April 30, 2005

Correcting the Bizarre Incentives Created by Campaign Finance Reform Laws

Donald B. Hawthorne

Carroll Andrew Morse has a terrific, focused posting entitled First They Came for the Radio Talk Show Hosts... that gets to the heart of the latest fallout from campaign finance reform here in Rhode Island. Once again, we have an example of how legislation has unintended consequences that, in this case, affect our freedom of speech.

Dating back to the post-Watergate reforms in the 1970's, I continue to be amazed at how people think it is possible to construct ways to limit the flow of money into politics. And so we have concepts such as hard money, soft money, donation limits by individuals, donation limits by corporate entities, political action committees, 527's, etc.

Like water flowing downhill, money simply finds new ways to flow into politics after each such "reform." Does any rational person really think all these limitations have reduced the influence of money on politics? Surely not. Have all these limitations changed behavioral incentives for people or organizations with money? Quite clearly, as the 527's showed in the 2004 elections. But all we have done is made the flow of money more convoluted and frequently more difficult to trace. Are we better off for all the changes? Hardly. And, the adverse and unintended consequences will only continue into the future.

What can we do differently? Here is an alternative, and arguably more straightforward, view of the world:

1. Government has become a huge business, which means there is a lot of money for various interest groups - of all political persuasions - to grab, some for legitimate reasons and much in the form of pork. Money flows into politics to buy influence because so much is at stake financially. While no one wants to talk about it openly, the flow of large sums of money into politics is yet another unfortunate price we pay for allowing government to become such a pervasive part of our lives. If we truly had limited government, the pressure to buy influence would be much reduced. It is nothing but foolish ignorance to seek limits on the flow of money without first reducing the structural incentives that currently give people an economic reason to buy influence.

2. Since money is going to flow into politics, one way or another, then we should stop setting up barriers to free speech like Morse notes have come out of the latest campaign finance reform law. Rather, why not take all limits off political contributions in America in exchange for requiring ALL details about such contributions be posted in a standardized report format on the Internet within 24 hours of receipt by either an individual politician or by a political party? Total transparency and accountability, unlike today. If a George Soros or a Richard Scaiffe contributes vast monies, anyone paying attention will see it and the public scrutiny will be immediate. No more PAC's, no more 527's, no more hard versus soft money distinctions, etc. Eliminate the incentives to play fundraising games like the alleged misdeeds by Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. More on the latter can be found here and here.

Such reform even has the potential to weaken the power of incumbents in both parties and create real competition in our political races. Think about Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and Ronald Reagan's various campaigns where each challenged the status quo and all of which were the result of having committed financial sponsors. Today many candidates have to be wealthy so they can spend their own money. Limiting the pool of candidates does not result in a better pool of candidates.

Total transparency and accountability in politics, with the potential for greater competition. Should not those be the policy objectives underlying our campaign finance laws? And, if successfully implemented, wouldn't that be a novel concept?

Of course, it is sadly ironic that achieving such transparency, accountability and competition will only happen if our incumbent politicians vote for new laws. Yet, given their own self-interest, our politicians have no incentive to support such changes and that lessens our freedom as American citizens. Yet another price we pay for big government.

Correcting the Bizarre Incentives Created by Campaign Finance Reform Laws

Carroll Andrew Morse has a terrific, focused posting entitled First They Came for the Radio Talk Show Hosts... that gets to the heart of the latest fallout from campaign finance reform here in Rhode Island. Once again, we have an example of how legislation has unintended consequences that, in this case, affect our freedom of speech.

Dating back to the post-Watergate reforms in the 1970's, I continue to be amazed at how people think it is possible to construct ways to limit the flow of money into politics. And so we have concepts such as hard money, soft money, donation limits by individuals, donation limits by corporate entities, political action committees, 527's, etc.

Like water flowing downhill, money simply finds new ways to flow into politics after each such "reform." Does any rational person really think all these limitations have reduced the influence of money on politics? Surely not. Have all these limitations changed behavioral incentives for people or organizations with money? Quite clearly, as the 527's showed in the 2004 elections. But all we have done is made the flow of money more convoluted and frequently more difficult to trace. Are we better off for all the changes? Hardly. And, the adverse and unintended consequences will only continue into the future.

What can we do differently? Here is an alternative, and arguably more straightforward, view of the world:

1. Government has become a huge business, which means there is a lot of money for various interest groups - of all political persuasions - to grab, some for legitimate reasons and much in the form of pork. Money flows into politics to buy influence because so much is at stake financially. While no one wants to talk about it openly, the flow of large sums of money into politics is yet another unfortunate price we pay for allowing government to become such a pervasive part of our lives. If we truly had limited government, the pressure to buy influence would be much reduced. It is nothing but foolish ignorance to seek limits on the flow of money without first reducing the structural incentives that currently give people an economic reason to buy influence.

2. Since money is going to flow into politics, one way or another, then we should stop setting up barriers to free speech like Morse notes have come out of the latest campaign finance reform law. Rather, why not take all limits off political contributions in America in exchange for requiring ALL details about such contributions be posted in a standardized report format on the Internet within 24 hours of receipt by either an individual politician or by a political party? Total transparency and accountability, unlike today. If a George Soros or a Richard Scaiffe contributes vast monies, anyone paying attention will see it and the public scrutiny will be immediate. No more PAC's, no more 527's, no more hard versus soft money distinctions, etc. Eliminate the incentives to play fundraising games like the alleged misdeeds by Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. More on the latter can be found here and here.

Such reform even has the potential to weaken the power of incumbents in both parties and create real competition in our political races.

Total transparency and accountability in politics, with the potential for greater competition. Should not those be the policy objectives underlying our campaign finance laws? And, if successfully implemented, wouldn't that be a novel concept?

Of course, it is sadly ironic that achieving such transparency, accountability and competition will only happen if our incumbent politicians vote for new laws. Yet, given their own self-interest, our politicians have no incentive to support such changes and that lessens our freedom as American citizens. Yet another price we pay for big government.

April 28, 2005

Prez's Press Conference

Carroll Andrew Morse

Watching the President's press conference, I've reached one clear conclusion. Middle-aged reporters making six-figure salaries don't care about the future of social security.

Giuliani: Imported Pharma Drugs are Risky

Marc Comtois

A new report by Rudy Giuliani has found some flaws in importing drugs from other countries for use in the U.S. I note that the report was commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, so that must be weighed. But I would also stress that Giuliani has certainly shown his integrity in the past. The key findings:

Unapproved drugs have already compromised the system. According to the report, nearly 90 percent of the suspected drug parcels randomly examined by airport mail facilities contained non-FDA approved medicines from Pakistan, Brazil, the Netherlands and Canada. Drugs are already coming from foreign sources. Several of the large Canadian Internet pharmacies have stated publicly that they are already filling prescriptions with drugs from other countries. Patients cannot assume these medications are identical to what they would get in the United States.

Frist Proposes a Senate Compromise on Judges

Marc Comtois

(via NRO's Corner) Senator Bill Frist has made a proposal to the Democrats in hopes of ending the "filibuster" battle. While the rhetoric he used to frame his case is good, I'll refrain from posting it and just go right to the 4 points of his offer:

First, never in the history of the Senate had a judicial nominee with majority support been denied an up-or-down vote until two years ago. However, it was not unprecedented either for Republicans or Democrats to block judicial nominees in committee.

Whether on the floor or in committee, judicial obstruction is judicial obstruction. It’s time for judicial obstruction to end no matter which party controls the White House or the Senate.

The judiciary committee will continue to play its essential oversight and investigative roles in the confirmation process. But the committee -- whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats -- will no longer be used to obstruct judicial nominees.

Second, fair and open debate is a hallmark of the Senate. Democrats have expressed their desire for more time to debate judicial nominees. I respect that request and honor it.

When a judicial nominee comes to the floor, we will set aside up to 100 hours to debate that nomination. Then the Senate as a whole will speak with an up-or-down vote.

The Senate operated this way before we began to broadcast debates on television in 1986. This would provide more than enough time for every Senator to speak on a nominee while guaranteeing that nominee the courtesy of a vote.

Third, these proposals will apply only to appeals court and Supreme Court nominees. Judges who serve on these courts have the awesome responsibility of interpreting the Constitution.

So far, only up-or-down votes on appeals court nominees have been denied. I sincerely hope the Senate minority does not intend to escalate its judicial obstruction to potential Supreme Court nominees.

That would be a terrible blow to constitutional principles and to political civility in America. I hope my offer will make it unnecessary for the minority to further escalate its judicial obstruction.

Fourth, the minority of senators who have denied votes on judicial nominees are concerned that their ability to block bills will be curbed. As Majority Leader, I guarantee that power will be protected.

The filibuster -- as it existed before its unprecedented use on judicial nominees in the last Congress -- will remain unchanged.

He correctly admits that both sides have been engaged in overstepping the bounds of the traditional definition of the "advise and consent" role of the senate. I wonder if it'll work.

What to Make of Laffey and Guatemala/Mexico

Marc Comtois

I will be the first to admit that I haven't been as convinced as other conservatives, here and there, that Cranston Mayor Steven Laffey's politics or personality will translate well on the statewide stage. This is not because of his political views, many (if not most) of which I agree with, but rather my perception of the degree (or lack thereof) that the typical Rhode Island voter can accept such a rabble-rousin' conservative (I mean that in a good way). Thus, with all of that as a caveat, I must admit that I am quite perplexed as to what exactly the mayor is doing by inserting Cranston into the middle international immigration policy. On the one hand, it could be an attempt to add a "kinder, gentler" side to his conservativism in an attempt to preempt [predictable] charges of being cold-hearted, etc. On the other hand, it could be raw political opportunism at the expense of intellectual, or at least ideological, honesty. The following blurb from the "aforelinked" story sums up my concerns [and it starts with a laugh-out-loud, tongue-in-cheek sentence, at least I thought]

Of all Cranston's mayors over the past 100 years, Laffey has, without question, the best relations with the nation of Guatemala. In the past few years, Laffey has given seven Cranston vehicles to Guatemala in the last two years for use as ambulances. Last year he visited Guatemala, and he has played host to the president of the City Council of Guatemala City and the mayor of the town of Chici.

Earlier this year, he also went on a fact-finding expedition to Mexico's border with Arizona, and spent a Saturday riding along with the border patrol.

Cranston joins Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Providence as Rhode Island communities accepting Mexico's Matricula Consular identification card. Providence also accepts Guatemala's ID card.

The card itself is not proof of legal immigration status or eligibility to work in the United States. But it is accepted often by American banks from foreigners opening bank accounts.

Julio Aragon, president of the Mexican American Association of Rhode Island, said that the cards offer little benefits for foreigners when dealing with city government. But he said they are invaluable when Mexicans come into contact with the police department. If they commit a crime and have no valid identification, they may be deported rather than enter into the court system.

"If the police stop me with no license, nothing, the police can kick me out of America. But if you have the Mexican card, if the officer stops you, he knows right away you're registered with the Mexican embassy," Aragon said.

"It's better than being deported," Aragon said, adding that it is much easier to carry around the small ID card than the bulkier Mexican passport.

Mexico has been distributing the card since 1871. Guatemala issued its first cards in 2002.

Critics argue that the cards legitimize the presence of illegal immigrants, and provide an avenue for terrorists to transfer money and to enter the United States.

In 2003, officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and at the Homeland Security Department have testified before Congress that the cards, if fraudently obtained, can be used to gain access to other documentation -- such as U.S. drivers' licenses. There have been several failed attempts in Congress to enact a nationwide ban on the cards.

More than 1.7 million Mexicans carry the Matricula Consular.

To receive a card, applicants must present either a passport, or a combination of an original birth certificate to prove their nationality, a government-issued photo ID to prove identity, proof of address under the same name, a telephone number, and next of kin information.

Laffey said that the cards offer all immigrants "the fair chance to live the American dream." He closed his remarks with his favorite Spanish phrase, directed to Vice President Stein: "Su lucha es mi lucha" -- your struggle is my struggle.

I'm just not sure what is to be gained. What if Cranston becomes an illegal immigrant haven? Will Cranston's taxpayers be willing, or ready, to foot the social welfare bills of a large non- or illegally- working sub-population? I doubt it. It would seem Mayor Laffey's usually good political ear has turned to tin. Average folks don't like the idea of illegal immigrants crossing the border, taking jobs and leeching off of our welfare system. And God forbid if the police actually wanted to deport an illegal alien criminal.

First They Came for the Radio Talk Show Hosts...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Q: What do Republican State Representatives Joseph Trillo and Raymond Gallison, and Democratic Representatives Steven Smith and J. Rusell Jackson have in common? A: They have all received in-kind campaign contributions in this calendar year from the same corporate source. That’s right, a major corporation (based out of state, no less) has printed pamphlets for all 4 representatives, and distributed them statewide, at no cost to the representatives.

The corporation is the Belo corporation, the owners of the Providence Journal. All 4 of these representatives have recently written an op-ed for the Projo. If we carry the state Board of Elections ruling that Cranston Mayor’s Steve Laffey’s radio program is an in-kind contribution to its logical conclusion, shouldn’t an op-ed in the newspaper also be defined as an in-kind contribution? How much would it have cost these representatives to get the same exposure they got for free by writing in the Projo?

I fear that our state board of elections has bought into the growing illogic of campaign finance rules: newspapers, magazines, and traditional TV news are the only ones who have truly free speech; all other speech is subject to regulation.

April 27, 2005

A Lifeguard for the Ocean

Justin Katz

Providence Journal editor Don Sockol ends with a question a piece that laments his daughter's fear of losing healthcare if she returns to Rhode Island, loses whatever job allowed her to move back, and loses her health insurance:

There's been talk about school systems banding into larger purchasing groups to cut health-insurance costs. What if everybody joined one huge group, and wherever you went you belonged?

The short answer: because groups need administrators, and the bigger the group, the huger the administrator's power. There are very few people whom I'd entrust with my healthcare, and none whom I'd entrust with everybody's healthcare.

A Reasoned Alternative to the Ongoing Name-Calling in America's Public Discourse

Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has written a nasty editorial entitled "Right-Wing Jihadists Chip Away at Americans' Liberty."

It is yet another example of the intolerant behavior toward people of faith that has become the norm among secular left fundamentalists as they seek to intimidate and silence American citizens who disagree with their worldview:

...the DeLay wing of the Republican Party is on the rise, and its antediluvian agenda represents a serious threat to American democracy.

That's no exaggeration.

If the DeLay wing gets its way, the entire nation will live according to the rigid rules of a handful of self-righteous folks who distrust modernity. They would dictate the way we worship, live, work, have sex and even die.

...the nation's cultural divide -- a bitter disagreement over social issues that cleaves the nation roughly in half -- the fact is that the entire country is being manipulated by a much smaller group...

Nevertheless, the generals among the religious extremists -- men such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family -- have used...polls to exaggerate their influence and browbeat less reactionary Republicans into supporting their agenda. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has presidential ambitions, is the latest to bow before them.

Don't be fooled into believing that the DeLay-Dobson axis represents the beliefs of most ordinary, God-fearing Americans, Christian or otherwise. It doesn't...

After judges refused to ignore the law in the Schiavo case, religious extremists stepped up their attacks, suggesting that the federal judiciary is dominated by liberals out to ruin a moral America...

...Yet there is an increasingly vocal group of extremists who want to deny adults the right to contraception.

Across the country, women are complaining of ultraconservative pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions, sometimes quizzing women on their marital status before making a decision. The next thing you know, they'll be barging into your bedroom to make sure you're wearing your flannel nightgown.

These extremists have much in common with the jihadist wing of Islam. While Christian extremists usually don't practice violence, but merely threaten it...they share with extremist Muslims the belief that all people should be forced to live according to their views. That's about as un-American as it gets.

Oh, pleeeease! If people like Tucker weren't so over-the-top on such serious matters as the right to free speech and the right to engage in political activity, we would all be chuckling and asking what she had been smoking.

Unfortunately, while I believe the evidence suggests the secular left has dominated the practice of extreme name-calling, there are examples of certain conservatives and people of faith who have stooped to name-calling as well. This is reflected in the following comments by a Christian friend of mine, as quoted by Marvin Olasky on the World Magazine blogsite:

I do miss some of the regular posters from whom I learned a great deal and who caused me to think things through in different, and welcome, ways... but after fourteen months of frequent posting to the World blog (much of which was enjoyable, interesting and entertaining), I've stopped even going to the web site... While I was an active participant, I was regularly shocked by the harshness and condemnation thrown at innocent (and sometimes not so innocent) posters by bloggers claiming to be born-again Christians. I don't know how many recipients of the nastiness written to them will ever pay attention to a Christian witness again, and it regularly broke my heart--as well as caused me to pray for the Christian and non-Christian bloggers themselves.

Olasky writes: "Maybe some of those claiming to be born-again are trollish impersonators, but we should all take to heart the writer's critique:"

Scripture advises us we will be called to account for every word we have spoken (and I take that to mean write, as well). God knows I will have plenty to account for myself, but while we are called to be honest, we are not called to be nasty and unloving. Unfortunately, some of my brothers and sisters on the World blog didn't seem to understand that--even when we reminded them. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us how we are to behave with both the world and the church. Based on my experience with the World blog, an awful lot of us are nothing more than clanging cymbals.

Such behavior is wrong, regardless of political persuasion, and all of us must cease such behavior so the health of our public discourse in America can be restored.

I find the polarization in America's political discourse to be most unfortunate and dangerous to the long-term well-being of our country. Today's public discourse often labels nearly all people of faith as "religious right fundamentalists" while failing to identify and critique the aggressive political agenda of secular left fundamentalists. This has created an under-reported and under-discussed imbalance in our discourse. Here is how Richard John Neuhaus has described that imbalance:

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...

On a personal level and as a practicing Roman Catholic, I do not agree with certain political and religious beliefs of Christian fundamentalists. I certainly do not agree with the most of the political and religious beliefs of the secular left fundamentalists. Nonetheless, like every American, I have an ethical obligation to reach out to all Americans and make my own small contribution to advancing a thoughtful discourse in the public square. Or, as William Voegeli has written:

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.

Therefore, as a reasoned alternative to Tucker's rant, here are my counter-arguments grouped loosely by subject matter:

The Founding Principles of America
Honoring The Land We Love
Our Declaration of Independence

America's Tainted Public Discourse & Competing Worldviews
Liberal Fundamentalism, Revisited
The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part I
The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part II
The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part III
The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part IV
The Meaning of Tolerance
Respectful Competition: A Basic Requirement for a Healthy Democracy
What Does "Social Justice" Mean?
Coerced Charity vs. Voluntary Charity
John Paul II, Requiescat in pacem
Pope Benedict XVI: Offering Faith as an Antidote to Relativism
Discussing Justice, Rights & Moral Common Sense
The Filibuster...Continued

Ideological Problems in Academia
Where is the Moral Outrage?
Where is the Moral Outrage?...Again and Again

Questions & Ethical Issues in the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Case
What If This Was Our Daughter or Sister or Wife? What If It Was "Only" A Stranger's Life?
What If This Was Our Daughter or Sister or Wife? What If It Was "Only" A Stranger's Life? Part II
Why the Rush to Kill Terri Schindler-Schiavo?
Let's Not Delude Ourselves About the Consequences of Killing Terri Schiavo
RIP, Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo

The Serious Problems Within American Public Education
The Deep Performance Problems With American Public Education
Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans
A Response to: Why Teachers’ Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children’s Educational Decisions?

Politics & Taxation Issues in Rhode Island
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part II: Our High Tax Burden
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part III: 2004, The Political Year in Review
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part IV: Soviet-Style Disinformation Antics by the Teachers' Union in East Greenwich
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XIV: The Teachers' Union Continuing Attempts to Legally Extort East Greenwich Residents
[Note: As of April 14, 2005, an ongoing series on Rhode Island Politics & Taxation had 15 separate postings. The entire series can be accessed from the beginning of the 15th posting.]

Public Policy Structural Challenges
Lawrence Reed on "Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy"
Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation

Summing It All Up
Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse

I challenge philosophical opponents like Tucker to put together a similar set of reasoned arguments for their worldview instead of merely engaging in nasty name-calling. Let's have a real and substantive debate about our competing worldviews.

I am willing to wager that the reason the secular left engages in such name-calling is because they see their ability to lead the political debate slipping away. This is due, in no small part, to their inability to offer an equally coherent explanation of their worldview. As William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote:

What has happened to the political idealism associated with the liberals? [Wilfred McClay] refers to Martin Peretz of The New Republic, whose views he summarizes. “Liberals, he argues, find themselves today where conservatives were a half-century ago, without ideas, without a vision of the good society, bookless, forced to feed on stale ideas from the 60s, and therefore, dying.”

There are many people across America who are committed to articulating their political beliefs in a reasoned manner that reaches out to all Americans - religious or not - in an effort to stay true to the Founding Principles of America and build a broad coalition for positive change. And we will proudly continue to do so without having to stoop to the vehement name-calling that only poisons the discourse of our beloved country.


As a further example of the venom toward Christians spewing from the Left, consider these editorials written here and here by Stanley Kurtz. Further discussion of such behavior continues at Discriminations. Additional perspectives are added by Jonah Goldberg and David Limbaugh. A Washington Times article discusses the "theocracy" threat:

...Understanding and answering the "religious far right" that propelled President Bush's re-election is key to preventing a "theocracy" from governing the nation, speakers argued at a weekend conference.

"The religious right now has an unprecedented influence on American politics and policy," said Ralph White, co-founder of the Open Center, a New York City institution focused on holistic learning. "It is incumbent upon all of us to understand as precisely as possible its aims, methods, beliefs, theology and psychology."...

"This may be the darkest time in our history," said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the left-leaning National Council of Churches and former six-term Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. "The religious right have been systematically working at this for 40 years. The question is, where is the religious left?"...

The United States is "not yet a theocracy," Joan Bokaer, founder of TheocracyWatch.org, said Friday night, but she argued that "the United States is beginning to fit the model of a reconstructed America."

Tax cuts combined with increased funding for faith-based social programs and decreases in welfare spending, Ms. Bokaer said, were examples of "the theological right ... zealously setting up to establish their beliefs in all aspects of our society."...

I am glad to finally have someone begin to define a theocracy. Let's see, tax cuts have been shown empirically in the 1920's, 1960's, 1980's and 2000's to spur economic growth that lifts all boats. Don't tell Eastern European countries or certain Asian countries who are cutting their taxes that it is the first step toward a theocracy. Engaging faith-based programs to help out by doing social programs like they did successfully - and almost exclusively without government - for most of the first 150 or more years of this nation's history is certainly a scary thought, too. Finally, welfare reform in 1996 is one of the few unqualified public policy successes in recent decades and that must mean it needs to be killed. Joan Bokaer's biography touts how she was active in the nuclear (unilateral) disarmanent movement in the 1980's, a not-very-mainstream movement that history has shown was infiltrated by Soviet agents and accomplished nothing - especially compared to what President Reagan accomplished via "peace with strength." Bottom line: All of this silly talk is nothing more than the secular left fundamentalists indirectly defining a statist ideology through the labeling of their opponents.

But, after you read all my earlier postings, ask yourself if a theocracy is really the risk here given the unabated and ongoing success of the left in realizing their agenda. Rather, I would assert that the secular left fundamentalists are just angry that their forty-year forced march to strip naked the public square and promote a state-based religion of secular relativism has finally met resistance from reasonable people all across America who cherish the Founding Principles and religious traditions of our beloved country.

But you have to hand it to the secular left fundamentalists - they are really good at getting attention focused on everything but their own aggressive agenda and its threats to our liberty.


Justin Katz has written one of the most elegantly argued postings I have read on this subject. Here is an excerpt:

Andrew Sullivan is prominent among commentators throwing about the dark image of theocracy, but again, he seems to be playing games with terminology. Theocracy does not describe a particular set of policies — or even the moral authority that informs them. It describes the civil authority that determines them: those acting as God's explicit representatives. With democracy, on the other hand, all authority must filter through the people.

That Sullivan has now gone so far as to suggest that the Constitution establishes a "civil version" of — and replacement for — religion reveals how much closer those of his political persuasion are to theocracy than are the "conservatives of faith" whom they oppose. That zealots for individual license traverse a dim alleyway to tyranny is evident in their conviction that their preferred policies — from abortion to same-sex marriage — are subjects of Constitutional guarantee.

Even those supposed "theocrats" who would go so far as to argue for mandatory prayers in their local public schools don't argue that the judiciary ought to find that the Constitution requires them.

Abortion: The Great Crime Reducer

Marc Comtois

Writing for the American Conservative, Steve Sailer has brought to light a whispered belief by some that abortion reduces the crime rate. It is explained by University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt in his new book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and has, according to Sailer, been deemed intellectually sound by the likes of George Will and Robert Samuelson. The reason it is only whispered, as Sailer puts it, is because "Levitt’s hypothesis embarrasses pro-choicers, who don’t want public discussion of how quite a few people, from crusading eugenicist and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger onward, have backed fertility control as a way to limit 'undesirables.' Since blacks undergo about three times as many abortions as whites per capita, white liberals realize that endorsing Levitt’s reasoning could be politically disastrous." I urge you to read the piece as Sailer explains the fallacy behind the theory and other social costs of abortion.

President for '08: Getting an Early Line

Marc Comtois

Patrick Ruffini is asking Republicans to make an honest assessment of some potential Republican primary two-man races to determine the "conventional wisdom." It seems prompted by recent reports that Rudy Giuliani, who would presumably fare well in the general election, has been losing ground among the generally more conservative Republican primary voters. As such, he has pitted Rudy against three other candidates: the more conservative George Allen and Bill Frist and the "maverick" John McCain (current results are here). After voting, read some of the comments, where a consensus seems to be that Ruffini has selected some pretty weak candidates to oppose Giuliani. I would have to concur.

Providence College Students React to Pope Benedict XVI

Marc Comtois

While I (and others) have written of the bias on campus and the liberal tendencies therein, it also behooves us to point out examples where it is obvious that open debate is encouraged. Such an example is Providence College. (Full disclosure: I'm currently attending grad school at PC). One can correctly assume that a college founded by a Catholic order (the Dominicans) would probably be more conservative than other schools, but that is not always necessarily true. In my experience, the student body and professors at PC are generally good about allowing open debate and don't stray into non-related polemics during lectures. (And I have my antennae up). With all of that being said, here are some PC student reaction to the election of the new Pope. I think you'll find a diversity of opnion, which is exactly what should be ocurring on a college campus.

(taken from The Cowl)

Students had differing opinions about the new pope's philosophy, which is conservative. "I was hoping for a little more liberal [pope]," said Colin Boyle '07. Erik Andersen '06 agreed. "I would absolutely love a radical pope," he said. However, he admitted that he admires Benedict in some respects. "He seems dedicated to intellectual honesty," Anderson said.

"He's a profound theologian and thinker," said Elise Italiano '06.

Many students speculated about how Ratzinger's papacy will compare to that of John Paul II's. "I feel he'll carry on the mission of John Paul II," said Italiano. Katie Collins '07 agreed, saying, "I think [the decision] was definitely guided by the Holy Spirit and I don't think he'll deviate that much [from John Paul II's papacy]."

. . . Adebola Adeleke '08, also said he predicts that Benedict's papacy will be similar to that of John Paul II. He said he will probably have a conservative "stance on birth control and the use of condoms; he probably won't support that." Adeleke said he is personally happy about his strong stance on some issues. "I agree with that; it's Church doctrine," he said.

"I think John Paul II was a little more liberal in his ideology," said Danielle Pukala '07. "I know John Paul made great strides in making amends with the Jewish community." She said she hopes the new pope will continue a policy of openness.

Other students echoed this sentiment. "I think JP2 was pretty open about a lot of things," said Emily Cohen '07, adding that she hopes the new pope will be "tolerant and open-minded."

Students hope that the new pope will address some of the controversial issues that surround the Church. "I think that the issue of gay marriage needs to be addressed," said Romano, hoping that the two sides of this issue could "try to find a happy medium."

Pat Molloy '07 said that he hopes the new pope will focus more on the United States. "I wish he'd take a little more interest in the American Church," he said, adding that "if Benedict worked with America, he could accomplish a lot of things."

Erin Sladen '07 said she hopes there will be more discussion concerning "priests being able to get married." Gainor said she wants the Church to reexamine its position on life issues.

"They don't necessarily look at the quality of life, they just look at keeping people alive," she said, citing both the Terry Schiavo case and the issue of birth control in areas where AIDS is rampant.

Other students have questions they want answered. Michael Gallagher '08 said he wonders about Benedict's time in the German army. "It's kind of odd," he said, though he admitted that "he probably didn't have much of a choice."

. . . Molloy had a different take on the issue. "People are trying to bash him saying he's in the Hitler youth, but I'm not sure how much water that holds," he said. "Besides, that was in World War II when everyone had to be in it."

Joe Donegan '05 said he is trying to see both sides of the coin with respect to the new pope's policies. "The human in me fears that his ultra-conservative tendencies will bring the Church a step backward, but I recognize that the Holy Spirit sometimes does the greatest things with the most unlikely characters," he said.

Donegan gave the example of Pope John XXIII, who was elected as an interim pope but ended up convening the Second Vatican Council, as someone who went beyond what people expected of him. Donegan also cited Oscar Romero, an Archbishop of El Salvador. Romero was expected to be a puppet, but "the Holy Spirit gave him the grace to be an outspoken advocate of the poor against the political powers of the time."

Will the selection of a new pope have an influence on student life? For some, it is simply an issue of comfort. "I'm glad to know there's a new pope," said Ken Hanchett '08. "It's settling."

April 26, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI: "A Man With Great Humility & Gentlemanliness"

The true quality of a man or woman living a visibly public life is often best judged by personal stories about private behaviors occurring outside the glare of the public spotlight. Suzanne Fields tells such a story about her Jewish son-in-law's interactions with Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI:

When my Jewish son-in-law was a teenager, he was tutored for 15 days by Joseph Ratzinger, the new Pope. He was at a religious retreat in Munster, Germany, sent there by his teachers who were Jesuit priests. The young boy's father was dead and he was being raised by his mother, who descended from a family of Sephardic Jews who had converted to Catholicism like so many other Jews who left Spain during the Inquisition and eventually set down roots in the New World. The Jesuits wanted the young boy to be Catholic with a complete understanding of the meaning of the religion. That required that he learn how to think.

At the retreat, the boy was sworn to a fortnight of silence except for talking with his tutor. He remembers Joseph Ratzinger vividly, the most brilliant mind he had ever encountered before and since that time. Joseph Ratzinger had been through World War II, had been in the Hitler Youth and knew firsthand the irrational evils of fascism. Marxism was alive and well in the Soviet Union and behind the Iron Curtain and Joseph Ratzinger understood the dangers that emanated from the ruthless materialism of Communism in the Cold War.

But he didn't talk to the boy about such things. Instead he had him read Aristotle and Plato, the novels of Thomas Mann, the philosophy of Heidegger, and the most critical think piece of all, "The Grand Inquisitor," that powerful legend embedded in a single chapter of "The Brothers Karamazov" by Dostoevski. For those who have never read the Russian novel or have forgotten most of what they once read, "The Grand Inquisitor" is about earthly power and spiritual power, about religious purity embodied in Christ and earthly corruption wherever it can be found, even when it's found in the church.

Dostoevski does not tell you what to think about his legend, but he requires that you think about it. The novelist was a deeply religious man and he always thought many readers missed that point about him. To this day, my son-in-law does not know Joseph Ratzinger's full interpretation of the legend, but he does know that the questions and answers he had with his tutor made him respond with great intellectual power, making him aware of how shallow his own reasoning could sometimes be about such things.

Belief was based on reason as well as faith. Fascism and Communism were "un-reasonable" and deprived men and women of freedom. Catholicism, by contrast, offered freedom from within the Judeo-Christian tradition that has been tested for thousands of years. It offers tolerance for supporting the use of reason as it is bequeathed through historical faith. It offers tolerance for the march of human progress to make the world a better place for those enslaved by dictators and who are less fortunate in their daily lives.

My son-in-law believes that the same man who tutored him is inside Benedict XVI. Having followed his ascendancy in the papal hierarchy, he sees a consistency that often passes for public misinterpretation and personal attacks such as the notorious pun calling him "God's rottweiler." He recalls the qualities in the new pope that his supporters celebrate today, a man willing to argue with different points of view, a man with great humility and gentlemanliness: A good egg, Benedict.

It seems that it takes more than a little chutzpah on the part of this Jewish columnist to interpret the ideas of the pope, but he is not without significance for all of us, because of the influence he will have on cultural attitudes. The pope's consistency grows out of his anathema to relativism when it is enshrined as truth as it is in much of our secular society today.

You don't have to be Catholic to stand with this pope against cultural theories of deconstruction rampant in our postmodern universities where language has become Orwellian, where the only absolute is that there are no absolutes, where right and wrong are considered anachronisms held by piously naïve religious men and women and where open-mindedness is so open that "educated" brains have fallen out.

My son-in-law, who is a scientist, did not convert to Catholicism. But he cherishes the Jesuitical training he had at his Catholic school that encouraged him to go to that retreat with Joseph Ratzinger, where he learned how to argue over issues concerning religion, power and personal aspiration; where he learned to examine with reason the evidence in front of him and to honor the intellectual force of an argument grounded in universal truths; and to ask questions within a disciplined framework of reason guided by a firm faith in mankind. Great teachers transcend ideology.

Separating the Establishment of a State Religion from the "Separation of Church and State"

Marc Comtois

When studying history, in particular an event, person or idea, it is necessary to keep in mind the context in which history occurred. The idea of a separation of church and state is one such topic that often gets divorced from the context in which the ideal was originally formulated and proclaimed by our Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson.

In an essay on the 17th and 18th century religious "fad" known as deism (worth reading on its own), Avery Cardinal Dulles traces the history and tenets of deism and how it was embraced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment and many of the Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson.

None of the Founding Fathers meditated more assiduously on religion than Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). He was brought up in the rituals and traditions of the Anglican Church, as it existed in Virginia at the time. In his college years at William and Mary he came to admire Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke as three great paragons of wisdom. Under the influence of several professors he converted to the deist philosophy. He made a careful study of the philosophical writings of Viscount Henry Bolingbroke, a strict deist whose God was remote and unconcerned with human affairs.

In his public pronouncements as a statesman and legislator, Jefferson expressed what he considered to belong to the common and public core of religion. He kept his more personal opinions to himself, refraining from putting them in any writing that might find its way into print, but he occasionally penned confidential memoranda for himself and a few friends.

Jefferson’s public religion appears in the Declaration of Independence, which refers to “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” to “inalienable” rights conferred upon all human beings by their Creator, and to “the protection of divine Providence.” In his first inaugural address, in 1801, Jefferson spoke of how the American people were “enlightened by a benign religion, professed indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and love of man, acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence.” In his second inaugural, four years later, he emphasized the nation’s need for the favor and enlightenment of Providence and asked his hearers to unite with him in supplication to “that Being in whose hands we are.”

One of Jefferson’s firmest principles, as we know, was that of religious freedom. In 1777, as a legislator, he composed what later became the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, which embodies his personal conviction that the government should exercise no coercion in religious matters. In his famous letter of 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association he referred to the “wall of separation between Church and State”—a term that had previously been used by the Baptist Roger Williams. But as we have seen, he did not hesitate to bring religion into his public pronouncements. As President he frequently attended religious services in Congress. While opposing a federal religious establishment, “he personally encouraged and symbolically supported religion by attending public church services in the Capitol,” as Daniel Driesbach has written.

Like his contemporaries Franklin, Washington, Adams, Hamilton, and Madison, Jefferson was convinced that the republic could not stand without a high level of public morality, and that moral behavior could not survive in the absence of divine authority as its sanction. Obedience to the teachings of Jesus and reflection on the purity of Jesus’ life could enable people to overcome their selfishness and parochialism.

However, as Dulles also explains, Jefferson eventually became a "Christian deist" and was less willing to believe strictly in the power of reason.
Jefferson’s religion, however, was not purely philosophical. For a living religion, he knew, scope must be given to the inclinations of the heart. He was enraptured by the beauty of the Psalms, which in his opinion surpassed all the hymnists of every language and of every time, including the hymn of Cleanthes to Jupiter so much admired by his friend John Adams. When he attended church services as an old man, the sounds of familiar hymns would bring tears to his eyes.

In his plan of studies for the University of Virginia Jefferson wanted natural religion to be taught to the exclusion of all doctrine attributed to revelation. But he knew that religion could not be purely academic and therefore recognized the importance of worship in the churches. He took pride in the fact that students at his university had opportunities to worship in Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist services in the sanctuary at Charlottesville. Interdenominational competition, he believed, was the best protection against fanaticism. In matters of religion the aphorism “united we stand, divided we fall” had to be reversed. Divided we stand, he said, but united we fall.

In summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death, but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God.

By the early 19th century, deism started to fail. According to Dulles, deism
drew its vitality from the oppressive policies of the religious establishments against which it was reacting. In the minds of the Enlightenment thinkers, confessional religion, unless checked by law or by free competition, led inevitably to tyranny and persecution. But this assumption was based on a time-conditioned union or alliance between throne and altar, not on the gospel of Christ, which gave Caesar no authority over the things of God.

Jefferson himself came gradually to this realization. As a young adult he seems to have held that Christian faith was favorable to despotism and hostile to free society. But his friend Benjamin Rush convinced him that Christianity and republicanism were, so to speak, made for each other. As Eugene Sheridan has written, Rush regarded Christianity as “part of a divine plan to bring about the kingdom of God on earth by freeing mankind from the burden of royal and ecclesiastical oppression through the spread of the principles of human equality and Christian charity.” With Rush’s help Jefferson found a way of accepting Christianity without diminishing his commitment to the freedom of conscience. Deism, therefore, was not necessary to offset religious oppression.

However, to my mind, Dulles also hits on something that lay beneath deist presumptions that even those who believed in it didn't recognize.
Although deism portrayed itself as a pure product of unaided reason, it was not what it claimed to be. Its basic tenets concerning God, the virtuous life, and rewards beyond the grave were in fact derived from Christianity, the faith in which the deists themselves had been reared. It is doubtful whether anyone who had not been brought up in a biblical religion could embrace the tenets of deism. The children of deists rarely persevered in the faith of their parents.
To me, there is a parallel between the deists and today's secularists who believe that they can use reason to teach virtue without all of the "baggage" of religion. They seem to ignore, or not fully appreciate, that their own "good sense" is a product of a society steeped in, as Dulles explains, American civil religion.
Our American republic has therefore had what, following Jean-Jacques Rousseau, we may call a civil religion. Rousseau enumerates the positive dogmas of such a religion as follows: “the existence of a mighty, intelligent, beneficent divinity, possessed of foresight and providence, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, and [Rousseau added] the sanctity of the social contract.” The civil religion of this country has been expressed in our national institutions and in the great pronouncements of our national heroes, most notably Abraham Lincoln.

The dominance of civil religion produced a favorable climate in which the various forms of biblical religion could and did thrive. Although the United States was never, in the technical sense, a Christian nation, it has been and remains a nation in which the biblical faiths are at home and in which other religions are welcome, provided that their tenets and practices are not a threat to public order. Deism by itself was too dry and abstract to elicit warm adherence, but the American consensus always surrounded the positive teachings of deism with the flesh and bones of specific faiths, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. The American civil religion can still be heard in the pronouncements of recent Presidents, but it is now being eroded or at least threatened by the increasingly pluralist shape of American society and by a judiciary that is reluctant to support or encourage any form of religion, however generic.

Today, therefore, we are faced with new questions. Can the biblical religions maintain themselves and win new adherents or must they resign themselves to becoming a minority? Should the American consensus be modified to make room for a broader pluralism? Can Islam, the Eastern religions, New Age religion, and even agnosticism and atheism, find equal acceptance in American society?

Jefferson would probably have insisted on the positive articles of deism as a required minimum. For him and the other Founding Fathers, the good of society requires a people who believe in one almighty God, in providence, in a divinely given moral code, in a future life, and in divinely administered rewards and punishments. He and they expected that the example and teachings of Jesus, as known from the Gospels, would be accepted in principle by the great majority of citizens. Although Jefferson wanted the state to refrain from meddling in the particulars of religion, he counted on families, churches, and educational institutions to perpetuate and disseminate in more vivid and concrete forms the basic truths also taught in his moderate form of deism.

If he were alive today, Jefferson would doubtless ask himself whether the welfare of the republic can stand in the absence of the minimal consensus I have described. If pluralism goes unchecked, will the nation still have a corporate vision sufficient to sustain the sense of mission and collective purpose that have characterized it at its best? Will factionalism, corruption, violence, and aimlessness proliferate? Each of us must strive to answer these questions as best we can with the help of the Sage of Monticello.

April 25, 2005

The Filibuster...Continued

Marc has a posting on a most important subject: The ongoing Senate filibuster by Democrats over President Bush's judicial nominations.

Here are additional information sources that elaborate further on the multitude of issues behind this unprecedented action.

Wendy Long comments on Filibuster Myth-Busters:

Myth No. 1:Filibuster of judges is a sacred tradition.

Fact:...The current obstruction of judges is no "traditional" filibuster: it is the first time in more than 200 years that either party has filibustered to keep judges with majority support off the federal bench.

Myth No. 2: Mr. Bush's nominees are being treated no differently than other presidents' nominees.

Fact: In the last Congress, 10 of the president's 34 appellate nominees were filibustered — the lowest confirmation rate since FDR. Democrats mask their sabotage of these nominees by citing the confirmation rate of judges to federal courts overall — an irrelevant statistic, because the federal courts of appeal make final rulings on most issues of constitutional law....

Myth No. 3: The Senate has a "co-equal" role with the president in judicial nominations.

Fact: The Constitution expressly gives the president — and only the president — the power to nominate federal judges. All the Senate can do is say "yes" or "no" to the president's choices...It does not give Senators — and a minority of Senators at that — the power to insist on judges who suit their own ideology.

Myth No. 4: The current filibuster is about "free speech."

Fact: Historically, the filibuster has given senators in the minority a chance to speak on the Senate floor before the majority rushes to pass a bill. But the current filibuster is not about the right to speak out. It is about blocking judges. These nominees have been pending for months — some for years. There has been, and remains, ample time to speak about them...

Myth No. 5: The filibuster protects "the right of the minority" to veto nominees.

Fact: The Constitution requires two-thirds vote for certain things. Appointing judges is not one of them. So the basic principle of democracy applies: The majority decides. The filibuster of judicial nominees turns majority rule on its head, because 41of 100 senators can keep a judge off the bench without ever even voting.

A liberal minority needs federal judges to advance their agenda...because they can't win these issues at the ballot box. Mr. Bush promised to nominate judges who will apply the law as written and stay out of politics...

The American people want senators to do the job our tax dollars pay them to do...

Law Professor Bainbridge cites a very informative study by the Economist here that further challenges a long-standing liberal argument and leads him to point out that:

Democrat obstructionism has meant that GWB's circuit court judges have been confirmed at a lower rate than those of any other modern President. Does this justify invoking the nuclear option? I still worry that abolishing the filibuster will come back to haunt us...

Read the posting to see both the data from the Economist and their additional reporting.

Professor Bainbridge goes on to comment in another posting entitled The Imperial Judiciary about the real policy issue at stake here:

As anyone who's been paying attention knows, the courts have morphed into super-legislatures imposing their own policy preferences on a host of cultural hot button issues that are properly within the legislative sphere...

The question for conservatives ought not to be whether we fight back. By indulging themselves in deciding political issues, judges - and especially the justices of the Supreme Court - have become legitimate fodder for the political process, as I've observed before. The question thus is how we fight back, since the fight has been thrust upon us.

Unfortunately, very few conservatives are handling this problem with anything remotely resembling nuance or skill...

Bainbridge then observes how recent comments by Tom DeLay and Ted Olson don't cut it. The latter two gentlemen are not helping the conservative cause with their latest public statements.

Power Line's John Hinderaker offers a commentary on the liberal beliefs and policy objectives that motivate judicial activism, concluding with these comments:

The left makes no secret of its intentions where the Constitution is concerned. It wants to change it, in ways that have nothing to do with what the document actually says. It wants the Constitution to enshrine its own policy preferences--thus freeing it from the tiresome necessity of winning elections. And how will the Constitution be changed? Through a constitutional convention, or a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures? Of course not. The whole problem, from the liberal perspective, is that they can't get democratically elected bodies to enact their agenda. As one of the Yale conference participants said: "We don't have much choice other than to believe deeply in the courts--where else do we turn?" The new, improved Constitution will come about through judicial re-interpretation. It only awaits, perhaps, the election of the next Democratic president.

If the idea of a constitutional right to government-funded child care, "adequate" recreation, and $80,000 in cash seems outlandish, remember that these concepts are no more eccentric than the idea of a right to abortion was, prior to Roe v. Wade. As a law school exercise in 1972, my class was charged with trying to formulate an argument for a constitutional right to abortion. We were stumped. None of us could think of one. A few months later, the "right" to abortion was born.

So Republicans are right to put top priority on the president's ability to get a vote on his judicial nominations. Liberal interest groups have flatly declared their intention to filibuster any nominee to the Supreme Court whom they regard as conservative. The stakes couldn't be higher.

The liberal objectives are discussed in a JunkYardBlog commentary:

...The point Professor Reynolds accidentally makes is this: The judiciary's power is now subject to the whims of whoever happens to wield the gavel. His whims lead him one way, but the current justices’ whims lead them another. Without the all but ignored Constitution as an exclusive framework, there is now no fixed principle to decide what is and is not valid and relevant law. Far be it from me to lecture a law professor, but isn’t that what the Constitution is for?...

The GOP has failed so far to make the truth of the matter stick, which is that the Senate Democrats are essentially applying a religious test to nominees to the bench. That test is centered on the abortion issue, and the Democrats are concentrating their filibuster fire on 10 nominees known to be, among other things, pro-life, and being pro-life just happens to comport with orthodox Catholic and Protestant teachings, and is also an offense to those unelected radical leftists who control the Senate Democrats like puppets on a string. Ergo, the religious test, which is something the Constitution expressly forbids…

If you want to better understand the culture war drivers underlying judicial politics, read the second "More" section in the JunkYardBlog posting and follow the links.

When Cathy Young attempts to say that any Democratic party hostility to religious judicial nominees does not amount to religious bigotry, Professor Bainbridge puts forth a powerful counter-argument which is commented on by Democracy Project.

In contrast, a previous Anchor Rising posting offers a conservative view of the philosophical issues at stake here and another Anchor Rising posting notes "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."

Here are some additional pieces on this debate from the Left (Colbert King, Rev. Gaddy of The Interfaith Alliance) and the Right (Professor Knippenberg, Professor Knippenberg, Power Line, Democracy Project, Reform Club, Hunter Baker of the Reform Club).

This has led to the latest news: David Broder editorial, Family Research Council on Justice Sunday, Bill Frist comments at Justice Sunday, GOP Stressing Constitution, Frist & Reid at Work on Deal.

I agree with Marc that the Democrats have framed, owned and led the debate on the filibuster issue. The Republicans have done a miserable job making the legitimacy of their case to the public with Frist and the Senate Republican leadership looking wimpy, political, and unprepared for prime time.

Another Anchor Rising posting provides some perspective on the secular/religious divide:

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.

The significance of all this for the future of our country is brought home by a quote from Dr. Roger Pilon of The Cato Institute shared in an earlier Anchor Rising posting:

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.

Neither the filibuster nor the so-called "nuclear option" are in the best interests of ordered liberty. But no one should lose sight of the fact that the "nuclear option" would not be under consideration by Republicans if there had not been an unprecedented obstruction by Democrats that blocks voting on judges who would win appointment with a majority of votes on the Senate floor.

The filibuster conflict is really about two major issues:

First, will the citizens of this land speak up and insist that the Senate return to historical practices that have sustained and reinforced ordered liberty?

Or, will we continue to destroy the Constitutional fabric of our country by having to resort to increasingly more extreme options? If so, will the citizens punish electorally the Senators who refuse to honor precedent and the tradition of liberty in America?

Second, can our country rediscover true tolerance toward people of faith in a way similar to what George Weigel wrote?

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.

Or, will we continue to slide down the slippery "Will to Power" slope whose consequences George Weigel and Richard John Neuhaus share with us?

...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...

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...

Will we leave a proud legacy for our children or not? The choice is ours.


Further perspectives on the filibuster are offered by: Steven G. Calabresi, William Kristol, Duncan Currie, Hugh Hewitt, Power Line, Power Line, RealClearPolitics via LibertyFiles, Wall Street Journal (which notes "Once upon a time in America, such policy disputes were settled in elections or with votes in Congress. But in today's permanent political combat, Senators wage guerrilla warfare against the executive."), Linda Chavez, David Brooks, Patrick Buchanan, Joseph Farah, Nat Henoff, Charles Krauthammer, David Limbaugh, David Limbaugh, Pete duPont, Shannen W. Coffin, John Leo, and Peter Kirsanow.


Additional opinions are offered here by Byron York, Ramesh Ponnuru & Robert George, Power Line, Power Line, Power Line, Peter Lawler, Greg Abbott, Rich Lowry. Andrew McCarthy, Charles Krauthammer.

Follow Me: John Paul II Roused Us From a Lethargic Faith

Donald B. Hawthorne

Previous postings have paid tribute to the memory of Pope John Paul II and the promise of new Pope Benedict XVI.

On April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave the following important homily at Pope John Paul II's funeral mass in St. Peter's Square:

"Follow me." The Risen Lord says these words to Peter. They are his last words to this disciple, chosen to shepherd his flock. "Follow me" -- this lapidary saying of Christ can be taken as the key to understanding the message which comes to us from the life of our late beloved Pope John Paul II. Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality -- our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude.
These are the sentiments that inspire us, brothers and sisters in Christ, present here in St. Peter's Square, in neighboring streets and in various other locations within the city of Rome, where an immense crowd, silently praying, has gathered over the last few days. I greet all of you from my heart. In the name of the College of Cardinals, I also wish to express my respects to heads of state, heads of government and the delegations from various countries.

I greet the authorities and official representatives of other Churches and Christian Communities, and likewise those of different religions. Next I greet the archbishops, bishops, priests, religious men and women and the faithful who have come here from every continent; especially the young, whom John Paul II liked to call the future and the hope of the Church. My greeting is extended, moreover, to all those throughout the world who are united with us through radio and television in this solemn celebration of our beloved Holy Father's funeral.

Follow me -- as a young student Karol Wojtyla was thrilled by literature, the theater and poetry. Working in a chemical plant, surrounded and threatened by the Nazi terror, he heard the voice of the Lord: Follow me! In this extraordinary setting he began to read books of philosophy and theology, and then entered the clandestine seminary established by Cardinal Sapieha. After the war he was able to complete his studies in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University of Krakow.

How often, in his letters to priests and in his autobiographical books, has he spoken to us about his priesthood, to which he was ordained on November 1, 1946. In these texts he interprets his priesthood with particular reference to three sayings of the Lord.

First: "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain" (John 15:16). The second saying is: "A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). And then: "As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love" (John 15:9). In these three sayings we see the heart and soul of our Holy Father. He really went everywhere, untiringly, in order to bear fruit, fruit that lasts.

"Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way!" is the title of his next-to-last book. "Rise, let us be on our way!" -- with these words he roused us from a lethargic faith, from the sleep of the disciples of both yesterday and today. "Rise, let us be on our way!" he continues to say to us even today. The Holy Father was a priest to the last, for he offered his life to God for his flock and for the entire human family, in a daily self-oblation for the service of the Church, especially amid the sufferings of his final months. And in this way he became one with Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep.

Finally, "abide in my love": The Pope who tried to meet everyone, who had an ability to forgive and to open his heart to all, tells us once again today, with these words of the Lord, that by abiding in the love of Christ we learn, at the school of Christ, the art of true love.

Follow me! In July 1958, the young priest Karol Wojtyla began a new stage in his journey with the Lord and in the footsteps of the Lord. Karol had gone to the Masuri lakes for his usual vacation, along with a group of young people who loved canoeing. But he brought with him a letter inviting him to call on the primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski. He could guess the purpose of the meeting: He was to be appointed as the auxiliary bishop of Krakow.

Leaving the academic world, leaving this challenging engagement with young people, leaving the great intellectual endeavor of striving to understand and interpret the mystery of that creature which is man and of communicating to today's world the Christian interpretation of our being -- all this must have seemed to him like losing his very self, losing what had become the very human identity of this young priest. Follow me -- Karol Wojtyla accepted the appointment, for he heard in the Church's call the voice of Christ. And then he realized how true are the Lord's words: "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it" (Luke 17:33).

Our Pope -- and we all know this -- never wanted to make his own life secure, to keep it for himself; he wanted to give of himself unreservedly, to the very last moment, for Christ and thus also for us. And thus he came to experience how everything which he had given over into the Lord's hands, came back to him in a new way. His love of words, of poetry, of literature, became an essential part of his pastoral mission and gave new vitality, new urgency, new attractiveness to the preaching of the Gospel, even when it is a sign of contradiction.

Follow me! In October 1978, Cardinal Wojtyla once again heard the voice of the Lord. Once more there took place that dialogue with Peter reported in the Gospel of this Mass: "Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep!" To the Lord's question, "Karol, do you love me?" the archbishop of Krakow answered from the depths of his heart: "Lord you know everything; you know that I love you." The love of Christ was the dominant force in the life of our beloved Holy Father. Anyone who ever saw him pray, who ever heard him preach, knows that. Thanks to his being profoundly rooted in Christ, he was able to bear a burden which transcends merely human abilities: that of being the shepherd of Christ's flock, his universal Church.

This is not the time to speak of the specific content of this rich pontificate. I would like only to read two passages of today's liturgy which reflect central elements of his message. In the first reading, St. Peter says -- and with St. Peter, the Pope himself -- "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word (that) he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all" (Acts 10:34-36). And in the second reading, St. Paul -- and with St. Paul, our late Pope -- exhorts us, crying out: "Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved" (Philippians 4:1).

Follow me! Together with the command to feed his flock, Christ proclaimed to Peter that he would die a martyr's death. With those words, which conclude and sum up the dialogue on love and on the mandate of the universal shepherd, the Lord recalls another dialogue, which took place during the Last Supper. There Jesus had said: "Where I am going, you cannot come." Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied: "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me afterward" (John 13:33,36). Jesus from the Supper went toward the Cross, went toward his resurrection -- he entered into the paschal mystery; and Peter could not yet follow him. Now -- after the resurrection -- comes the time, comes this "afterward."

By shepherding the flock of Christ, Peter enters into the paschal mystery, he goes toward the cross and the resurrection. The Lord says this in these words: "when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go" (John 21:18).

In the first years of his pontificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very ends of the earth, guided by Christ. But afterward, he increasingly entered into the communion of Christ's sufferings; increasingly he understood the truth of the words: "someone else will dress you." And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, tirelessly and with renewed intensity, he proclaimed the Gospel, the mystery of that love which goes to the end (cf. John 13:1).

He interpreted for us the paschal mystery as a mystery of divine mercy. In his last book, he wrote: The limit imposed upon evil "is ultimately Divine Mercy" ("Memory and Identity," pp. 60- 61). And reflecting on the assassination attempt, he said: "In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love. ... It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good" (pp. 189-190). Impelled by this vision, the Pope suffered and loved in communion with Christ, and that is why the message of his suffering and his silence proved so eloquent and so fruitful.

Divine Mercy: the Holy Father found the purest reflection of God's mercy in the Mother of God. He, who at an early age had lost his own mother, loved his divine mother all the more. He heard the words of the crucified Lord as addressed personally to him: "Behold your Mother." And so he did as the beloved disciple did: "he took her into his own home" (John 19:27) -- "Totus tuus." And from the mother he learned to conform himself to Christ.

None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing "urbi et orbi." We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

You Can Run, But You Cannot Hide (Forever)

Today's news reports:

Jordanian rebel Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- Iraq's most wanted fugitive -- recently eluded capture by American troops, but left behind a treasure trove of information, a senior military official told ABC News.

On Feb. 20, the alleged terror mastermind was heading to a secret meeting in Ramadi, just west of Fallujah, where he used to base his operations, the official said.

Task Force 626 -- the covert American military unit charged with finding Zarqawi -- had troops in place to grab the fugitive, and mobile vehicle checkpoints had been established around the city's perimeter. Another U.S. official said predator drones were also in flight, tracking movements in and around the city...

What the task force did find in the vehicle confirmed suspicions that Zarqawi had just escaped. The official said Zarqawi's computer and 80,000 euros (about $104,000 U.S.) were discovered in the truck.

Finding the computer, said the official, "was a seminal event." It had "a very big hard drive," the official said, and recent pictures of Zarqawi. The official said Zarqawi's driver and a bodyguard were taken into custody...

The Filibuster

Marc Comtois

For a (mostly) fair recounting of the history and debate of the efficacy of using the filibuster to stop judicial nominees, I'd recommend reading NPR's story on the subject. The essential portion:

The filibuster has been primarily associated with legislative debates and controversies, although it has been used in regard to nominees as well. The implicit threat to filibuster, known as "placing a hold" on a particular bill or nominee, is a common tactic to slow or derail a given proposal or individual. By Senate tradition, the identity of the senator placing such a hold is not made public. The Senate Majority Leader may keep that identity secret indefinitely.

With respect to judicial nominations, the most effective tactic in opposition has been to bottle them up in committee. In the later years of the Clinton presidency, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was controlled by Republicans, did not hold hearings for as many as 60 of his nominees, according to Democrats. They argue that this refusal to even consider President Clinton's nominees was just as effective in blocking them as a filibuster.

Several high-profile nominations have also been defeated in up-or-down votes on the Senate floor, the most recent being President Reagan's nomination of Robert H. Bork in 1987. But the use of the filibuster has not been unknown. Democrats point to the 1968 nomination of Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. . .

Q: Republicans say filibusters were never intended to block votes on judicial nominations, and they have threatened to rule such extended debate out of order if it happens again. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist calls this "the constitutional option." Democrats call it "the nuclear option." How would this option be exercised?

If Frist should decide to use this tactic, the scenario would probably look like this. A judicial nomination approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee would be brought to the floor for debate. The motion to proceed to consider that nomination would be debatable, and opponents would indicate their intention to debate it at length. This would be taken to mean a filibuster was underway (or soon would be). At some point in that debate, Frist would seek a ruling of the chair (meaning the Senate’s presiding officer) as to the number of votes needed to end the debate (invoke cloture).

The presiding officer, who at such an important moment might well be the constitutional presiding officer, Vice President Dick Cheney, would then rule. It is presumed that Mr. Cheney would rule that a simple majority would be sufficient, because the three-fifths majority requirement should not apply to nominations under the "advise and consent" clause of the Constitution.

Democrats, who dispute this reading of the "advise and consent" clause, would then object. A vote would be held on the ruling of the chair, and a simple majority would be sufficient to uphold that ruling. . .

Democrats call this the nuclear option because they regard it as akin to the use of a nuclear weapon. They have said they would respond "in kind" to such a move. That means they would exercise their rights as senators to delay or derail any business before the Senate that does not relate directly to national security or public safety.

The first thing I have to point out is the "But the use of the filibuster has not been unknown..." bit. It hasn't been unknown, but it has happened once. Yet the way it is written implies that it isn't quite that infrequent, doesn't it?

Sean Rushton at NRO has also written a revealing piece regarding the Democrats' sudden embrace of the filibuster.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D., Conn.) on Wednesday held a press conference to criticize Republican efforts to restore Senate tradition to the judicial confirmation process. But another proposal regarding Senate rules somehow escaped his ire, and has received scant attention despite the New York Times editorial board’s recently saying it would go “even further than the ‘nuclear option’ in eliminating the power of the filibuster.”

That proposal would amend Senate rules to end all filibusters, not just those against judicial nominees. The proposal’s sponsor said that “the filibuster rules are unconstitutional” and was quoted as saying “the filibuster is nothing short of legislative piracy.” He announced his intent to end all filibusters with an unambiguous statement: “We cannot allow the filibuster to bring Congress to a grinding halt. So today I start a drive to do away with a dinosaur — the filibuster rule.”

Despite its support by several senior senators, you haven’t heard about this proposal in the MoveOn.org ads blasting Senate Republicans. And you probably haven’t heard about it from Senate Democrats who now give their full-throated support to filibusters against President Bush’s nominees. Why? Because the proposal wasn’t offered by Republicans; it was introduced in 1995 by senior Democrats, including Sens. Lieberman and Tom Harkin (D., Iowa). When it came to a vote, 19 Democrats, including leading blue-state senators such as Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, supported the measure.

Rushton further explains that the Republicans in the Senate are instead trying to reassert Senate traditions (read: rules) regarding stopping judicial nominations via filibuster.
. . . for the first several Congresses (from 1789 to 1806), a majority of senators always had the power to bring debate to a close (cloture) by a majority vote.

Rules guaranteeing up-or-down majority votes and abolishing the filibuster in various contexts are commonplace in modern Congresses as well. In fact, there are at least 26 laws on the books today abrogating the filibuster. For example:

You cannot filibuster a federal budget resolution (Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974).
You cannot filibuster a resolution authorizing the use of force (War Powers Resolution).
You cannot filibuster international trade agreements (Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002).
And as the minority leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.), well knows, you cannot filibuster legislation under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982.

. . . It is important to note that in 1975 the Senate voted three times in support of the power of a Senate majority under Article I of the Constitution to change the rules. Those precedents forced the Senate to act and led to a major change in the cloture rule.

So the restoration of Senate rules and traditions for judicial nominees enjoys both historical support and Senate precedent. But the constitutional power of a majority of Senators to strengthen, improve, and reform Senate rules and procedures is also expressly stated in the Constitution, and was unanimously endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Ballin.

You'll have to read his piece for further information. Thus far, it seems as if the Democrats have succeeded in framing the issue. It will be up to the Republicans to "lead" if they want to succeed.

Stick It

Marc Comtois

As a non-native Rhode Islander, I continue to learn of the little traditions of which I have never heard, here or anywhere else. Coffee milk, "cabinets", hot weiners, etc. Now I read in today's ProJo of the "tradition" of handing out "Rhode Island Official" stickers. At first, it just seems like yet another case of Rhode Island political patronage.

You don't need to be in state or local government to get one. You don't need to be a former official. You don't even need to have considered running for office.

Each state representative and senator is given 25 windshield decals that they can hand out at their "discretion" to friends, family and political supporters.

The practice has been going on for decades; longer than any current lawmaker has been serving.

The decals -- about the size of an inspection sticker -- include the state seal and say "Rhode Island Official" and the two years of the current legislative term.

The latest batch was handed out recently.

House Speaker William J. Murphy, D-West Warwick, and Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, sent a letter with them saying: "Dear Colleague: Enclosed please find your 2005-2006 Rhode Island Official Stickers. Since the supply is limited, please use your discretion when you distribute the stickers."

Freshman Rep. James F. Davey, R-Cranston, got his supply and said he was shocked.

"I don't think it's appropriate unless you're a Rhode Island official and in which case you don't need to get one from me," Davey said. "Use your discretion only because the supply is limited not because it might be inappropriate."

Davey called The Journal about the stickers and said he will return his allotment.

"Unbelievable. Unbelievable," was the response from H. Philip West Jr., executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, when he learned about them.

"I would doubt it's illegal, but it's certainly wrong," West said. "It clearly is meant to create a privilege for a group of favored individuals. I would say there's probably already too much of that in state government."

The state's other prominent government watchdog, Robert Arruda, chairman of Operation Clean Government, however, finds nothing wrong.

"Other than status, I can't think of what else it's going to gain the individuals that have it," Arruda said. "I'm more concerned about the jobs [legislators] hand out."

Others echo Arruda's claim.
Freshman Rep. John J. Loughlin II, R-Tiverton, first heard about the decals while going door-to-door campaigning last year when a man asked him for one, if he got elected.

"It's a Rhode Island thing. It's like low-numbered license plates. It's like Del's Lemonade," Loughlin said. "It's a visible symbol, that 'Hey, I know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody,' which is the Rhode Island way."

"I don't think the sticker necessarily purports them to be a state official," Loughlin added. "It's a nice little gesture; it's a nice little thing to have."

Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis, D-Coventry, likened the stickers to the medallions given out by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Others just chalked them up to tradition.

"They've been around since I've got here," said Bruce J. Long, R-Middletown, the longest current serving member of the House. "They go back to at least the mid-70s."

So why give the decal to someone who is not an official?

"Because it makes them feel special," said Long, who was first elected in 1980. "I think they're given out to impress people. In my early years, I did plenty of that."

And why would someone want one?

"It's one of the great mysteries of life and a quintessential Rhode Island political dynamic," said House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson, R-East Greenwich. "I still don't think anybody takes those things very seriously, certainly not the police in Rhode Island. Nor do I expect many people believe that [they] would."

Peter T. Brousseau, president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and West Warwick police chief, said the stickers are not some type of "get out of jail free pass" from parking or speeding tickets.

Like the legislators, Brousseau said: "I don't know what special privilege you get from those."

Well, if they aren't worth anything other than making people feel good, why do they need them? If they're not worth the money that is spent to print and send them, then STOP DOING IT! It's a waste of money.

April 23, 2005

Discussing Justice, Rights & Moral Common Sense

Our country deserves a rigorous public debate about some serious and highly important issues raised in several recent postings entitled Pope Benedict XVI: Offering Faith as an Antidote to Relativism and Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse. This posting offers some additional perspectives on these issues.

Andrew Busch adds his thoughts:

There has been a great deal of discussion over the past three weeks about the implications for the Catholic Church of the death of Pope John Paul II and the selection of a new Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI...

First, for all of their public obsession with "diversity," "multiculturalism," and "tolerance," the liberals who populate (and indeed dominate) the mainstream media have little use for tolerance or diversity when it comes to cultural values...

The message was clear: Diversity is fine, as long as it does not interfere with imposing a moral (or perhaps amoral) conformity on the human race by badgering into submission any remaining resistance to the nihilism that now passes for sophistication in elite circles...

Second, the whole episode exposed the great moral dilemma of modern liberalism, the reason it seems unable to produce heroic figures. Liberals love heroic men, but they dislike it intensely when those men confidently possess a strong moral compass. That is to say, they want most of all to have men of conviction who nevertheless have no convictions...

Diversity without disagreement, heroism without convictions. This is the jumble that remains of post-modernist liberalism in America, and for three weeks in April, it was on full public display.

Steven Hayward offers his thoughts on the 2004 election:

...The lashing out at the voters we have seen since Election Day represents the victory of the strain of liberalism that has long competed with populism for dominance on the left, namely, the Progressive impulse toward expert or elite governance that is at the core of the modern administrative state. More and more functions of government have been removed from the control of the elected, accountable branches of government, and not just by judges. The premise of every independent agency, starting with the Interstate Commerce Commission (now abolished) and the Food and Drug Administration, is that certain kinds of questions (drug approval, environmental protection, and so forth) are beyond the ability of the ordinary workings of democratic government to decide, and must be delegated to expert elites to decide for us, insulated from those grubby people known as our elected representatives. By degrees the government of men is replaced by the administration of things, in the famous phrase of Saint-Simon; in other words, politics is replaced by bureaucracy.

The trouble is that when one party absorbs the premises of this thought too deeply, it comes willy-nilly to view elections not as a means of conveying real political choices but merely a process for ratifying the goodness of liberalism on the march. The tacit message is: Vote for us, we’re smarter than you drooling morons. Why not? It worked that way for almost 50 years. When the voters don’t play along according to the Progressive script, it can only be because of their ignorance or Republican dirty tricks. Hence Garry Wills, Maureen Dowd, Jane Smiley, and the rest of the incredulous chorus...

Hayward then goes on to quote defeated Oklahoma Senate Democratic candidate, Brad Carson, from his article (available for a fee) in the New Republic:

The culture war is real, and it is a conflict not merely about some particular policy or legislative item, but about modernity itself. Banning gay marriage or abortion would not be sufficient to heal the cultural gulf that exists in this nation. The culture war is about matters more fundamental still: whether nationality is, in a globalized world, a random fact of no more significance than what hospital one was born in or whether it is the source of identity and even political legitimacy; whether one’s self is a matter of choice or whether it is predetermined, before birth, by the cultural membership of one’s family; whether an individual is just that—a free-floating atom—or whether the individual is part of a long chain that both predates and continues long after any particular person; whether concepts like honor and shame, which seem so quaint, are still relevant in a world that values only "tolerance." These are questions not for politicians but for philosophers, and, in the end, it is the failure of liberal philosophy that we saw on November 2.

For the vast majority of Oklahomans—and, I would suspect, voters in other red states—these transcendent cultural concerns are more important than universal health care or raising the minimum wage or preserving farm subsidies. Pace Thomas Frank, the voters aren’t deluded or uneducated. They simply reject the notion that material concerns are more real than spiritual or cultural ones. The political left has always had a hard time understanding this, preferring to believe that the masses are enthralled by a "false consciousness" or Fox News or whatever today’s excuse might be. But the truth is quite simple: Most voters in a state like Oklahoma—and I venture to say most other Southern and Midwestern states—reject the general direction of American culture and celebrate the political party that promises to reform or revise it.

Joseph Knippenberg offers additional comments here and here, including these excerpts:

...John DiIulio once referred to some of his former colleagues in the Bush White House as "Mayberry Machiavellis," a description many of the forum participants would certainly apply to Karl Rove. But I would not call the representatives of the religious Left I have recently heard and read "Machiavellian." They are not duplicitous. They do not consciously use language in such a way as to confuse or mislead. No. They are so utterly convinced to the rightness and righteousness of their cause that they cannot imagine how their criticisms of President Bush’s alleged religious abuses could ever apply to them. Bush alone uses religion to divide. Bush alone impugns the faith of his opponents. Bush alone is self-righteous and Manichean. But I wonder. Perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror...

...all the efforts to try to intimidate Bill Frist [regarding judicial nominees], accusing him of fanning the flames of religious bigotry or pandering to religious bigots by appearing on the FRC program, suggest a fear that his appearance, and the program itself, will actually be effective in mobilizing those values voters. Yes, the FRC and Focus on the Family are religious groups. But what they are asking for is an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees, not a religious test for office-holding. Whatever faith or reasons move them, the position they’re actually supporting is consistent with long-standing Senate practice (actually voting on nominees). Yes, there’s a slippery slope somewhere, and the judiciary may be the only remaining bastion of secular liberalism, but the alternative is not theocracy, but rather sober constitutional jurisprudence.

In discussing comments by left-wing commentators following the November 2004 elections, some of which are noted here, Frances Beckwith states:

These unrestrained admissions, these rare utterances of unvarnished candor, are a gift, for they reveal much about the cast of mind and quality of soul of those who issue such judgments. They show that these commentators are woefully ignorant of the literature published by social conservative intellectuals (most of whom are Christians) who have offered nontheological arguments for the array of positions that inspired the rank-and-file to vote in droves in 2004. Consider the three most divisive issues in the U.S. today: same-sex marriage, abortion, and stem cell research.

Concerning the latter two, social conservative thinkers have offered highly sophisticated, secular arguments for why the unborn from the moment of conception are full-fledged members of the human community and ought to be protected by our laws. Works by Robert P. George, J. P. Moreland, Scott B. Rae, Stephen Schwarz, and Patrick Lee come to mind. In fact, George, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics (PCB), authored, as part of the PCB's report, one of the finest defenses of the embryo's personhood, relying exclusively on philosophical arguments that are nontheological. I recently published articles in two peer-reviewed academic journals, Christian Bioethics and American Journal of Jurisprudence in which I make cases consistent with pro-life understandings of personhood and law and proffer reasons and arguments for my cases that do not appeal to Scripture or the deliverances of biblical theology. I offer what some may call "secular" arguments.

The literature on same-sex marriage is even more impressive given the relatively brief time socially conservative intellectuals have had to wrestle with this issue. The works of Lynn Wardle, David Organ Coolidge, Gerard V. Bradley, Robert P. George, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Richard W. Garnett, J. Budziszewski, William Duncan, Hadley Arkes, and Richard Duncan offer first-rate "secular" defenses of traditional marriage and, in many ways, are more sophisticated and compelling than the works of those who defend same-sex marriage.

The Assumptions. Why haven't Wills, Smiley, et al., dealt with these arguments, or at least informed their readers that such arguments exist and that offering such arguments is consistent with an understanding of the public square that is respectful of those with whom social conservatives disagree? Here's my theory: Wills, Smiley, et al., are not informed on these matters. They are relying on inherited stereotypes and widely held bigotry embraced by most of the people in whose circles they run. It's not that they know the truth and are suppressing it. They just don't know the truth because they don't believe it could in principle exist. They are committed to the proposition that if you don't hold to a liberal, materialist view of the state, then you are ignorant, evil, or incurably religious, or any two or all three. Given that commitment, they can't see the point of looking for something they believe can't be there. Social conservatives offer reasons and arguments, while their opponents, Wills, Smiley, et al., offer name-calling rationalized by entrenched prejudices propped up by false stereotypes, the very technique these "enlightened" citizens typically attribute to social conservatives.

Wills, Smiley, et al., need to get out a little more and exercise the understanding and tolerance they claim that social conservatives lack; for even a cursory reading of the relevant literature will quickly reveal to them that social conservatives are far more conversant with and respectful of the arguments of their opponents than vice versa. In what has to be one of the great ironies of our time, the friends of enlightenment turn out to be the enemies of reason. Their case amounts to a type of political gnosticism to which only a privileged few have access and the benighted many cannot comprehend. If Al Sharpton were writing their talking point, it would read: "It's an Enlightenment-secular-liberal thing, you wouldn't understand." If this isn't bigotry, nothing is.

And, the bigotry-laced comments haven't stopped since the election as Howard Dean - again - has shown:

Since taking over as chairman of the Democratic National Committee earlier this year, the former presidential candidate has been quoted in newspapers making unusually caustic remarks about Republicans.

Dean has suggested that they are "evil." That they are "corrupt." He called them "brain-dead" during a stop in Toronto - and while the Terri Schiavo case was still in the news. He has tagged Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) as a "liar." Last week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that he mimicked a "drug-snorting Rush Limbaugh" at an event there...

Dean's remarks have not attracted much attention in the national media, in part because he has focused largely on local and regional news outlets since taking the party's helm in February.

But his counterparts in the Republican National Committee have noticed. "It's odd that Howard Dean says he wants to earn the respect of those who live in the red states, but chooses to not only attack their views but attack them personally," RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said. "Americans want to hear an agenda, rather than name calling."

Michael Barone adds this perspective:

If you read the headlines, you run the risk of thinking we are headed toward a theocracy...

But whether the United States is on its way to becoming a theocracy is actually a silly question. No religion is going to impose laws on an unwilling Congress or the people of this country…

The real question is whether strong religious belief is on the rise in America and the world. Fifty years ago, secular liberals were confident that education, urbanization and science would lead people to renounce religion. That seems to have happened, if you confine your gaze to Europe, Canada and American university faculty clubs.

But this movement has not been as benign as expected: The secular faiths of fascism and communism destroyed millions of lives before they were extinguished.

America has not moved in the expected direction. In fact, just the opposite. Economist Robert Fogel's The Fourth Great Awakening argues that we've been in the midst of a religious revival since the 1950s, in which, as in previous revivals, "the evangelical churches represented the leading edge of an ideological and political response to accumulated technological and social changes that undermined the received culture."…

Those that accommodate to secular critics and make few demands decline in numbers. The Roman Catholic Church continues to grow in America; the Assemblies of God and the Mormon Church grow even faster. But mainline Protestant denominations, which spend much effort ordaining gay bishops or urging disinvestment in Israel, lose members.

Around the world, we see continuing secularism in Europe but healthy competition among faiths elsewhere. In Latin America, the competitors are Catholicism (even though shorn of liberation theology by John Paul II) and evangelical Protestantism. In Africa, competitors are Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. In East Asia, Christianity has grown in Korea and, underground, in China. In South Asia, the competition for 500 years has been between Hinduism and Islam.

Who inherits the future? In free societies, each generation makes its own religious choices, but people tend to follow the faith of their parents…

In the United States…birth rates are above replacement level largely because of immigrants. But…religious people have more children than seculars. Those who believe in "family values" are more likely to have families.

This doesn't mean we're headed to a theocracy: America is too diverse and freedom-loving for that. But it does mean that we're probably not headed to the predominantly secular society that liberals predicted half a century ago and that Europe has now embraced.

William Voegeli of the Claremont Institute, once again, offers all of us a thought-provoking editorial on the same issues:

...The more practical problem with the fact-value distinction is that no one, including those who espouse it, actually believes it. No one is really "value-neutral" with respect to his own values, or regards them as values, arbitrary preferences that one just happens to be saddled with. The late Allan Bloom pointed out that the social scientists who embraced the fact-value distinction after 1945 believed that "the war against the Right had been won domestically at the polls and in foreign affairs on the battlefield," so one could safely assume that all decent and sensible people were liberal Democrats. And since all decent and sensible people wanted the same decent and sensible things, the job of social scientists was to discover the means for attaining these goals, not to waste time debating value-judgments about which goals to pursue.

There's an old saying: the problem with socialism is socialism, and the problem with capitalism is capitalists. Meyerson, Linker and Scheiber remind us that the problem with relativism is relativism—and the problem with relativism is relativists. The problem with relativism is its insistence that all moral impulses are created equal—that there are no reasons to choose the standards of the wise and good over those of the deranged and cruel. A world organized according to that principle would be anarchic—uninhabitable. As Leo Strauss wrote, the attempt to "regard nihilism as a minor inconvenience" is untenable.

The problem with relativists is that they always dismiss other people's beliefs, but spare their own moral preferences from their doctrine's scoffing. Meyerson disparages orthodoxy, but praises "economic justice...a global economic order that seeks to enhance, not destroy, workers' rights." Linker deplores absolutism, but is content to settle the question of stem-cell research by relying on "the intuition embedded in moral common sense" that tells him "we should support research that promises to relieve human suffering when doing so inflicts no suffering of its own."

Justice, rights, moral common sense—either these are things we can have intelligent discussions about or they aren't. If they are, then a pope's or a columnist's assertion that justice means this or that may be right or wrong, but we cannot say that simply making such an assertion is an act of intellectual aggression...

Bolton: Is it Undiplomatic to Call a Dictator a Dictator?

Carroll Andrew Morse

A Newsweek article about John Bolton references a speech he delivered on the subject of North Korea in July, 2003.

Here is a quote on the subject of North Korea…

Often described as the world's largest prison camp, no country is more deserving of international condemnation on human-rights conditions than North Korea.
Yes, that is a quote. But it is not a quote from John Bolton. It is a quote from Human Rights Watch.

Bolton, on the other hand, is accused of calling life in North Korea a “hellish nightmare” and calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (warning: blame-America-first types should be sitting down when reading this next quote) a “tyrannical dictator”. It certainly doesn’t appear that Bolton’s view of North Korea is out of line with Human Rights Watch’s view.

The state department has the full text of the supposedly offensive speech up on its website. The official text contains the supposedly damning phrases of “hellish nightmare” and “tyrannical dictator”, so this appears to be the speech referenced in the Newsweek article.

Anchor Rising invites Bolton opponents to use the comments section of this post to explain exactly what about this speech disqualifies Mr. Bolton for the post of UN ambassador.

LNG II: Safety History

Marc Comtois

In my last post, I began the process of trying to seperate fact from hyperbole in an attempt to begin to understand the real issues surrounding building or expanding an LNG storage facility in Rhode Island or somewhere on Narragansett Bay. From that post I concluded that the central issue was safety and that it was a real concern. I took a few steps down the path of assuming that there would be no palatable on-shore solution. As such, I considered the efficacy of off-shore facilities, though these are not without their own issues. With that being said, I think it worthwhile to go back and consider the safety history of LNG.

First, I'll address the safety of LNG tankers because it will be short. According to the University of Houston Institute for Law, Energy and Enterprise

Overall, the LNG industry has an excellent safety record compared to refineries and other petrochemical plants. Worldwide, there are 17 LNG export (liquefaction) terminals, 40 import (regasification) terminals, and 136 LNG ships, altogether handling approximately 120 million metric tons of LNG every year. LNG has been safely delivered across the ocean for over 40 years. In that time there have been over 33,000 LNG carrier voyages, covering more than 60 million miles, without major accidents or safety problems either in port or on the high seas. LNG carriers frequently transit high traffic density areas. For example in 2000, one cargo entered Tokyo Bay every 20 hours, on average, and one cargo a week entered Boston harbor.(1) The LNG industry has had to meet stringent standards set by countries such as the U.S., Japan, Australia, and European nations.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy,(2) over the life of the industry, eight marine incidents worldwide have resulted in spillage of LNG, with some hulls damaged due to cold fracture, but no cargo fires have occurred. Seven incidents not involving spillage were recorded, two from groundings, but with no significant cargo loss; that is, repairs were quickly made and leaks were avoided. There have been no LNG shipboard fatalities.

Sources: (1) Phil Bainbridge, VP BP Global LNG, LNG in North America and the Global Context, IELE/AIPN Meeting University of Houston, October 2002; (2) Juckett, Don, U.S. Department of Energy, Properties of LNG. LNG Workshop, MD, 2002.

As far as facility safety, there have been more notable instances (from the same web site)

Isolated accidents with fatalities occurred at several onshore facilities in the early years of the industry. More stringent operational and safety regulations have since been implemented.

Cleveland, Ohio, 1944

In 1939, the first commercial LNG peakshaving plant was built in West Virginia. In 1941, the East Ohio Gas Company built a second facility in Cleveland. The peakshaving plant operated without incident until 1944, when the facility was expanded to include a larger tank. A shortage of stainless steel alloys during World War II led to compromises in the design of the new tank. The tank failed shortly after it was placed in service allowing LNG to escape, forming a vapor cloud that filled the surrounding streets and storm sewer system. The natural gas in the vaporizing LNG pool ignited resulting in the deaths of 128 people in the adjoining residential area. The conclusion of the investigating body, the U.S. Bureau of Mines, was that the concept of liquefying and storing LNG was valid if "proper precautions were observed."(1) A recent report by the engineering consulting firm, PTL,(2) concluded that, had the Cleveland tank been built to current codes, this accident would not have happened. In fact, LNG tanks properly constructed of 9 percent nickel steel have never had a crack failure in their 35-year history.

Staten Island, New York, February 1973

In February 1973, an industrial accident unrelated to the presence of LNG occurred at the Texas Eastern Transmission Company peakshaving plant on Staten Island. In February 1972, the operators, suspecting a possible leak in the tank, took the facility out of service. Once the LNG tank was emptied, tears were found in the mylar lining. During the repairs, vapors associated with the cleaning process apparently ignited the mylar liner. The resultant fire caused the temperature in the tank to rise, generating enough pressure to dislodge a 6-inch thick concrete roof, which then fell on the workers in the tank killing 40 people.

The Fire Department of the City of New York report of July 1973(3) determined the accident was clearly a construction accident and not an "LNG accident".

In 1998, the New York Planning Board, while re-evaluating a moratorium on LNG facilities, concluded the following with respect to the Staten Island accident: "The government regulations and industry operating practices now in place would prevent a replication of this accident. The fire involved combustible construction materials and a tank design that are now prohibited. Although the exact causes may never be known, it is certain that LNG was not involved in the accident and the surrounding areas outside the facility were not exposed to risk."(4)

Cove Point, Maryland, October 1979(5)

Finally, in October 1979, an explosion occurred within an electrical substation at the Cove Point, MD receiving terminal. LNG leaked through an inadequately tightened LNG pump electrical penetration seal, vaporized, passed through 200 feet of underground electrical conduit, and entered the substation. Since natural gas was never expected in this building, there were no gas detectors installed in the building. The natural gas-air mixture was ignited by the normal arcing contacts of a circuit breaker resulting in an explosion. The explosion killed one operator in the building, seriously injured a second and caused about $3 million in damages.

This was an isolated accident caused by a very specific set of circumstances. The National Transportation Safety Board(6) found that the Cove Point Terminal was designed and constructed in conformance with all appropriate regulations and codes. However, as a result of this accident, three major design code changes were made at the Cove Point facility prior to reopening. Those changes are applicable industry-wide.

(1) U.S. Bureau of Mines, Report on the Investigation of the Fire at the Liquefaction, Storage, and Regasification Plant of the East Ohio Gas Co., Cleveland, Ohio, October 20, 1944, February 1946;(2) Lewis, James P, Outtrim, Patricia A., Lewis, William W., and Perry, Lui Xin, PTL: LNG, The Basics, Report prepared for BP, May 2001;(3) Fire Department of the City of New York, Report of Texas Eastern LNG Tank Fatal Fire and Roof Collapse, February 10, 1973, July 1973;(4) New York Energy Planning Board, Report on Issues Regarding the Existing New York Liquefied Natural Gas Moratorium, November 1998;(5) The content in this section is taken from CH-IV International Report Safety History of International LNG Operations, June 2002;(6) National Transportation Safety Board Report, Columbia LNG Corporation Explosion and Fire; Cove Point, MD; October 6, 1979, NTSB-PAR-80-2, April 16, 1980.

Thus, the subsequent safety record speaks for itself. This is why I suspect that the opponents of LNG wouldn't have a leg to stand on if the spectre of terrorism didn't loom. It's a substantial leg. I fully appreciate the legitimate worry surrounding that aspect of safety concerns and in my next entry will endeavor to look at the safety steps being taken....and whether they will really be enough.

April 22, 2005

LNG: Trying to find a (reasonable) solution

Marc Comtois

As the debate over the efficacy of expanding or building an LNG storage and offloading facility intensifies, perhaps it's worthwhile to take a step back from the rhetoric and attempt to examine the facts. I'll save the hard numbers for others, but I think it safe to say that, with energy demands rising, New England would benefit from an increase in the natural gas supply.

However, there are risks, of which we are constantly reminded. Apart from predictable "nimbyism", the degree to which these warnings should be of real concern varies. First and foremost, despite intimations to the contrary, there has been no shipping accident in the LNG industry, to my knowledge, in at least 30 years. I believe that deeper research would reveal that the LNG transport and storage safety record is one to be applauded. Nevertheless, it is difficult to shake one of the foreboding feeling, encouraged by LNG critics, that "it could happen." The visit by Richard Clarke to analyze the potential terrorist threat has been a very public "reminder" of this.

Thus, it is important to realize that very real, and understandable, emotions (specifically fear) cannot be removed from the equation. However, informed by the aforementioned safety record, I believe that many of these fears can be calmed. However, there is this:

"Before 9/11, these terminals were very safe," says Anne Korin, director of policy and strategic planning for the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. "Then terrorism was introduced as a factor. The risk shifted from the remote possibility of an accident to malevolence."

Commenting elsewhere on this, I said that this "is why the hyperbole and hysteria don't sound quite so hyperbolic and hysterical. In our post-9/11 world, attaching the appellation of 'potential terrorist target' to anything will doom it. It is difficult to argue that the chances are remote, after all: We saw what happened with our own eyes. Thus, despite my strong belief that the leaders of the oppositon to LNG do so for political reasons and are using the spectre of terrorism because it is convenient (though, unfortunately, appropriate), I think what needs to be focused on is how technology can give us a safe and cost-effective method of increasing the storage and off-load capacity for LNG in both Rhode Island and New England in general."

One option is to locate LNG off-load and regasification facilities offshore, but some have expressed doubts. The Providence Journal, in an editorial, which relied on this news story, brought attention to the problem of locating an offshore facility.

In a desperate attempt to keep liquefied-natural-gas tankers away from their port cities (yet hoping, of course, for infinite energy supplies), the mayors of Providence and Fall River, shoreline residents, yachtsmen and the tourist industry have cited offshore LNG facilities as the way to go. They seem to prefer focusing economically on sailboats and kayaks, rather than on maritime commerce -- even though winter does somewhat cut into water-sports profits.

The Associated Press's Lolita Baldor, in a fine story last month, illustrated the hypocrisy and fecklessness surrounding this issue. She wrote of the proposal for an LNG terminal offshore of Gloucester, Mass.

The people in that area who want both lots of energy and no energy facilities are facing problems not generally recognized by foes of LNG facilities. (In fact, most such opponents know next to nothing about the engineering and science, much less the economics, involved.) For one thing, many people oppose an offshore facility anywhere near them, such as in the fishing area off Cape Ann, which has been touted by the Providence and Fall River foes of LNG terminals in their cities. . . . A terminal offshore of Gloucester would bring tankers into this important fishing ground, where as many as 150 vessels hunt for groundfish and lobster.

Then there are the numerous practical drawbacks to offshore LNG facilities. For instance, as Ms. Baldor points out, the offshore platforms have no storage space for large amounts of liquefied gas. Sorry, folks, but as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission notes, New England needs such storage space to meet its high energy demands. Meanwhile, because of the region's rocky terrain, the stuff has to be stored in tanks above ground, rather than hidden below. Reality again!

Further, bad weather could often make offshore facilities unusable. Only one offshore LNG facility exists so far in this country -- off Louisiana's Gulf Coast, where the weather is generally calmer and waves lower than in New England. (Yes, it gets hurricanes, but we get hurricanes and nor'easters.)

However, offshore storage facilities have been proposed for a few years and appear to be becoming a real alternative.
The $55 million floating project would be built about five miles off the coast of Rosarito Beach by Moss Maritime, a global leader in LNG tanker construction, and Mexican partner Terminales y Almacenes Maritimos de Mexico (TAMMSA). . . ."This concept has less impact on the environment compared to shore-based and gravity-based platforms," Ocaña said.

The process took more time for Sempra Energy, which plans an $800 million onshore terminal north of Ensenada, and ChevronTexaco, which envisions a $650 million platform that would be secured to the ocean bed near the Coronado Islands.

Both of those ventures have gained the necessary approvals to start construction, but Sempra's LNG terminal is being challenged in Mexican courts and is under investigation by Baja California's legislature.

"Fifty-five million is peanuts," said George Baker, a Houston-based Mexican energy consultant.

By converting an LNG tanker into a floating storage and regasification unit – known in the energy industry as an FSRU – the developers can significantly slash the cost of a project, Ocaña said.

Because the terminal will float, she said, it will have less impact on the marine, land and air conditions where the FSRU will operate.

The project's storage capacity is expected to be 4.4 million cubic feet, she said, while the regasification facility would process additional amounts of the fuel.

"We would process for other companies," she said. "We only would offer the service."

Energy industry analysts note that companies using Moss' FSRU would be able to buy LNG on spot markets, which are likely to offer a considerable cost savings compared with long-term supply agreements reached by ChevronTexaco, Sempra and Shell, which plans to process liquefied natural gas at the Sempra terminal.

Companies using the Moss-TAMMSA facility also would have the option of selling the natural gas on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border. The ship would be connected to the Baja California natural gas pipeline system through a sub-sea pipeline.

As mentioned, this technology has been done in the U.S, though (as the Journal pointed out) in relatively calm Gulf of Mexico waters. However, I believe that the technology has been used in the stormier North Sea (I am trying to find that data).

Although I think there are still many more specific questions that need to be answered, I believe this post has laid the groundwork for more solid, and objective, analysis. Stay tuned.

Arlene Violet Radio Show Today

I will be on the Arlene Violet radio show today at 3 p.m. WHJJ 920 AM.

Primary subject will be public education issues in Rhode Island.

April 21, 2005

Democratic Social Security Rally

Carroll Andrew Morse

Some high-profile Democrats are coming to Rhode Island this weekend. The occasion: a rally to drum up political support for social security tax increases and/or benefit cuts targeted to impact younger citizens, the only programs the Democrats support. Will anyone at the rally ask what younger voters will be getting in return for being forced to give up more in order to receive less?


Interestingly, the original post that I linked to announcing the rally has disappeared from the rifuture.org website. Here's a link to the "Ocean State Action" website with an announcement about the rally (at the moment).

Also interesting, here (at the moment) is Ocean State Action's final statement on social security reform.

Congress should keep the promise of Social Security and take the small, common sense measures necessary to keep Social Security healthy without benefit cuts, risky private accounts or borrowing.
(The boldface is in the original). Over the next few months, expect "common sense measures" to become codewords for tax increases and benefit cuts targeted against younger citizens.

The Case Against Bolton

Carroll Andrew Morse

Scrappleface says it better than I've been saying it...

"Clearly Mr. Bolton is a blunt man, with a focus on results and little patience for fools and swindlers. How could he ever function at the U.N.?"

Mr. Voinovich added that [I am] "not beholden to any special interest group -- like the Republican party or the United States -- so I can be fully in touch with the feelings of diplomats from other countries and other political ideologies."

Request for Explanation

Carroll Andrew Morse

From today's New York Times, on the John Bolton nomination

Mr. Chafee told CNN that the committee's Republicans might consider whether to recommend that the nomination be withdrawn.
Senator Chafee, you need to tell your constituents exactly why you believe this. The article hints that the sole reason is "bad temperament"
Mr. Chafee and 2 others have now voiced significant doubts about whether Mr. Bolton has the temperament and credibility to win confirmation.
The "bad temperament" charge rests on two flimsy accounts, both from anti-Bush partisans; 1) testimony about a single incident, ten years ago, from the organizer of a group called "Mothers Opposing Bush" and 2) testimony from a permanent bureaucrat who seemed primarily interested in defending his turf and who supported John Kerry in the last Presidential election. You owe your constituents an explanation of why the testimony of two anti-Bush partisans outweighs all else in this matter. (Even if the explanation is "well, most of my constituents are anti-Bush partisans").

Senator Chafee, if you are truly the maverick that you are often described as, give your constituents a bold explanation, on policy grounds, why John Bolton is unfit to be America's UN ambassador. Do not let yourself be used by partisans who seek to 1) to embarass the President in any way possible and, more importantly, 2) who believe that the job of the UN ambassador is to relay the "international community's" instructions to the US, not to represent the views of America to the world.

April 20, 2005

Bolton's Opposition Unraveling

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at The Corner, Rich Lowry has some preliminary reporting debunking the latest, apparently groundless charge against United Nations Ambassador appointee John Bolton. Here’s a one-sentence summary, in the form of a direct quote from a letter sent by the firm that had sub-contracted Bolton’s accuser

Her [Melody Townsel’s] claims against Mr. Bolton make no sense but are consistent with her belligerent attitudes towards others.
Of course, the lack of substance in any of the charges against Bolton does not mean that our Senators are not entitled to vote against him. It does mean that, if either of our Senators choose to vote no, they owe the voters of Rhode Island an explanation based on policy grounds.

The UN, of course, believes that any criticism of the organization is beyond the pale. Here is Article 29(3) from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

These rights (including your right to free speech)and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Is there such strong opposition to Mr Bolton's nomination because this country's Democrats also believe that any criticism of the UN is unacceptable?

Pope Benedict XVI: Proposing Faith as an Antidote to Relativism

With yesterday's election of Pope Benedict XVI, the hyperventilating of the liberal media has commenced as expected. The reactions tell an incomplete story, missing the broader and more significant issues threatening the civilized world.

In yet another example of how completely superficial and inaccurate their reactions can be, Professor Bainbridge highlights the over-the-top comments by Andrew Sullivan and, more importantly, contrasts Sullivan's reactions with actual words by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. After providing several specific examples, Bainbridge writes:

...in the political sphere, the new Pope demonstrably recognizes that there is legitimate room for disagreement on how one operationalizes all but the most basic Church teachings, such as the gospel of life, and that even there Catholics may in appropriate instances even vote for politicians who do not share the Church's view on that central tenet.

After reading his entire posting, ask yourself who offers the more thoughtful perspective.

Additional thoughtful insights into Pope Benedict XVI's thinking and world view can be found in commentaries at these sites: Captain's Quarters, George Weigel, Richard John Neuhaus, Richard John Neuhaus, Professor Bainbridge, Amy Welborn, Amy Welborn, Amy Welborn, Amy Welborn, Amy Welborn, RomanCatholicBlog, Michael Novak, James Pinkerton, The Anchoress, The Anchoress, The Anchoress, Peggy Noonan, Mark Roberts, Daniel Moloney, Daniel Henninger, Philip Lawler, Ken Masugi, Armavirumque, Joseph Bottum as well as these articles here, here, and here. ScrappleFace offers a satirical commentary about the American church.

These comments by Michael Novak provide further insight into the mind of Pope Benedict XVI:

If it happens that Josef Ratzinger becomes the 265th pope, journalists will have a field day reading all his voluminous writings, but especially his three books composed by answering face-to-face the questions of journalists. Two of these were great best sellers.

I cannot think of any cardinal who has been so fearless and open with the press, speaking for a dictation tape and allowing the journalist to frame the questions and supervise the editing (the cardinal was allowed to simplify and clarify the transcript where useful, but for the most part let the spoken words stand as spoken)...

...I could see an enormous intellectual contribution to the world's understanding of itself if Ratzinger had the papal bully pulpit. His work has involved him in intimate problems of international culture for more than two decades now, and at a very deep and holistic level...

For the great problem of the world at this juncture concerns what principles lie at its heart--nothing at all, with neither standards nor meaning -- or a reasoned faith that bursts with inner life and love and hope. It is on this problem that Ratzinger's mind has long been fixed. It is, I think, at the heart of the matter, for the world's future. And for the future of the faith...

Continuing along the same lines, Jana Novak also shares two of the new Pope's comments in recent years:

"The Council, in fact, wished to show that Christianity is not against reason, against modernity, but that on the contrary it is a help so that reason in its totality can work not only on technical questions, but also on human, moral and religious knowledge." (May 2004)

"The Church will continue to propose the great universal human values. Because, if law no longer has common moral foundations, it collapses insofar as it is law. From this point of view, the Church has a universal responsibility." (October 2001)

Novak then offers a context for understanding the Pope's comments:

Long before Monday's homily, Cardinal Ratzinger propounded about the dangers of relativism, of not believing that not only there is truth, but also that one can seek to understand it. As he noted in 2002, "I would say that today relativism predominates. It seems that whoever is not a relativist is someone who is intolerant. To think that one can understand the essential truth is already seen as something intolerant."

He has also pointed out this fundamental truth about Christianity itself: "Christianity is not "our" work; it is a Revelation; it is a message that has been consigned to us, and we have no right to reconstruct it as we like or choose." In other words, if to be "progressive" or "modern" is to reconstruct Christianity as we like or choose, then that is abandoning Christianity.

To further extend the point, many news commentators have unfavorably referenced the new Pope's homily last Monday before the beginning of the conclave. Here is the most-referenced excerpt:

How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth...Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.

I would encourage you to read the entire homily and contrast the words with some of the public commentary.

JunkYardBlog notes how the words in the Pope's homily connect directly to another statement he made last November:

"...This new secularism is no longer neutral, but hostile to public manifestations of Christianity, which is being marginalised and privatised. "We must defend religious freedom against the imposition of an ideology that is being presented as if it were the only voice of rationality, whereas it is only the expression of a narrow rationalism."

The incident that occasioned such anguish is the case of Rocco Buttiglione, who was dropped from the European Commission merely for refusing to deny his Catholicism, in the private rather than the public sphere. For Cardinal Ratzinger, the implication is that anybody who defends Christian orthodoxy is now excluded from public life. He cites the example of a Protestant pastor in Sweden who was imprisoned for a month for preaching against homosexuality. Christianity has come full circle since the days of its persecution under the Roman Empire: an established Church no longer, it is now once again a persecuted band of the faithful.

Michael Novak provides a broad framework for understanding what many people believe is the central philosophical struggle going on around the world, a struggle addressed by many of Pope Benedict XVI's statements:

In his most formative years, Ratzinger heard Nazi propaganda shouting that there is no truth, no justice, there is only the will of the people (enunciated by its leader). As its necessary precondition, Nazism depended on the debunking of objective truth and objective morality. Truth had to be derided as irrelevant, and naked will had to be exalted...

Relativism means this: Power trumps.

Ratzinger experienced another set of loud shouters in the 1968 student revolution at Tubingen University, this time in the name of Marxist rather than Nazi will. Marxism as much as Nazism (though in a different way) depended on the relativization of all previous notions of ethics and morality and truth - “bourgeois” ideas, these were called. People who were called upon by the party to kill in the party’s name had to develop a relativist’s conscience.

In today’s liberal democracies, Ratzinger has observed, the move to atheism is not, as it was in the 19th century, a move toward the objective world of the scientific rationalist. That was the "modern" way, and it is now being rejected, in favor of a new "post-modern" way. The new way is not toward objectivity, but toward subjectivism; not toward truth as its criterion, but toward power. This, Ratzinger fears, is a move back toward the justification of murder in the name of "tolerance" and subjective choice.

Along with that move, he has observed (haven’t we all?), comes a dictatorial impulse, to treat anyone who has a different view as "intolerant." For instance, those (on the "religious right") who hold that there are truths worth dying for, and objective goods to be pursued and objective evils to be avoided, are now held to be "intolerant" fundamentalists, guilty of "discrimination."

In other words, the new dictatorial impulse declares that the only view permissible among reasonable people is the view that all subjective choices are equally valid. It declares, further, that anyone who claims that there are objective truths and objective goods and evils is "intolerant." Such persons are to be expelled from the community, or at a minimum re-educated. That is to say, all Catholics and others like them must be converted to relativism or else sent into cultural re-training camps.

On the basis of relativism, however, no culture can long defend itself or justify its own values. If everything is relative, even tolerance is only a subjective choice, not an objective mandatory value. Ironically, though, what post-moderns call "tolerance" is actually radically intolerant of any view contrary to its own.

Most of the commentators, however, even those who support him, are misinterpreting Ratzinger’s point. They are getting him wrong.

What Ratzinger defends is not dogmatism against relativism. What he defends is not absolutism against relativism. These are false alternatives.

What Ratzinger attacks as relativism is the regulative principle that all thought is and must remain subjective. What he defends against such relativism is the contrary regulative principle, namely, that each human subject must continue to inquire incessantly, and to bow to the evidence of fact and reason.

The fact that we each see things differently does not imply that there is no truth. It implies, rather, that each of us may have a portion of the truth, and that in this or that matter some of us may hold more (or less) truth than others. Therefore, since each of us has only part of all the truth we seek, we must work hard together to discern in all things wherein lies the truth, and wherein the error.

Ratzinger wishes to defend the imperative of seeking the truth in all things, the imperative to follow the evidence. This imperative applies to daily life, to science, and to faith. The great Jewish and Christian name for God is connected to this imperative - one of the Creator’s names is Truth. Other related names are Light, and Way. Humans are made seekers after truth.

It is no more than a fact that ours is a pluralistic world, in which individuals have virtually an infinite variety of views. For Ratzinger, not only is this individual variety normal and to be praised; it shows the infinite number of ways humans have been made in the image of the infinite God. Each one of us, as it were, mirrors a different aspect of the infinite abundance of God.

But the fact of human "relativity" - that is, the fact that we each see things differently, or that the life-voyage of each of us is unique and inimitable - should not be transformed into an absolute moral principle. The fact of relativity does not logically lead to the principle of moral relativism.

No great, inspiring culture of the future can be built upon the moral principle of relativism. For at its bottom such a culture holds that nothing is better than anything else, and that all things are in themselves equally meaningless. Except for the fragments of faith (in progress, in compassion, in conscience, in hope) to which it still clings, illegitimately, such a culture teaches every one of its children that life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

The culture of relativism invites its own destruction, both by its own internal incoherence and by its defenselessness against cultures of faith.

This is the bleak fate that Cardinal Ratzinger already sees looming before Europe. His fear is that this sickness of the soul will spread.

For Cardinal Ratzinger, moreover, it is not reason that offers a foundation for faith, but the opposite. Historically, it is Jewish and Christian faith in an intelligent and benevolent Creator that gave birth in the West to trust in reason, humanism, science, and progress, and carried the West far beyond the fatalistic limits of ancient Greece and Rome.

To the meaninglessness of relativism, Ratzinger counter poses respect for the distinctive, incommensurable image of God in every single human being, from the most helpless to the seemingly most powerful, together with a sense of our solidarity with one another in the bosom of our Creator. This fundamental vision of the immortal value both of the individual person and the whole human community in solidarity has been the motor-power, the spiritual dynamic overdrive, of an increasingly global (catholic) civilization.

These concerns are highly relevant for us here in America, as has been noted here.

Our country - and all of the civilized world - could only be better off if we had a truly open and public debate about both the merits of these different philosophical views of the world and which one we want to be central to our lives.

April 18, 2005

In Memoriam: James Allen

Carroll Andrew Morse

What really makes Providence, Rhode Island different from a place like Fallujah, Iraq? In a place like Iraq, or the Sudan, or the Congo, people like Esteban Carpio have control. They take what they want, when they want, torturing and killing anyone who gets in their way.

But the Esteban Carpios are marginal figures here, because brave people like Lieutenant James Allen stand between them and the rest of us. They deal with the violence and the chaos and the ugly side of humanity so that we don’t have to.

Souls like James Allen are the souls who hold our civilization together.

In lieu of flowers for Lt. James Allen, memorial contributions may be made to St. Thomas Church, 65 Fruit Hill Ave., Providence, RI 02909.

Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children's Educational Decisions?

What greater gift can we give our children than a fair shot at living the American Dream? The important contribution of a quality education to having that fair shot led me to write:

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, in spite of well-documented performance problems in American public education, the educational establishment continues to actively resist change - even if that means blocking citizens from living the American Dream and putting our country at a long-term competitive disadvantage in a knowledge-based global economy.

In that context, the March 2005 edition of "The School Choice Advocate," published by the Militon and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, has a very relevant article. Not yet accessible on-line, here is an excerpt from an article entitled "Celebrating 50 Years" by Robert Enlow:

In 1955, Milton Friedman wrote an essay that articulated an old idea of liberty in a fresh and innovative way.

The idea went something like this. Elementary and secondary education in America is in serious trouble because government has combined the appropriate role of financing the general education of children with the inappropriate role of owning and operating schools. It would be much better and more equitable, he argued, if the government would "give each child, through his parents, a specified sum [voucher] to be used solely in paying for his general education...The result would be a sizable reduction in the direct activities of government, yet a great widening in the educational opportunities open to our children."

...Thomas Jefferson is considered by many to be the philosophical originator of public schooling...

Jefferson would be appalled to see our current system of public schooling, which through its combination of government financing and government administration destroys individual freedom...Consider his 1816 letter to Joseph Caball who was working to establish a common school system in his state:

"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by the Governor and Council, the commissioners of the literary fund, or any other general authority of the government, than by parents within each ward, it is a belief against all experience...What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body."

It is this thinking - that individual freedom should be the cornerstone of publicly funded education - which keeps Jefferson in line with other thinkers of his time, Locke, Smith, and Paine, and which ultimately puts him at odds with the undoubted father of modern public schooling, Horace Mann.

The critical point to note here is that a key difference between public schooling then and now is one of freedom and control. Prior to the rise of the common schools the emphasis was on the importance of education for a stable, democratic society and the need for some public funding for schooling, all the while expecting parental autonomy and control. But because he linked in a clear way the government financing of education with the government administration and operation of schools, common schools as envisaged by Mann simply turned on its head Jefferson's notion that individual freedom was the best way to avoid tyranny, ultimately destroying parental autonomy.

What happened to schooling in the period after is a testament to the folly of this idea. Rapid centralization ensued, with schooling becoming increasingly bureaucratic and with attendance being compulsory based on where you live. Education moved from a parent/child customer centered focus to a school/state education provider centered focus.

Schooling simply became a monopoly - a government-run monopoly - and, like all other monopolies, service deteriorated to unacceptable levels, costs skyrocketed and parents have been devalued to the point that they have little to no control in how their children are educated...

In the 1980's, President Reagan's administration proposed school voucher and tax credit programs. In 1987, the state of Iowa passed an educational tax credit program...The next and arguably biggest breakthrough came in the state of Wisconsin in 1990, when the state enacted a voucher program targeting low-income parents in the city of Milwaukee...Since 1995, we have seen an explosion in the number of publicly funded school choice programs enacted at the state level. Voucher programs have been enacted in Ohio, Florida, Utah and the District of Columbia, and tax credit programs have been enacted in Arizona, Illinois, Florida and Pennsylvania. Today, over 500,000 children and families exercise educational options that were not readily available 15 years ago.

Despite the trend towards parental autonomy and power, we still have a long way to go.

First, the government school behemoth is still in charge. As evidenced by the fact that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, spending on education more than tripled between 1960 and 2000, it still wholly controls the flow of tax dollars...as Milton and Rose Friedman pointed out in 1996, education is still in practice controlled "by professional bureaucrats and teachers' unions. Teachers' unions and school administrators have become skilled at managing the political process by which public officials are named, laws that govern schools are enacted, and budgets are established."

Second, the school choice movement itself must not lose sight of its ultimate goal, namely the freedom of all parents, regardless of income or other criteria, to choose the school that is best for their child, whether that school is public or private. Understandably, there has been a great deal of time spent targeting voucher and tax credit programs to poorer families or to children that need the most help. This is laudable. But liberty should not be constrained by income or skin color or by the fact you might have red hair.

In the end, it is imperative to remember that what we are talking about is a question of who controls education: parents or government. And so long as the government both finances education and administers schools it can't help but exert its power over parents.

...the Friedmans' voucher idea...is an idea of liberty that is consistent with our nation's founding, that has withstood the test of time and that continually points us in the direction of individual freedom and parent power.

You can read key word definitions and frequently asked questions about school choice here.

You can read some of the literature about school choice here and here.

Think about who has more at stake in this debate about the direction of public education in America: Moms and Dads OR faceless, nameless and unaccountable government bureaucrats and teachers' unions?

Who would you trust more to to make the right decisions for our children? It's quite clear when you think about it.

April 15, 2005

Right and Wrong in Abortion Protests

Justin Katz

Joseph Manning's pro-life activities in Cranston evoke mixed feelings in me:

Joseph Manning agreed to take down the baby outfits he had hung in the trees.

They were part of an antiabortion display he puts up three days a week outside the Women's Medical Center on Broad Street.

"That said the whole thing," he said. "You know what I'm saying? The baby suits waving in the trees."

But Manning, 74, won't remove his signs, as many as 11 at a time, some that depict bloody, dismembered fetuses.

I do sympathize with parents' desire to preserve what innocence in their children they can:

The clinic, which provides medical services, including abortions, is at the corner of Betsey Williams Drive, a street with enough children to hold its own Halloween parade.

Bobby Raposa sees the display from behind his picket fence. "I don't like it at all," he said, motioning toward his daughter, who was playing in the yard. "She shouldn't have to learn this at age five, but I have to explain this because these people have pictures of dead babies on the street."

The town would have a right to demand that pornographic posters be removed, even if they were displayed in protest of a bordello. (Of course, for the time being, such a business would be operating illegally; perhaps if Rhode Island's sex workers unionize...) I'd also speak against a thrice-weekly open-air presentation of graphic images of terrorists' beheaded victims, for example. But Mr. Manning does have a point:

Told of the neighbor's concerns that children were seeing his signs, he motioned toward the clinic and said: "I understand. I relate. But there are children being killed in here. If you go on a scale of things, one is much worse."

If a business were somehow legally euthanizing disabled kindergarteners, would our focus really be on protesters' inappropriate signage? Of course, the broader society wouldn't need graphic images to be disgusted by such a thing (at least not at present); the act itself screams in bold letters. Which makes me wonder whether Mr. Manning oughtn't apply the same principle to abortion. How about one big sign with bold letters reading:

There are children being killed in here.

That would avoid the reflexive turning away, and personally, I would find it much more shocking, in its bare truth. It would also force those who object to address the message itself, not its delivery — unless they were to do so by requesting that it not be so blunt. That, actually, is one disturbing aspect of the Providence Journal's report:

Elizabeth and Peter McStay were working in the yard in front of their house, white with green shutters. Peter McStay said, "it's a tough thing. It's a free country, but you don't have the right to infringe upon my way of life."

Exactly wrong. We can only allow ours to be a free country to the extent that we have the right to infringe upon each other's way of life. Put differently, we can only dislodge government authority from the capillaries of our personal lives if we are allowed to influence each other through other means — if we are free, as individuals, to get as far under each other's skin as the boundary between public and private will permit.

Me, I find it a discouraging sign that the apparent compromise between Manning and the town was to sacrifice the symbolism of flapping baby clothes for the gratuity of photographic gore.

April 14, 2005

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XV

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

Sometimes certain news events do not need a lot of commentary because they speak for themselves. This posting on the latest developments in the implementation of Separation of Powers is about such a news event.

Nicholas Gorham, Rhode Island House Minority Whip, wrote an editorial in today's ProJo. Here are some highlights:

...Last fall, after 150 years of struggle for change, the people of Rhode Island made separation of powers an integral part of our state government. By more than a 3-to-1 margin, the people served an eviction notice to the special interests and insiders who had controlled state government for so long, for the benefit of so few, at the expense of so many.

Now it is time to implement separation of powers. This requires the indulgence and cooperation of the General Assembly. Under our constitution, as amended, the governor appoints and the Senate must give its "advice and consent" to some of the people chosen (for the more important posts) in the executive branch. Only the governor chooses who, exactly, will help him steer the ship of state.

To comply with separation of powers, the General Assembly must rewrite some laws. The new laws must reflect how executive departments are to be run (and how much money they need), but no more.

For decades, the leaders of the General Assembly and their special-interest constituencies have controlled the state's boards and commissions. Now, the General Assembly must yield this power to the governor, who will be under public scrutiny to keep it free from the special interests and insiders who have been part of it for generations....

But in Rhode Island, legislation that has been advanced by the General Assembly leadership tells the governor not only whom he may appoint. It also requires that applicants either be a member of or receive a "recommendation" from special-interest groups.

And what groups are we talking about? Here's a sample "catch" from pending legislation coming to the floor of the House:

The International Association of Fire Fighters, the Alliance for Social Service Employees, the Rhode Island Medical Society, the Rhode Island Health Center Association, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Building Trades Council, the Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO, the Gray Panthers of Rhode Island, the vice president of Brown University's Division of Biological and Medical Sciences, the president of the Rhode Island Funeral Directors Association.

These are just a few. Under the leadership's legislation, all of them have either direct appointment power to boards and commissions (using the governor as nothing more than a conduit, to make the appointments seem gubernatorial) or "gatekeeper" status as an organization that "recommends" whom the governor shall appoint, and the governor must give "due consideration" to the special interest's "recommendation."

Many of these organizations actively lobby in the General Assembly, spending many thousands of dollars to protect their special-interest initiatives, and making campaign donations to senators and representatives -- the perennial hearty harvest from the sea of Rhode Island politics. If the General Assembly's leadership has its way, the waters in and around the State House will remain infested with the same dangerous and hungry species as before separation of powers...

Legislation passed by the Rhode Island House and Senate should, as under the federal constitution, require the governor to give nothing more than "due consideration" to real qualifications for potential nominees -- not special-interest "recommendations" and membership. The integrity of the appointment process must remain intact, so that the governor can appoint free-thinking people to help run the government...

If the leaders of the General Assembly allow this, maybe it is time to take a long, hard look at their fitness and qualifications. If the General Assembly is more interested in feeding sharks than getting to shore with the constitution intact, maybe it's time for a sea change in the General Assembly.

To read what all of us have written on the topic of Separation of Powers issue, go here.

The balance of power today means that leaders of the General Assembly will "win" most, if not all, of these battles. However, what these power-hungry politicians do not grasp and/or accept is that their non-democratic actions undermine the very legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the citizenry. If our leaders show no respect for the rule of law and for the Founding principle that the power of government is derived from the consent of the governed, then there is no reason to expect the citizens to show respect for the rule of law either. That is a pathway to political chaos and, eventually, to tyranny.

Tom Coyne, our friend at RI Policy Analysis, expresses these concerns in a more blunt fashion in his April 14 commentary:

The Democratic leaders of the General Assembly have introduced legislation requiring that their favored special interest groups either approve or recommend all gubernatorial appointments to state boards and commisssions. This is a direct, in your face challenge to everyone who voted for Separation of Powers. Let me be blunt and crude: they are giving the finger to every citizen who voted to approve Separation of Powers reform in Rhode Island.

In light of this proposed legislation, can anybody realistically believe any more that Democratic General Assembly leaders care about the best interest of the state, the health of our private sector economy, or raising real household incomes for all but their favored few? Can you really say, with a straight face,"maybe they just don't get it?" Doesn't the "Curley Effect" theory make more sense every day? How much more evidence do people need, in addition to all the other legislation that has been introduced this year to further entrench and enrich the Democrats favored special interest groups?

Unfortunately, I believe Tom's assessment is an accurate one and therein lies the challenge to Rhode Island citizens. Many of us are deeply troubled by the polarization occurring in the American body politic. Many of us are committed to debating our beliefs in a forceful but civil fashion in order to improve the quality of political discourse in America. But there is no room for reasoned political debate when facing a foe who acts like either the neighborhood bully or a dictator.

Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, Rhode Island citizens are engaged in an epic power struggle against an opponent who knows no ethical boundaries. It is about battling an enemy of liberty who doesn't give a damn about your rights as an American citizen living in Rhode Island.

Jennifer Roback Morse: Marriage and the Limits of Contract

Years ago, I attended a Liberty Fund seminar in which Jennifer Roback Morse was one of the faculty. The latest edition of Policy Review magazine contains an article by her. Here are some excerpts:

Marriage is a naturally occurring, pre-political institution that emerges spontaneously from society. Western society is drifting toward a redefinition of marriage as a bundle of legally defined benefits bestowed by the state. As a libertarian, I find this trend regrettable. The organic view of marriage is more consistent with the libertarian vision of a society of free and responsible individuals, governed by a constitutionally limited state. The drive toward a legalistic view of marriage is part of the relentless march toward politicizing every aspect of society…

My central argument is that a society will be able to govern itself with a smaller, less intrusive government if that society supports organic marriage rather than the legalistic understanding of marriage.


Libertarians have every reason to respect marriage as a social institution. Marriage is an organic institution that emerges spontaneously from society. People of the opposite sex are naturally attracted to one another, couple with each other, co-create children, and raise those children. The little society of the family replenishes and sustains itself. Humanity’s natural sociability expresses itself most vibrantly within the family. A minimum-government libertarian can view this self-sustaining system with unadulterated awe.

Government does not create marriage any more than government creates jobs. Just as people have a natural “propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another,” in Adam Smith’s famous words from the second chapter of The Wealth of Nations, we likewise have a natural propensity to couple, procreate, and rear children. People instinctively create marriage, both as couples and as a culture, without any support from the government whatsoever…

In every known society, communities around the couple develop customs and norms that define the parameters of socially acceptable sexual, spousal and parental behavior. This culture around marriage may have some governmental elements. But that cultural machinery is more informal than legal by far and is based more on kinship than on law. We do things this way because our parents did things this way. Our friends and neighbors look at us funny if we go too far outside the norm.

The new idea about marriage claims that no structure should be privileged over any other. The supposedly libertarian subtext of this idea is that people should be as free as possible to make their personal choices. But the very nonlibertarian consequence of this new idea is that it creates a culture that obliterates the informal methods of enforcement. Parents can’t raise their eyebrows and expect children to conform to the socially accepted norms of behavior, because there are no socially accepted norms of behavior. Raised eyebrows and dirty looks no longer operate as sanctions on behavior slightly or even grossly outside the norm. The modern culture of sexual and parental tolerance ruthlessly enforces a code of silence, banishing anything remotely critical of personal choice. A parent, or even a peer, who tries to tell a young person that he or she is about to do something incredibly stupid runs into the brick wall of the non-judgmental social norm.


The spontaneous emergence of marriage does not imply that any laws the state happens to pass will work out just fine. And it certainly does not follow that any cultural institutions surrounding sexual behavior, permanence of relationships, and the rearing of children will work out just fine. The state may still need to protect, encourage or support permanence in procreational couplings just as the state may need to protect the sanctity of contracts...

No libertarian would claim that the presumption of economic laissez-faire means that the government can ignore people who violate the norms of property rights, contracts, and fair exchange...all libertarians agree that enforcing these rules is one of the most basic functions of government... Likewise, formal and informal standards and sanctions create the context in which couples can create marriage with minimal assistance from the state.

Nor would a libertarian claim that people should be indifferent about whether they are living in a centrally planned economy or a market-ordered economy...It does not follow that impartiality requires the economy to reflect socialism and capitalism equally. It simply can’t be done...The debate between socialism and capitalism is not a debate over how to accommodate different opinions, but over how the economy actually works...Somebody in this debate is correct, and somebody is mistaken. We can figure out which view is more nearly correct by comparing the prosperity of societies that have implemented capitalist principles with the prosperity of those that have implemented socialist principles.

There are analogous truths about human sexuality. I claim the sexual urge is a natural engine of sociability, which solidifies the relationship between spouses and brings children into being. Others claim that human sexuality is a private recreational good, with neither moral nor social significance. I claim that the hormone oxytocin floods a woman’s body during sex and tends to attach her to her sex partner, quite apart from her wishes or our cultural norms. Others claim that women and men alike can engage in uncommitted sex with no ill effects. I claim that children have the best life chances when they are raised by married, biological parents. Others believe children are so adaptable that having unmarried parents presents no significant problems. Some libertarians seem to believe that marriage is a special case of free association of individuals. I say the details of this particular form of free association are so distinctive as to make marriage a unique social institution that deserves to be defended on its own terms and not as a special case of something else.

One side in this dispute is mistaken. There is enormous room for debate, but there ultimately is no room for compromise. The legal institutions, social expectations and cultural norms will all reflect some view or other about the meaning of human sexuality. We will be happier if we try to discover the truth and accommodate ourselves to it, rather than try to recreate the world according to our wishes.


...When Adam Smith’s modern follower Friedrich Hayek championed the concept of spontaneous order, he helped people see that explicitly planned orders do not exhaust the types of social orders that emerge from purposeful human behavior. The opposite of a centrally planned economy is not completely unplanned chaos, but rather a spontaneous order that emerges from thousands of private plans interacting with each according to a set of reasonably transparent legal rules and social norms.

Likewise, the opposite of government controlling every detail of every single family’s life is not a world in which everyone acts according to emotional impulses. The opposite is an order made up of thousands of people controlling themselves for the greater good of the little society of their family and the wider society at large...


The demand that the government be neutral among family forms is unreasonable. The reality is that married-couple families and childless people are providing subsidies to those parents who dissolve their marriages or who never form marriages. Libertarians recognize that a free market needs a culture of law-abidingness, promise-keeping, and respect for contracts. Similarly, a free society needs a culture that supports and sustains marriage as the normative institution for the begetting, bearing, and rearing of children. A culture full of people who violate their contracts at every possible opportunity cannot be held together by legal institutions, as the experience of post-communist Russia plainly shows. Likewise, a society full of people who treat sex as a purely recreational activity, a child as a consumer good and marriage as a glorified roommate relationship will not be able to resist the pressures for a vast social assistance state. The state will irresistibly be drawn into parental quarrels and into providing a variety of services for the well-being of the children...


The alternative to my view that marriage is a naturally occurring pre-political institution is that marriage is strictly a creation of the state. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts notoriously asserted this position. If this is true, then the state can recreate marriage in any form it chooses. Implicit in this view is the decidedly non-libertarian view that the state is the ultimate source of social order…

This statement brings the statist worldview front and center. Under this vision, the most basic relationships are not between husband and wife, parent and child, but between citizens and state. The family is not the natural unit of society. The most basic unit of society is not even the libertarian individual, embedded within a complex web of family, business and social relationships.

Rather, the natural unit of society is the naked individual, the isolated individual, standing alone before the state, beholden to the state, dependent upon the state…

The libertarian preference for nongovernmental provision of care for dependents is based upon the realization that people take better care of those they know and love than of complete strangers. It is no secret that people take better care of their own stuff than of other people’s. Economists conclude that private property will produce better results than collectivization schemes. But a libertarian preference for stable married-couple families is built upon more than a simple analogy with private property. The ordinary rhythm of the family creates a cycle of dependence and independence that any sensible social order ought to harness rather than resist…

But for this minimal government approach to work, there has to be a family in the first place. The family must sustain itself over the course of the life cycle of its members. If too many members spin off into complete isolation, if too many members are unwilling to cooperate with others, the family will not be able to support itself. A woman trying to raise children without their father is unlikely to contribute much to the care of her parents. In fact, unmarried parents are more likely to need help from their parents than to provide it.

In contrast to the libertarian approach, “progressives” view government provision of social services as the first resort, not the last. Describing marriage as a “privatization scheme” implies that the most desirable way to care for the dependent is for the state to provide care. An appreciation of voluntary cooperation between men and women, young and old, weak and strong, so natural to libertarians and economists, is completely absent from this statist worldview.

This is why it is no accident that the advocates of sexual laissez-faire are the most vociferous opponents of economic laissez-faire. Advocates of gay marriage are fond of pointing out that civil marriage confers more than 1,049 automatic federal and additional state protections, benefits and responsibilities, according to the federal government’s General Accounting Office. If these governmentally bestowed benefits and responsibilities are indeed the core of marriage, then this package should be equally available to all citizens. It follows that these benefits of marriage should be available to any grouping of individuals, of any size or combination of genders, of any degree of permanence.

But why should libertarians, of all people, accept the opening premise at face value? Marriage is the socially preferred institution for sexual activity and childrearing in every known human society. The modern claim that there need not be and should not be any social or legal preference among sexual or childrearing contexts is, by definition, the abolition of marriage as an institution. This will be a disaster for the cause of limited government. Disputes that could be settled by custom will have to be settled in court. Support that could be provided by a stable family must be provided by taxpayers. Standards of good conduct that could be enforced informally must be enforced by law.

Libertarians do not believe that what the government chooses to bestow or withhold is the essence of any social institution. When we hear students from Third World countries naively ask, “If the government doesn’t create jobs, how we will ever have any jobs?” we know how to respond. Just because the government employs people and gives away tax money does not mean it “created” those jobs. Likewise, the fact that the government gives away bundles of goodies to married couples does not prove that the government created marriage.


The advocates of the deconstruction of marriage into a series of temporary couplings with unspecified numbers and genders of people have used the language of choice and individual rights to advance their cause. This rhetoric has a powerful hold over the American mind. It is doubtful that the deconstruction of the family could have proceeded as far as it has without the use of this language of personal freedom.

But this rhetoric is deceptive. It is simply not possible to have a minimum government in a society with no social or legal norms about family structure, sexual behavior, and childrearing. The state will have to provide support for people with loose or nonexistent ties to their families. The state will have to sanction truly destructive behavior, as always. But destructive behavior will be more common because the culture of impartiality destroys the informal system of enforcing social norms.

It is high time libertarians object when their rhetoric is hijacked by the advocates of big government. Fairness and freedom do not demand sexual and parental license. Minimum-government libertarianism needs a robust set of social institutions. If marriage isn’t a necessary social institution, then nothing is. And if there are no necessary social institutions, then the individual truly will be left to face the state alone. A free society needs marriage.


Paul Musgrave, of In the Agora blogsite, writes a critical review of this article, including these words:

…The article, though, is less a profound challenge to conventional thinking about morality, sexuality, and marriage than a smug reassertion of traditional beliefs dressed up in libertarian clothes…

What is most puzzling about Morse's libertarian argument is its traditionalist turn…

Such concerns, and others which will suggest themselves to the reader, demonstrate why Morse's article is, in addition to being theoretically and empirically unsound, a poor guide to the formulation of policy.

Read the entire posting to get the full extent of his argument.

Roback Morse responds . Since it can be difficult to access her April 12 posting, here it is:

I tried to make a libertarian case for social conservative positions on marriage, but some libertarians aren't having any part of it. First, here are the parts of my argument. Marriage is a natural, pre-political institution that has arisen spontaneously in every known society. I define marriage as society's normative context for having sex and for rearing children. The modern position is that society does not need ANY normative institution for either sex or child-rearing. Anything people happen to come up with is just fine: no particular sexual or family relationships should be privileged by the state, or by the wider culture.

Observing that marriage has taken different forms in different times and places does not in any way diminish the importance of this point. No society has ever claimed that sexual activity is a morally neutral activity. No society has ever been indifferent to the context in which children are raised. Until now.

This modern position is not sustainable, and it certainly can not be the foundation of a minimal government. Some forms of family are demonstrably better than others at raising mature adults who have the self-command necessary to keep a free society going. I would not have thought that this was a controversial point at this late date. The collapse of the family unit calls forth an increased demand for government services to support the family, both the dependent children, and the dependent elderly. This is no longer a theoretical possibility: it is an established fact, well-known to everyone who works in the area of marriage and family.

Paul Musgrave's listings of different forms of marriage does not answer the basic points: 1. Something like marriage, sustained by both legal and social institutions, has occurred in every known society, and 2. some work better than others. To claim that we are morally required to strike a posture of neutrality among forms of marriage, and child-rearing arrangements is to say that we are morally required to suspend judgments about which arrangements work well, and about what our goals are as individuals and as a society. This, I take it, is one of the points of the gay marriage debate. But if the argument is that justice requires us to be neutral, then there is really nothing left to debate.

I have argued many times for instance, that cohabitation is an extremely bad idea, even if it is perfectly legal. Saying that a choice is legally available does not help much in deciding whether it is in fact a good choice.

By the way, Judge Posner's economic analysis doesn't really do the job either. He offers an account of why socially acceptable standards of sexual conduct have evolved over time. Much of what he says is perfectly correct. However, his claim that modern sexual behavior is morally neutral is incomplete in an important way:

To the extent that as a result of economic and technological change, sex ceases to be considered either dangerous or important, we can expect it to become a morally indifferent activity, as eating has mainly become (though not for orthodox Jews and Muslims). At this writing, that seems to be the trend in many societies, including our own. This is not historically unprecedented; many cultures have been far more casual about sex than our own—ancient Greece, for example.

He underestimates the psychological costs of casual sex. And, he doesn't seem to realize that the sexual revolution has a moral code of its own. The sexual revolution itself tells us what we ought to consider a cost, and what we ought to consider a benefit. This is a well-known problem of utilitarianism as a moral theory. There are many situations in which costs and benefits are ambiguous in some way. In those cases, the "cost-benefit" calculus does not offer a complete answer, and has to supplemented by some other theory telling us what to consider a cost worth avoiding, and what to consider a pleasure worth pursuing.

For instance, women are supposed to discount any longing they might feel for permanence in a relationship. Men are supposed to suppress any feelings of jealousy that might indicate possessiveness. And any woman who has second thoughts about her abortion, well, she is supposed to keep those feelings to herself. Those feelings are costs people are required to bear as a badge of loyalty to the sexual revolution.

It is my observation that there are many "walking wounded" out there, people who have been harmed in various ways by the claim that sex is just for fun, and that no harm can come of it, as long as it is voluntary and properly contracepted.

April 12, 2005

Testimony in Opposition to H5660, Concerning Same-Sex Marriage

Justin Katz

Although it has apparently been stricken from the itinerary within the past couple of days, today's RI House Committee on Judiciary hearing was supposed to include testimony concerning a bill (PDF) that would delete gender from Rhode Island's definition of marriage. Being unable to make it to Providence, this afternoon, I submitted written testimony, which I've pasted below. Please consider contacting your state representatives and, if you'd like to make a more prominent statement, the Committee on Judiciary as well.

When I began considering testimony in opposition to bill H5660, concerning same-sex marriage, my first thought was of the people who would be making statements for the other side, whether verbally, in writing, or through participation in the corresponding rally. Their motivation is easy to understand; at issue are the terms by which they live and love.

In contrast, I was drawn to the topic during the summer of 2001 as an intellectual matter. More or less ambivalent about the issue, I merely thought some of the arguments put forward by same-sex marriage proponents were incorrect in interesting ways. As I've researched, thought, and written about the topic, however, it has become increasingly apparent to me that at issue are the terms by which we all live and love. Unfortunately, the experiences that would count as personal testimony of this are so pervasive that we take them for granted, and the people who would be most harmed by such a profound social change are not available for comment.

Before the representatives of the people Rhode Island is a bill that would make some editorial changes to statutory language. On the surface, it doesn't seem like much — a simple matter of erasing gender. Man and woman, husband and wife, simply becomes "any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements" and "any other eligible person regardless of gender." A tweak, really, to answer the emotionally compelling pleas of a minority for whom the historical model of marriage does not fit their relationships.

But passage of this bill would not represent a minor change. For some perspective, consider that, until extremely recently, every reference to marriage in law, sociology, psychology, history, literature, lexicology, and, yes, theology has been understood — by definition — to suggest a man and a woman. More: in the interwoven network of culture, every law on the books, every idea by which our society has defined itself, was formed in a world that took the meaning of marriage for granted.

No doubt, it would be compassionate, and conducive to social health, to extend certain benefits to homosexuals for their roles as parents and as mutual caregivers. If they face inordinate difficulties ordering their affairs, then their fellow citizens should consider means of addressing undue hardships. We should do these things, however, without tampering with the meaning of marriage.

Marriage is not solely, or even primarily, a civil contract. It is not a system for awarding benefits. It is not a statutory definition to be rewritten. It is a matter of fundamental construction, linking families across generations, tying a man and a woman to the children whom only a father and a mother can create. The phrase "regardless of gender" recklessly disregards the unique nature of relationships that join the genders. This is not a disparagement of those who are not drawn to such relationships; it is a statement of reality.

Homosexuals who would like the legal ability to marry each other ask whom it would hurt. The answer is not emotionally satisfying, but it is no less important for being so. Marriage is effective because of its shared principles and the way in which it counterpoises benefits and requirements, law and romance, responsibility and emotion. And this balance of factors is most important for those least able to articulate them.

There are two distinct reasons that such people aren't stepping forward to testify about the importance of marriage's preservation. The first covers people who do not realize how important the social and moral standard of marriage is to them, because they are not among those who consciously uphold the standard, but rather are those whose lives the standard is meant to shape. The second reason covers people who have not yet been born and have not yet been subjected to a society in which marriage is not about ensuring stability in the circumstances of their birth. We can glean a sense of the effects that marriage's redefinition would have on these groups by observing the effects of previous changes to the institution; look particularly to the inner city.

No, the question that you face as representatives of the people of Rhode Island is not an insignificant one. Please do not use the law of this state to dictate a change with consequences that we cannot possibly comprehend as we stand, now, in the midst of turmoil and controversy. Please do not ignore the countless faces that we cannot see out of compassion for a few that we can.

April 11, 2005

Low Teacher Salaries: Have Unions Made the Problem Worse?

The abysmal performance of America's public schools is a well-documented fact and has been discussed in a previous posting.

George Will has written last week on an idea about how to get more productive public schools:

Patrick Byrne, a 42-year-old bear of a man who bristles with ideas that have made him rich and restless, has an idea that can provide a new desktop computer for every student in America without costing taxpayers a new nickel. Or it could provide 300,000 new $40,000-a-year teachers without any increase in taxes. His idea -- call it the 65 Percent Solution -- is politically delicious because it unites parents, taxpayers and teachers while, he hopes, sowing dissension in the ranks of the teachers unions, which he considers the principal institutional impediment to improving primary and secondary education.

The idea, which will face its first referendum in Arizona, is to require that 65 percent of every school district's education operational budget be spent on classroom instruction. On, that is, teachers and pupils, not bureaucracy.

Nationally, 61.5 percent of education operational budgets reach the classrooms. Why make a fuss about 3.5 percent? Because it amounts to $13 billion...

To see how much money would flow into your state's classrooms under Byrne's approach, go to FirstClassEducation.org.

The horrible performance of our public schools requires us to challenge the status quo within the overpaid and underperforming public education bureaucracy. Nonetheless, it is unclear how this proposal, while provocative, will change educational outcomes. It does not address the structural problems within public education that ensure there are no meaningful incentives for excellence.

However, on a tangentially-related topic, I found comments in the article by Chester Finn, Jr. offered an interesting perspective on teachers' salaries:

Much of the reallocated money under the 65 percent requirement would go for better pay for teachers, which is wiser than just adding more teachers. Chester Finn, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, notes that, while the number of pupils grew 50 percent in the past half-century, the number of teachers grew almost 300 percent. That pleased dues-collecting teachers unions and tuition-charging education schools. But if the number of teachers had grown apace with enrollments, and school budgets had risen as they have, teachers' salaries today would average nearly $100,000 instead of less than half that.

America, says Finn, has invested in more rather than better teachers -- at a time when career opportunities were expanding for the able women who once were the backbone of public education. The fact that teachers' salaries have just kept pace with inflation, in spite of enormous expansions of school budgets, explains why too often teachers are drawn "from the lower ranks of our lesser universities."

Yet another example of where the structural incentives of teachers unions are not aligned with excellence in education. Now, isn't that a surprise?

Selfish Focus of Teachers Unions: Everything But What Is Good For Our Kids

I received an email today from someone, who wrote:

...how shockingly demanding the unions are at this point. I feel like they are outting themselves as the unreasonably greedy private concerns that they are.

This posting is about yet another Rhode Island case study of unreasonable greed by public sector unions.

A ProJo article today reported on additional negative reactions to the Warwick teachers union's request last week of lifetime health insurance for teachers and their families:

School Committee member Robert A. Cushman, calling the Warwick Teachers Union's latest contract proposal "a slap in the face," has urged that the board call an end to negotiations.

Cushman, interviewed Thursday by WPRO radio talk show host Dan Yorke, Cushman said the School Committee should participate only in arbitration -- the painstaking discussions facilitated by a neutral arbitration panel.

Further negotiations, he said, would be "a total waste of time."

Union negotiators unveiled a new contract offer last Monday that calls for lifetime health insurance coverage for retirees and their families. Employees who have worked at least 30 years now receive individual health insurance until age 65.

School officials relentlessly criticized that demand. They were joined by Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, who told talk-show host Yorke that lifelong health coverage is rarely, if ever, provided in Rhode Island teachers contracts.

Mary M. Pendergast, president of the Warwick Teachers Union...defended the union's contract offer, noting that it came after the School Committee proposed that teachers to start paying 5 percent of their insurance premiums this year and 10 percent in each of the remaining two years of a three-year contract.

The union's latest offer rejected the contribution demand and introduced the lifetime health coverage proposal...

Negotiations begn nearly two years ago on a contract to replace the one that expired in August 2003.

Only a teachers union would counter a request for a 5-10% co-payment on health insurance premiums with a demand of lifetime health insurance for teachers and their families! What planet are these foolish people from?

This is all about power and money, i.e., using their power to take your money. Remember this moment (and these moments here and here) the next time a teachers union tries to suggest how the education of our children is their top priority.


The public dispute continues over school budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

April 8, 2005

Laffey Hosts the East Greenwich School Committee

Marc Comtois

We at Anchor Rising have been posting about the education problems in Rhode Island since the site's inception. (Here is a comprehensive rundown of every post we've ever made.) One topic we continually revisit has been in the liberal bias in Higher Education (see Justin's recent post, for example). However, our primary focus continues to be the broad debate, which covers many issues, that can be generally classified as Teacher Unions vs. School Committees. (One of my personal goals is to supply a "voice of the parent.") To continue the coverage, below is a rough recap of the conversation this morning on the Steve Laffey Show on WPRO (AM 630) held with members of the East Greenwich School Committee (Sue Cienki, Marilyn J. Friedemann and Steve Gregson in studio while William Day called in briefly). Also see Don's related post below.

To start, Laffey mentioned the latest news of a mediator stepping down (story here) and makes the point that a common tactic of teacher union leaders is to denigrate any school committee proposal as "another example" of how school committees are "disrespecting" teachers. According to Laffey, no one ever is disrespectful of teachers or the job they do, they just don't like the unrealistic demands of teacher unions.

Marilyn J. Friedemann, a lifelong East Greenwich resident, graduate of East Greenwich High, left for a while and returned to discover she didn't like changes in town. So, she ran for school committee. She knew that she was in for a fight, had informed herself of the situation and, as a lawyer, simply knew it wasn't a pretty picture.

Steve Gregson described that the current impasse was over three major problems: salary, health care coverage and co-pays and the healthcare buyback program. The latter of which currently stands at 50%, which in East Greenwich is equal to around $6500.

Laffey explained the buyback program. Essentially, if an employee has a spouse who has a family health care plan, a town will pay a teacher, in the case of East Greenwich, 50% of the cost of the family plan ($6500) as a "reward" for not participating in the plan. Additionally, this is a common practice relating to nearly all public service-type union contracts in Rhode Island.

Gregson stated that they proposed reducing the buyback figure in $500 dollar increments over the next three years (ie; $6000, $5500, $5000).

Friedemann stated that additionally, according to the town council, the current projection is that the buyback would be increased to $7300 because of higher health care coverage costs. [As health care costs increase, teachers receive more money back!]

Gregson also mentions that, of the other two items, salary and health insurance, the two sides are close on salary. Also, the School Committed has had United Healthcare and Blue Cross competing for East Greenwich business and they attempted to have United present some of its proposals to the union, but the NEA (National Education Association) wouldn't let their people hear United's proposal.

Laffey asked what exactly was the School Committee's proposal?

Friedemann answered that it was a 6%, 8%, and 10% co-pay, respectively, over the next three years, to which Laffey responded that the union didn't want to pay any. Friedemann confirmed this.

After a break, Laffey remarked that he wanted to thank the the Cranston crossing guards for bringing these types of contract issues to the forefront. He also mentioned the recent "proposal" by the Warwick teachers union (see story here), in which, after negotiating for 1 1/2 years, they decided to then throw in that they wanted full health care for life for all family members. He remarked that he been in a lot of negotiations and he'd never seen anything like this and found it outrageous. Personally, he found that most teachers he talks to just want to teach and don't want to get into contract disputes.

Returning back to the point regarding the E.G.S.C. health care co-pay proposal, Laffey remarked that a 6-8-10% co-pay doesn't mean that health care costs are going down.

Friedemann mentioned that the E.G.S.C. keeps "negotiating against ourselves." Over the majority of the past 37 meetings, many by the previous school committee, they had said they wouldn't go below a 20% co-pay. However, in reality, while the E.G.S.C. keeps saying "this is it," they then lower their demands while union makes no concessions.

Laffey agreed that, yes, "you have to draw line in sand" at some point. He observed that they should be paying 20% noted that the average American pays 23% of their health care insurance.

After a break, and after a recap, Laffey mentioned that, in addition to the already mentioned factors, pension costs are also going up. In eg, the pension will be $500,000 this year and $1.5 mill next year.

A caller from North Kingstown mentioned that in her town, health care was a sticking point and the teachers got more than a generous co-pay.

Gregson mentioned that the numbers in the North Kingstown agreement were 5%, 7.5% and 10%, but that the School Committed capped the actual payments at dollar amounts considerably less than those numbers.

Laffey explained that this was a "scam deal." A school committee may say that the unions agreed to pay percentages, but caps on dollar amounts make effective rate 5% or less. [In other words, those percentages are not real and are provided for public consumption only.]

Another caller, from Cranston, mentioned that the situation in Cranston was not one to inspire confidence as two of the Cranston negiators are too beholden to Cranston teacher unions because of past political relationships.

Laffey agreed, and remarked that the another aspect of the problem is that education dollars are being spent on teacher compensation and not on the students.

The caller responded that a high percentage goes to teachers, but that doesn't mean the rest goes to the students. Much of it must go to building maintenance and other infrastructure and administrative costs. The caller also mentioned that teachers complain a demand for co-pays equates to being anti-teacher.

After the break, Laffey asked the E.G.S.C. members, "How did you budget, not knowing potential settlement?"

They responded that they had to make a best guess and went with an 8% co-pay and 3% salary increase. To this, Laffey observed that this sort of tipped the school committee's negotiating hand. They group responded that, yes it did, but it showed that they were being fair. As such, it is good for the public to know where the committee stands.

Laffey thought that was a good point. On the particulars, he remarked that a 3% raise is good in today's economy and that an 8% co-pay isn't that big. He then moved on to talking about a differential on prescript drugs (between generic and name-brand).

Gregson mentioned that a mail order program can provide savings, but no one participates in it.

Additionally, adds Cienki, they can also raise insurance deductibles to save money. In reality, 80% of people never really access health insurance.

Laffey mentioned that health savings accounts were another option. They are portable and let people realize how much health care really costs.

A caller observed that, in an op-ed in the Providence Journal, it was proposed that schools shouldn't be funded via property tax. Asked the mayor why he, or the E.G.S.C., hadn't organized with neighboring towns to unify school systems to strengthen negotiation stance.

Laffey stated he had two thoughts on that. 1) Small schools with local control are good, so savings on administration costs may not be worth it. 2) He's been writing on school accountablity. If schools sent out their own tax bills, people would see where budget increases are occurring and taxes are rising.

Caller remarked that, in small, provincial RI especially, there is a myopic attitude held by city/town councils and school boards. They simply don't look across town borders because they want to protect themselves for self-serving reasons. As a result, citizens are paying for poor performance in schools.

Cienki mentioned that East Greenwich is working with the Southern RI collaborative on issues like busing and books. It is insane that small East Greenwhich (2700 students) negotiates for school books by itself and thereby pays more for books than if several districts got together and ordered more books, which would result in cost savings on a per book basis.

A caller asked why the teacher negotiations weren't done in public, to which Gregson immediately responded that, simply, the unions don't want them to be. The caller responded that that was "important for people to know." He also brought up that, given the extreme accommodations made by the E.G.S.C., and these are just tip of iceberg, there are other topics, such as work day length (6.5 hr vs. 8 hr) that could be renegotiated. If the big proposals are met with continual rebuffs, why not just go for REAL reform?

Gregson observed that, in fact, many bargaining points had actually been "bargained away" from under the purview of the school committee. Nonetheless, the big things needed to be addressed first.

Friedemann mentioned that the union was being increasingly vitrioloic, especially in its latest press release, and the E.G.S.C. just wanted to negotiate. "It's about percentages not about how we veiw teachers."

A caller informed the panel that RI hospital has 50% buy back program to which Laffey quipped, "no wonder health care prices are skyrocketing!"

A caller, who identified himself as "an NEA member, but not a teacher," stated he would like the union to offer tiered deductibles for medical insurance as a way to save money. Gregson responded that that was the kind of proposal that United Health Care had, but reiterated that the union leadership wouldn't let United's proposal be heard.

Friedemann remarked that the union leadership doesn't seem interested in reform and their vitriol doesn't help. "We don't feel the same way about them as they apparently feel about us."

A caller remarked that many teachers seem to feel they have to be aggressive and antagonistic in negotiations.

Laffey mentioned that RI ranks as the top spender per student in the country and points out how high property taxes needed to pay education fees also can result in forcing the elderly, on fixed income, from their homes. He also mentioned a Wall Street Journal article about a school choice bill in Arizona (which pays $8500 per student vice $12000+ in RI). He asked how the E.G.S.C. members felt about vouchers and charter schools.

Friedmann and Cienki both favored choice and stated that competition is good, though it needs to be balanced.

Laffey amplified that, yes, it must be remembered that the unfettered capitalism at the turn of the 19th/20th century brought about the need for the unions. They were needed, but now the pendulum has swung the other way.

A caller [properly] commented that parents and taxpayers need to get involved and lamented that we needed a Reagan like figure that could inspire and lead.

Laffey returned to the Arizona bill. He remarked that they pay 30-40% less per student than RI, plus have to educate many Mexican immigrants. If the governor vetoes the school choice measure, the legislature is ready to pass another that makes choice available for special needs students. This will be done to remove the oft-used objection to charter schools and vouchers that all of the best students would leave schools in trouble and would thus lower the performance ratings of these already troubled schools.

A caller stated that there is a federal law that says states must educate children of illegal aliens. Laffey thought it a digression, but noted it is a relevant issue in Providence. He then asked the E.G.S.C. members for some final words.

Friedmann said that, in the end, they're working hard and have spent lots of time on health care trying to be fair and reasonable. They are interested in quality eduction and in being financially responsible. It is part of their job to look out for the taxpayers' money, both those with children in school and those who don't have children in the system. Finally, Gregson remarked that his daughter is graduating from college and is going to be a teacher. She received a wonderful education in East Greenwich. "We are not against the teachers."

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XIV

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

More specifically, this posting is about the teachers' union contract dispute in East Greenwich, a topic previously discussed in posting IV. That earlier posting documented a series of false statements propagated publicly in recent months by the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI). Their latest public statements, which this posting presents, continue that pattern of deceptive and misleading statements. I would encourage you to read this previous posting as it provides a context for understanding the latest news.

The NEARI issued a press release yesterday with the headline of "State Mediator Resigns, East Greenwich Education Association Calls upon State To Assign New Mediator and Subpoena School Committee" and said the following:

State Mediator Gerard Cobleigh resigned his position as mediator for the unsettled East Greenwich teachers’ contract after a brief session on Wednesday, April 6, 2005. On Sunday, April 3, Cobleigh offered a "mediator’s proposal" to jump start talks after the East Greenwich School Committee repeatedly failed to respond to the last offer from the teachers’ union. At a session scheduled on Wednesday, April 6, 2005, only two school committee members attended, and they ignored the mediator’s proposal, leading to his resignation.

EGEA President Roger Ferland stated, "I don’t blame Mr. Cobleigh for resigning – the school committee is dysfunctional. We will be requesting that a new mediator be assigned immediately and that the new mediator subpoena the entire school committee to meet as frequently as necessary to get a contract. If they don’t care enough about the kids to do that, they too should resign their positions."

"Enough is enough" said NEARI President Larry Purtill, in response to the situation. "The continuing vilification of teachers must stop now. The school committee should tell the truth to the people of East Greenwich – our teachers help make East Greenwich one of the best school systems in the state, and it is a shame that the East Greenwich School Committee is ruining the district’s reputation. Why would anyone buy a house in this town while this matter remains unsettled?"

NEARI Executive Director Bob Walsh stated, "The National Education Association Rhode Island stands ready to commit all our resources to help the East Greenwich teachers achieve a fair contract. Everyone hoped they could work it out themselves – now the state organization will become involved, and if we need help from our 2.8 million member national organization, we will not hesitate to request it."

Beneath all of the name-calling and threats in this press release are facts about what has really been going on. And those facts tell a completely different story than the one the NEARI wants you to believe.

The facts begin to become more clear in this ProJo article published today on the dispute. The article includes these excerpts:

School Committee members yesterday protested the union's statement, saying that they have been vigilant in attending bargaining sessions.

"There hasn't been any time when they [union officials] wanted to meet when we've refused," said Marilyn J. Friedemann. "I'm willing to meet with any one of them."

Steven W. Gregson, who heads the board's three-member negotiating team, said yesterday that, at this point, the number of committee members who attend the bargaining sessions is irrelevant.

"The number of people doesn't matter," Gregson said. "The School Committee's position has been fixed from the very beginning. The problem is they don't agree with our position."

The sides seem to have come to a deadlock on one major issue, committee members say: health care.

Since last year, committee members have been calling on the teachers -- who receive their health insurance for free -- to contribute 10 percent of the cost of the premiums.

At Wednesday's talks, Gregson said, the committee eased that demand: calling for a 6 percent contribution in the first year of a new contract, 8 percent in the second year and 10 percent in the third.

Robert A. Walsh Jr., the executive director of the union's parent organization, National Education Association Rhode Island, said that the union did not recognize the offer as an official proposal because it wasn't put in writing.

"When you make a proposal, you put it in writing," Walsh said, later adding that the committee has "got to treat this as a professional negotiation."

"They should know better," he said.

But according to Cobleigh, the union objected primarily to the offer's content, not its format.

"Whether or not it is in writing would not have changed their response to it," he said.

Walsh conceded the point.

"I don't think [Cobleigh] is innacurate in saying that had they put their ideas in writing, they probably wouldn't have been acceptable," he said...

Cobleigh's resignation caps a flurry of testy exchanges between Cobleigh, the union and the School Committee...

On Thursday, during a mediated bargaining session at the State Department of Labor and Training headquarters, in Cranston, the union refused to meet with the School Committee and representatives of United Healthcare -- who were invited to the session by committee members -- to discuss health insurance options offered by the company.

Walsh later said that the insurance company is not a party to the negotiations and that the union should have been given advance notice that United Healthcare officials would be there...

The facts become even clearer when you read Marc's posting on today's Steve Laffey radio show interview with members of the School Committee and this letter from School Committee member Steve Gregson. There is some additional information in this newspaper article.

So where do things currently stand and what has changed in recent months? The most recent offer by the East Greenwich School Committee was for:

Salary increases: 3.5%, 3.6%, and 3.7% job step salary increases over the three year contract (which translate into 9-13% annual salary increases for 9 of the 10 job steps);

Health insurance premium co-payments: 6%, 8%, and 10% over the three year contract;

Health insurance buyback: Teachers not using health insurance provided by the district currently receive a $6,800/year cash bonus. The new offer reduced that to $6,000, $5,500 and $5,000 over the life of the three year contract.

The union walked out and refused to even discuss this proposal with the School Committee, just several days after they refused to meet with the United Health people when the School Committee was looking for ways to provide the same benefits to teachers but at a lower cost than BlueCross/BlueShield. Now, ask yourself who is obstructing a settlement on a new East Greenwich contract?

Personally, I think the latest financial terms offered by the School Committee are too generous, that the School Committee has been negotiating against itself due to the NEARI's intransigence. For example, the School Committee's offers have changed in the following ways: (i) 3.5% job step salary increases for all three years have increased to 3.5%/3.6%/3.7% increases over three years; (ii) a 20% co-payment for all three years has decreased to 10% and now 6%, 8% and 10% over three years; and, (iii) the buyback cash payment was increased from $4,500 for all three years to a range of $5,000-6,000 over three years. I hope they will now return to 3.5% annual job step salary increases, a flat 10% co-payment and a $4,500 buyback payment. Here is some added context: East Greenwich town employees hired since 1996 have a 20% co-pay and town employees working under their NEA union contract receive only a $1,000 cash buyback. Why should East Greenwich teachers be treated so differently?

But, at the same time, here is what is so telling and what the NEARI doesn't want you to know: Those trends in proposed contract terms show how the School Committee has moved their position quite substantially over the months. And, all the NEARI has done in response is throw public fits, make threats, refuse to negotiate, and then publicly accuse the School Committee of inaction. (The problem with ridiculous demands by the teachers' unions is not limited to East Greenwich, as we all heard this week when the Warwick teachers' union put an outrageous new demand for lifetime health insurance on the table.) Who do these unions think is going to pay for all these rich benefits?

The NEARI's recent behavior shows how they are attempting to create a firestorm of controversy with the goal of intimidating the community of East Greenwich. As another example, read this silly teacher's letter; its logic is so deficient that it doesn't even warrant a response. The union has made no progress so far in creating such a firestorm and they won't in the future. But they are savvy enough to know that their attempts to legally extort the residents of East Greenwich would be helped if they could change the debate from a negotiation about contract terms into a two-way name-calling effort.

It is a tribute to the current School Committee of East Greenwich that they, unlike the NEARI, are refusing to engage in similar name-calling. They aren't doing that because they understand what is at stake here: This is a financial issue and, only, a financial issue. The taxpayers of East Greenwich simply cannot afford the outrageous contract terms demanded by the NEARI. The School Committee understands that if they were to cave into the union's demands, town residents would continue to see limited-to-no money for innovative academic programs and facility maintenance. Unfortunately, past union contract demands have made this an ongoing problem, a statewide problem documented by third-party sources.

The bottom line is quite easy to understand. Taxpayers don't get 9-13% annual salary increases but teachers in 9 of the 10 job steps receive such increases - and have for each of the last six years. Most taxpayers don't have health insurance premium co-payments below 20% but teachers currently have a zero co-payment and their union won't even discuss a 6%/8%/10% proposal. Taxpayers don't get annual cash bonuses for not using their company's health insurance plan but teachers get $6,800 and their union won't even discuss a decrease to $6,000. Furthermore, by choosing "work-to-rule" while still demanding retroactive pay back to last September, the NEARI has shown their willingness to put our children at risk in order to hold residents hostage for compensation terms far superior to what most of us receive. That confirms whose self-interest they are singularly focused on and how far they will go to get what they want. The NEARI's behavior is both unjust and indefensible.

Salary increases and benefits just like the rest of us, the working families and retirees whose hard-earned monies pay for all school district salaries and benefits. That is all the residents of East Greenwich are asking for in the new contract.

Thanks to the East Greenwich School Committee for standing tall on behalf of all of us. They deserve our strong and public support.


All five members of the East Greenwich Town Council have signed a letter to the editor in support of the School Committee. It was published in the April 14 editions of the two local newspapers.

The same newspapers published an editorial of mine that was a synopsys of this posting.

Here are some general news articles from the local newspapers (here, here, here, here, here) about these issues and related issues.

The April 14 edition of the East Greenwich Pendulum has a web-based poll which asks the question: "Do you favor the side of the East Greenwich Teachers' Union or the East Greenwich School Committee in the current contract negotiations stalemate between the two sides?" I believe this kind of poll is troublesome and that led me to write these words to the newspaper's editor:

Several residents have called me this morning expressing angst about a poll...As I understand it, the poll asks which side residents are on regarding the union contract but does not present what terms each side has put forth. I can articulate the School Committee position. I cannot articulate the union position. Can you? I cannot do it because I don't think they have one other than saying no and refusing to negotiate in good faith. If no one can articulate their position, how can the poll results be valid?

In addition, good polls involve scientific samples of people in a way that matches the demographics of the target audience. Web-based polls have no such disciplined structure and that means there is no scientific basis for the results. Either the union or the School Committee proponents could manipulate the polling process and that would do damage to the quality of the public debate. Since the union is losing the public debate right now, they have a huge incentive to play games here.

We both know poll results are only as good as the questions they ask. I am deeply concerned that this poll will be manipulated in a way that further polarizes the community and inhibits us from getting to the best possible outcome.

After the First Time, It Always Becomes Easier

In the second of my seven postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII) on the Terri Schindler-Schiavo case, I wrote:

And that leads us back to the more fundamental question about what value we will place on human life, including that of a disabled woman. If we begin to say it is okay to kill off "weak" human beings, think where that will take us over time. It will take us to a place where certain people will seek to play "God" so they can set the criteria for who lives and who dies. Why not then an elderly parent or a young child, should either become a financial or emotional burden? The freedom to do such great evil will only invite more profound evil over time.

Holocausts do not begin with operational concentration camps; they start on a smaller scale and steadily break down our resistance while many people plead that they are "too busy" to pay attention and get involved.

Now another blogger, Sounding the Trumpet, is back with news of another case similar to Terri's - but with an ominous twist.

Remember the mantra for the last month in the media was to make sure you have a living will in place and then everything would be okay. Think again:

When a grandaughter was tired of bringing groceries, it meant that the Grandmother would have to go.

Below are some excerts from an interesting article I noticed from this interesting WorldNetDaily article:

"In her living will, Mae Magouirk stated that fluids and nourishment were to be withheld only if she were either comatose or "vegetative," and she is neither. Nor is she terminally ill, which is generally a requirement for admission to a hospice.

"Magouirk lives alone in LaGrange, though because of glaucoma she relied on her granddaughter, Beth Gaddy, to bring her food and do errands.

"Two weeks ago, Magouirk's aorta had a dissection, and she was hospitalized in the local LaGrange Hospital. Her aortic problem was determined to be severe, and she was admitted to the intensive care unit. At the time of her admission she was lucid and had never been diagnosed with dementia.

"Claiming that she held Magouirk's power of attorney, Gaddy had her transferred to Hospice-LaGrange, a 16-bed unit owned by the same family that owns the hospital. Once at the hospice, Gaddy stated that she did not want her grandmother fed or given water."

. . .and so, without checking up on Granny's living will, or making sure that Gaddy did have the power of attorney (which she did not). And before contacting the closest living kin of the granny (two living siblings, and a nephew--who oppose this)--she was sedated, and all liquids, and food were witheld from her.

The Lone Star Times blogsite provides additional information:

Gaddy, claimed to have a medical power of attorney, but only had a financial power of attorney. Once the hospice became aware of the situation, it prepared to have the feeding tube inserted. But before they could have Magouirk transported to a hospital, Gaddy obtained emergency gardianship over her grandmother from Probate Court Judge Donald W. Boyd.

There are closer living relatives, two siblings, that want to take care of Magouirk, but Gaddy will not consent.

If you thought a medical power of attorney would protect you, it seems that it is not worth the paper it’s written on in some Probate Courts. It looks like low grade euthanasia via denial of food and water to non-terminal patients, regardless of wishes, is becoming "normal".

The blogsite, Thrown Back, provides additional information:

Furthermore, under Georgia law, if there is no power of attorney specifying a health care decisionmaker, such authority is given to the closest living relatives. Mae's brother, A. B. McLeod, and sister, Lonnie Ruth Mullinax, are both still alive and capable of making such decisions. They opposed Mae's transfer to hospice, and are fighting to save her life. But in spite of the lack of a power of attorney, and the fact that there are closer living relatives who should be given precedence by Georgia law, Ms. Gaddy sought an emergency appointment as guardian from the local probate court. The probate judge, Donald Boyd (who, I am told, is not an attorney and does not have a law degree), granted Gaddy's request, thereby giving her the power to starve and dehydrate Magouirk to death, though such an action is contrary to the provisions of the living will.

I have spoken to Kenneth Mullinax, Mae's nephew, and he has confirmed all the above. He also tells me that he believes that Ms. Gaddy has no bad motives, but is simply misguided and mistaken. Mullinax said that Ms. Gaddy has testified in court that she has "prayed over" Mae, and is convinced that it is "time for her to go". Whether the fact is relevant or not remains to be seen, but apparently Ms. Gaddy is also the sole beneficiary of Mae's will.

Another blogger, Straight Up With Sherri has noted a connection to the Terri Schindler-Schiavo case:

...the Facility Administrator at the hospice [where Mae Magouirk was taken] is Cathy Wiggins: Director of Hospice – who is also....

Cathy Wiggings, West Georgia Hospice, LeGrange – Pres of Board of Directors of Georgia Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (GHPCO).

GHPCO is a committed member and supporter of the Georgia Collaborative to Improve End of Life Care, a partnership of providers, academics, business leaders and community members that has worked together for the past 5 years to improve end of life care in Georgia. The accomplishments of the Collaborative include community education through Georgia Health Decisions' CRITICAL Conditions program; support of physician, nurse and allied health provider end of life education and training; outreach to community organizations; research on current practices and the Emmy award-winning documentary Final Choices: Changing a Culture. (Changing a Culture? TO WHAT? CAN IT BE ANY CLEARER???)

GEORGIA Collaborative to Improve End-of-Life Care Holds Planning Meeting

In an effort to focus its activities, be more inclusive of organizations around the state, and plan for its future, the Collaborative met January 21, 2004 at the Loudermilk Center for the Regional Community in Atlanta Georgia to create a plan for the next five years. The meeting was made possible through a Rallying Points Certificate and was facilitated by staff from the Hospice for the Florida Sun Coast - the south's Rallying Points Regional Resource Center...

The Hospice for the Florida Sun Coast is...the parent company of Woodside Hospice, where Terri Schindler-Schiavo was taken without court approval. Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, was on the Board of the parent company as well.

And some people think Terri was just an isolated case...that there is no organized euthanasia group that seeks to kill the disabled and elderly. I find it very troubling that there is such interest in criticizing the efforts of the so-called "religious right" to support a culture of life but there seems to be little-to-no interest in exposing the euthanasia movement as it supports a culture of death.

The first case is always the hardest. But then, it becomes easier.


Sounding the Trumpet has posted a letter from the Judge in this case.

Hyscience asks some questions.

Ken Mullinax, nephew of Mae Magouirk, has added his latest thoughts.

Here is more news on current events on this case.

Even as some facts or interpretation of facts are murky and/or still getting sorted out, it is important for all of us to err on the side of life.

Clarification of Purpose

Justin Katz

Jesse Capece offers readers of the Providence Journal the service of clarifying something about which the average citizen might have misconceptions:

My name is Jesse Capece and I, like Mr. Felkner, am pursuing a master's degree at RIC's School of Social Work. I have heard Mr. Felkner run off at the mouth about how the school is left-leaning. The absurdity of this argument borders on insanity.

Of course, the School of Social Work is left-leaning in its beliefs. Social work is about change. Everything that social work does is geared toward destroying the social norms that oppress so many. In short, social work is in the business of change; we are not trying to conserve anything.

Social work is in the business of change — as opposed to the business of helping people. Change first. Destruction of social norms first. Well-being somewhere after that, and defined as freedom from "oppressive" social norms. Take Capece at his word: "we are not trying to conserve anything," which as a simple matter of definition would include somethings evolved through millennia of human society to secure well-being and happiness.

Such an approach is fine, for its true believers, but social work thus defined strikes me as a matter of religious dogma not to be imposed with public dollars. I, for one, am not keen on funding the destruction of social norms. Helping people to secure material needs, yes; leading them toward spiritual deliverance from our shared culture and heritage, no. With the veil of euphemism removed from "social work," surely others will agree.

Although not likely the intention with which his letter was written, Jesse Capece has certainly offered a public service.

April 3, 2005

Sandy Berger & Clintonian Ethics

Do you remember how the nation was lectured during the 1990's on how there was no connection between private ethics and public life? How Bill Clinton could do what whatever he wanted in his private life but, rest assured, it had no connection to his behavior as President?

Power Line states:

Casual readers of the news will have no idea what to make of Sandy Berger's guilty plea. This AP story says:
Former national security adviser Sandy Berger, who once had unfettered access to the government's most sensitive secrets, pleaded guilty Friday to sneaking classified documents out of the National Archives, then using scissors to cut up some of them.

Rather than the "honest mistake" he described last summer, Berger acknowledged to U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson that he intentionally took and deliberately destroyed three copies of the same document dealing with terror threats during the 2000 millennium celebration. He then lied about it to Archives staff when they told him documents were missing...

The AP describes the Berger incident as "bizarre," and, to an ordinary reader, it must seem bizarre indeed. Why would anyone steal and destroy "three copies of the same document," and then lie about it?

The answer, obviously, is that all of the "copies" were different, in that they contained different handwritten notes by various Clinton administration officials, apparently including Berger. This Washington Post story is slightly more informative:

Berger's associates said yesterday he believes that closure is near on what has been an embarrassing episode during which he repeatedly misled people about what happened during two visits to the National Archives in September and October 2003.

Rather than misplacing or unintentionally throwing away three of the five copies he took from the archives, as the former national security adviser earlier maintained, he shredded them with a pair of scissors late one evening at the downtown offices of his international consulting business.

The document, written by former National Security Council terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke, was an "after-action review" prepared in early 2000 detailing the administration's actions to thwart terrorist attacks during the millennium celebration. It contained considerable discussion about the administration's awareness of the rising threat of attacks on U.S. soil.

Archives officials have said previously that Berger had copies only, and that no original documents were lost. It remains unclear whether Berger knew that, or why he destroyed three versions of a document but left two other versions intact. Officials have said the five versions were largely similar, but contained slight variations as the after-action report moved around different agencies of the executive branch.

So Berger removed five copies of the Clarke report, carefully destroyed three of them "late one evening," and returned the other two to the Archives. Obviously he reviewed the notes on the five documents and destroyed the three that contained information damaging to the reputation of the Clinton administration. I do not find reassuring the Post's suggestion that these were "copies only" and that it "remains unclear whether Berger knew that." Obviously all five copies of the Clarke report were "copies." But they contained unique notes, and Berger certainly thought that they were the only "copies" of those notes in existence, or it would make no sense to destroy them. I have seen no evidence whatsoever that he was wrong.

One aspect of Berger's sentence that seems almost humorous is the fact that his security clearance is suspended for three years. He wasn't going to need it during President Bush's second term, in any event, and he'll have it back in time for the new Democratic administration that, he hopes, will begin in 2009. What a penalty for attempting, apparently successfully, to destroy a portion of the historical record relating to the government's anti-terror activities in the months leading up to September 11.

Michelle Malkin comments in the following way:

...Why would Berger destroy documents if they were merely copies of originals retained by Archives? For that matter, how did he gain access to copies? (I'm assuming he was not given access to a copy machine.) Did the files he was looking at contain multiple identical copies of each document?

Something just doesn't smell right...

Update: Last summer, a commenter at Roger L. Simon's site put it well:

It is becoming clear to me it's the handwritten marginalia at issue, not the versions, since these would probably be available from computers, etc.

Let's think about who would have been penning things on these docs for a minute: Berger, Clarke, The Big He, Gorelick, Janet Reno, William Cohen. Loads of possibilities for embarrassing comments from that bunch.

Jim Geraghty comments:

The deal's terms make clear that Berger spoke falsely last summer in public claims that in 2003 he twice inadvertently walked off with copies of a classified document during visits to the National Archives, then later lost them.

He described the episode last summer as "an honest mistake." Yesterday, a Berger associate who declined to be identified by name but was speaking with Berger's permission said: "He recognizes what he did was wrong. . . . It was not inadvertent."

That all sounds pretty damning. But then you read the actual consequences:

Under terms negotiated by Berger's attorneys and the Justice Department, he has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and accept a three-year suspension of his national security clearance. These terms must be accepted by a judge before they are final, but Berger's associates said yesterday he believes that closure is near on what has been an embarrassing episode during which he repeatedly misled people about what happened during two visits to the National Archives in September and October 2003.

What? Just what do you have to do to get your clearance pulled permanently? Start the clock, he can go back and start deleting memos that make him and his colleagues look bad starting in 2008 or so!

The details of this story are even more damning:

Rather than misplacing or unintentionally throwing away three of the five copies he took from the archives, as the former national security adviser earlier maintained, he shredded them with a pair of scissors late one evening at the downtown offices of his international consulting business...

Now... what about this deafening silence that we have heard on this from Berger's associates, since this story first surfaced? Will we be seeing any criticism of him from former President Clinton, Madeline Albright, Hillary, John Kerry, or any other prominent Democrat? Is the perception that this is no big deal, standard operating procedure for that White House, and is something to be swept under the rug?

Do any Democrats want to confront the unpleasant truths of how the Clinton White House handled terrorism?

Because there were some facts out there that were so damning, Sandy Berger was willing to break the law to make sure the public never saw them.

According to The Anchoress:

...this situation with Sandy Berger just stinks to high heaven, and I'm disgusted that case begun under the Ashcroft Justice Department and culminating on the watch of Alberto Gonzales has given Berger such a slap on the wrist for stealing and destroying top secret documents from the National Archives.

Again. The man STOLE Top Secret Documents, which purportedly were critical of the Clinton Administration's handling of terrorism, from the National Archives. And ummm...he DESTROYED them.

And for this, he gets a measly $10,000 fine, and oh, yeah, he has to ADMIT he took them and perhaps go to a federal prison for a year.

He doesn't even lose his security clearances, just has them Suspended for three years...

The press is all about "gathering and reporting" information, but they display a consistent and rather staggering lack of curiosity about exactly what the previous administration did or did not do regarding terrorism, intelligence, national security....or for that matter about much smaller matters like, who wrote the Document of Dubious Origin they have had such a delightful fortnight referring to as "The GOP Talking Points Memo on Terri Schiavo."..

They're terribly, terribly curious about the military service of George W. Bush - so curious they go talk to a dentist who cleaned his teeth thirty years ago, but completely incurious as to John Kerry's unwillingness to sign a standard form 180 to release HIS medical records, even after people who served with him - even on his very swiftboat - raise substantial questions.

Ah, well...it seems the press is not terribly interested in finding out anything about you if your name is Berger or Clinton, or Kerry, or Clinton, or McCain, or Kennedy or Daschle...

Try to explain this episode to your children right after you next share a lesson with them on the importance of ethical behavior.


Dick Morris, adviser to President Clinton, offers this perspective on the Berger scandal.

A Brief History of the Devolution of Liberalism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at Dust In the Light, Justin has motivated a thread about the increasingly important question of what has happened to liberalism (see Justin's original post & comments). Here's my capsule sketch of how liberalism got to the place where it is now...

1. Once upon a time, some enlightened philosophers came up with an idea called "liberalism". The individual was special. And humans should care about other humans. An early formulation was "love thy neighbor as thyself".

2. Liberalism was not an easy sell. Humans are programmed for self-preservation. Liberalism might be fine for philosophical types with lots of time on their hands, but regular folks didn't have the time to bother with it.

3. Despite the practical difficulties, liberalism spread. The basic principle -- love thy neighbor -- was hard to argue with. And there was a force in the world ready to challenge the idea that the impracticality of liberalism was a dealbreaker. Religion succeeded in taking liberal principles from beyond the realm of philosophical speculation, and challenged people to live a basic respect for others in their daily lives.

4. However, some liberals grew frustrated. They felt the ideal was not propagating fast enough. So they loaned the liberal name out -- and the respect and authority derived from its moral underpinnings -- to other, less liberal groups. These other groups, assorted forms of leftists, argued (and convinced a fair number of liberals) that government control and strong state bureaucracies and rules and regulations were the only ways of advancing the liberal ideal.

5. In the US, this took a unique form. The judicial branch of government was most receptive to advancing what was still a recognizably liberal revolution in the 60s and 70s. Having bought into the idea that a strong state was necessary to protect rights, and seeing the courts advancing their agenda, liberals began demanding absolute obedience to judges. Not only was it wrong to question a judge's ruling, but it was wrong to question the idea that judges had a final, absolute say on the scope of individual rights.

6. Then, a hostility towards religion permeated the liberal/leftist alliance. Liberals largely cut their ties to religion, but continued believing that they alone owned the unique moral authority that came with the liberal name.

7. Separated from their religious roots, or any call to a higher power than the state, but still relying on a moral authority as a source of strength, liberals began arguing that morality and the rules of the state were one and the same. In America, in particular, the formulation was more narrow. Morality and the opinions of judges were one and the same.

Thus, if a judge orders an innocent woman to die, liberals now argue -- with a moral fervor -- that there is no room for any argument against the judge's order.

John Paul II, Requiescat in pacem

Donald B. Hawthorne

The world lost yesterday someone whom I consider to be the greatest man of my lifetime, Pope John Paul II. George Weigel summed up the importance of this Pope well with these thoughts:

Pope John Paul II should also be remembered, however, as a man with a penetrating insight into the currents that flow beneath the surface of history, currents that in fact create history, often in surprising ways.

In a 1968 letter to the French Jesuit theologian, Henri de Lubac, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla suggested that "a degradation, indeed a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person" was at the root of the 20th century's grim record: two World Wars, Auschwitz and the Gulag, a Cold War threatening global disaster, oceans of blood and mountains of corpses. How had a century begun with such high hopes for the human future produced mankind's greatest catastrophes? Because, Karol Wojtyla proposed, Western humanism had gone off the rails, collapsing into forms of self-absorption, and then self-doubt, so severe that men and women had begun to wonder whether there was any truth at all to be found in the world, or in themselves.

This profound crisis of culture, this crisis in the very idea of the human, had manifested itself in the serial crises that had marched across the surface of contemporary history, leaving carnage in their wake. But unlike some truly "conservative" critics of late modernity, Wojtyla's counter-proposal was not rollback: rather, it was a truer, nobler humanism, built on the foundation of the biblical conviction that God had made the human creature in His image and likeness, with intelligence and free will, a creature capable of knowing the good and freely choosing it. That, John Paul II insisted in a vast number of variations on one great theme, was the true measure of man--the human capacity, in cooperation with God's grace, for heroic virtue.

Here was an idea with consequences, and the Pope applied it to effect across a broad spectrum of issues.

One variant form of debased humanism was the notion that "history" is driven by the politics of willfulness (the Jacobin heresy) or by economics (the Marxist heresy). During his epic pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979, at a moment when "history" seemed frozen and Europe permanently divided into hostile camps, John Paul II demonstrated that "history" worked differently, because human beings aren't just the by-products of politics or economics. He gave back to his people their authentic history and culture--their identity; and in doing so, he gave them tools of resistance that communist truncheons could not reach. Fourteen months after teaching that great lesson in dignity, the Pope watched and guided the emergence of Solidarity. And then the entire world began to see the communist tide recede, like the slow retreat of a plague.

After the Cold War, when more than a few analysts and politicians were in a state of barely restrained euphoria, imagining a golden age of inevitable progress for the cause of political and economic freedom, John Paul II saw more deeply and clearly. He quickly decoded new threats to what he had called, in that 1968 letter to Father de Lubac, the "inviolable mystery of the human person," and so he spent much of the 1990s explaining that freedom untethered from moral truth risks self-destruction.

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 settle our differences, then either you will impose your power on me or I will impose my power on you; Nietszche, great, mad prophet of the 20th century, got at least that right. Freedom uncoupled from truth, John Paul taught, leads to chaos and thence to new forms of tyranny. For, in the face of chaos (or fear), raw power will inexorably replace persuasion, compromise, and agreement as the coin of the political realm. The false humanism of freedom misconstrued as "I did it my way" inevitably leads to freedom's decay, and then to freedom's self-cannibalization. This was not the soured warning of an antimodern scold; this was the sage counsel of a man who had given his life to freedom's cause from 1939 on.

Thus the key to the freedom project in the 21st century, John Paul urged, lay in the realm of culture: in vibrant public moral cultures capable of disciplining and directing the tremendous energies--economic, political, aesthetic, and, yes, sexual--set loose in free societies. A vibrant public moral culture is essential for democracy and the market, for only such a culture can inculcate and affirm the virtues necessary to make freedom work. Democracy and the free economy, he taught in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, are goods; but they are not machines that can cheerfully run by themselves. Building the free society certainly involves getting the institutions right; beyond that, however, freedom's future depends on men and women of virtue, capable of knowing, and choosing, the genuinely good.

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. There is no Rawlsian veil of ignorance behind which the world can withdraw, to subsequently emerge with decency in its pocket.

There is only history. But that history, the Pope believed, is the story of God's quest for man, and man then taking the same path as God. "History" is His-story. Believing that, Karol Józef Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, changed history. The power of his belief empowered millions of others to do the same.

Here is what some people have written about this holy man:

George Weigel
Richard John Neuhaus
Wall Street Journal
Peggy Noonan
Mark Steyn
Stephen Hayward
Charles Krauthammer
Joseph Bottum
Power Line
Michelle Malkin
Professor Bainbridge
Professor Bainbridge
Rich Lowry
Rabbi Daniel Lapin
John Cullinan
John O’Sullivan
Marc Thiessen
William F. Buckley, Jr.
George Melloan (available via subscription)
Jeffrey Bell
Christopher Levenick
Hugh Hewitt
Arnaud de Borchgrave
Fred Barnes
William Kristol
George Weigel
George Weigel
George Weigel
Paul Kengor
Larry Kudlow
Thomas Hibbs
Michael Novak
Michael Novak
Michael Novak
One Clear Call
Don Singleton
George Will
Margaret Thatcher
President George W. Bush

Rest in peace, Holy Father.

April 2, 2005

Rhode Island's Elite, Redux

Justin Katz

In the pre–Anchor Rising days of August 2004, I put together a few graphs to add to Marc Comtois's investigation into RI teacher salaries. The symbolically salient finding of one of my pie charts was that the average Rhode Island teacher could afford to pay another family's housing costs, including mortgage, and still have the average Rhode Island worker's remaining income after taxes and housing. Keep that in mind while reading a recent Providence Journal editorial:

Rhode Island devotes a greater share of its per-pupil expenditures to teacher compensation than do any of the 49 other states and the District of Columbia.

That's right: Rhode Island ranks first -- or last, depending on one's point of view. The Ocean State apportioned 64.2 percent on teacher compensation, compared with New York's 64 percent, Maine's 60.4 percent, Utah's 59.5 percent, and Georgia's 59.4 percent. The average was about 55 percent.

Such an imbalance in teacher compensation might make sense if Rhode Island had all the money in the world, or if its public schools were among America's top-performing. But neither is true.

At some point, the balance of self-interest will shift. After all, the state can only afford to drive out so many young families before the lack of clients (e.g., students) and taxpayers begins to affect its elite classes. (And won't it be a gory mess when they begin to eat each other...)

Another Resource

Justin Katz

You know, perusing the latest newsletter (PDF) from Operation Clean Government, it occurred to me that, if somebody were to piece together all of the discrete (and too discreet) bits of advocacy writing from around the state of Rhode Island, it might amount to a full-sized publication. The audience might be limited, of course; unleavened advocacy can wear on a reader. (Although the larger problem might be that everybody knows what the problems are, just not how to convince everybody else that it's worth their time to understand and work to fix them.)

But the point is that there are various groups working for change in the same general direction. Perhaps what's needed at this juncture is an advocacy group to tie together the advocacy groups.

Reform All Around

Justin Katz

I'd already added the Patients First Coalition to the list of links at left, but looking at their "Fast Facts on Why Rhode Island Needs Medical Liability Reform," I thought the following particularly noteworthy:

  • 48% of physicians planning to leave Rhode Island within the next three years to practice elsewhere cite Rhode Island's high malpractice insurance costs.
  • 71% of doctors have found it hard to recruit new doctors to Rhode Island.
  • Rhode Island ranks last in the length of time it takes for malpractice cases to be resolved -- 6 years. The national average is less than 5 years and some states deliver justice in less than 3 years.
  • Rhode Island has the 4th highest average malpractice award payment ($406,411) in the country.
  • Rhode Island surgeons have experienced premium increases of 175% since 2002; general practitioners have experienced increases of 200% since 2002; and hospitals have experienced premium increases of 286% since 2002.

It's amazing how pervasive a state's problems can become after years of corruption and apathy.

April 1, 2005

Casinos & Financial Literacy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Don’t ever let it be said that your RI state legislators don’t have a sense of humor. Yesterday, the bill paving the way for building a casino in Rhode Island was re-introduced to the Rhode Island House. And the day before that? A resolution was introduced to the Rhode Island Senate declaring April to be “Financial Literacy Month”.

Does this sound like a revenue raising program that the financially literate would favor?
1. Hire a company to take money from a group of people.
2. Allow the company to skim a certain percentage off of the top.
3. Have the company give what's left of their original take (the original take minus the skim) to another group of people.
4. Have the company return a quarter of the skim to the state, and keep the rest for itself.

This is how any casino works; the bells, whistles and flashing lights are there to distract you from this fact.