right to rule over another without the latter's consent.

Slavery of course was a violation of this principle but as the distinguished professor of American history and politics, Harry V. Jaffa, has written: "It is not wonderful that a nation of slave-holders, upon achieving independence, failed to abolish slavery. What is wonderful, indeed miraculous, is that a nation of slave-holders founded a new nation on the proposition that 'all men are created equal,' making the abolition of slavery a moral and political necessity.

It took the founding of United States on the principle of equality to undermine the principle of inequality — that the strong by nature should rule the weak — upon which slavery was based. If the multiculturalist crowd cannot appreciate the role of the American founding in ending the world-wide system of slavery that existed in 1776, perhaps they should listen to Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist. "I would not, even in words," he said, "do violence to the great events, and thrilling association, that gloriously cluster around the birth of our national independence." He continued, "no people ever entered upon pathways of nations, with higher and grander ideas of justice, liberty and humanity than ourselves."

Thanks to the Founders, the United States was founded on a principle of justice, not the interest of the stronger. And because of Lincoln's uncompromising commitment to equality as America's "central idea," the Union was not only saved, but saved so "as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving...."

The irony is that while Lincoln's view prevailed with the Union triumph in the Civil War and was subsequently incorporated into the Constitution via the 13th and 14th Amendments, it is the perspective of Calhoun et al. that often holds sway today. The contemporary followers of Calhoun, both in politics and the academy, reject the idea that rights belong by nature to individuals and that they are antecedent to the state. They hold instead that rights are "prescriptive," i.e. that government determines what constitutes a right and then distributes those rights unequally according to its own preferences.

The United States is a fundamentally decent regime based on the universal principle that all human beings are equal in terms of their natural rights. The implication of this principle is that the best government is limited government. As Republicans, we must ask ourselves a series of questions: Do we still "hold these truths to be self-evident"? That all men are created equal? That they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights? That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men?

As the country music philosopher, Aaron Tippin, said in a song a few years back, "you've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything." Republicans have traditionally stood for limited government to protect equal rights. If the Party of Lincoln ever abandons its fealty to the principles of the Declaration, it will become little more than a pale imitation of the redistributionist Democratic Party. And Republicans can never hope to match the Democrats in offering a government solution for every problem, real or imagined.

Today we face the same decision as our forebears did in the 1850s. We can choose to re-dedicate ourselves to the principles of the Declaration of Independence or we can embrace the contemporary version of pro-slavery doctrine — that rights are not natural but prescriptive and that the task of government is to assign these prescriptive rights as it wishes based on such group criteria as race or class, in order to achieve a predetermined social goal. May the Republican Party pursue the former course.


March 30, 2005

Full Benefit Plans are Full of It

Carroll Andrew Morse

Uber-consultant Dick Morris New York Post column on social security has a problem. The 2nd reform option is misleading.

Option B No increase in taxes. A later retirement age. The current level of benefits.
A later retirement age is a cut in benefits. If you are forced to wait longer before you can start taking (your) money out of the system, you receive less than you would have if you had started earlier.

Be aware of this point. In the coming months, different plans for providing full benefits indefinitely into the future will be proposed. Almost all of them will involve benefit cuts hidden by a redefinition of the meaning of full.


The Evil Empire, Revisited

An article published today states:

New documents found in the files of the former East German intelligence services confirm the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II was ordered by the Soviet KGB and assigned to Bulgarian agents...

The Corriere della Sera said that the documents found by the German government indicated that the KGB ordered Bulgarian colleagues to carry out the killing, leaving the East German service known as the Stasi to coordinate the operation and cover up the traces afterwards.

Bulgaria then handed the execution of the plot to Turkish extremists, including Mehmet Ali Agca, who pulled the trigger...

Ronald Reagan was right: The Soviet Union was indeed an evil empire.


(d)emocratization and (D)emocrats

Carroll Andrew Morse

Noam Scheiber has upgraded his New Republic blog entry on the subject of President Bushs focus on democratization eventually helping the Democratic party to a full-blown New York Times op-ed.

I still disagree with his argument, for two reasons.
1. The Democrats are not as nearly committed to democracy as Scheiber assumes. Full explanation here.
2. You need to make the democracy-security argument to win the security-minded political center. Even if the Dems were as committed to democracy as Scheiber assumes, they do not believe in the democracy-security connection. Full explanation here.

Here is the policy question I would put to Mr. Scheiber. There are, at the very least, three countries in the world, Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea, where an aggressive strategy of democratization could overlap with Americas security interests. Will the national Democrats take a leading stand in favor of supporting democratization in these countries, or does the very fact that they have governments hostile to the US lead the Dems to believe we should be silent about the internal workings of these dictatorships?


George F. Kennan, 1904-2005

Carroll Andrew Morse

Americas most revered foreign policy strategist of the Cold War, George F. Kennan, recently passed away. Like many great figures in history, Kennans views have been oversimplified by succeeding generations. My small contribution towards setting the record straight about Kennan is available at TechCentralStation.


Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XIII

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on twelve previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII).

Raymond Brooks of Providence wrote a letter to the editor of the ProJo that highlights how Rhode Island Speaker Murphy's new House rules violate all sense of fair play and decency:

On March 23, I, along with many small-bar owners, attended and testified at a House Labor Committee hearing at the State House pertaining in part to House Bill H6159. This bill, after being orally amended and voted on, passing 6 to 3, would have stopped the exemptions with regard to smoking for Class C and D establishments as of June 1.

We in attendance thought the bill was headed to the House floor for a full vote, so after much applause and jubilation we went off into the night to celebrate what we thought was a great victory, but also knowing there would be much work ahead to secure the votes for equity. I got up early Thursday morning and e-mailed Governor Carcieri's office to ask that he come out publicly in support of Bill H6159. I also e-mailed a thank-you to Rep. Jan P. Malik, for introducing the bill and for making the necessary changes in it for passage. I then headed to my restaurant to start my day, and that's when my bubble burst.

I learned that after we had left and the smoke had cleared, House Speaker William Murphy rounded up five Labor Committee members who were not present for any testimony and re-addressed the bill. Please know that before Murphy's Rules took effect, this action would not have been possible. In the past you would have needed consent from a representaive of the winning side before a bill, after passage in committee, could be re-addressed. The bill now lost, 8 to 2; only two supporters remained.

The politicians played political football with our lives, and we got kicked in the teeth. I ask all concerned to please help in sending a message to Speaker Murphy, at (401) 222-2466. Let him know his rules will not stand after the next election.

The arbitrary nature of this behavior by Speaker Murphy violates the rule of law upon which a civilized society relies for justice and ongoing citizen belief in the legitimacy of their government.

Shame on Speaker Murphy.

And why do we, the citizens of Rhode Island, take this dishonorable and dangerous behavior sitting down?


March 29, 2005

More Important Issues Regarding Terri Schiavo Case

This posting builds on five previous postings on Terri Schiavo (I, II, III, IV, V).

I would encourage you to read Nat Henoff's editorial in the Village Voice on Terri Schiavo:

For all the world to see, a 41-year-old woman, who has committed no crime, will die of dehydration and starvation in the longest public execution in American history...

While lawyers and judges have engaged in a minuet of death, the American Civil Liberties Union, which would be passionately criticizing state court decisions and demanding due process if Terri were a convict on death row, has shamefully served as co-counsel for her husband, Michael Schiavo, in his insistent desire to have her die...

In death penalty cases, defense counsel for retarded and otherwise mentally disabled clients submit extensive medical tests. Ignoring the absence of complete neurological exams, supporters of the deadly decisions by Judge Greer and the trail of appellate jurists keep reminding us how extensive the litigation in this case has been19 judges in six courts is the mantra...

As David Gibbs, the lawyer for Terri's parents, has pointed out, there has been a manifest need for a new federal, Fourteenth Amendment review of the case because Terri's death sentence has been based on seven years of "fatally flawed" state court findingsall based on the invincible neglect of elementary due process by Judge George Greer.

I will be returning to the legacy of Terri Schiavo in the weeks ahead because there will certainly be long-term reverberations from this case and its fracturing of the rule of law in the Florida courts and then the federal courtsas well as the disgracefully ignorant coverage of the case by the great majority of the media, including such pillars of the trade as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times as they copied each other's misinformation...

Do you know that nearly every major disability rights organization in the country has filed a legal brief in support of Terri's right to live?...

During the March 21 hearing before Federal Judge James D. Whittemore, who was soon to be another accomplice in the dehydration of Terri, the relentless Mr. Felos, anticipating the end of the deathwatch, said to the judge:

"Yes, life is sacred, but so is liberty, your honor, especially in this country."

It would be useless, but nonetheless, I would like to inform George Felos that, as Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said: "The history of liberty is the history of due process"fundamental fairness.

Contrary to what you've read and seen in most of the media, due process has been lethally absent in Terri Schiavo's long merciless journey through the American court system.

"As to legal concerns," writes William Andersona senior psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a lecturer at Harvard University"a guardian may refuse any medical treatment, but drinking water is not such a procedure. It is not within the power of a guardian to withhold, and not in the power of a rational court to prohibit."

Ralph Nader agrees. In a statement on March 24, he and Wesley Smith (author of, among other books, Culture of Death: The Assault of Medical Ethics in America) said: "The court is imposing process over justice. After the first trial [before Judge Greer], much evidence has been produced that should allow for a new trialwhich was the point of the hasty federal legislation.

"If this were a death penalty case, this evidence would demand reconsideration. Yet, an innocent, disabled woman is receiving less justice. . . . This case is rife with doubt. Justice demands that Terri be permitted to live."...

Many readers of this column are pro-choice, pro-abortion rights. But what choice did Terri Schiavo have under our vaunted rule of lawwhich the president is eagerly trying to export to the rest of the world? She had not left a living will or a durable power of attorney, and so could not speak for herself. But the American system of justice would not slake her thirst as she, on television, was dying in front of us all.

What kind of a nation are we becoming? The CIA outsources torturein violation of American and international lawin the name of the freedoms we are fighting to protect against terrorism. And we have watched as this woman, whose only crime is that she is disabled, is tortured to death by judges, all the way to the Supreme Court.

And keep in mind from the Ralph Nader-Wesley Smith report: "The courts . . . have [also] ordered that no attempts be made to provide her water or food by mouth. Terri swallows her own saliva. Spoon feeding is not medical treatment. This outrageous order proves that the courts are not merely permitting medical treatment to be withheld, they have ordered her to be made dead."

In this country, even condemned serial killers are not executed in this way.

Can this be America, the land of the free and the brave?

David Limbaugh has also talked about the issues of this case (here, here, here).

Consider these comments from a posting on Liberty Files:

As an attorney with significant familiarity with medical issues, the fact that Terri Schiavo is receiving morphine doses...makes me wonder whether Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, really believes the dung he is shoveling, or he is simply a shill for the creepy right to die movement.

Morphine has only palliative value. It can only relieve pain and add comfort. But why on earth would a brain-dead person whose expedition towards the hereafter is described by Felos as "very peaceful. She looked calm..." require relief of pain? They claimed earlier that her alleged persistent vegetative state and alleged absence of cerebral activity precluded any experience of pain.

I am disregarding the comments of the Schindler family as to the status of Terri's strength and responses to stimuli, as people in crisis often see mirages in the depths of their despair. But what is one to make of Felos' claims that Terri is exhibiting "light moaning and facial grimacing and tensing of arms," which was the reason the morphine was administered? A response to the pain and suffering of starvation? Or yet another flippantly dismissed "involuntary reflex action"? But then why administer the morphine?

Whatever we make of this development, it cannot in the least be interpreted to be in any way consistent with any of the diagnostic statements made by the Schiavos. And so it seems that Terri's life and death have become a painful means to wicked, self-serving ends for these men...

In another example of where there is uncertainty about Terri's true condition for those observing from a distance, check out these postings here and here by a radiologist blogger, who argues that the evidence suggests Terri Schiavo should have a CT scan repeated and an MRI and a PET scan to gauge the severity of her brain dysfunction. He then offers this statement and challenge:

I've watched a steady stream of neurologists, bioethicists, and neurologist/bioethicists from Columbia, Cornell, and NYU interviewed all week on Fox and CNN and MSNBC. They all said about the same thing, that Terri's CT scan was "the worst they'd ever seen"or "as bad as they've ever seen."

Here's the problem with these experts: THEY DON'T INTERPRET CT SCANS OF THE BRAIN. RADIOLOGISTS DO...

You see, a neurologist will look at the CT of the brain of one of his patients, but this is entirely different from interpreting CT's of the brain de novo, for a living, every day, without knowing the diagnosis and most times without a good history. In addition, whereas I heard Dr. Crandon say he's "seen" a thousand brain CT's... well I've interpreted over 10,000 brain CT's. There's a big difference.

When I look at a CT of the brain every case is a new mystery about a patient I don't know. I must look at the images, come to a conclusion, dictate my findings and report a conclusion. This becomes a part of the official legal record for which I am liable. I bill Medicare for a CT interpretation and am paid for this service.

Neurologists do not do this. They don't go on the record, alone, in written legal documents stating their impressions about CT's of the brain. The neurologist doesn't get sued for making a mistake on an opinion of a CT of the brain. THE RADIOLOGIST DOES.

A neurologist has nowhere near this type of practical experience. And their cases are skewed according to where they practice and what their specialty is. Now, some of my best friends and some of the smartest docs I ever met are neurologists, but that doesn't change my observation that most neurologists I've met, in my experience, show an incomplete grasp of the nuances involved in image interpretation.

I have seen several neurologists -- in the printed media and on television -- put up a Representative CT of the brain of a normal 25 year old female and contrast this with Terri Schiavo's CT. This is a totally spurious comparison. No one is disputing that Terri Schiavo does not have the CT of a 25 year old female.

What I'm saying is that Terri Schiavo's CT could be the brain of an eighty or ninety year old person who is not in a vegetative state. THOSE are the CT scans we should be showing next to Schiavo's, because in THAT case you would see similar atrophy and a brain much closer to Schiavo's.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

To prove my point I am offering $100,000 on a $25,000 wager for ANY neurologist (and $125,000 for any neurologist/bioethicist) involved in Terri Schiavo's case--including all the neurologists reviewed on television and in the newspapers who can accurately single out PVS patients from functioning patients with better than 60% accuracy on CT scans.

I will provide 100 single cuts from 100 different patient's brain CT's. All the neurologist has to do is say which ones represent patients with PVS and which do not.

If the neurologist can be right 6 out of 10 times he wins the $100,000.

The same radiologist commented on Terri's bone scan:

Certainly IN A CHILD (which Schiavo, obviously was not), the combination of posterior rib fractures, vertebral compression fractures, and distal femoral periosteal elevation is ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY DIAGNOSTIC for child abuse and any radiologist who missed this diagnosis would be subject to disciplinary action from his peers and state licensing board. SEE here.

It is my opinion that the most likely reason for these bone scan findings in March of 1991 is that someone either was physically abusing Terri or they dropped/mishandled her severely.

The x-rays might make all of this clearer if we can obtain them.

Comments in this excellent posting on Liberty Files bring us back to what is most important:

But we cannot toss aside life simply because we have tired of loving it or caring for it, because we don't exactly understand what its purpose is, or because we may benefit from its expiration. Michael Schiavo appears to have done that. Terri has a right to live. The ambiguity must be resolved in favor of life, because you never get a second shot at it.

Of course, this reasoning requires an ethic in order to remain logically viable. The ethic, like it or not, is that God is real, he created people and retains dominion over our lives (whether we like/believe it or not), and he takes seriously the lives he gives us. Terri is an important creation, irrespective of her fragility or function. If she remains a conscious being, the matter of taking her life becomes very serious and not lightly dismissed. Michael Schiavo contends she's gone. As I've said before, I pray he's right. And as I said this morning, it seems he could be very wrong.

Conservatives are in this because the culture in which we live has developed a mind that regards inconvenient life as disposable life. And the ethic by which many conservatives live demands that life be treated with respect. At the close of World War II, we saw isolated camps across Europe that bore witness to what happens when life is easily discarded.

We're never going back there again if conservatives, and yes, those pesky "religious" ones too, have anything to say about it.


The RI Legislature and Social Security

Carroll Andrew Morse

Today, the Rhode Island legislature will officially declare (pdf format) that all generations of Rhode Islanders oppose any partial privitization as part of social security reform. The resolution endorses no plan for actually fixing social security, it simply declares no partial private accounts, not now, not ever.

The resolution is very Orwellian in talking about paying full benefits for all generations of Americans today and tommorrow. For future generations, full benefits will be a full piece of a shrinking pie. If you oppose all privatization, the only options are to continually raise taxes and cut benefits into the future. All proposals floated so far impose higher tax-burdens and bigger benefit cuts on younger Americans. Since the resolution goes out of its way to say that it is speaking for all generations, it begs the question of upon what basis the government feels justified in placing disproportionate burdens on younger citizens.

Here are a few of the possible rationales
1. The government owns all income, therefore there is no issue of fairness involved. The government can do with its money what it wants.
2. It is the norm in our society that the younger generation eventually helps care for the older. Higher taxes and reduced benefits for younger people are simply the bureaucratization of an already existing norm.

A final irony: In the RI Senate, this particular piece of legislation comes out of the Committee on Constitutional and Gaming issues. Apparently, the RI legislature doesnt want people betting their future on those risky private accounts, when they could be betting it at a casino instead!


March 28, 2005

Let's Not Delude Ourselves About the Consequences of Killing Terri Schiavo

This posting builds on four previous postings on Terri Schiavo (I, II, III, IV).

Thanks to Power Line for highlighting this article, entitled "Bigotry and the Murder of Terri Schiavo," by a Harvard alumnus who suffers from severe cerebral palsy:

The case of Terri Schiavo has been framed by the media as the battle between the right to die and pro-life groups, with the latter often referred to as "right-wing Christians." Little attention has been paid to the more than twenty major disability rights organizations firmly supporting Schiavos right to nutrition and hydration. Terri Schindler-Schiavo, a severely disabled woman, is being starved and dehydrated to death in the name of supposed "dignity"...

...A close examination of the Schiavo case reveals not a case of difficult decisions but a basic test of this country's decency...

Our country has learned that we cannot judge people on the basis of minority status, but for some reason we have not erased our prejudice against disability...

Essentially, then, we have arrived at the point where we starve people to death because he or she cannot communicate their experiences to us. What is this but sheer egotism? Regardless of ones religious beliefs, this is obviously an attempt to play God.

Not Dead Yet, an organization of persons with disabilities who oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia, maintains that the starvation and dehydration of Terri Schiavo will put the lives of thousands of severely disabled children and adults at risk...Not Dead Yet exposes important biases in the "right to die" movement, including the fact that as early as 1988, Jack Kevorkian advertised his intention of performing medical experimentation ("hitherto conducted on rats") on living children with spina bifida, at the same time harvesting their organs for reuse.

Besides being disabled, Schiavo and I have something important in common, that is, someone attempted to terminate my life by removing my endotracheal tube during resuscitation in my first hour of life. This was a quality-of-life decision: I was simply taking too long to breathe on my own, and the person who pulled the tube believed I would be severely disabled if I lived, since lack of oxygen causes cerebral palsy. (I was saved by my family doctor inserting another tube as quickly as possible.) The point of this is not that I ended up at Harvard and Schiavo did not, as some people would undoubtedly conclude. The point is that society already believes to some degree that it is acceptable to murder disabled people.

As Schiavo starves to death, we are entering a world last encountered in Nazi Europe. Prior to the genocide of Jews, Gypsies, and Poles, the Nazis engaged in the mass murder of disabled children and adults, many of whom were taken from their families under the guise of receiving treatment for their disabling conditions. The Nazis believed that killing was the highest form of treatment for disability.

...This sick twisting of medical ethics led to a sense of fulfillment of duty experienced by Nazi doctors, leading them to a conviction that they were relieving suffering. Not Dead Yet has uncovered the same perverse sense of duty in members of the Hemlock Society, now called End-of-Life Choices. (In 1997, the executive director of the Hemlock Society suggested that judicial review be used regularly "when it is necessary to hasten the death of an individual whether it be a demented parent, a suffering, severely disabled spouse or a child." This illustrates that the "right to die" movement favors the imposition of death sentences on disabled people by means of the judicial branch.)

For an overview of what "end-of-life choices" mean for Schiavo, I refer you to the Exit Protocol prepared for her in 2003 by her health care providers (available online). In the midst of her starvation, Terri will most likely be treated for "pain or discomfort" and nausea which may arise as the result of the supposedly humane process of bringing about her death. (Remember that Schiavo is not terminally ill.) She may be given morphine for respiratory distress and may experience seizures. This protocol confirms what we have learned from famines and death camps: death by starvation is a horrible death.

This apparently is what it means to have "rights" as a disabled person in America today.

JunkYardBlog has a posting on the possible consequences of Terri's death:

The Schiavo Precedent will soon stand alongside the Groningen Protocol as hideous manifestations of the end of morality in the West...up until a couple of weeks ago you needed a living will to express your wish to die--your wish to live was the default position. Without a living will that explicitly said you did not want heroic measures taken to save your life, heroic measures would be taken to save your life. That was the default view.

Not anymore.

Now you need a living will to keep someone from killing you intentionally when you are at your most vulnerable. Allow me to explain.

Hearsay evidence is now enough to get you killed. Anything you have ever said, and anything someone else wants you to have said, will now have the force of law in these matters. Terri Schiavo is being killed on the word of her husband, who says she said she'd rather die than live disabled after watching a movie about a disabled person. That flatly contradicts the word of her best friend, who says Terri never said or believed any such thing. It also contradicts Michael Schiavo himself, who for years after her tragedy told friends and family members that he didn't know what Terri would have wanted, because she never said what she wanted. But now the words he says she said are enough now to get her starved to death...

That is the Schiavo Precedent.

We've come a long way, baby.

One of the lingering questions for us non-lawyers was how the key legal issues in the case were settled when there appeared to be contradictory or incomplete evidence. This topic is addressed by a Florida lawyer and highlighted in another Power Line posting:

Something that interests me about the Terri Schiavo case, and that doesn't seem to have gotten much media attention: The whole case rests on the fact that the Schindlers (Terri's parents) were totally outlawyered by the husband (Michael Schiavo) at the trial court level.

This happened because, in addition to getting a $750K judgment for Terri's medical care, Michael Schiavo individually got a $300K award of damages for loss of consortium, which gave him the money to hire a top-notch lawyer to represent him on the right-to-die claim.

By contrast, the Schindlers had trouble even finding a lawyer who would take their case since there was no money in it. Finally they found an inexperienced lawyer who agreed to take it partly out of sympathy for them, but she had almost no resources to work with and no experience in this area of the law. She didn't even depose Michael Schiavo's siblings, who were key witnesses at the trial that decided whether Terri would have wanted to be kept alive. Not surprisingly, Felos steamrollered her...

...the trial judge...entered a judgment finding that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to live.

This fact is of crucial importance -- and it's one often not fully appreciated by the media, who like to focus on the drama of cases going to the big, powerful appeals courts: Once a trial court enters a judgment into the record, that judgment's findings become THE FACTS of the case, and can only be overturned if the fact finder (in this case, the judge) acted capriciously (i.e., reached a conclusion that had essentially no basis in fact).

In this case, the trial judge simply chose to believe Michael Schiavo's version of the facts over the Schindlers'. Since there was evidence to support his conclusion (in the form of testimony from Michael Schiavo's siblings), it became nearly impossible for the Schindlers to overturn it. The judges who considered the case after the trial-level proceeding could make decisions only on narrow questions of law. They had no room to ask, "Hey, wait a minute, would she really want to die?" That "fact" had already been decided.

The Power Line writer, himself an attorney, then adds this comment in the posting:

...what this lawyer says is correct. The reason why appeals don't often succeed is that all fact-finding is done in the trial court. If there is evidence to support the facts found by the judge or the jury, those facts are set in concrete from that point on. The question on appeal is only whether proper procedures were followed and the law was correctly applied. It is not hard to imagine that the Schindlers had no idea what they were getting into, and were ill-equipped, financially and otherwise, to fight a legal battle against their son-in-law. By the time they started garnering outside support, it was too late.

I find it deeply disturbing to consider how malpractice suit proceeds - which Michael Schiavo ensured were never used for the purposes he originally promised - were instead used to outmaneuver legally the Schindlers for the purpose of having Terri die.

As a recipient of a number of emails declaring that the facts of the case (such as Terri's intent or her alleged vegetative state) were not in question, I hope some of those writers will consider - with appropriate humility - that this clarification about legal procedures shows how all of the facts in this case might not have been fairly recognized by the court.

As the end of Terri's life appears imminent, I would also like to offer one additional personal comment: Over the course of my writings on this issue, I have been struck by the condescending, anti-religious venom spewing out of the mouths of numerous people who support bringing on Terri's death. As a practicing Roman Catholic who is religious but not a fundamentalist, I find it highly offensive that thoughtful religious people are so unreasonably denigrated and deemed extremists. Michelle Malkin elaborates on this point in her writing about the religious bigotry of the mainstream media (MSM):

Over the weekend, I wondered why the mainstream media was ignoring some amazing stories of pro-life activists and evangelical disabled advocates who have been peacefully keeping vigil outside Terri Schiavo's hospice.

Michelle Cottle of The New Republic, who appeared on CNN's "Reliable Sources" on Sunday, provides some candid insight into the bigoted mindset of the MSM that explains their focus on the religious extremists and their apathy towards peaceful people of faith who don't fit the MSM caricature:

[Howard] Kurtz: Michelle Cottle, has the press ridiculed, or maybe I should say marginalized, religious people who believed the Terri Schiavo must be kept alive as a matter of Christian morality?

Cottle: Well, it's not that they get out there and make fun of them. It's just you come with a ready-made kind of visual here. You have people on the streets praying. They're, you have very dramatic and even melodramatic protests and things like this.

These people are very easy to kind of just poke fun at without even saying anything. You just kind of show these people. And the majority of Americans who don't get out there and do this kind of, you know, really dramatic displays feel a little bit uncomfortable on that level.

...Keep...Cottle's revealing statement in mind as the MSM hypes the story of a small minority of agitators disturbing the peace down in Pinellas Park...

Jeff Jarvis excoriates the media for supposedly pandering to the "religious right:"

The religious right is separating itself from the rest of America. The theocrats may have finally gone too far too often. They have been aided and abetted --- but ultimately undermined -- by a media that bought their PR and presented the loud voices of a few as the voice of the nation marching to the right and up to the altar.

"Aided and abetted" by the MSM? Are you kidding me? Jeff Jarvis, meet Michelle Cottle. The undermining is no accident.

In a separate posting, Michelle Malkin continues on a related subject:

One of the pro-abortion Left's favorite attacks on people of faith is that we only care about children before they're born and not afterwards...

For millions of Americans of faith of all ages, standing up for the sanctity of life is not just an empty slogan--but a deeply-held principle put into action daily. The MSM had ample opportunity to tell the stories of some of the inspiring people who have stood vigil outside Terri Schiavo's hospice. Instead, as they have done throughout this ordeal, they looked the other way.

I believe the religious beliefs of many Americans motivate them to act according to the Old Testament words found in Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what the Lord doeth require of thee, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Contrast those words with the "euphemisms about life and death" by people who advocate killing Terri as found in this National Review editorial by Rich Lowry. (And, then consider this Kathryn Lopez article if you think there are not forces actively pushing to expand the culture of death in America.)

I further believe the religious beliefs of many Americans inform their approach to this issue in two key ways:

First, history has taught us repeatedly that great evil can occur when important ethical issues are casually dismissed or ignored. This and earlier postings have highlighted how there are broad ethical issues here even if there is a lack of complete agreement about all of the facts in Terri's case.

Second, legal precedents matter in America and people of ill will could ensure Terri's case becomes the basis for future evil.

Peggy Noonan, in a recent editorial, expands on this in her typically eloquent fashion:

God made the world or he didn't.

God made you or he didn't.

If he did, your little human life is, and has been, touched by the divine. If this is true, it would be true of all humans, not only some. And so--again, if it is true--each human life is precious, of infinite value, worthy of great respect.

Most--not all, but probably most--of those who support Terri Schiavo's right to live believe the above. This explains their passion and emotionalism. They believe they are fighting for an invaluable and irreplaceable human life. They are like the mother who is famously said to have lifted the back of a small car off the ground to save a child caught under a tire. You're desperate to save a life, you're shot through with adrenaline, your strength is for half a second superhuman, you do the impossible.

That is what they are trying to do...

I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people. What is driving their engagement? Is it because they are compassionate, and their hearts bleed at the thought that Mrs. Schiavo suffers? But throughout this case no one has testified that she is in persistent pain, as those with terminal cancer are.

If they care so much about her pain, why are they unconcerned at the suffering caused her by the denial of food and water? And why do those who argue for Mrs. Schiavo's death employ language and imagery that is so violent and aggressive? The chairman of the Democratic National Committee calls Republicans "brain dead." Michael Schiavo, the husband, calls House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "a slithering snake."

Everyone who has written in defense of Mrs. Schiavo's right to live has received e-mail blasts full of attacks that appear to have been dictated by the unstable and typed by the unhinged. On Democratic Underground they crowed about having "kicked the sh-- out of the fascists." On Tuesday James Carville's face was swept with a sneer so convulsive you could see his gums as he damned the Republicans trying to help Mrs. Schiavo. It would have seemed demonic if he weren't a buffoon.

Why are they so committed to this woman's death?

They seem to have fallen half in love with death.

What does Terri Schiavo's life symbolize to them? What does the idea that she might continue to live suggest to them?

Why does this prospect so unnerve them? Again, if you think Terri Schiavo is a precious human gift of God, your passion is explicable. The passion of the pull-the-tube people is not.

I do not understand their certainty. I don't "know" that any degree of progress or healing is possible for Terri Schiavo; I only hope they are. We can't know, but we can "err on the side of life." How do the pro-death forces "know" there is no possibility of progress, healing, miracles? They seem to think they know. They seem to love the phrases they bandy about: "vegetative state," "brain dead," "liquefied cortex."

I do not understand why people who want to save the whales (so do I) find campaigns to save humans so much less arresting. I do not understand their lack of passion. But the save-the-whales people are somehow rarely the stop-abortion-please people.

The PETA people, who say they are committed to ending cruelty to animals, seem disinterested in the fact of late-term abortion, which is a cruel procedure performed on a human.

I do not understand why the don't-drill-in-Alaska-and-destroy-its-prime-beauty people do not join forces with the don't-end-a-life-that-holds-within-it-beauty people.

I do not understand why those who want a freeze on all death penalty cases in order to review each of them in light of DNA testing--an act of justice and compassion toward those who have been found guilty of crimes in a court of law--are uninterested in giving every last chance and every last test to a woman whom no one has ever accused of anything.

There are passionate groups of women in America who decry spousal abuse, give beaten wives shelter, insist that a woman is not a husband's chattel. This is good work. Why are they not taking part in the fight for Terri Schiavo? Again, what explains their lack of passion on this? If Mrs. Schiavo dies, it will be because her husband, and only her husband, insists she wanted to, or would want to, or said she wanted to in a hypothetical conversation long ago. A thin reed on which to base the killing of a human being.

The pull-the-tube people say, "She must hate being brain-damaged." Well, yes, she must. (This line of argument presumes she is to some degree or in some way thinking or experiencing emotions.) Who wouldn't feel extreme sadness at being extremely disabled? I'd weep every day, wouldn't you? But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry? But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.

Terri Schiavo may well die. No good will come of it. Those who are half in love with death will only become more red-fanged and ravenous.

And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning. What terrible stories are shaping them. They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio. They are seeing a society--their society, their people--on the verge of famously accepting, even embracing, the idea that a damaged life is a throwaway life.

Our children have been reared in the age of abortion, and are coming of age in a time when seemingly respectable people are enthusiastic for euthanasia. It cannot be good for our children, and the world they will make, that they are given this new lesson that human life is not precious, not touched by the divine, not of infinite value.

Once you "know" that--that human life is not so special after all--then everything is possible, and none of it is good. When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber. You wind up on a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz. Today that road runs through Pinellas Park, Fla.

Whether certain people like it or not, there will be future consequences to killing Terri Schiavo. Let's not delude ourselves into thinking otherwise.

What ethical values do you want America to stand for? What ethical values do you want to pass along to our children?


Trends in International Markets & Trade

The most recent issue of The National Interest contains an article by Peter Drucker entitled "Trading Places" which discusses international economic trends:

The new world economy is fundamentally different from that of the fifty years following World War II. The United States may well remain the political and military leader for decades to come. It is likely also to remain the world's richest and most productive national economy for a long time (though the European Union as a whole is both larger and more productive). But the U.S. economy is no longer the single dominant economy.

The emerging world economy is a pluralist one, with a substantial number of economic "blocs." Eventually there may be six or seven blocs, of which the U.S.-dominated NAFTA is likely to be only one, coexisting and competing with the European Union (EU), MERCOSUR in Latin America, ASEAN in the Far East, and nation-states that are blocs by themselves, China and India. These blocs are neither "free trade" nor "protectionist", but both at the same time.

Even more novel is that what is emerging is not one but four world economies: a world economy of information; of money; of multinationals (one no longer dominated by American enterprises); and a mercantilist world economy of goods, services and trade. These world economies overlap and interact with one another. But each is distinct with different members, a different scope, different values and different institutions...

Drucker concludes the article with concerns about the future competitive strength of the American economy:

For thirty years after World War II, the U.S. economy dominated practically without serious competition. For another twenty years it was clearly the world's foremost economy and especially the undisputed leader in technology and innovation. Though the United States today still dominates the world economy of information, it is only one major player in the three other world economies of money, multinationals and trade. And it is facing rivals that, either singly or in combination, could conceivably make America Number Two.

Greater economic risks lead to increased political risks. America would do well to develop strategically appropriate economic policies that anticipate these international trends.


Big Government Corrupts, Regardless of Party

I wrote a piece last December entitled "Pigs at the Public Trough" which talked about how the ideals of the 1994 Congressional revolution had dissipated into nothing more than power politics as usual.

Today's Wall Street Journal contains an editorial entitled "Smells Like Beltway: The real reason Tom DeLay is in political trouble" that only reinforces why big government corrupts, regardless of party. Here are a few excerpts:

By now you have surely read about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ethics troubles. Probably, too, you aren't entirely clear as to what those troubles are--something to do with questionable junkets, Indian casino money, funny business on the House Ethics Committee, stuff down in Texas. In Beltway-speak, what this means is that Mr. DeLay has an "odor": nothing too incriminating, nothing actually criminal, just an unsavory whiff that could have GOP loyalists reaching for the political Glade if it gets any worse.

The Beltway wisdom is right. Mr. DeLay does have odor issues. Increasingly, he smells just like the Beltway itself...

Taken separately, and on present evidence, none of the latest charges directly touch Mr. DeLay; at worst, they paint a picture of a man who makes enemies by playing political hardball and loses admirers by resorting to politics-as-usual.

The problem, rather, is that Mr. DeLay, who rode to power in 1994 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government, has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits...

...Rather than buck this system as he promised to do while in the minority, Mr. DeLay has become its undisputed and unapologetic master as Majority Leader.

Whether Mr. DeLay violated the small print of House Ethics or campaign-finance rules is thus largely beside the point. His real fault lies in betraying the broader set of principles that brought him into office, and which, if he continues as before, sooner or later will sweep him out.

There were very legitimate reasons why the Founders believed in limited government. Our country would be better off if we quickly relearned the lessons they taught us a long time ago.

ADDENDUM I:

In contrast to the Wall Street Journal editorial, here are three counter-points:

First is a transcript from an interview with Tom DeLay that the Washington Times carried in its April 14 edition.

Second, Jeffrey Bell has written this article in the Weekly Standard.

Third, David Limbaugh has written this editorial.


Terri Schiavo and John 11:49-50

Carroll Andrew Morse

I do not usually write about religion, and almost never quote scripture. However, with Holy Week having just ended, I cannot help think about how little humanity seems to have changed over two millennia. This relevant verses are from the Gospel of John 11:49-50.

And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,

Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.


In the case of Terri Schiavo, weve changed it only slightly, to considering it expedient that one woman should die, so that the whole nation not perish, because it cannot survive if the wisdom of our courts is questioned.

Look, I do not want to overmake this point, but what makes us absolutely sure that we are any different from the mob back then? I am sure at the crucifixtion, some valid procedural arguments justifying why it was acceptable to put Jesus to death were advanced. Can we truly say that because we have followed our own rules, we have not succumbed to the temptation to put an innocent to death for our own convenience?


Tyranny by Assertion

Justin Katz

I understand that Jerry Landay, "a former CBS News correspondent," is part of the mainstream media club, and I continue to think the Providence Journal's editorial page admirably broad in what it publishes. Still, I'm a bit surprised that the page would publish this rant from Landay:

Few of the "hath littles" are aware of what's being done to them. The middle and blue-collar classes are victims of declining wages, ever-higher health-care costs, and other price hikes -- led by energy costs, the highest in history, and climbing. Behind the smokescreen of a glorious "patriotic war," fear of terrorism, and pumped-up religious fervor lies a home-front war against the middle and blue-collar classes: a conservative counter-revolution, which aims at a colossal redistribution of wealth upward, to the New Aristocracy -- supported by a self-serving rewriting of the law based not on legal principle but on "free-market" theory.

The intended result is the creation of a "peasant" class, driven to the bottom by the need to compete against cheap labor pools, such as India's and China's, working for the bargain-basement wages that are all the big-business scrooges will dole out.

The intended result? And the former news correspondent knows this how? Unless somebody in the administration has said as much, Landay's assertion reeks of vicious libel. One gets the sense that the Projo allowed Landay to get away with such a thing because his arguments aren't meant to be taken as such, but rather as a noise pleasant to liberal ears — fare for the sort who would have had to invent Nazi rhetoric (perhaps through reams of phony memos) if it did not already exist.

It may be an amusing twist that Landay retools the "political ferment" in Ukraine and Lebanon (to which "citizens here look enviously") to support his own anger at the administration that has facilitated the global environment in which it has occurred. But his piece is pretty much boilerplate, right down to its citation of a famous psychological experiment showing that humanity can't be trusted to stand up to evil authority.

Asks Landay: "Why did 59 million voters, most of them victims of Bush's economic tyranny, vote for George W. Bush and his party against their own best interests?" Well, for one thing, because Landay's pined-for rebellion has yet to install the government for which we gullible citizens can't comprehend our need. Something, it would seem, a bit more for the people (at least in its talking points) than by the people.


All Powerful but only Some of the Time

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dailypundit has a list of causes of my dissatisfaction with the Republicans and George W. Bush. There is a bit of a consistency problem with the last two (conveniently juxtaposed) items

10. The recently revealed first instincts of Bush's FEC to impose draconian measures per the CFR (campaign finance reform) bill Bush signed after he said he did not support it. Bush's signing of that measure is, in my opinion, more than sufficient grounds for his impeachment.
11. Of course, the massive Republican hypocrisies of Schiavo.

Now, in the Schiavo case, proceduralists have been arguing that the other two branches of government may not take action to protect the rights of an individual once the judicial branch has made the decision that the rights-in-question (in this case, a right to life) are not important. Yet, in calling for impeachment, Dailypundit is requiring the President to defend individual rights, even if his view of those rights (in this case, the right to free speech) is broader than the judiciarys.

So why are judges decisions open to question in one case, but not the other?


March 25, 2005

Re-3: A Republican Crack-up?

Justin Katz

I guess I've always lumped the country-club folks with the managerialists. Whatever the case, I'd be inclined to include libertarians in your breakdown of the factions.

And regarding those libertarians, let's just say I'm not quite as optimistic that the abstract principle that you've noted will serve as sufficient glue. My general sense is that the great bulk of libertarians take their position on government not primarily on the basis of a theory that compartmentalizes the sources of power in a society, but because they believe that removing morality from government will mean that they will never have to pay attention to others' declarations about morality.

More broadly applicable than my impression, however, is that libertarians don't see the secular philosophy as "you must honor a contract because the state says so." The state is not the source of the coercive power. Rather, they see, as you admit, that one "of the few proper roles for government that most libertarians agree upon is enforcement of contractual arrangements freely entered," and they would say that a person must honor those contracts because the state will enforce an explicit penalty (e.g., fines or jail time). No external morality is necessary for such a system except the narrow morality of immediate self-interest.


Re: Re: A Republican Crack-up?

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Managerialism: Managerialists do not possess the fundamental skpeticism about government power that libertarians do. Managerialists are perfectly happy to increase the size and influence of government, so long as it serves their economic interests at a given moment.

Do you remember when James Baker, as Secretary of State, said that the first Iraq War was about jobs, jobs, jobs? I am not sure what he meant, but whatever it was reflected a managerialist point-of-view.

I would guess that the bankruptcy legislation that passed congress this week is a triumph of the managerialists over everyone else, but I dont know enough details to be sure.

On Libertarians vs. Theocons: Optimist that I am, I think there is room for agreement between theocons and libertarians. Here is the basis. One of the few proper roles for government that most libertarians agree upon is enforcement of contractual arrangements freely entered. For this concept to work, there must be a shared sense of morality within a society. A system of voluntary arrangements in a society where people do not honor their commitments will either fall apart or degenerate into a police-enforced order.

There are two philosophies that create people willing to honor their agreements, the philosophy that morality is defined by obedience to the laws of the state, or the philosophy that says humans have duties towards others that transcend their laws. I am skeptical that libertarians will ever be comfortable with a philosophy that says you must honor a contract because the state says so.


Re: A Republican Crack-up?

Justin Katz

I've thought much the same thing for a while, Andrew, although I emphasize the tentative Republicans' libertarianism, rather than what you call "managerialism." It's unfortunate that Terri Schiavo has become the excuse of the week for libertarians to stomp their feet about the "theocrats" with whom they have to share a coalition.

As I see it, there are two possibilities when it comes to the libertarian faction of Republicans shifting over to the Democrats:

  1. The Democrats could learn how to compromise with them on small-government issues.
  2. The Democrats could run their party into the ground so dramatically that the libertarians essentially take it over.

Number 1 would be the most expedient route — with number 2 taking decades, I would think — but it doesn't look likely. Whenever Democrats want to appeal to a broader base, they move toward social conservatives, not governmental conservatives. (Witness Hillary.)

The Schiavo case, especially considering that the legislative and executive branches dealt with it by handing it back to the judiciary for another chance to bail them out of a tough political spot (sort of like the legislature's initial reaction to Goodridge in Massachusetts), makes me wonder whether those who trumpet the possibility of a "Republican crack-up" don't have it backwards. The common line is that social conservatives are busily enacting their moral policies, but what's actually happening is that they're being thwarted in doing so by the representatives to whom they look for influence. Moreover, since their involvement in government and politics is driven by something other than government and political theory, they may be more inclined to disengage from the coalition (whether that means disengagement from the entire process or just from the party).

I wonder: would libertarians have been more incensed by decisive legislative/executive action in the Schiavo case than the social conservatives will be by the ineffective show put on last weekend? I don't think so. I do think, however, that politicians and libertarian Republicans both should be wary of assuming there to exist an immovable "base." One too many monuments torn down, one too many lives not saved, one too many social policies rewritten in the courts, and social conservatives may decide that their time is better spent in the socio-cultural arena. That's what libertarians claim to want, but they may not like the political consequences.


A Republican Crackup?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Instapundit initiated a discussion about a potentially looming Conservative crackup. Initally, conservatives are not impressed (scroll-up to follow the discussion). The discussion is suffering from a bit of mis-labeling. The Instapundit post begins by asking Is the Republican coalition about to splinter?. If you talk are talking about Republicans, you have to consider more than just conservatives.

Roughly speaking, the Republican coalition is made up of 3 groups,
1. Conservatives, in many different shapes and sizes.
2. The old-money country club set, who arent really sure why they are Republicans, but just are. (A certain junior senator from Rhode Island fits into this category).
3. Risk-averse business manager types. Think of Bush 41s Secretary of State James A Baker as the archetype.

The old-money is fading in importance. In the past, they had two things on their side, money and organization. However, the conservatives are taking over the organization, it is likely that new political funding mechanisms will make their money less important, they cant turn out voters, and other than by having more kids, they cannot produce more of themselves.

This third group is the key. At his MSN blog, Glenn Reynolds mentions Jack Kemp acting on behalf Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. That takes the discussion beyond the scope of conservatism-only. When Kemp lobbies on behalf of a dictator, he is acting as a managerialist, not a conservative.

As Jonah Goldberg pointed out in a corner post a while back, corporate managerialism may have done more to advance a collectivist agenda than direct government action has. This may be the most striking contradiction in the Republican coalition; I dont think I am overstating things if I say that American conservatism considers resisting the idea of collectivism to be its original, and still very relevant, motivation.

If two (admittedly big) ifs are satisfied:
1. If the Dems become less willing to be by led adolescent petulance on a number of issues, like national security and the environment (managerialists will be not satisfied in a coalition that places too many limits on what they can use for political horse trading)
2. and if labor unions and managerialists figure out a way to work together (perhaps the bigger of the two ifs)
it is not impossible that the risk-averse business class could switch to the Democrats in a substantial political realignment.


March 23, 2005

Chipping at the Edges

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn writes the following in a piece that touches on the Terri Schiavo case:

You can read similar stories in almost any corner of the developed world, except perhaps the Netherlands, where discretionary euthanasia is so advanced it's news if the kid makes it out of the maternity ward. As the New York Times reported the other day: "Babies born into what is certain to be a brief life of grievous suffering should have their lives ended by physicians under strict guidelines, according to two doctors in the Netherlands."

Perhaps I can be forgiven for allowing paranoia to mix with principle for a moment as I ponder the procedure for writing and amending the "strict guidelines" that define "grievous suffering." Although the rhetoric sometimes drifts into a debate about whether or not Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, floating around this issue (National Review Online's Corner offers a self-contained example starting here) is the underlying question of whether her life is "worth living" or not. Putting aside the law, how does a culture define such a thing?

I ask because Projo blogger Sheila Lennon links to a personal anecdote from Barbara Brotman that steps a bit away from realm of being a vegetable:

My husband and I entered the murky waters on behalf of both his parents. They both headed into their 90s with dementia that left them unaware of their surroundings. Their bodies were gradually failing. They were adored by family members who agreed that if they began to die, we should not stand in their way.

One night, the phone call came. The nursing home called to say that my mother-in-law had pneumonia. The doctor wanted to send her to the hospital to be treated and was calling for the family's permission.

Again, I have to wonder: where are the boundaries of "dementia," and who will set the guidelines around it?

I'm wading deeply into speculative waters, but there seems to me clear reason to worry about a society that begins trimming its notions of rights and worthiness around the edges. Anybody who's ever thought a Monday morning head cold would never fade knows that suffering is a fluid concept; when current, it feels eternal and unbearable. And anybody who's ever been through or witnessed a teenage romantic breakup knows that whether a life is worth living is a matter of mushy perspective.

We all rightly despise suffering, and it is right to wish that our world did not include it. It's also right to desire to relieve it in some way. We'd best be wary of looking to death for that relief, however, lest it become the prescription for midlife discomfort.


March 21, 2005

RI Delegation on Terry Schiavo

Carroll Andrew Morse

Congressman James Langevin voted in favor of allowing the federal court system to decide if Terri Schiavo should be allowed to continue receiving "food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life."

Congressman Patrick Kennedy voted against against the measure, in effect voting to deny Ms. Schiavo "food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life."

Text of the bill available here. Full roll call vote available here.


March 20, 2005

Inadvertently Appropriate

Carroll Andrew Morse

Page one of the B section (Local News) of todays dead-tree Projo is dominated by coverage but not an article of Saturday afternoons Iraq-war anniversary protests held in downtown Providence. Here is the full content of the coverage: two color photos, a long photo caption, a large-font headline reading Two years on, war sparks protest, and a reference to a reprint of a national story on page A6. (The Local News section of the electronic Projo contains one of the photos, the headline, and caption, but no permalink to the material).

The form of the coverage is a curious journalistic choice. What leads the Projos editorial staff to believe that photographers are appropriate but reporters are unnecessary when covering anti-war protests? Are the Projos editors tacitly recognizing that these sorts of protest involve no ideas worth reporting, discussing and analyzing? But if the ideas behind the protest are not worth talking about, why feature the protest so prominently in the first place?

To get an idea of what was actually being said at the protest, check out the first-hand reporting (yes, that is first hand reporting, providing more detailed coverage than is available in the mainstream media, from a blog) available at Kellipundit.


March 19, 2005

Maybe Your State Representatives Want You to Be Poor

Justin Katz

It's called "the Curley effect," according to an absolutely must-read column by Tom Coyne of RIPolicyAnalysis:

The authors note that "in his six mayoral races, between 1913 and 1951, James Curley represented the poorest and most ethnically distinct of Boston's Irish. The city's Brahmins always despised him because of his policies, his corruption, and his rhetoric, and always worked to block his victory. The probability that Curley would win in Boston was[enhanced by] increasing in the share of poor Irish Bostonians, and decreasing in the share of rich Bostonians of English descent."

"Unsurprisingly, he tried to turn Boston into a city that would elect him. We call this strategy -- increasing the relative size of one's political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies -- the Curley effect."

After reading Coyne's list of current legislation, it's not hard to see why one might be justified in concluding that "the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly have laid down a clear challenge to all those who oppose them: Either seize their power or leave Rhode Island." When it comes to Rhode Island's aristocracy, even citizens who benefit from payoffs of one kind or another have to ask themselves whether Rhode Island is our state or theirs.


March 18, 2005

Saving Terri Is Your First Amendment Right

Justin Katz

Over on Dust in the Light I've explained that Terri Schiavo's life has become a legitimate matter of interest for millions of Americans, and that it is our First Amendment right to demand that Congress do everything in its power to answer our grievance. Every court case does not get an appeal to Congress, but every court case that millions of Americans believe involves a matter of importance to them can and should.


Ripping Out a Handful of Furr

Justin Katz

Rocco DiPippo has a piece on FrongPageMag investigating Montclair State University's Grover Furr — professor of (apparently) Leftism. From the extended version that Rocco has published on his blog:

... the reader might have concluded that Professor Furr, by spreading disinformation, pushing Marxism and communism on his students, and advocating for one of mankind's greatest mass murderers, behaves exactly as a professor of English literature and professional educator shouldn't. Unfortunately, I doubt that many of his colleagues would be so affected. During extensive research of Furr I found not one example of a university professor, teacher or administrator questioning his in-class behavior or his teaching methods.

What I did find was quite the opposite--a network of high school and college teachers and administrators who actually support his methods, views and goals and recommend his web pages as both a teaching resource and as a guide in developing curricula--sad commentary on Humanities departments nationwide, which as you read this, sink deeper and deeper into a miasma of pseudo-intellectualism, fatuous scholarship and anti-Western Marxist propagandizing.

As Lane Core has noted (click "confer"), the network that Rocco has discovered is an achievement a half-century in the making.


Without a Culpable Citizenry, There Is No Freedom

Justin Katz

I was going to respond to a letter by Jayne Platt:

We can call and write our representatives. I do, I really do. Should I quit my job and babysit the Assembly, watching every bill that comes to the floor? Then, I ask, why should I vote?

Stopping a self-serving, destructive bill needs to be done before it becomes law. After it's law, how long will it take to reverse it? Separation of powers has taken decades to get to this point, and we're still not there yet.

If half of our elected officials can't be there to vote on critical bills, what logic on earth makes one think that a working Rhode Islander could control that power?

Under the current structure of government, I am not consenting.

But then I noticed that Westerly's Ed Murphy, although not meaning directly to do so, has already responded:

The problem in Rhode Island is the broad abdication of citizens' responsibility for what is happening to them. When people blindly accept what they are told by self-interested politicians, accept as normal and unchangeable that which is clearly improper, and look out only for what they perceive to be their personal interests, regardless of the interests of their neighbors, what can we expect?

Exactly what we have: a one-party legislature, dominated by legislators who are either present or past union leaders or members, led by a small group of power grabbers who would rather watch a Celtics basketball game than meet their sworn obligations to the public. How much does it require to make the point?

The problem is as clear as the answer: Wake up, Rhode Island! Stop letting others determine your future! Accept some responsibility for what is being done to you and your family! Join the ballot-box union and accept some responsibility for our future!

I don't think people understand how much good they can do merely as they go about their lives here in Rhode Island. Contacting representatives is a good thing (I think), but each call is only one call. What this state needs are more calls from different people as well as more votes for different candidates.

You know, one doesn't have to be slightly-questionable-activist-guy (or gal) to play a role in moving things forward. Talk to those with whom you interact every day. Encourage voting — or, better, heterodox voting. Above all, what Rhode Islanders need to foster is a political culture in which discussing politics — and actually acting on gripes and conclusions — isn't an activity only for those with ulterior interests or a predilection for posturing.


March 17, 2005

Employing Young People as Fodder

Justin Katz

The title of this post comes from Providence Journal writer Jennifer Levitz's paraphrase of a sentiment expressed by URI professor James Miller:

James A. Miller, a University of Rhode Island professor and a certified sex-education instructor, handed out data saying the state's teenage pregnancy rate is among the worst in the nation, 47th out of 50. He also tossed condoms and pennies on the table and asked legislators if they'd rather spend pennies to teach facts about sex or -- and then he started tossing dollar bills -- big bucks on teenage moms and welfare.

He said the debate wasn't over sex, it was over ideology, and a cultural war that was employing young people as fodder.

The context of Miller's performance — which proves his point, albeit with the opposite implication from his intention — is the third annual introduction of a bill by Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan (D-East Prov.) that would broaden and centralize regulation of mandatory sex ed. for all Rhode Island public schools. Well, not only public schools. Although homeschooler outcry prompted Dennigan to promise an exempting amendment, the bill as currently worded would include them.

The reason the sex talk of homeschool families would be regulated is the same as the reason that a type of schools that Levitz's article does not mention — private schools, including those founded on religious principles — would probably be forced to adhere to state guidelines. The education section of Rhode Island General Laws is Title 16, with Chapter 19 thereof bearing the name "Compulsory Attendance." The following text is from Section 1 of that chapter:

Every person having under his or her control a child as described in this section shall cause the child to attend school as required by this section, and for every neglect of this duty the person having control of the child shall be fined not exceeding fifty dollars ($50.00) for each day or part of a day that the child fails to attend school, and if the total of these days is more than thirty (30) school days during any school year, then the person shall, upon conviction, be imprisoned not exceeding six (6) months or shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or both; provided, that if the person so charged shall prove that the child has attended for the required period of time a private day school approved by the commissioner of elementary and secondary education pursuant to 16-60-6(10), or a course of at-home instruction approved by the school committee of the town where the child resides, or that the physical or mental condition of the child was such as to render his or her attendance at school inexpedient or impracticable, or that the child was excluded from school by virtue of some general law or regulation, then attendance shall not be obligatory nor shall the penalty be incurred.

To translate the outside concern: parents who fail to send their children to an approved school — public, private, or home — for about a month could go to jail for six months and be fined $500. One specific requirement for a school's being certified to keep parents out of jail is to provide "instruction in health and physical education similar to that required in public schools." As far as I can tell, this requirement has heretofore been broad and localized. However, placed against its civic background, the problem with Dennigan's proposed language (PDF) ought to be obvious:

For purposes of this section, "health education" means education of students in grades kindergarten through twelve (12) regarding human development and sexuality, including education on family planning and sexually transmitted diseases, that: (a) is age-appropriate, medically accurate, culturally sensitive and respects community values; (b) does not teach or promote religion; (c) teaches that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases; (d) stresses the value of abstinence while not ignoring those young people who have had or are having sexual intercourse; (e) provides information about the health benefits and side effects of all contraceptives and barrier methods as a means to prevent pregnancy; (f) provides information about the health benefits and side effects of all contraceptive methods as a means to reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; (g) encourages family communication about sexuality between parent and child; (h) teaches young people the skills to make responsible decisions about sexuality, including how to avoid unwanted verbal, physical, and sexual advances and how not to make unwanted verbal, physical, and sexual advances; and (i) teaches young people how alcohol and drug use can effect responsible decision making.

Unless I'm misconstruing the text (or missing some exemption somewhere else in the law), included within the legal definition of "health education" for all schools, public and private, would be instruction on the benefits and drawbacks of "all contraceptives and barrier methods" for both pregnancy and AIDS... and one of the explained drawbacks cannot be harm to the child's eternal soul. Burning due to allergy, yes; burning due to condemnation, no.

As I've admitted, I could be missing something in my legal analysis. It's also possible that introduction of this bill will become a relatively benign annual tradition. But it's out there, and those who back it are persistent. Moreover, they believe, in Levitz's paraphrase of Rep. Dennigan, that it stands as a problem that teaching of moral issues "varies from district to district."

The precedent set by this law's serious proposal and its presumption of moral dictation will become ever more insidious, tangling our children in the escalating culture war (and further corrupting their innocence), as more and more questions of morality are answered as if they are Constitutional issues.


Rhode Islands Democrats and Social Security

Carroll Andrew Morse

A February 3 Projo article has the essentials of the positions of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation with respect to Social Security reform.

To sum up: James Langevin says that the government needs to take more from people and give them less. Jack Reed says that the government needs to take more from people and give them the same or less. Patrick Kennedy says that the government needs to take more from people and give them the same.

All three want to raise taxes. The euphemism they use is reductions in permanent tax cuts (Jack Reed) or repealing all of the Bush tax cuts (Patrick Kennedy). The article says Langevin agrees with Kennedy that Social Security payroll tax increases should be off the table. Focusing narrowly on the social security payroll tax presumably implies that Langevin would not oppose raising other types of taxes, i.e. repealing other tax cuts.

Kennedy opposes generally slowing the rate of benefit increases (generally slowing benefits is favored by Senator Lincoln Chafee, among others). The article contradicts itself on Reeds position on benefit cuts. Heres the direct quote

I'd like to avoid any cuts," particularly in the form of shifts in how benefits are calculated, Reed said.But he said he would be open to debate on a wide variety of possible cuts and tax hikes
Does Senator Reed want to avoid cuts, or is he open to debate about cuts? Again, Langevin is disappointingly vague here. He says he would rule out reduced benefits for the wealthy and a higher retirement age. This does not rule out reduced benefits in the form of slowing cost-of-living benefits, the benefit cut that would have the greatest impact on the youngest taxpayers.

Isnt there something fundamentally wrong with a system that needs to take more and more from people in order to give them less and less?


March 16, 2005

Senator Chafee and Social Security

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Monday's Projo, Senator Lincoln Chafees plan for fixing social security, without relying on private accounts, is simple. Raise taxes and reduce benefits.

The tax-increase comes in the form of raising the (admittedly arbitrary) cap on income subject to social security taxes. No social security tax is paid on individual income after $90,000. Chafee wants to raise the cap to as much as $200,000. Were you building a system from scratch, there would be little to complain about here, provided you picked reasonable tax rates.

But we are not building a system from scratch. Older citizens who spent 0 years paying taxes on income above the current cap will be treated exactly the same as younger citizens who might spend 10, 20, or even 30 years paying extra taxes. How will they be compensated for their extra contributions?

And, according to Chafees proposals, younger tax-payers will not even be treated the same. They will be treated worse. Chafee wants to slow down the yearly cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits. So, although young people will be paying more, they will receive fewer benefits over the long run.

Any incremental plans to save social security will be a variation on this same theme: raise taxes and reduce benefits. And like Senator Chafees plan, most will try to hide the fact that they will disproportionately impact younger taxpayers. If the government is going to ask young people to pay more and receive less, is it not it reasonable to offer them something like personal accounts to offset their lost income?


Coerced Charity vs. Voluntary Charity

Donald B. Hawthorne

Warren Beatty has suggested that Governor Schwarzenegger raise taxes on the rich:

Schwarzenegger should raise taxes on the California rich and "terminate" his fund-raising and dinners with "the brokers of Wall Street" and the "lobbyists of K Street," Beatty said...

Beatty said Schwarzenegger should lead the rich toward helping California.

"It's called the haves giving a little more to the have nots," he said. "Nobody likes taxes, but everybody likes a peaceful, compassionate, law-abiding, productive, protective society."

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Vince Sollitto replied Saturday: "Tax and spend rhetoric aside, California needs budget reform because it's not a revenue problem, but a spending problem."

Beatty's comments prompted the posting of these two quotes:

Walter Williams -

Reaching into one's own pocket to assist his fellow man is noble and worthy of praise. Reaching into another person's pocket to assist one's fellow man is despicable and worthy of condemnation.

P.J. O'Rourke -

There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as "caring" and "sensitive" because he wants to expand the government's charitable programs is merely saying that he's willing to try to do good with other people's money. Well, who isn't? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he'll do good with his own money -- if a gun is held to his head.

The referenced website itself contains this quote -

Thomas Sowell -

If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.

Coerced "charity" via government taxation has several corrosive effects:

First, it incentivizes citizens to relinquish all personal responsibility to care for or get involved in supporting the needy in their community. After all, "the government" is responsible for doing that.

Second, it assumes that a distant bureaucrat can better judge how to structure the policy designed to meet the true needs of our neighbor whom he has never met. This is the knowledge/information problem raised over the years by both Hayek and Sowell.

Third, the problem in the second example also leads to higher economic costs due to more ineffective programs, continued propagation of such poor policies, and the ability for the programs to be affected by remote sources of power whose self-interest can often be anything but truly helping the needy neighbor.

Fourth, it also harms the recipient of the charity because appreciation is soon replaced with a feeling of entitlement and that person has less incentive to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

On the other hand, voluntary charity draws people in through the formation of associations who are willingly bound by the same altruistic purpose. Such voluntary associations end up developing a refined sense of moral responsibility at the individual and group levels. And by teaching people to care and receive the joy and satisfaction that only comes from giving personally, people are touched in emotionally and spiritually powerful ways - and will be more likely to continue to reach out to others.

(E.g., Think back to when your young child first gained an appreciation for the satisfaction that comes from giving to others while expecting nothing in return.)

At a practical level, workers at a local charity will likely either know that neighbor or know people who knew the neighbor personally - allowing them to have valuable information which could determine what would be the most effective course of policy-related action.

To paraphrase Michael Novak, we need to take the time to build up these voluntary associations. Our society will be stronger and more free as a result. And more good things will happen over time.


Coerced Charity vs. Voluntary Charity

Warren Beatty has suggested that Governor Schwarzenegger raise taxes on the rich:

Schwarzenegger should raise taxes on the California rich and "terminate" his fund-raising and dinners with "the brokers of Wall Street" and the "lobbyists of K Street," Beatty said...

Beatty said Schwarzenegger should lead the rich toward helping California.

"It's called the haves giving a little more to the have nots," he said. "Nobody likes taxes, but everybody likes a peaceful, compassionate, law-abiding, productive, protective society."

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Vince Sollitto replied Saturday: "Tax and spend rhetoric aside, California needs budget reform because it's not a revenue problem, but a spending problem."

Beatty's comments prompted the posting of these two quotes:

Walter Williams -

Reaching into one's own pocket to assist his fellow man is noble and worthy of praise. Reaching into another person's pocket to assist one's fellow man is despicable and worthy of condemnation.

P.J. O'Rourke -

There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as "caring" and "sensitive" because he wants to expand the governments charitable programs is merely saying that hes willing to try to do good with other peoples money. Well, who isnt? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that hell do good with his own money -- if a gun is held to his head.

The referenced website itself contains this quote -

Thomas Sowell -

If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.

Coerced "charity" via government taxation has several corrosive effects:

First, it incentivizes citizens to relinquish all personal responsibility to care for or get involved in supporting the needy in their community. After all, "the government" is responsible for doing that.

Second, it assumes that a distant bureaucrat can better judge how to structure the policy designed to meet the true needs of our neighbor whom he has never met. This is the knowledge/information problem raised over the years by both Hayek and Sowell.

Third, the problem in the second example also leads to higher economic costs due to more ineffective programs, continued propagation of such poor policies, and the ability for the programs to be affected by remote sources of power whose self-interest can often be anything but truly helping the needy neighbor.

On the other hand, voluntary charity draws people in through the formation of associations who are willingly bound by the same altruistic purpose. Such voluntary associations end up developing a refined sense of moral responsibility at the individual and group levels. And by teaching people to care and receive the joy and satisfaction that only comes from giving personally, people are touched in emotionally and spiritually powerful ways - and will be more likely to continue to reach out to others.

(E.g., Think back to when your young child first gained an appreciation for the satisfaction that comes from giving to others while expecting nothing in return.)

At a practical level, workers at a local charity will likely either know that neighbor or know people who knew the neighbor personally - allowing them to have valuable information which could determine what would be the most effective course of policy-related action.

To paraphrase Michael Novak, we need to take the time to build up these voluntary associations. Our society will be stronger and more free as a result. And more good things will happen over time.


March 15, 2005

Why the Rush to Kill Terri Schindler-Schiavo?

An American citizen, Terri Schindler-Schiavo, is scheduled to be starved to death starting this Friday, March 18, by the order of an American judge.

I am deeply saddened that this could happen in America. This is not just an ugly family quarrel, as some suggest. Nor is this just a matter where Terri's family needs to "learn to let go."

No, this is a precedent-setting legal case that will likely have long-standing implications for many Americans in the coming years. As one group noted:

It will open the floodgates to euthanasia in the United States, at all ages, without even a legislative decision.

Three previous postings (here, here, here) have shared the history, fact patterns and ethical issues of this case. There is no need to repeat them here.

In the coming days, I would encourage you to keep track of the latest news at the blogsforterri.com website and the terrisfight.org website. And contact key public officials, encouraging them to intervene on behalf of Terri.

As I reflect on this case, there are 7 categories of major, still unanswered questions that are troubling and warrant answers - especially before an innocent, disabled woman is killed:

Under Florida law, incapacitated persons are entitled to certain rights. Florida law also protects disabled adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Why did Michael frequently not meet numerous required guardianship standards under the law? Why did the judge apparently permit these many violations of the law and still allow Michael to remain as guardian?

Why did Michael have an attorney ready to meet with Terri's parents within 48 hours of the original injury to ask them to sign over medical care decision making to him? Why did he seal Terri's medical records shortly after the injury? Why, at times, did he instruct the medical staff not to brief Terri's family on her condition? Why did he not act to ensure Terri received proper follow-on care when the results of the 1991 bone scan which showed broken bones throughout her entire body? Why is he so eager to have her cremated immediately after her death?

Why did Michael say in a 1992 malpractice award court hearing that he was dedicated to ensuring Terri received rehabilitation therapy but then has allowed zero therapy since then - after winning settlements totaling $1.7 million? Why did the judge tolerate such contradictory behavior? Why did Michael petition the court for permission to place Terri on Medicaid in 2002 when malpractice settlement funds still existed? Why did the judge grant the request? Could there be any Medicaid fraud in these actions?

Isnt it odd that Michael only began raising Terris alleged wish to die in 1998, 8 years after the injury and in the first year after hiring George Felos, the right-to-die enthusiast, as his new attorney? That George Felos then filed his first petition to have Terris feeding tube removed in May 1998? That Florida House Bill 2131, which was introduced in April 1999 and became law in October 1999, changed the legal definition of life prolonging medical procedures to include "artificially provided sustenance and hydration" - i.e., to the care which is provided to Terri? That one of the bills co-sponsors and one of the panelists each served on the Suncoast Hospice Board of Directors with George Felos? That Judge Greer presided over the case determining whether Michael could starve/dehydrate Terri only three months later in January 2000? Are these just coincidences?

Why is the judge so disinterested in hearing other depositions which challenge Michaels hearsay-only claim that Terri would want to die?

Similarly, why was Terri moved to a hospice facility in April 2000 by Michael without the required prior approval by the judge? Was it unusual that this unapproved move took Terri to a place where George Felos served as Chairman of the hospice Board of Directors? When you listen to this radio interview with Carla Iyer, a nurse who took care of Terri in an earlier care setting, doesnt it create some sense of doubt whether the real story has been told publicly and being at the Felos-influenced hospice will now not allow that story to come out?

Why has the judge denied Floridas Department of Children and Families request for a 60-day extension to the March 18 feeding tube removal date in order to complete their investigation into allegations of abuse and neglect by Michael?

Ken Connor, Chairman of the Center for a Just Society, has said:

Perhaps even more ironic is the fact that if the most heinous of mass murderers were to receive a sentence of death by starvation or dehydration, the courts would overturn that sentence as a violation of the Constitutions prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Beyond the significant ethical and legal issues lurks one simple question: Why is there such a rush to kill Terri Schindler-Schiavo now?


Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XII

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on ten previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI).

Ed Achorn of the ProJo is back with another thoughtful commentary that deserves to be shared and read in its entirety:

Last week, I sat in on a bit of a two-day symposium about "moral leadership," sponsored by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Scholars discussed the concepts advanced by English philosopher John Locke, who inspired the values expressed in America's Declaration of Independence.

In Locke's view, a government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. As I sat and listened, I could not help wondering how much the people of Rhode Island really consent to the kind of government they have.

They vote, of course.

But if they truly consent, it would seem that they want to have second-rate public schools, and to pay a first-rate price for them. They want to have the nation's fifth-highest taxes, and to drive away well-to-do people and retirees who could contribute greatly to the state in revenue and jobs. They want a national magazine to brand the state "Tax-hell Rhode Island."

They want poor bridges and pothole-ridden roads. They want sewage flowing into the Bay, periodically killing massive numbers of fish. They want to create unsustainable government costs -- even with enormously high taxes -- by extending early retirements and lavish benefits to public employees. They want to pay for "free" lifetime health care for crossing guards, so that the Laborers' Union will be happy and politicians can have more plush patronage jobs to hand out. They want Rhode Island courts to be ranked among the nation's worst -- dead last in New England -- in being "fair and balanced," according to a survey of 1,400 practicing corporate attorneys and general counsels.

They want their governor and local communities to force the public to hire lawyers and go to court to obtain public documents. They want their legislators to ram through bills before the public is any the wiser.

If most Rhode Islanders don't consent to these things, on the other hand, then the state's government is losing its legitimacy.

To be sure, there are structures in place that make it hard for Rhode Island citizens to get the government they want.

Public-employee unions are unusually powerful in the Ocean State. Their armies of campaign workers and piles of campaign cash regularly secure a majority of legislators who will vote in the unions' interest, rather than the public's. Leaders and spokesmen of these unions have become so arrogant that they often viciously denounce any citizen who would even discuss trying to shift the balance toward the public's interest.

Rhode Island is perhaps the most Democrat-leaning state, and its voters are reluctant to turn out incumbents from their party. Freedom from fear of defeat in an election makes any politician (of any party) very complacent -- and reckless.

A culture of secrecy thrives in Rhode Island government. It is often difficult for citizens to find out what is being done in their name.

This year's legislative session is already crowded with bills filed to serve special interests, rather than the general interest:

Rep. Donald Lally (D.-Narragansett) sponsored a bill that would effectively give Rhode Island unions, through often one-sided negotiations, the power to decide the law of the land. His bill would give union contracts precedence over city and town charters -- the basic governing structures and laws of municipalities.

Labor boss George Nee asked for the special legislation -- and what Mr. Nee wants of the General Assembly, he often gets.

Sen. Teresa Paiva-Weed (D.-Newport), who long had a reputation as a public-spirited legislator, is co-sponsoring a bill that would bar the governor from appointing, for one year, people who had run for state or federal office and lost. This partisan bill -- of highly dubious constitutionality -- is transparently designed to make it harder for an opposing party to field candidates or fill positions.

Legislative leaders are trying to make independent day-care workers the equivalent of state employees, eligible to negotiate for plush benefits at a vast new expense to taxpayers.

House Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D.-Providence) introduced a bill to help a waterfront developer by removing power from Portsmouth officials and giving it to a state commission.

The question is: Do Rhode Islanders really consent to all this? Do they want their state to be run this way, or is this being forced on them?

I would argue that -- even though the playing field is sharply tilted against the public interest -- citizens are indeed "consenting" to the government they get. They have the legal means to change it.

They could call any legislator who is damaging the public and complain. They could run for office or raise money for honorable candidates, speak out, protest, join citizens' organizations. They could apply a healthy degree of skepticism to the arguments of special-interest groups that feed off government. They could fight for greater openness. They could read the newspaper and act on what they see there.

Those of us who love Rhode Island, and wish to see it solve some very daunting problems, may not like this truth, but there it is: If citizens stand back and silently take what is being done to them, that is an expression of their consent.

What is the answer, Rhode Islanders? Are we truly a state filled with spineless wimps who consciously choose to accept this fate? I hope not.


March 14, 2005

The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part IV

This posting builds on three previous ones about the Naked Public Square (I, II, III).

Greg Wallace, over at What Attitude Problem?, posted this story yesterday about yet another successful attempt to strip naked the public square. Read the story and follow the links.

This latest news story leads me back to a quote by Richard John Neuhaus found in the Part II posting:

When religion in any traditional or recognizable form is excluded from the public square, it does not mean that the public square is in fact naked...

The truly naked public square is at best a transitional phenomenon. It is a vacuum begging to be filled. When the democratically affirmed institutions that generate and transmit values are excluded, the vacuum will be filled by the agent left in control of the public square, the state. In this manner, a perverse notion of the disestablishment of religion leads to the establishment of the state as church...

Is this really the legacy we want for America? Is this really the legacy we want to leave for our children?


Stupid Is, Stupid Does

Power Line has a commentary on an interview given by Washington Post Managing Editor Philip Bennett to the People's Daily Online, a Communist China publication.

The interview's headline quote by Bennett is:

I don't think US should be the leader of the world.

Bennett also offers up the following thought:

Democracy means many things. How do you define democracy? As a Chinese journalist, you may have your own definition of democracy which corresponds to your history and your way of seeing the world. I may have another definition. Someone else may have their own definitions. Democracy means a lot of different things.

Gotta love that clear thinking, no?


What is at Stake in the War on Terror

Every once in a while it is worth stopping and taking a look back.

I recently reread some of President George W. Bush's major speeches on the War on Terror, dating back to shortly after September 11, 2001.

I thought it might be helpful to have many of them accessible in one posting:

1. September 20, 2001 initial speech about War on Terror

2. October 7, 2001 Afghanistan speech

3. January 29, 2002 State of the Union speech

4. June 1, 2002 West Point graduation speech

5. January 20, 2005 Inaugural speech

6. March 8, 2005 National Defense University speech

The clarity of these core speeches helps us stay focused on what we are fighting for as free men and women.


What Does "Social Justice" Mean?

An article in today's ProJo on Carol Bennett-Speight, Dean of Rhode Island College's (RIC's) School of Social Work since January, triggered some provocative thoughts.

First of all, Dean Bennett-Speight deserves kudos for her personal and professional successes, which are wonderful accomplishments:

Her parents, Holden and Dorothy Bennett, did not have the chance to go to college. But her father, who was only able to finish fourth grade, pushed his three girls to study hard. Bennett-Speight, who received her bachelor's degree from Penn State, was the first person in her immediate family to attend college.

"I remember him always saying 'I wish I had the opportunity to go to school,' and that always stuck with me," Bennett-Speight said. She went on to receive a master's degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey. She received a doctorate in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, where she worked for several years while maintaining a private practice. Before taking the job at RIC, Bennett-Speight was chairwoman of the social work department at Cabrini College, a Catholic college in Pennsylvania, and under her leadership, the program was accredited.

Yet all is not rosy at RIC. Ed Achorn of the ProJo has previously commented on the "chill wind of intolerance" at RIC. Anchor Rising has also noted the unfortunate academic harassment problems within the School of Social Work in a previous posting here. That is why I was so struck by these words in the newspaper article:

She and her classmates fought to change the name of their all-girls public high school from William Penn High School, named after the colonial governor who founded Pennsylvania, to Angela Davis High School, honoring the controversial civil rights activist. Despite organized protests in front of the Liberty Bell, the students lost their battle. But Bennett-Speight found her passion for fighting for "issues of social justice."

But Angela Davis is not just any "controversial civil rights activist." She had very close personal ties to the leaders of the Black Panther Party. Davis also has been an active member of the Communist Party, serving as the Vice Presidential candidate on the Communist Party presidential ticket in the 1980's.

More information on the Black Panther Party can be found here, including this excerpt:

The Party's ideals and activities were so radical, it was at one time assailed by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States."...It was named, originally, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The black panther was used as the symbol because it was a powerful image...The term "self defense" was employed to distinguish the Party's philosophy from the dominant nonviolent theme of the civil rights movement.

Here is how the Communist Party of the United States describes itself:

The Communist Party USA is an organization of revolutionaries working to bring about social change in a conscious, progressive direction...building a movement large enough and united enough to create revolutionary change and socialism in the future...We base ourselves on Marxism-Leninism, on the accumulated experience of our Party since our founding in 1919. Our view of the needs of our working class as a whole, and on our vision of Socialism USA is based on those experiences.

Now many of us did interesting things in our youth. For example, I thought (and still think) Nixon was a crook and listened to every day of the House and Senate hearings. As a 16-year-old, I walked the streets for McGovern in 1972, an action that I now cheerfully write off to the blissful ignorance of youth.

On a more serious level, my Presbyterian minister father stood in a pulpit in February 1964 - before even the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had become the law - and boldly told his parishioners that it was the duty of all Christians to support open, non-discriminatory housing. That courageous stand resulted in the departure of one-third of the church's members and numerous indignities to our family.

Yet all of these actions - even if they were minority opinions at the time - were still generally consistent with the core principles of the American Founding.

But the values of the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party have no such connection to the core principles of the American Founding as they have sought only to destroy America. I find it quite unsettling that an adult educator would - at this stage in her life - still refer to honoring an outspoken communist who has supported violence as a positive and defining event in her life. And that then leads naturally to a very interesting and broader question: What does "social justice" mean?

Michael Novak offers a compelling explanation worthy of sharing in detail:

The trouble with "social justice" begins with the very meaning of the term. [Nobel Laureate Friedrich] Hayek points out that whole books and treatises have been written about social justice without ever offering a definition of it...The vagueness seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, "We need a law against that." In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation, for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion.

Hayek points out another defect of twentiethcentury theories of social justice. Most authors assert that they use it to designate a virtue (a moral virtue, by their account). But most of the descriptions they attach to it appertain to impersonal states of affairs"high unemployment" or "inequality of incomes" or "lack of a living wage" are cited as instances of "social injustice." Hayek goes to the heart of the matter: social justice is either a virtue or it is not. If it is, it can properly be ascribed only to the reflective and deliberate acts of individual persons. Most who use the term, however, ascribe it not to individuals but to social systems. They use "social justice" to denote a regulative principle of order; again, their focus is not virtue but power...

Curiously, however, the demand for the term "social justice" did not arise until modern times, in which more complex societies operate by impersonal rules applied with equal force to all under "the rule of law."

The birth of the concept of social justice coincided with two other shifts in human consciousness: the "death of God" and the rise of the ideal of the command economy. When God "died," people began to trust a conceit of reason and its inflated ambition to do what even God had not deigned to do: construct a just social order. The divinization of reason found its extension in the command economy; reason (that is, science) would command and humankind would collectively follow. The death of God, the rise of science, and the command economy yielded "scientific socialism." Where reason would rule, the intellectuals would rule. (Or so some thought. Actually, the lovers of power would rule.)

From this line of reasoning it follows that "social justice" would have its natural end in a command economy in which individuals are told what to do, so that it would always be possible to identify those in charge and to hold them responsible. This notion presupposes that people are guided by specific external directions rather than internalized, personal rules of just conduct. It further implies that no individual should be held responsible for his relative position. To assert that he is responsible would be "blaming the victim." It is the function of "social justice" to blame somebody else, to blame the system, to blame those who (mythically) "control" it. As Leszek Kolakowski wrote in his magisterial history of communism, the fundamental paradigm of Communist ideology is guaranteed to have wide appeal: you suffer; your suffering is caused by powerful others; these oppressors must be destroyed...

We are not wrong, Hayek concedes, in perceiving that the effects of the individual choices and open processes of a free society are not distributed according to a recognizable principle of justice. The meritorious are sometimes tragically unlucky; the evil prosper; good ideas dont pan out, and sometimes those who backed them, however noble their vision, lose their shirts. But a system that values both trialanderror and free choice is in no position to guarantee outcomes in advance. Furthermore, no one individual (and certainly no politburo or congressional committee or political party) can design rules that would treat each person according to his merit or even his need. No one has sufficient knowledge of all relevant personal details, and as Kant writes, no general rule has a grip fine enough to grasp them.

Hayek made a sharp distinction, however, between those failures of justice that involve breaking agreedupon rules of fairness and those that consist in results that no one designed, foresaw, or commanded. The first sort of failure earned his severe moral condemnation. No one should break the rules; freedom imposes high moral responsibilities. The second, insofar as it springs from no willful or deliberate act, seemed to him not a moral matter but an inescapable feature of all societies and of nature itself. When labeling unfortunate results as "social injustices" leads to an attack upon the free society, with the aim of moving it toward a command society, Hayek strenuously opposes the term. The historical records of the command economies of Nazism and communism justify his revulsion at that way of thinking...

Careless thinkers forget that justice is by definition social. Such carelessness becomes positively destructive when the term "social" no longer describes the product of the virtuous actions of many individuals, but rather the utopian goal toward which all institutions and all individuals are "made in the utmost degree to converge" by coercion. In that case, the "social" in "social justice" refers to something that emerges not organically and spontaneously from the ruleabiding behavior of free individuals, but rather from an abstract ideal imposed from above...

Intolerance and intellectual harassment of dissenting viewpoints; use of methods of intimidation and coercion; eventually even justifying violence and the spectre of communism. No reasonable person would connect these actions with the virtue of justice. Yet these often are the implicit and/or explicit behaviors of many people pursuing "social justice."

There has to be a better way, a deeper and more proper way to think about social justice that is consistent with the great principles of the American Founding. Michael Novak goes on to develop such a definition of social justice:

Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is "social" in two senses. First, the skills it requires are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society, through which free citizens exercise selfgovernment by doing for themselves (that is, without turning to government) what needs to be done. Citizens who take part commonly explain their efforts as attempts to "give back" for all that they have received from the free society, or to meet the obligations of free citizens to think and act for themselves. The fact that this activity is carried out with others is one reason for designating it as a specific type of justice; it requires a broader range of social skills than do acts of individual justice.

The second characteristic of "social justice rightly understood" is that it aims at the good of the city, not at the good of one agent only. Citizens may band together, as in pioneer days, to put up a school or build a bridge. They may get together in the modern city to hold a bake sale for some charitable cause, to repair a playground, to clean up the environment, or for a million other purposes that their social imaginations might lead them to. Hence the second sense in which this habit of justice is "social": its object, as well as its form, primarily involves the good of others.

One happy characteristic of this definition of the virtue of social justice is that it is ideologically neutral. It is as open to people on the left as on the right or in the center. Its field of activity may be literary, scientific, religious, political, economic, cultural, athletic, and so on, across the whole spectrum of human social activities. The virtue of social justice allows for people of good will to reach differenteven opposingpractical judgments about the material content of the common good (ends) and how to get there (means). Such differences are the stuff of politics.

We must rule out any use of "social justice" that does not attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals. Social justice is a virtue, an attribute of individuals, or it is a fraud. And if Tocqueville is right that "the principle of association is the first law of democracy," then social justice is the first virtue of democracy, for it is the habit of putting the principle of association into daily practice. Neglect of it, Hayek wrote, has moral consequences:

It is one of the greatest weaknesses of our time that we lack the patience and faith to build up voluntary organizations for purposes which we value highly, and immediately ask the government to bring about by coercion (or with means raised by coercion) anything that appears as desirable to large numbers. Yet nothing can have a more deadening effect on real participation by the citizens than if government, instead of merely providing the essential framework of spontaneous growth, becomes monolithic and takes charge of the provision for all needs, which can be provided for only by the common effort of many.

The quality of the civic debate in America would be greatly improved if we paid more attention to the meaning and consequences of our words and actions. Hayek and Novak have offered us some profound insights. May their wisdom guide us as we seek to make the American Dream come true for all Americans.

ADDENDUM I:

Justin has an excellent posting about comments from a RIC School of Social Work student's letter to the ProJo. I am connecting it to this posting because it is important for people to realize that most proponents of "social justice" are left-wing zealots with a dangerous political agenda. But, after reading Novak's comments above, that should come as no surprise to any thoughtful lover of freedom.


The Deep Performance Problems With American Public Education

This posting continues a debate begun in two earlier postings here and here.

How bad is the public education performance problem in America? Consider this information from Robert J. Herbold of the Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and formerly the Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft:

There are some very worrisome trends in the United States with respect to our global share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics expertise. Our share of this expertise is decreasing significantly, both at the bachelors and at the Ph.D. levels...

...among 24-year-olds in the year 2001 who had a B.S. or B.A. degree, only five percent in the U.S. were engineers, compared to 39 percent in China and 19 percent or more in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. If you look at the actual number of engineers...China is producing three times more than the United States...

Another disturbing trend is in the numbers of individuals receiving a Ph.D. in physical science and engineering. In 1987, 4,700 U.S. citizens received these degrees, compared to 5,600 Asians. In 2001, the U.S. figure had dropped slightly to 4,400 and the number of Asians had risen to 24,900...

Why are these figures important? Traditionally, it has been our technical human talent that has driven our industrial success. Basic science, technology, engineering and mathematics knowledge is vitally important in the business world...physical science and engineering capabilities at the Ph.D. level typically drive the kind of highly prized innovations that lead to the emergence of new industries. With expertise in these fields declining in the U.S. while rising in other parts of the world, we risk seeing our industrial leadership weaken...

One of the main reasons why U.S. production of science and engineering talent in universities is low in comparison to other countries is that U.S. K-12 math and science skill levels are quite weak. Note the data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from the year 2000...scores of U.S. students across the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels are abysmal. For example, in science, only two percent of our 12th graders are rated advanced and only sixteen percent are rated proficient...Thirty-four percent of our 12th graders are only partially proficient in science, and almost half are below partial proficiency...

...the results of the International Math and Science Study. It rates the U.S. versus other countries and provides the percentile our students achieved. For example, in mathematics, our 12th graders rated at the 10th percentile. In other words, 90 percent of the countries did better than the U.S., and only 10 percent performed worse. While we do well in grade 4, we do mediocre in grade 8 and very poorly in grade 12...

Weak K-12 results in the U.S. are not a new problem. Twenty years ago, a famous report entitled "A Nation at Risk" was published and highlighted similar findings. Recently, the Koret Task Force of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University considered the failure of that report to bring about reform. The following is a key paragraph from their report summary:

"A Nation at Risk" underestimated the resistance to change from the organized interest of the K-12 public education system, at the center of which were two big teachers unions as well as school administrators, colleges of education, state bureaucracies, school boards, and many others. These groups see any changes beyond the most marginal as threats to their own jealously guarded power.

In light of this, we need the K-12 teaching community (the union leaders, the administrators and the teachers themselves) to take responsibility for the poor results they are achieving. We need them to get serious about accountability and teacher qualifications...We need them to implement the recommendation of the National Commission on Excellence, requiring three years of math and two years of science at the high school level. We need them to support new routes for teacher certification in order to increase the number of teachers qualified to teach math and science. We need them to ease their opposition to vouchers and charter schools, which will bring about the kind of competition that generates broad improvement. And we need them to stop promoting unprepared students to the next grade level.

Probably most important, the K-12 teaching community needs to implement good management practices, such as performance appraisal systems that identify superior teachers. It should then reward these top teachers with salary increases of 10 percent or more per year, leading to annual wages of over $100,000. Equally as important, it needs to isolate the bottom 5-7 percent of teachers, put them on probation, and if no progress is made within a reasonable period terminate them...

We need for the K-12 teaching community to take responsibility and implement these reforms in an urgent manner. If they do not, all of us in our individual communities need to hold that community to account. Failure to address our immense shortcomings in science and math education is unacceptable and will inevitably lead to the weakening of our nation.

A November 24, 2003 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "Witness Protection for Teachers" (available here for a fee) shows how deep the problem is within American public education:

[New York City Councilwoman Eva] Moskowitz, a Democrat who heads the Council's education committee, recently held four days of hearings on the union rules and mandates that beleaguer New York's 1,200 schools and 1.1 million students. What she says she found is that "many of the rules are indefensible."...

Union officials...launched a media campaign to intimidate Ms. Moskowitz into canceling her unprecedented hearings...Many [teachers and principals] were willing to criticize the contracts privately, but most requests to testify were met with, "I'm not that brave," "I might be blacklisted," "Are you kidding?" and the like...Keep in mind these are teachers, not members of the mob.

The unions have operated for decades without public scrutiny or accountability, which has enabled them to impose work rules that any average person would recognize as...well, insane...

But the rules that most damage learning are those that give primacy to seniority for teachers. Seniority-based transfers...result in the most inexperienced teachers serving the most challenging schools. A seniority-based, lock-step compensation structure bans merit pay for the large majority of teachers who meet or exceed performance expectations. So teachers with high-demand skills...are pushed into the private sector, where they can be paid what they're worth...

The City Council lacks the power to change union work rules, but never underestimate the uses of public embarrassment.

Or, consider these excerpts from a February 25, 2004 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "Paige's Point" (also available here for a fee):

A fact of political life today is that if you favor meaningful educational reform, you can automatically count yourself a political enemy of two groups: the teachers' unions that prefer the status quo and too many politicians who depend on them for financial support...

Teachers unions are among the most powerful lobbies in American public life. In political influence they rank alongside the Teamsters, the AARP and the NRA. And they use the exact same hardball tactics to try to get what they want, which in their case is to preserve their monopoly on public education.

The NEA has 2.7 million members from whom it collects hundreds of millions of dollars in involuntary dues and spends tens of millions on political activities, some 95% of which goes to Democrats. Its 1,800 designated political directors use an integrated command structure...to coordinate national, state and local activities for Democratic candidates...

It's easy to forget that all but 8% of education spending occurs at the state and local level, and that's where the teachers unions wield most of their power by pressuring legislatures, defeating state ballot initiatives, supporting campaigns and even getting their own members elected and appointed to education committees...

Back in Washington, NEA President Reg Weaver stands ready to describe any criticism of the union as an attack on public school teachers. "We are the teachers; there is no distinction"...the typical teacher, who earns a fraction of the $334,000 Mr. Weaver reportedly took home last year, may beg to differ...

"There are two big interesting education reform ideas in America today," says Chester Finn, a former Education Department official. "One involves standards and tests and accountability; the other involves competition and choice. The NEA is against both, and they will unflaggingly work to defeat both kinds of reform."

Terry Moe has written an extensive piece on how the teachers' unions operate:

Their influence takes two forms. First, they shape the schools from the bottom up, through collective bargaining activities that are so broad in scope that virtually every aspect of the schools is somehow affected. Second, they shape the schools from the top down, through political activities that give them unrivaled influence over the laws and regulations imposed on public education by government...teachers unions are...absolutely central to an understanding of America's public school. Despite their importance, the teachers unions have been poorly studied by education scholars...

A December 15, 2004 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "America's C-" (available here for a fee) reinforces the mediocrity of America's public education system:

The report, conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, tested the math, science, problem-solving and reading skills of 15-year-olds in 41 countries. Only a generation ago, U.S. high school students ranked No. 1. Today, their performance has fallen below the OECD average - except in reading, where Americans manage to eke out an "average."...Less publicized has been why U.S. scores are so low. The OECD researchers identified several key characteristics that most successful school systems share - namely, decentralization, competition and flexibility...schools are given a large degree of autonomy over curriculum and budget decisions...teachers...have a large degree of autonomy and responsibility, which leads in turn to a high degree of professionalism. It is not simply a matter of renumeration. Teachers in Finland get paid relatively little, but...there is a strong professional ethos and teachers routinely exchange experience to improve their skills...

With an ever-higher percentage of the work force expected to be employed in knowledge-based industries, school reform is a question of U.S. economic survival...

If we want to maintain our standard of living, we'd better change...

Can genuine reform be achieved? Consider the following success story in an article from The American Enterprise:

While New York City public schools face an epic shortage of good teachers, many private schools in the Big Apple have no trouble attracting candidates. The School of Columbia, for instance, received 1,700 applications for 39 teaching positions in its first year of operation...

Unlike public schools, the School of Columbia does not offer tenure; there is no union; there is no guaranteed salary increase each year; how much teachers make depends on their performance, not their seniority; teachers are expected to come in early, stay late, and show up on weekends to do their job well; and there are no guaranteed breaks during the day.

Those do-what-it-takes-to-succeed expectations are standard in most of white-collar America today...

Offering merit pay means you also have to give teachers enough flexibility to distinguish themselves. The curriculum at Columbia includes a set of skills and "key facts" that students at each grade level must master, but teachers are allowed to use their own individual methods to get students to that point. If their method doesn't work, all the seniority in the world won't get them a promotion. And the fact that half the kids come from a depressed inner-city neighborhood is not accepted as an excuse for failure.

Teacher assessments are done every year or two. Every instructor must put together a portfolio demonstrating student progress, including test results, videos of students reading aloud, student performances, etc. A peer evaluation team sits in on several classes and submits recommendations. School administrators consider all this information and then make a final decision.

The world of public education could be so different - and better. We are paying a huge price for such mediocrity - by limiting people's access to the American Dream and by putting our nation's leadership position in the world at risk.

Why do we continue to tolerate such nonsense?


Moving Rhode Island to the Right

Justin Katz

Figures I'd find out about this at the last minute and that it's on a day when I'm busy and under the weather, but any of you who are healthy and free might be interested to know that Dinesh D'Souza will be speaking at Brown tonight at 8:00 p.m. in the Salomon Center for Teaching on The College Green (Salomon 101).


March 13, 2005

Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans

My family had the privilege of visiting The Statute of Liberty in August 2004 on only the 23rd day after it had re-opened for the first time since September 11, 2001. It was there that we saw first-hand the poem penned by Emma Lazarus and etched on the pedestal of the statute, which includes these famous words:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Immigrants came to America from places where their lives were defined forever for them before they were even born. Here is how some of them described the unique allure of America:

For them Europe meant poverty and persecution, and America meant democracy and opportunity. "Other lands," wrote the Polish emigré Henry Sienkiewicz, "grant only asylum; this land recognizes the immigrant as a son and grants him rights." When they were "sickened at last of poverty, bigotry and kings," wrote another immigrant, "there was always America!"

The land of freedom and opportunity, the land where immigrants were granted rights without any consideration of family history. That was the magnificent allure of America.

Many Americans have their own personal stories about how the American Dream became a reality for their families. There is nothing more American than having the opportunity to achieve more than your parents and then enabling your children to do even better than you.

What makes the Dream possible? At the core, it is the principle of liberty - the freedom not only to have lofty aspirations but to have the opportunity to achieve them. That unique level of freedom has its origins in our own Declaration of Independence, about which President Calvin Coolidge said:

In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignity, the rights of man - these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in religious convictions...Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish...

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful...If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final...If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people...

In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people...The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guarantees, which even the government itself is bound not to violate.

It is truly unfortunate how so many of America's public leaders have forgotten the spiritual basis which empowers the freedom that is central to our lives. It is equally as unfortunate, as Andrew has written, that certain political activitists have forgotten the importance of freedom, democracy, and individual rights.

That freedom, however, only translates into realized opportunity through hard work, the second core principle that enables people to realize the American Dream.

While hard work alone can make the difference, sometimes it is not enough to make the American Dream come alive for every American citizen. That leads to the final enabling component to the American Dream: access to a quality education. Such access is the great equalizer, ensuring that all Americans have a decent starting position as they enter adulthood.

But there are problems with education in America, as I have written previously:

Education is the gateway to the American Dream for all citizens. Yet, we are failing to provide a quality gateway for our children. The performance of public education in America is absymal as we have one of the weakest performing educational systems in the industrial world. It is not for lack of spending money: We have tripled our per-pupil spending in real terms over the last 40 years...More money won't fix the structural problems...Only competition from true educational choice will solve the problems...

Nowhere is access to a quality public education more challenged than in Washington, D.C. and other disadvantaged inner city locations. That same posting continues:

I find it particularly ironic that certain liberal U.S. senators (who often have sent their own children to the most elite private schools) consistently do the bidding of the unions to block the inner city black children of Washington, D.C. - who are stuck in the worst public education system in our country - from receiving the educational vouchers which would give them educational freedom and a fair shot at living the American Dream. The unions and their cronies are willing to risk creating a permanent underclass so they can maintain their chokehold on public education in America. That is morally offensive.

It was, therefore, with great interest - thanks to a posting by KelliPundit - that I read a news report about black Americans, party politics, and the principles of freedom, opportunity, faith, and educational choice:

[Donna Brazile,] the Democrats' most-respected minority outreach tactician warned her party at the beginning of the 2004 election cycle not to "take African-American voters for granted." Polls showed an increase in younger black voters registering as independents, not as Democrats. Many were drawn to President Bush's campaign message of an "ownership society" and his faith-based initiatives to help the needy.

Ken Mehlman, who managed Mr. Bush's re-election campaign and is now the Republican national chairman, is leading a stepped-up drive to reach out to black voters, often with the help of influential black religious leaders attracted by the GOP's emphasis on religious values usually missing in the Democrats' message.

Addressing the National Black Chamber of Commerce in Trenton, N.J., last month, Mr. Mehlman told several hundred business owners that "the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass is not complete without more African-American support and participation."

...Black voters remain the Democrats' most loyal voting bloc, but they find a number of Republican issues appealing, and Mr. Mehlman believes if the GOP reaches out to them with a menu of choices, it can win a much larger share of their votes.

Polls show 60 percent of African-Americans support school choice vouchers to get their kids out of failing public schools. Mr. Bush's emphasis on small-business ownership also resonates very strongly among upwardly mobile blacks, as does the chance to build a bigger retirement nest egg in Social Security personal investment accounts.

Mr. Mehlman's offensive has the potential to make significant inroads into the Democrats' once largely monolithic black vote, Miss Brazile says. "The GOP is preaching a new gospel to black voters yearning for answers" to age-old problems that still afflict their community. "Once they start listening to Republicans, some may even like what they hear."

That warning from one of the party's most respected political figures sent shock waves last week through the Democratic National Committee's high command, who know that if their party loses 15 percent or so of the black vote, it will be in the minority for years to come.

At a personal level, I care little about party politics. What excites me, though, is that there is increased competition in American politics to see who has the best ideas on how to make the American Dream come true for ALL Americans. Let the debate begin in earnest. Everyone will be better off as a result. What could be more American than that!


Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XI

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on ten previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X).

Arjay Miller, the former Dean of Stanford Business School, once offered this advice to aspiring executives:

Don't do anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the New York Times.

I was reminded of that quote when I read the article entitled "What was Rep. Fox doing in Portsmouth?" in today's ProJo:

The small group gathered on the waterfront for a tour of the proposed $100-million development.

In attendance were Democratic legislators representing Aquidneck Island districts -- Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Sen. Charles Levesque and Representatives Raymond Gallison and Amy Rice.

Just one Portsmouth town official, Council President Mary Anne Edwards, had been notified. She was invited the day before.

"I don't know what the purpose of the tour was, to be honest," Edwards said later of the Feb. 4 gathering. "I don't know why we were there."

A representative of O'Neill Property Group, a Pennylvania company under contract to develop 150 acres along Portsmouth's western shore, led the tour along one of the state's last waterfronts available for development.

About an hour into the tour, House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, of Providence, arrived.

"It raised my eyebrows up 10 feet," Edwards said. "I don't know why he was there."

Two weeks later, Fox introduced House Bill 5688

The bill provides a streamlined permitting process for the waterfront development and gives control of the project to a state commission.

No Portsmouth town official had asked for the legislation.

"It's one-stop shopping for permitting," Portsmouth's Edwards said. 'I'm so mystified by it. I don't know where the bill came from -- or who even told these [legislators] to do this. I certainly had nothing to do with it . . . It's confusing; it's confounding. Where's the pressure coming from?"

The Journal began looking at the bill last week, interviewing lawmakers and O'Neill representatives. Fox was questioned Thursday afternoon. Hours later, the bill was pulled

O'Neill representatives approached the Portsmouth Town Council for the first time Feb 15. They asked for council support of their projects and legislation that would streamline the permitting process.

The council, wary of supporting such a broad proposal the same night it was introduced, scheduled a workshop to learn more about the plans and proposed legislation.

Two days later, before it could meet again, House Bill 5688 was introduced by Fox.

Some council members were furious.

"I think they have one heck of a nerve going over the Town Council's head," council president Edwards said of the state legislators

House Bill 5688 would have created "the Portsmouth Waterfront Economic Development District" to be controlled by an independent commission with broad powers that would oversee development on the town's western shore. It was modeled after similar legislation approved in 2003 for East Providence's waterfront.

It is unclear who would sit on the commission and whether the group's authority would supercede the local council and zoning board

That's exactly the kind of bill O'Neill Properties wants

Fox acknowledges that House Bill 5688 would have helped O'Neill Properties Group

Fox is the only legislator from that Feb. 4 gathering who has met J. Brian O'Neill, who heads O'Neill Properties Group

O'Neill visited the majority leader in his office shortly after the February tour. The encounter was brief, Fox said, and nothing more than an introductory meeting

Despite criticism of the Fox bill, Levesque said he would introduce a new version if the Portsmouth Town Council wants it.

Gallison said the same.

"[The withdrawal] doesn't stop the process, it just slows down the process," he said. "We'll let it go through the Town Council. When they're ready to put something in we'll do it again."

These actions followed shortly after the House leadership implemented new governance procedures that showed an astonishing lack of respect for the principles of democratic, open government.

Rhode Island residents: Watch out, your freedom continues to be at risk due to the actions of State House leaders.


March 12, 2005

Post-Democrats Coming to Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

Steven Stycos has a short article in this weeks Providence Phoenix previewing a set of protests scheduled for next weekend, the second anniversary of the Iraq war. A quote in the article from Carol Bragg of the Rhode Island Peace Mission illustrates contemporary progressive thought on what a proper American foreign policy might look like. According to Stycos,

To prevent future Afghanistans, she says, the US should encourage debt relief, fair trade, development, and security
Three out of four items on the list are economic. Democracy, freedom, individual rights, etc. are nowhere to be seen. They are not of interest to the American left, who assume that democracy and freedom are luxuries afforded to those who benefit from properly managed economic growth.


March 11, 2005

Life Is a Yes-or-No Question

Justin Katz

For a guest column on TheFactIs.org, a news and commentary site sponsored by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and the Culture of Life Foundation, I've expanded on my thoughts related to Stanley Kurtz's Policy Review piece about population decline and the possible social strategies for dealing with it.

The bottom line is that life is a yes-or-no question.


Democrats and Democratization

Carroll Andrew Morse

The New Republic's Noam Scheiber beleives that President Bush's democracy agenda abroad may help build a Democratic majority at home. Over at TechCentralStation, I explain why I believe Scheiber's argument is flawed.


DiscoverTheNetwork

Rocco DiPippo at The Antiprotestor Journal has a very interesting post about the DiscoverTheNetwork website, a guide to the political left developed by David Horowitz and others at FrontPage.

They note the following on their website:

The purpose of the DiscoverTheNetwork site is not to stifle free speech but to clarify it. We recognize that people are not always candid in what they say in public life, particularly in the arena of political discourse. Truth in political advertising would be a more accurate description of our intentions in assembling this data.

The problem of deceptive public presentation is common enough to all sides in the political debate but applies with special force to the left, which has a long and well-documented history of dissembling about its agendas.

Take the time to read the numerous comments in response to Rocco's posting, too. They make for lively reading!


March 10, 2005

Teachers and Unionization IV

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is thinking-out-loud. Marc and Don have more detailed knowledge in this area, so they may poke this full of holes. But here is what I mean by a teaching guild instead of a teachers union

Lets be libertarians for a moment. Postulate a system where students are free to pick from any school they want within traveling distance. And let the funding for any school be tied to the number of students that choose to go there. BUT lets take an additional step. Lets give teachers maximum choice too. Here are a few simple rules to start with

0. Collective bargaining determines minimum salaries based on service time.
1. Service time is time-in-the-guild, not time in any particular school system. If you move to Beetown after 5 years teaching in Aaytown, you still have 5 years service time (as long as both towns are covered by the same guild)
2. The minimum contract includes two teacher-option years. In other words, before a teacher begins the next-to-last or last year of a contract, he or she can walk away, no strings attached.
3. Any time another school in the guild offers a teacher a 5% salary increase, the teacher is free to break his or her current contract and leave for the new position.

There are advantages in both tails. Say principal Mortimer Skinflint says I only offer minimum salary contracts for the minimum time allowed. Well, if his schools test scores are low, and student are not choosing his school, it is pretty clear that the administration needs to improve.

On the flip side, say principal George Washington XII wants to build up his schools social studies program, and make it the premiere program in the state. There is now a natural mechanism for recruiting and retaining social studies teachers.

Might a system like this work out best for everyone involved?


March 8, 2005

Could It Be True?

In a recent article on the January 30 Iraqi elections, Bill Kristol notes:

History is best viewed in the rear-view mirror. It's hard to grasp the significance of events as they happen...

But sometimes not. Just four weeks after the Iraqi election of January 30, 2005, it seems increasingly likely that that date will turn out to have been a genuine turning point. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, ended an era. September 11, 2001, ended an interregnum. In the new era in which we now live, 1/30/05 could be a key moment--perhaps the key moment so far--in vindicating the Bush Doctrine as the right response to 9/11. And now there is the prospect of further and accelerating progress.

Consider three surprising testimonials from this past week--one from the Old Middle East, one from Old Europe, the third from Old New York.

From the Middle East, listen to Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze Muslim leader and member of parliament, formerly an accommodator of the Syrian occupation and no friend of the Bush administration or its predecessors.

It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. . . . The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.

...From Old Europe, listen to Claus Christian Malzahn of Der Spiegel, writing under the headline "Could George W. Bush Be Right?" Malzahn's answer: Perhaps.

President Ronald Reagan's visit to Berlin in 1987 was, in many respects, very similar to President George W. Bush's visit to Mainz on Wednesday. . . . The Germany Reagan was traveling in, much like today's Germany, was very skeptical of the American president and his foreign policy. When Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate--and the Berlin Wall--and demanded that Gorbachev "tear down this wall," he was lampooned the next day on the editorial pages. He is a dreamer, wrote commentators. Realpolitik looks different.

But history has shown that it wasn't Reagan who was the dreamer as he voiced his demand. Rather, it was German politicians who were lacking in imagination--a group who in 1987 couldn't imagine that there might be an alternative to a divided Germany

Europeans today--just like the Europeans of 1987--cannot imagine that the world might change

It was difficult not to cringe during Reagan's speech in 1987...At the end of it, most experts agreed that his demand for the removal of the wall was inopportune, utopian and crazy.

Yet three years later, East Germany had disappeared from the mapWhen analysts are confronted by real people, amazing things can happen. And maybe history can repeat itself

Just a thought for Old Europe to chew on: Bush might be right, just like Reagan was then.

...As for Old New York, listen to Kurt Andersen in the February 21 New York magazine:

Our heroic and tragic liberal-intellectual capaciousness is facing its sharpest test since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back then, most of us were forced, against our wills, to give Ronald Reagan a large share of credit for winning the Cold War. Now the people of this Bush-hating city are being forced to grant the merest possibility that Bush, despite his annoying manner and his administration's awful hubris and dissembling and incompetence concerning Iraq, just might--might, possibly--have been correct to invade, to occupy, and to try to enable a democratically elected government in Iraq...

It won't do simply to default to our easy predispositions--against Bush, even against war. If partisanship makes us abandon intellectual honesty, if we oppose what our opponents say or do simply because they are the ones saying or doing it, we become mere political short-sellers, hoping for bad news because it's good for our ideological investment.

A second article by a Bush opponent makes several interesting comments:

We need to face up to the fact that the Iraq invasion has intensified pressure for democracy in the Middle East...

...the US-led invasion of Iraq has changed the calculus in the region

...[W]e have to say that the call for freedom throughout the Arab and Muslim world is a sound and just one - even if it is a Bush slogan and arguably code for the installation of malleable regimes. Put starkly, we cannot let ourselves fall into the trap of opposing democracy in the Middle East simply because Bush and Blair are calling for it. Sometimes your enemy's enemy is not your friend.

The Weekly Standard's latest issue has a series of interesting articles on these Middle Eastern developments (here, here, here, here, here, here).

President Bush gave a speech today at the National Defense University, where he reiterated his beliefs in the strategic calling of bringing freedom to oppressed people in the Middle East and beyond:

Our strategy to keep the peace in the longer term is to help change the conditions that give rise to extremism and terror, especially in the broader Middle East.

Parts of that region have been caught for generations in the cycle of tyranny and despair and radicalism.

When a dictatorship controls the political life of a country, responsible opposition cannot develop and dissent is driven underground and toward the extreme.

And to draw attention away from their social and economic failures, dictators place blame on other countries and other races and stir the hatred that leads to violence.

This status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off.

Because we have witnessed how the violence in that region can easily reach across borders and oceans, the entire world has an urgent interest in the progress and hope and freedom in the broader Middle East.

The advance of hope in the Middle East requires new thinking in the region.

By now it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future, it is the last gasp of a discredited past.

It should be clear that free nations escape stagnation and grow stronger with time because they encourage the creativity and enterprise of their people.

It should be clear that economic progress requires political modernization, including honest representative government and the rule of law.

And it should be clear that no society can advance with only half of its talent and energy. And that demands the full participation of women.

The advance of hope in the Middle East also requires new thinking in the capitals of great democracies, including Washington, D.C.

By now it should be clear that decades of excusing and accommodating tyranny in the pursuit of stability have only led to injustice and instability and tragedy.

It should be clear that the advance of democracy leads to peace because governments that respect the rights of their people also respect the rights of their neighbors.

It should be clear that the best antidote to radicalism and terror is the tolerance and hope kindled in free societies.

And our duty is now clear: For the sake of our long-term security, all free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East.

Encouraging democracy in that region is a generational commitment. It's also a difficult commitment, demanding patience and resolve when the headlines are good and when the headlines aren't so good

Across the Middle East, a critical mass of events is taking that region in a hopeful new direction. Historic changes have many causes, yet these changes have one factor in common. A businessmen in Beirut recently said, "We have removed the mask of fear. We're not afraid anymore."

We're also determined to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This objective will not be achieved easily or all at once or primarily by force of arms. We know that freedom by definition must be chosen and that the democratic institutions of other nations will not look like our own.

Yet we also know that our security increasingly depends on the hope and progress of other nations now simmering in despair and resentment.

And that hope and progress is found only in the advance of freedom

Yet the success of this approach does not depend on grand strategy alone. We are confident that the desire for freedom, even when repressed for generations, is present in every human heart.

And that desire can emerge with sudden power to change the course of history.

Americans, of all people, should not be surprised by freedom's power. A nation founded on the universal claim of individual rights should not be surprised when other people claim those rights.

Those who place their hope in freedom may be attacked and challenged, but they will not ultimately be disappointed, because freedom is the design of humanity and freedom is the direction of history

Millions have gained their liberty and millions more have gained the hope of liberty that will not be denied. The trumpet of freedom has been sounded and that trumpet never calls retreat.

Before history is written in books, it is written in courage: the courage of honorable soldiers, the courage of oppressed peoples, the courage of free nations in difficult tasks.

Our generation is fortunate to live in a time of courage, and we are proud to serve in freedom's cause.

ADDENDUM:

KelliPundit has posted an interesting article by Charles Krauthammer.

PowerLine highlights comments from both The Belmont Club and Austin Bay, which take a less optimistic view of current events in Lebanon.

ADDENDUM II:

Here is a further update on the latest in Lebanon and the broader implications for Syria and Iran.

The latest demonstration in Lebanon, calling for an end to Syrian occupation, was reported to have over 800,000 people in attendance.


Sobering Possibilities

A previous posting highlighted some sobering possibilities in international politics.

A recent editorial by Arnaud de Borchgrave only reinforces some of the growing geopolitical challenges and risks:

Imagine a world where Russia and the European Union of 25 nations, and Russia and China, and the EU and China, all find more in common with each other than with the United States...the seeds of such an anti-U.S. entente were planted in Europe last week.

In Brussels, President Bush told the EU3 France, the United Kingdom and Germany it was their responsibility to quash Iran's nuclear ambitions and the United States would not negotiate directly with the totalitarian theocracy in Tehran. The U.S. position was judged absurd by the EU3 before Mr. Bush arrived. And it was still deemed absurd after he left

Russia, meanwhile, says it is satisfied the mullahs are not playing with nuclear fire and it will go on helping Iran's peaceful nuclear power program. Score one for a rapprochement between the EU and Russia over Iran.

Next comes the EU plan to lift a 15-year-old arms embargo against China next June

The last major crisis between China and...[Taiwan]...came...in 1996. As volleys of Chinese missiles plunged into the sea near Taiwan, Mr. Clinton quickly dispatched two carriers to the region. Today, say Pentagon war planners, carriers wouldn't scare Beijing the way they did then. China now has the latest Russian submarine torpedoes that can arc around a carrier, attack from the stern and knock out its giant propellers.

What the Chinese want from European defense industries are the electronics for command and control, as well as communications and surveillance, to achieve command of a modern battle space, the way the U.S. did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Congress has already blown the whistle. The House recently voted 411-3 to warn the EU if it lifts the arms embargo on China, the U.S. will halt technology transfers to Europe. The Senate will follow suit shortly. The Europeans are now drawing up a list of American "civilian" technology transfers they say have added muscle to China's military girth. Score one for rapprochement between the EU and China.

It is yet to dawn on U.S. gatekeepers that 6.7 percent of Chinese defense imports come from the United States and only 2.7 percent from EuropeRussia gets most of China's $15 billion defense market.

On the third front Russia's democracy deficit cooler heads prevailedMercifully, Mr. Putin and President Bush focused instead on the survival of civilization combating nuclear terrorism. Russia still has thousands of nukes, some of them still loose, and scores of still insecure nuclear materials storage facilities. Ten billion dollars has been spent in 10 years under Nunn-Lugar legislation to foil would-be terrorists seeking to acquire Russian nuclear know how. Another $20 billion half from EU and Japan has been committed to finish the job by 2010.

CIA Director Porter J. Goss recently testified terrorists "have targeted nuclear weapons storage sites." Former Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn believes it would be a miracle if leakage has not already occurred

In the meantime, the United States has introduced a new counterintelligence policy:

The Bush administration has adopted a new counterintelligence strategy that calls for "attacking" foreign spy services and the spy components of terrorist groups before they can strike, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday...

The new mission for counterintelligence is to identify foreign spies and terrorist threats, and then develop "a counterintelligence doctrine of attacking foreign intelligence services systematically via strategic counterintelligence operations," [National Counterintelligence Director] Miss Van Cleave said.

The offensive counterintelligence strategy is part of the Bush administration's policy of pre-empting strategic threats. It is also part of President Bush's announced plan to promote democracy and freedom and undermine global tyranny, she said.

In the past, counterintelligence often was limited to "catching spies."

In the battle against terrorists, new counterintelligence activities will target the intelligence services of state sponsors of terrorism, such as Syria and Iran.

"The intelligence services of state sponsors may represent the key links in the global terrorist-support network," Miss Van Cleave said. "Terrorist groups perform traditional intelligence activities in the way they gather information, recruit sources and use assets."

Under the new strategy, U.S. intelligence agencies will more aggressively work to disrupt terrorist operations by targeting their intelligence links.

The strategy was approved March 1 by the president, and formal guidance to the CIA, FBI and other security agencies involved in counterintelligence work will be issued in the next several weeksA formal report on the strategy also will be made public and sent to Congress

Miss Van Cleave's comments came as FBI and CIA officials at the conference said the threat from foreign intelligence services -- specifically, Russia and China -- is growing.

Barry Royden, a veteran CIA official, said Russian intelligence services are targeting U.S. troops in the Middle East for recruitment as agents, as well as seeking recruits among Americans in Russia.

Russian intelligence officers are using "very aggressive actions and operations," including blackmail, extortion and entrapment "to try to get people to commit espionage," Mr. Royden said

Tim Bereznay, a senior FBI counterintelligence official, said Chinese intelligence activities are a major threat -- specifically, Beijing's covert targeting of U.S. weapons technology.

Counterintelligence against Chinese spying "is our main priority,"

"China has somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 front companies in the U.S., and their sole reason for existing is to steal, exploit U.S. technology," Miss Bronson said

China has "an aggressive military modernization program and we're concerned about that aggressive military modernization program, and that's probably going to be one of the biggest challenges in the combination of the counterintelligence and technology security world in the next five or 10 years," Miss Bronson said.

America faces some determined and powerful foes. For the sake of freedom around the world, we must never forget that - and then act appropriately in response.

ADDENDUM:

The news in this March 13, 2005 article notes that:

China's top legislative body has approved a resolution that authorizes Beijing to use military force to prevent Taiwan from declaring its independence...to move against any formal secession attempt by Taiwan as a last resort...The law also declares that the status of Taiwan "is China's internal affair, which subjects to no interference by any outside forces."

ADDENDUM II:

Here is some additional news on Russia and the energy industry.


Victor Davis Hanson on Today's America

The March 14, 2005 edition of the Weekly Standard includes an article entitled "The Sage of Fresno: Victor Davis Hanson, down on the farm."

Here is an excerpt:

Hanson places much of the blame for this decay on America's elites, who he says have fostered a cult of post-modernism, identity politics, and affirmative action - or, as he puts it, "diversity without standards." As a classicist, he sees this as nothing less than a renunciation of the intellectual tradition bequeathed by the Greeks.

"Multiculturism, in preference to a multiracial embrace of Western culture, has become what pulp was in the 1950's," he tells me..."Plato told us this was inevitable: The more you embrace a state-mandated egalitarianism for its own sake and radical democracy,...the more you will be driven to the common denominator of a therapeutic, happy-go-lucky culture, simple stories, low-brow entertainment, minimal expectations - rather than the hard work of using education to uplift the majority."


Teachers and Unionization III

Carroll Andrew Morse

Unions, by their very nature are easily affected by the virus of bureaucratic rule. Unions tend to be monosocial, to be combative, to be administrative, to be market-oriented. Taken together, these traits form a strong natural bent in established unions toward the one-party system.

The thoughts of a turn-of-the century laissez-faire robber-baron capitalist, perhaps? Not quite. This is taken from an article written by Michael Harrington, an American socialist, quoting Gus Tyler, an American labor activist, about problems rooted in the monolithic nature of unions. From up-close and direct observation, Harrington is making the case that, even when they are created in pursuit of noble ideals, unions, like any one-party system, end up serving the short-term interests of the managing bureaucracy, rather than the long term needs of the majority.

In private companies, where there are only two parties involved (labor and management) there is less of a problem. If union members decide to make sacrifices in order to build the strength of a disciplined bureaucracy, that is their choice. The problem is that education is not a two-party problem. There are three parties involved: labor, management, and students. Labor has no right make the education of students a bargaining chip when the primary goal is increasing the power of union leadership.

Ultimately, both students and teachers would benefit if unions were replaced by something more akin to a guild...


March 7, 2005

Rhode Island's Greatest Soldier

Mac Owens

I had the opportunity to review a very fine book on Nathanael Greene for Sunday's edition of the NY Post. The review is here. Rhode Island must of course atone for Ambrose Burnside. Fortunately for Rhode Islanders, whenever anyone makes fun of Burnside, they can point out that, second only to Washington, Greene was the soldier most responsible for
American success in the War of Independence.


March 3, 2005

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part X

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on nine previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX).

Rhode Island politics has a history of being secretive, keeping relevant information from the citizens who fund the government. That is beginning to change. Here is one story showing how:

Many thanks to Christine Mattos of East Greenwich for using the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act to get actual East Greenwich, RI teachers' salary and healthcare benefits data. (I hear her request was met with some resistance initially.)

She has now posted the information on a website for all town residents to see. This is highly relevant because there is currently a contract dispute in East Greenwich.

Please note that, other than department chair stipends, this salary data does not include stipends received by the teachers for other activities such as coaching.

Even more interesting is the health insurance premium cost and other benefits data here and here. As you review this data, remember that the NEA thinks co-payments by the teachers are unacceptable - unless, possibly, the teachers are also awarded incremental cash compensation via some other new contract provision.

I am sure the NEA is thrilled. Nice work, Christine.

By the way, you can also find all the Cranston, RI city and school union contracts here. Congratulations to them for posting all these contracts.

The expired Warwick, RI teachers' union contract can be found here.

If your community in Rhode Island has posted either its school or town union contracts on their website, send me an email with the link and I will add it to this posting.

This is exactly what we need more of in Rhode Island - open access to factual data. Every town and school district in the state ought to put their public sector union contracts on the web. Let's really open up the debate!

ADDENDUM:

From the first comment attached to this posting, youd think we had taken a time machine back to the 1930s when unions had a legitimate role in the USA.

But we actually didnt go back in time; we just live in Rhode Island where public sector politics and economics are often warped. I make that statement after serving on the East Greenwich School Committee for 2 years.

During that time, I saw us hand out 9-12% annual salary increases to 9 of the 10 job steps for the 5th consecutive year. I saw us hand out zero co-payments on health insurance premiums every year. I saw us hand out $6,800/year cash bonuses for anybody who didnt use the health insurance offering. I saw us bear the financial burden statewide of what is likely the richest pension program in New England.

There was a price paid for these ridiculous terms. For example, I was one of only two Committee members to vote for a full-day, academic kindergarten program against the recommendation of the then-superintendent because she said we didnt have any money left over to pay for it. We also have been under spending on facility maintenance because of insufficient budget monies.

Here is what those demands translated into at a total budget level: One year during my tenure on the Committee, the total school budget in East Greenwich increased by over 9% and 93% of the increase was due to salary and benefit costs. That is nothing less than outrageous.

Its not like we have underpaid public school teachers RI has the 7th highest paid teachers in the USA, according to union data. But nobody considers RI schools to be anything close to 7th best in the USA they are typically ranked in the bottom one-third. We are overpaying for underperformance thanks to these public sector union demands. That is the economic bottom line.

The demands of the public sector unions also have nothing to do with protecting workers salaries and benefits. After all, this is the public sector where the lack of competitive alternatives means that the economic incentives are fundamentally flawed. No, the demands of these unions amount to nothing less than legalized extortion of working families and retirees. The latest union demands in East Greenwich prove my point yet again. The only way to stop this pillaging and bring about change is through visible, public pressure.

In the meantime, the working families and retirees whose tax dollars pay for these rich salary increases and benefits are seeing 2-4% annual salary increases, experiencing health insurance co-payments of 15-30%, and getting no cash bonuses for not using insurance. The outrageous demands of the unions are causing nothing less than a reduction in the standard of living of these working families and retirees. That is morally wrong and indefensible.

There is a broader impact at the state level, where these demands translate into the 5th highest tax burden in the USA. No business executive in their right mind would move a business to RI. Why? Because it is a high-tax state with lousy public schools. The contract demands of the public sector unions are a major reason why it is a high-tax state. The consistent resistance to any educational reforms by the public sector unions is a major reason why American public education is among the worst in the industrialized countries.

Whats changing in Rhode Island? The facts are getting out, just like this posting showed. The demands of the unions and the spineless responses of politicians and bureaucrats are now increasingly visible to RI taxpayers, who are disgusted by all of their behaviors. There is no turning back people will continue to publicize these facts.

The unions, politicians and bureaucrats will continue to receive well-deserved heat until they wake up and realize that the only economically viable course is to accept salary increases, co-pays, and pension benefits just like the rest of us, the working families and retirees who pay their salaries. It is all we ask.

ADDENDUM II:

Disclosure on 3/9/05: I have never met Ms. Mattos. I called her for the first time in the last 24 hours after hearing from someone else about the questions she raised at this week's East Greenwich School Committee meeting.

One of the comments attached to this posting states:

Wow, Ms. Mattos seems to be very mean spirited. Imagine taking the time to list all those names and salaries. Why would anyone become a teacher in East Greenwich if they had to deal with folks like her?

The comment is over-the-top and unfair to Ms. Mattos. It is also unfair to the taxpayers of East Greenwich who deserve to know that their tax money is being spent appropriately and managed in a fiscally sound manner.

First, Ms. Mattos is correct that being a public official means that information about you is legally public information. It is no different than being an executive in a public corporation. Your information is transparent to the public you serve.

Second, the bigger issue is that the taxpayers of East Greenwich have been putting up with endless public misrepresentations by the NEA about teacher salary and benefits facts. The misrepresentations are documented here. Why isn't the author of the comment responding to these verifiable outrages? It is these actions which have initiated multiple efforts to make more factual information available to the residents.

Third, if anything can be called mean-spirited, it is having two School Committee members receiving personal threats:

The threats were made the way such threats usually are, in an anonymous and cowardly fashion. One was made in a post-midnight phone call in which the caller said the school committee member's children would be run over if contract talks dragged on much longer. The other threat was delivered in the form of a letter left on another school committee member's automobile, stating the contract needed to be settled "for security reasons."

Fourth, it has been an unfortunate practice of far too many East Greenwich school leaders to provide insufficient information to the town's residents. Certain past and current school leaders, like many public sector players, have:

Failed to disclose some or all of the relevant facts;

Failed to answer questions completely or provided only partial answers to questions;

Violated basic governance rules and regulations; and,

Lied outright

to the very people they are supposed to serve.

Ms. Mattos - as well as the rest of us - would not be pursuing information in the way we are if the school leadership did right by the town's residents. This point is reinforced by reading what she herself wrote on her website.

Two local newspaper articles this week, one from the North East Independent and one from the East Greenwich Pendulum, drive this point home by showing how casual the public sector can be with taxpayer funds. As a corporate executive, I would be shredded by my Board of Directors if I presented such inaccurate and incomplete information to them. Ms. Mattos deserves our thanks for ensuring that the assumptions and logic in the school budget are properly vetted so citizens can be knowledgeable about and confident in the the budget. She also deserves credit for pointing out how the nature of public sector union contracts ensures very little money is left for things that directly impact our children. You can learn more about the specific questions she raised at the School Committee meeting by going here and here.

The problems with some of the East Greenwich school leadership could be due to incompetence, undisciplined thinking, lousy time management or a willful attempt to mislead. It doesn't matter which explanation is correct - the performance is simply unacceptable.

They are spending $28 million of our money. Why is it so hard for them to bring the same clarity and discipline to the school budget that each of us brings to our own family budget?

It all comes down to having the proper level of accountability to the working families and retirees whose hard-earned monies fund the school operations. Complete transparency is the best way to ensure such accountability.

On behalf of East Greenwich residents, I want to thank Ms. Mattos for investing her personal time to improve the accountability of our school leadership.


A Moment of Dead Silence

Justin Katz

As a subjective guide to Don's previous post, laying out facts and considerations in the case of Terri Schiavo, I offer the following anecdote from Fr. Rob Johansen, which I found via Lane Core:

In the course of our conversation, [a well-respected neurologist] made reference to the standard use of MRI and PET scans to diagnose the extent of brain injuries. He seemed to assume that these had been done for Terri. I stopped him and told him that these tests have never been done for her; that Michael had refused these tests.

There was a moment of dead silence.

"How can he continue as guardian?", the neurologist said in a tone of utter incredulity. "He refused a non-invasive test? How can they be debating a life and death decision without these tests?" ...

He said, "I can't believe intelligent people are debating this woman's life without these tests."


March 2, 2005

Can Terri Schindler-Schiavo Be Murdered By Judicial Fiat...In America?

This posting builds on two previous postings here and here.

On February 25, Judge Greer issued what can only be described as an order of execution:

Ordered and Adjudged that absent a stay from the appellate courts, the guardian, Michael Schiavo, shall cause the removal of nutrition and hydration from the ward, Theresa Schiavo, at 1:00 p.m. on March 18, 2005.

Is this America, the land of the free, if judges can order the murder of citizens by fiat?

Others are asking the same question:

"This is not simply a court order removing a judicial stay and allowing the guardian to proceed as he sees fit," said Diane Coleman, President of Not Dead Yet, which was joined by sixteen other national disability rights groups in three amicus briefs filed in support of Terri Schiavo's right to food and water.

Unfortunately, the judges action is only the latest in a series of ethically challenged actions, the litany of which are outlined here in an impeachment initiative. Consider these examples:

1. Judge Greer has allowed Michael Schiavo to remain as Terris guardian even though he should be removed as Terris guardian pursuant to Florida Statute 744.474(2) for failure to discharge his duties as guardian. The statute requires that the guardian protect the rights of the ward, provide for her health and safety, properly manage her financial resources and help her regain her abilities to the maximum extent possible.

2. Judge Greer has allowed Michael Schiavo to remain as Terris guardian even though he should be removed as Terris guardian pursuant to Florida Statute 744.474(3) for abuse of his powers as evidenced by his denying her any significant sensory stimulation and his efforts to have her life ended

5. Judge Greer has allowed Michael Schiavo to remain as Terris guardian even though he should be removed as Terris guardian pursuant to Florida Statute 744.474(13) for failure to comply with the guardianship report

7. Judge Greer has allowed Michael Schiavo to remain as Terris guardian even though he should be removed as Terris guardian pursuant to Florida Statute 744.474(16) for improperly managing the wards assets by using Terris money which was awarded by a court to be used for her rehabilitation but at the authorization of Judge Greer is being used to pay legal fees in an effort to end Terris life

9. Judge Greer has allowed Michael Schiavo to remain as Terris guardian even though he should be removed as Terris guardian pursuant to Florida Statute 744.474(18) because Michaels adulterous relationship (which is a misdemeanor under Florida law) with another woman ought to disqualify Michael as a suitable guardian for Terri as the interest which Michael said (in malpractice trial court proceedings) he had toward Terri is directed to another woman who is not his wife and has two children by said other woman of whom he is the father

12. Judge Greer has deprived Terri of her constitutional religious rights by allowing Michael Schiavo to prevent Monsignor Malonowski from visiting Terri, by allowing Michael to prevent Monsignor Malinowski from administering last rites when her feeding tube was removed in October 2003, and by allowing Michael to prevent Terris blood relatives from placing pictures of religious figures in her room

17. Judge Greer has denied Terri the right under 744.3215(d) (d) to be treated humanely, with dignity and respect, and to be protected against abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

18. Judge Greer has denied Terri the right under 744.3215(e) to have a qualified guardian.

19. Judge Greer has denied Terri the right under 744.3215(f) to remain as independent as possible, including having her preference as to place and standard of living honored, either as she expressed or demonstrated her preference prior to the determination of his or her incapacity or as she currently expresses her preference, insofar as such request is reasonable.

20. Judge Greer has denied Terri the right under 744.3215 (g) to be properly educated. She is not receiving any rehabilitative therapy

23. Judge Greer has denied Terri the right under 744.3215 (k) to have access to the courts. Judge Greer has relied upon the testimony of others related to Michael Schiavo as to Terris condition yet ignored the testimony of her blood relatives which was contradictory to information provided by Michael and his family.

24. Judge Greer has denied Terri the right under 744.3215(l) to counsel.

25. Judge Greer has denied Terri the right under 744.3215(m) to receive visitors and communicate with others.

26. Judge Greer has allowed violation of 744.3215(a) by allowing Terri to be moved to different facilities without prior approval of the court.

27. Judge Greer has allowed violation of 744.3215(b) not requiring Michael to have follow up examinations of electrodes, which were implanted in Terris brain. These implants should have been removed years ago, as they are a source for both infection and hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus may cause pressure that could suppress cognitive function and be responsible for much of Terris condition. If so, there could be a vast improvement in her condition if a shunt were placed. Hydrocephalus could also cause pressure that would flatten the brain and show fluid filled areas on a brain scan.

28. Judge Greer has allowed Michael to violate a court order stating that he is to keep Terris family advised of her medical condition.

29. Judge Greer has ignored Terris right under 765.102(5)(a) to palliative care which addresses physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and existential needs of patients.

30. Judge Greer has not required Michael Schiavo to implement a plan which would provide for Terris needs under 765.102(5)(a)

32. Judge Greer relied on Dr. Ronald Cranfords definition of PVS (Persistent Vegetative State) instead of the legal definition contained in the Florida Statutes. There were several doctors who gave reports that Terri is not PVS but Greer decided not to use the Florida Statutes definition.

33. Judge Greer has failed to be impartial and has ignored testimony and evidence presented by Counsel for Terris natural family and has consistently ruled in agreement with Counsel for Michael Schiavo.

34. Judge Greer has allowed Michael to continue denying visitation to Terris family

35. Judge Greer authorized the euthanization of Terri Schiavo by authorizing the removal of her feeding tube when she does not fit the definition of PVS under Florida statutes. Euthanasia is illegal in Florida.

36. Judge Greer has violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Sections 12101 provides that necessary and appropriate rehabilitation services and physical/motor skill therapy may not be denied a substantially disabled patient in the United States of America.

37. Judge Greer has violated the ADA Cf 28 CFR, Ch 1, Subpart B, Sect 35.130 States "Nothing in the Act or this part authorizes the representative or guardian of an individual with a disability to decline food, water, medical treatment, or medical services for that individual."

38. Judge Greer has violated FS 38.10 four times by not disqualifying himself from the case when it was requested. The statute states whenever a party to any action or proceeding makes and files an affidavit stating fear that he or she will not receive a fair trial in the court where the suit is pending on account of the prejudice of the judge of that court against the applicant or in favor of the adverse party, the judge shall proceed no further, but another judge shall be designated

The same article continues:

Judge Greer serves on the Committee for Guardianship Monitoring but is, in fact, violating the intentions and guidelines established by the Committee:

1. Judge Greer has neglected the mission of guardianship monitoring in Terris case. The mission of guardianship monitoring is to collect, provide, and evaluate information about the well-being and property of all persons adjudicated of having a legal incapacity so that the court can fulfill its legal obligation to protect and preserve the interests of the ward, and thereby promote confidence in the judicial process.

2. Page 5 of the document contains "Thus, the court must be proactive to discover and respond to disputes and issues." Judge Greer has intentionally ignored disputed issues in Terris case and not made any ruling to correct them.

3. On page 6 of the document is this statement "An ideal guardianship monitoring program encompasses four major service areas: (1) initial and on-going screening and reviewing of guardians; (2) reporting on the well-being of the ward; (3) reporting on the protection of the wards assets; and (4) case administration." Judge Greers flagrant oversight of Michael Schiavos violations of the statutes pertaining to guardians is certainly no example for any monitoring program.

4. It is unclear whether Judge Greer has required Michael Schiavo to meet all the requirements of a guardian (listed on page 6 of the document). "A family member guardian is required to hire an attorney, provide detailed personal information, undergo a credit check, post a fiduciarys bond, attend an 8-hour training course, and file detailed initial and annual personal and financial reports."

5. Pinellas County employees a full time monitoring staff, which reviews cases to make sure guardianship plans are being filed and followed. It would not have been possible for them to give approval of the plan for Terri since the guardianship plans have not been an important issue with Judge Greer evidenced by his granting Michael extensions to file the plan. Judge Greer is deliberately undermining the guardianship monitoring program which was established to make sure that all wards receive the protection they are entitled to by the law.

6. Judge Greer did not adhere to the monitoring guidelines which state that in cases where it appears there is substantial likelihood for serious irreparable harm (similar to the injunctive relief standard), immediate action steps by the court should include but not be limited to: Filing an abuse, neglect, or exploitation complaint with the Department of Children and Families, as required by statute, referral to local law enforcement agencies or the state attorney and, conducting immediate hearings among several other possible actions. Terri is at risk of irreparable harm as long as Michael is her guardian. He didnt want to treat her for an infection, has not had preventive health care examinations for her and stated on national television that he would do whatever it takes to have her feeding tube removed. Michael also stated during the same interview that Terri's teeth were fine but recently she is missing several teeth.

I have intentionally listed many of the claims against Judge Greer to convey the magnitude and gravity of his ethically challenged behavior. When his behavior is combined with Michael Schiavo's behavior highlighted here, can any reasonable person believe Terri - as a disabled woman - had even the slightest chance of being treated justly?

Is this the America we love when a beast of a husband and an unprincipled judge can gang up to kill a defenseless disabled woman?

Alas, suggested misdeeds and ethical conflicts are not limited only to Judge Greer's courtroom behavior. This article highlights some questionnable behaviors of his related to local Florida politics.

With 16 days left before the killing begins, what is next? Many of the motions filed by the Schindler family were denied outright on February 28 without any hearing by Judge Greer's court:

Judge George Greer...has denied, without access to hearing, motions filed by Terri Schiavo's immediate family for:

* Updated neurological evaluations based on new MRI testing protocols;

* A motion to compel the deposition of Michael Schiavo;

* A petition for extraordinary authority to provide Terri Schiavo with updated rehabilitative protocols;

* A petition for divorce, citing open adultery on the part of Terri Schiavo's husband and guardian;

* An objection to the guardian's annual guardianship plan;

* A motion to remove Michael Schiavo as guardian, citing his failure to comply with Florida Law mandated guardianship requirements. This motion dates back to November of 2002, but the court has never ruled on it.

[PDF versions of the denied motions can be found in the just-highlighted article.]

Judge Greer has stated that he will only consider motions from Terri's family as they relate to the death process, which include but are not limited to a motion to allow Terri Schiavo to die at home instead of a Hospice facility, a motion for a Florida burial, and a motion allowing her immediate family uninterrupted access to her throughout the death process.

Pamela Hennessey, spokesperson for the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation says the foundation finds the actions of Judge Greer reprehensible and a clear denial of the due process rights afforded to Terri Schiavo under Federal and Florida law.

The hearing for the remaining motions has been set for March 4.

There are several important actions we can all take immediately:

Contact Floridas Governor, Jeb Bush at jeb.bush@myflorida.com, and demand that he invoke Florida Statute 415.1051 to provide protective custody until investigations into abuse and neglect can be carried out.

Contact Florida's Senate and ask them to institute an immediate moratorium on withholding assisted nutrition and hydration until Florida can adopt a new standard of testing protocols for brain-injured patients.

Contact Floridas House of Representatives and ask them to pass legislation that would forbid the removal of food and water without the informed consent of the patient.

Visit the Schindler family's website and see for yourself the woman who has been called a house plant by her husbands attorney and why.

Get a Protective Medical Decisions Directive from the International Anti-Euthanasia task force and make your medical treatment desires known to your family and friends. You dont have to be starved or dehydrated to death simply because your life is effected by disability.

The Founding Principles of America as articulated in the Declaration of Independence were deeply profound and set a new example for the world. At this time of peril, we have a great need to rediscover those principles and let them guide our actions.

If we ignore those principles, then this T. S. Eliot quote (offered by Bruce Frohnen) will likely become our future:

As political philosophy derives its sanctions from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. The term "democracy," as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike - it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God, you will pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.

As citizens of this great land, the unethical actions of Judge Greer and Michael Schiavo now force each of us to make fundamental choices which we can no longer brush off: Will our culture defend the helpless? Will we allow Terri Schindler-Schiavo to live?

In other words, will we stay true to the Founding Principles of America and the values which informed that Founding? Each of us must take a stand. What is your personal answer?